If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may be aware that I sprained my ankle and wound up on crutches a while back. I’m happy to report that last week, I was able to start walking without the crutches and for the last few days, I’ve been walking with no limp at all and have resumed my regular workout schedule – albeit carefully! I am very happy and excited to get back to full throttle in the gym and all other areas of my life very soon.
Over the years, I’ve been through a lot of these situations
but I haven’t always handled them very well. This time, my attitude was much
better than ever before and it really helped. For one thing, it made the whole
experience feel like much less of an inconvenience. But also, while I certainly
can’t prove this, may even have helped to speed up my healing process. This was
a serious ankle sprain; we’re talking about a joint being in the wrong position
when it hit the floor, going much further in that direction, and causing immediate
and fairly severe pain. I was on crutches over a month as a result of a
previous sprain of similar severity. The mind can be incredibly powerful and
this has been documented plenty of times in medical contexts. In this case, I
believe that by having mine in a good, healthy state, I put it to work on
healing my ankle faster.
Whether or not that is true, the whole episode has been a
great reminder for me. Each and every one of us has so much to be thankful for
in life. It can be very easy to focus on negative things that appear more significant
in the moment and ignore the positives. Believe me, I have spent far too much
of my life looking at things that way. But when you lose something fundamental –
like the ability to walk – you suddenly realize the fallacy in this. Or at
least I do. There are plenty of people who would give almost anything just to
be able to walk ever again. Temporarily experiencing a taste of their reality for
myself gave me a valuable dose of perspective. Every morning, when I got out of
bed and realized I would need the crutches to progress any further, I got a
fresh reminder. Thankfully, this condition didn’t last long enough for it to
stop surprising me when I woke up!
Of course this experience will fade to some deep, dark corner of my memory bank before too long. But this time around, my goal is to slow down that process. Remember my challenge from a few posts ago? It would make it much easier to get started and to excel at it if the threshold were as low as being thankful to be able to walk, run, jump, work out, etc. And why not set it that low? Gratitude can enrich anyone’s life to an almost infinite degree and if you can get the ball rolling, even just a little bit, you’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t matter how you do it.
This is where I have to call myself out. As disappointing as
it is, I’ve allowed myself to get bogged down with some frustrations in my work
over the last week or so. I’m doing all I can to improve the realities of these
few situations and while I wait for my efforts to hopefully produce results,
writing this post is helping me to refocus on what’s most important. Writing
this blog often does, which is a big part of why I enjoy doing it. And to keep
that going, I’m going to lay out a new challenge for myself and for anyone who
would like to join me.
The next time I get frustrated with a situation, I’m going
to look at it as an opportunity to improve myself – because that is exactly
what any problem is. My goal is to avoid reacting rashly and instead, to think
about the situation logically – starting with taking responsibility, which is
so crucial. What actions of mine led me here? What could I have done
differently? What can I do now that is likely to make things better? Once I
have a game plan for both current and future improvement, I can focus on
executing it. This process will be much more effective than letting emotions
take over and complaining about it. Of course, like so many worthwhile things
in life, this is a simple concept that will be difficult to implement. I’m
going to try my best to be up to the challenge – whenever I do get my next opportunity.
Hopefully you will as well if you choose to do this with me!
There is no getting around it. If it has four wheels and an
engine, I love it! From a finance perspective, this can be a dangerous area.
But a little knowledge goes a long way towards solving that problem. I could
write at least one book on this subject but I think I’m going to approach it one
topic per post. In this one, I’m going to talk about which brands are best and
worst from a financial perspective. I’m not going to cover every single brand
that exists – only the more common ones that are either at the top of the heap
or the bottom. I will touch on cars and trucks here but I will not talk about
SUVs simply because I know nothing about them. Why not? I’m a finance guy and
approach everything from that perspective. So in my world, SUVs basically don’t
exist. As you will notice as this post progresses, you need to look beyond the
brand name because those get bought and sold all the time. Who actually does
the manufacturing is much more important than the logo they’re slapping on the
With cars, I have to start with Toyota/Lexus. They are simply
the best of the best. It starts with their manufacturing process. These guys
are absolutely obsessive about efficiency and quality control and it shows in
everything they produce. They have very few misses. Almost any of their cars
are very reliable, efficient, and refined, and as a result, the cost of
ownership is low. That said, they are not perfect. While they’ve gained ground
in recent years, especially with the Lexus brand, they are a little weak on the
design side, both interior and exterior. And as a former Supra owner, I am
horrified and disgusted at the way the name is being bastardized today. That
car appears to be more BMW than Toyota and bears little resemblance to the
legend it shares its name with. That said, I’m sure it will sell very well;
just not to those of us who loved the original for what it was – a beautiful,
relatively reliable, extremely modifiable, high performance machine at a
surprisingly low price.
While not quite up to Toyota’s standard, Honda/Acura is a
solid choice as well. Originally a motorcycle manufacturer, Honda is a little
more performance oriented than Toyota. Their reliability and efficiency are
also great although both are a definite step below Toyota’s. In my opinion,
their design is hideous – especially with their Acura brand – but I suppose
beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One other Asian manufacturer that
deserves a mention is Hyundai/Kia/Genesis. These cars were much maligned years
ago but they have come a long way. Today they are nearly competitive with
Toyota and Honda on reliability and efficiency. And as a bonus, because they
are still working through their reputation struggles of the past, they are very
value oriented. They tend to offer features you normally don’t see at their
price points. I would expect Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury brand to continue
that trend and offer a very competitive value relative to that of its competition.
On the truck side, things are a little simpler; get a Ford.
The F150 has been outselling the competition for a very long time and with good
reason. It is the best truck, period. There are plenty of good competitors here
– the Silverado/Sierra and the Tundra at full size and the Ridgeline, Tacoma,
and Colorado/Canyon at mid size. That is the smallest trucks go these days
unless you want a Nissan Frontier, which is the lone small, cheap truck left in
existence (sadly, the legend in this category, the Ranger, is coming back as an
F150 Light, a similar bastardization to that of the Supra). In general, I don’t
recommend Nissan as it is a middle of the pack manufacturer but in this case,
it is the only option. Trucks are very expensive so I would only advocate
buying one if you genuinely need it. But if you are going to use a truck as a truck,
a Ford is a no brainer.
Those are the best brands. Which ones should you stay away
from? If we’re talking about cars, anything American is a pass. The big three
(Ford, GM, Fiat/Chrysler) have huge legacy costs that go into every vehicle
they produce. With big, expensive vehicles like trucks, they can make it work.
With cars, it simply handicaps them too much. The best evidence of this is
their reliability. With the better Asian brands, you can usually get the
odometer to six digits without doing much more than changing oil, brakes, etc.
If you pull that off with an American car, count yourself lucky and sell it
soon because that luck won’t last forever. That trend only accelerates as the
mileage gets higher.
And please don’t be fooled by Chevy’s incredibly irritating JD
Power commercials. They are flat out bullshit. A lot of money changes hands when
it comes to using JD Power awards in marketing and they are dubious at best
anyway. In fact, some other manufacturers took Chevy to task on this recently,
pointing out some of the most blatant lies and threatening to take legal
action. While refusing to admit to anything, Chevy wisely pulled the ads in
question, tacitly revealing the reality of the situation in the process. It
shouldn’t have had to come to that but it’s a great example of how low the
standard for truth in advertising actually is. I ignore 99% of it in all forms
and I highly recommend you adopt that policy as well if you haven’t already.
Aside from American branded cars, I don’t recommend anything
German because of reliability issues and overall high cost of ownership. They
manufacture everything with very tight tolerances and the result is that while
the quality of the better brands (BMW and Mercedes Benz) is very high at first,
it goes downhill quickly from there and maintenance/repairs are not cheap.
Volkswagen (including Audi, Porsche, and some other brands under the same
ownership) is on the automatic pass list. I don’t recommend anything British
(or formerly British brands like Jaguar) as their reliability is atrocious,
particularly when it comes to electrical issues. And finally, while
Fiat/Chrysler vehicles (Dodge, Jeep, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and a handful of
other brands are included under this banner) are usually cheaper than their
competition, there is a good reason for that. They are simply some of the worst
vehicles on the road. Efficiency and build quality are usually poor while
reliability is worse. This was the case long before Fiat got involved and it
hasn’t changed. And let’s not forget that the Ram logo is literally a vagina.
You can’t make this stuff up.
To sum this all up, if you’re looking for a car, you want
Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura, or Hyundai/Kia/Genesis. If you’re actually going to
use a truck, stick with Ford. If I didn’t mention a particular brand or group
of brands (ie German cars), that means it is somewhere in the middle – not among
the worst but not among the best either. And who wants to pay good money for
something average? Obviously you still want to research individual models but
in general, if you stick to the best brands I’ve listed here AND take care of whatever
you buy, you are very likely to come out ahead.
More and more folks have likely heard of the FIRE movement. Lately it seems to be a popular target for potshots from mainstream media personal finance hacks who want the average person to keep reading their recycled bullshit advice and fueling their viewer/reader numbers without ever being able to graduate to something better. And FIRE advocates have “fired” right back. Sorry, it had to be done. FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. You might be surprised to learn that I am not 100% on board. I had been at one time. But my perspective has evolved a little over the last few years.
I love the FI in FIRE. In the richest society in the history
of the world, we can all aspire to be financially independent if it is a high
enough priority. Sadly, it will never happen for most people because shiny
objects, slick sales pitches, lifestyles they feel obligated to live or
provide, neighbors that have to be kept up with, etc, always seem to be more
important. But for anyone who ever wishes he could say no at work with zero
fear of potential consequences, financial independence would make it possible.
For anyone who wants to go on vacation without planning it months in advance or
having money be a limiting factor, same thing. I could keep going but I think
you get the idea. There is nothing you can buy on this planet that is quite as
satisfying as knowing you will never again have to make a decision based on
such a crass factor as money. Or put another way, if you can think about money
for long enough, you can reach the point where you never need to again. The
FIRE movement is mostly about reaching that day as soon as possible so you can
enjoy the rest of them more.
I think most people can agree that financial independence is
a worthwhile goal. But many seem to object to the RE part. There is even a lot
of disagreement about the exact definition of the term. Some FIRE detractors
say it’s cheating if you work in any way, shape, or form after retiring early.
Others say it’s not worth “living like you’re poor” your whole life just so you
can retire at a young age. My take is that the term can be useful to anyone
regardless of exactly how you choose to define it. If it makes sense, you can
think of it as “retiring” from money being the most important factor in what
you do – or a factor at all, for that matter. I would also say that your living
standard is your choice and no one else’s. If you are happy and you aren’t
hurting anyone, tell them to go pound sand. The FIRE community welcomes people
all along the spectrum, from one extremely disciplined, analytical blogger who
lives on about $7k a year all the way to another rather neurotic one (I mean
that with love, Sam – and yes, it takes one to know one!) who seems to fear that
even the $200k+ his investments earn annually, combined with his incredible
intellect, might somehow not be quite enough.
Bottom line, FIRE can be whatever you want it to be. Unlike
with religion, where it could be considered a little hypocritical to be on the
ala carte plan, this is a very open and welcoming school of thought. Take what
you like and use it to make your life better; ignore what you don’t. I enjoy
hanging out with a local FIRE group and some of them take frugal to a level I
would never want to approach. Others seem to live higher on the hog than a man
of my humble origins is likely to ever want to – although I reserve the right
to change my mind on that point. It doesn’t matter. Everyone brings something
to the table and everyone benefits from both building relationships with
similar minded people and from being exposed to a wide range of ideas and
What is my personal FIRE struggle? At some point in your
life, a guidance counselor probably asked you what you would do if money didn’t
matter at all. That’s it for me, right there. Unless I veer pretty far from my
current path, I’ll reach financial independence in the next five to ten years but
I have absolutely no fucking clue what to do with my life when I get there. My
job has its tough moments but it is also incredibly rewarding on many levels.
Should I keep doing it and simply start finding ways to spend more money? I
suppose a mansion or two, a garage full of high end vehicles, or any number of
possible luxuries might grow on me. Or if I didn’t want to spend the unstoppable
excess on myself, I could give it to causes I care about. Altruistic or not,
that could be a great way to maximize the financial value of my life and put
that value into whatever I want to impact most. After all, the argument could
be made that if you can make a lot of money and benefit humanity in some way in
the process, you should. Or maybe I should tell the boss I’m retiring when I’m
roughly twenty years his junior and still younger than the vast majority of
people who do my job in any territory, or at any company for that matter. I don’t
hate the man by a long shot but something inside me wants to correct him and
say “no, I’m not resigning; I’m retiring” and demand a gold watch, or at least
a cake. And of course, there are a few choice people within the company who I
would absolutely love to see turn some shade of green at my party.
But what would I do then? Sure, this is a good problem to
have and I am immensely grateful for it. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Sometimes it feels like a personal failing that I have a difficult time
deciding on a way to spend roughly half of my life without money being a
factor. Sure, I could go lay on a beach and drink beer somewhere or I could
travel the world and see all kinds of amazing things. But I have a feeling I
would get bored pretty quickly. And I’m not alone. Studies regularly show that
this can be a problem for lots of people – even at more traditional retirement
ages. One’s sense of purpose tends to get a little wrapped up in something if
you spend half your waking hours doing it year after year. And I think that’s
to be expected. If I had to guess, I’d say that there are probably a lot more
mes out there than there are Elon Musks. And a sense of purpose is an enormous
part of what makes life worth living, no matter who you are.
So I wrestle with that problem all the time and until I get
it figured out, I’d be lying if I said I don’t use it as an excuse to justify
the occasional large expense. After all, there’s no sense rushing to get to a
destination if you don’t know if you will like what you find when you get
there. This was a lot easier when I was in love with someone and genuinely
wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, no matter what we were doing.
Even if I meet someone who means just as much to me somewhere down the line, I
don’t think I can ever put that much stock in another human being again – and that’s
a good thing. But it’s only one more thing I’ve realized does not answer what
will probably ultimately be the most important question of my existence.
But all that said, my general financial philosophy is
currently that as long as I stay on the path to be financially independent by
40 at the latest, I doubt it will lead anywhere bad. I consider staying open
minded, especially about trying new things, to be a crucial investment in my
future. My advice to anyone else is really about the same. I’ll end this post
with an excellent quote from Martin Luther King, Jr: “You don’t have to see the
whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Time for a fun post. This one is going to be long, opinionated, and speculative. But bear with me because I think I’m onto something here. The media won’t let us forget it; millennials are not buying houses at the rate members of other generations have. They have a hundred theories about why – most of which involve student loans, rising real estate prices, stagnant incomes, structural economic shifts, or simple lack of “good old fashioned American gumption.” Of course I don’t know everyone or everything, but as a millennial with an at least above average understanding of business, finance, and economics, I believe I’m as qualified as your average pundit to do some positing of my own on the subject. From my perspective, while each of the issues I mentioned plays a role, they aren’t contributing to a crisis at all. To the contrary, the nonstop hand wringing isn’t necessary and in fact, things are actually moving in a very positive direction.
Who am I? I’m a millennial who went to a consistently highly
ranked public university and graduated right into the heart of the worst
economic crisis the country has seen since the Great Depression – and into a
local economy that was struggling more than most for that matter. Between my
college girlfriend and I, we had a pair of decorated academic records, close to
$100k in debt, and zero jobs to speak of when we walked across the stage in our
gowns and funny hats. Our graduation speaker’s summarizing message was “we’ve
destroyed this once great country, you’re screwed, good luck.” It was about the
most depressing speech I could have imagined and also rather redundant since
our reality more or less already matched it. A little optimism would have been appreciated
and appropriate as well.
Over the next few months, both of us scratched, clawed, and
begged our way into the workforce. We each started out as underemployed temps
(so no guarantee of tomorrow much less benefits or work that was in any way
challenging or meaningful) serving in office drone functions making roughly
$30k a year each and well aware that we were lucky to be that well off. It
wasn’t an easy time but we were determined to get through it. Mortified by our
pile of debt, we made a plan to pay it off in a maximum of five years and stuck
to it, no matter how lean our life together had to be. We lived in a small one
bedroom apartment and drove one car together to work since our jobs happened to
be in the same direction. Luxuries like eating at restaurants were kept to a
minimum. Over the next few years, things gradually got better. We each
differentiated ourselves at work and got hired full time with small raises. My
girlfriend became my fiancé and my fiancé became my wife. And yes, it was a
relatively modest wedding – although a wonderful one as well. We both upgraded
jobs a couple of times and suddenly things looked much different. We bought a
pair of new cars – no luxury hood ornaments, but all the nicer features like
leather, fancy rims, touch screens, etc. We upgraded our living arrangements from
small one bedroom apartment to two bedroom condo style apartment to three
bedroom duplex. We did all of this while remaining on schedule with our five
year student loan repayment plan. A house might have been the next big step but
we were not about to consider that until our student loans were 100% eradicated.
But that never quite transpired. We had married too young
and while we had accomplished some impressive things together and grown
immensely as people, that growth had taken us in separate directions. We
divorced fairly abruptly, parted ways, and have never spoken again. Almost
simultaneously, I got my current job and my income doubled overnight and
continued from there. I worked hard and learned a lot and after a couple of
years, a significantly more desirable territory opened up. I lobbied for it
with all my might and got it and today I’m in Houston – over a thousand miles
away from the part of the world that never managed to feel like home in over
two decades of my living there. It has taken some time to develop this new
territory and that is still a work in progress but my income has increased
significantly since coming here. Plus my investments have continued to grow and
I’ve started a profitable side business as well.
While my post college life (and pre as well) started out
relatively bleak when compared to previous generations, I consider that an
advantage as I look back on it. I learned to separate wants from needs early on
– and significantly, I learned that before I had developed a taste for a more
expensive lifestyle than the bare bones existence of a student from a low
socioeconomic background. Gradually, in spite of the dismal economic
conditions, I was able to grind my way into a successful career path. And today,
well under a decade after setting out on that journey, my income has cleared
the 90th percentile. I’ve developed a taste for the finer things in
life but it has happened gradually and with the lessons of the past ever
present in the back of my mind, I am unwilling to spend more than half of what
I earn regardless of the circumstances.
Why the mini financial biography? I think the background of
my basic experience helps to illustrate the point I’m going to make. By my age,
most people in previous generations had a house and kids. I have neither.
However, my net worth is substantially higher than that of almost anyone of
previous generations at this point in their lives – adjusted for inflation, of
course. Barring a total disaster, it will be in the seven figures less than ten
years from now. At that point, I may or may not own a residence. But once again
barring a total disaster, there will be no kids. I think extremely logically
and have almost completely divorced myself from emotion when it comes to making
financial decisions. Kids made sense when each one repaid the parental
investment in full and then some, often in the form of free labor on a farm or
in the family business. Today, a kid will cost roughly a quarter million
dollars if you are a capable enough parent to prepare him or her to leave the
nest by eighteen – otherwise more. This is one of the most important financial
decisions anyone can make. Any argument in favor of having kids is 100% emotion
based and thus, irrelevant to me. No, I am not a robot. But I am willing and
able to override my feelings in order to put not just surviving, but thriving,
squarely in the number one spot.
Obviously I am not a typical millennial. But I believe that
more than members of any other generation, millennials reflect my way of
thinking on at least some level. For example, the rate of reproduction has
plummeted – in almost a perfectly inverse correlation with education level
attained. Millennials aren’t ruining everything; in many cases we’re ruining
bad things and making room for better ones. Motorcycles are about the most
dangerous form of transportation imaginable and guess what – very few of us are
buying them. Harley Davidson motorcycles are easily the worst possible variety
of motorcycles. They are big, ugly, egregiously loud, and they have zero of the
motorcycle’s three actual advantages – ridiculous speed, low cost, and great
gas mileage. Here again, millennials seem to have it right; Harley is on track
to be bankrupt in less than a decade because we simply do not buy their products.
How about beer? Entire generations drank nothing but piss water and apparently
it never occurred to them to ask for anything better. Millennials didn’t ask.
We demanded. And today, quality beer is widely available while the mass
producers of swill fight for dwindling market share with sort of clever
commercials as they quietly buy up every craft beer brand they can.
On to home ownership – the foundation of the mighty American
economic legacy. It’s true. We aren’t buying them in very high numbers. And
yes, all of the problems I mentioned are playing a role. But I fought through
all of them and could now buy a house without financing if I wanted to. Most
millennials aren’t quite there, but plenty are succeeding in fighting their way
through. The American economic engine has been finding creative ways to make
things affordable for people who can’t actually afford them for a very long
time – since before the Great Depression, in fact. I really don’t buy the
general argument that millennials have just gotten such a raw economic deal
that it can’t be done yet again. I think the biggest issue at play here is
choice. Just like crappy, obnoxious, overpriced death machines (yes, I hate
Harley and can’t wait to see everything related to the company relegated to
Pawn Stars and similar shows) or piss water at any price, we are not buying
houses because we do not want what is available.
Back to the example of my life since it’s what I know best. Yes, I am “throwing my money away” on rent from the conventional perspective. But am I really? I spend just shy of $1200 a month on a very luxurious arrangement. Sure, it’s only a 700 square foot, one bedroom apartment. But that is plenty of space for me, the few possessions I chose to keep when I came here, and the even fewer I have acquired since. It was built in 2013 and has granite countertops, hardwood floors, ten foot ceilings, beautiful track lighting, and a balcony overlooking a resort style pool complete with gas grills all around (the view from my balcony tonight is the featured picture for this post). In addition to the pool areas (yes, there are more than one), the complex has gated entrances, security guards on patrol, a serviceable gym (and I’m pretty picky about them), a clubhouse with a very nice pool table, coffee, and light refreshments, a computer room, several lounges that can be used whenever or even reserved for private events, a yoga studio, trash pickup at your door, about a hundred huge tvs everywhere you go that anyone can turn to any channel they like, and I’m probably leaving a bunch of stuff out. And by the way, I left out the best feature of all – portability. This area hasn’t turned out to be for me so in a little over a month, I’m moving to an even newer complex with even better amenities and in an area I think will be a better fit. And it will cost me roughly the same. If I were offered a better job in a different city, I could make a similar choice without having to worry about selling a house. Anyway, my current complex also happens to be located in an area where you’d be hard pressed to find a piece of real estate priced below half a million dollars. My new one will be in a somewhat more affordable market – if you consider $300k+ affordable when the median household income is around $60k a year. For the record, I do not.
And even if you were willing to spend that kind of money,
you literally couldn’t buy what I’m renting because it doesn’t exist. The
average American house has been growing consistently and today, it is around
2600 square feet. That would have been excessive when the average family was
twice the size it is today. Every one of those square feet has a cost –
mortgage interest, property taxes, time spent cleaning and maintaining,
utilities to heat/cool, more money spent on accumulating and maintaining
clutter, and more. The palaces people think they own are actually financial
prisons and worse, they take up tons of their time as well. This is
unsustainable. It was unsustainable in 2006 and society had a great opportunity
to learn that. But somehow that didn’t happen, just like it hasn’t in so many
other past opportunities, and the average house has only continued to grow.
I want exactly what I have – an appropriate sized residence
with premium, modern features and amenities and as little maintenance as
possible required – or preferably none. Sure, I could find a house or condo
with less than 1000 square feet. But it would probably be old and either
falling apart or shoddily renovated to attract buyers with as minimal an
investment as possible. And that’s because for a long time, we’ve been building
mostly modern mini mansions the average household can’t actually afford and
almost no appropriate sized homes. As a millennial, it certainly seems like far
more of my peers live in households of one or two than in households larger
than that. Even among those who have kids, very, very few have more than one or
two. And like it or not, millennials are now the largest generation in this
country, which is why all of this is so significant. So why do we continue to
build houses that could shelter small armies when almost no one needs more than
2000 square feet and most could get by with considerably less?
In theory, you should be paying more for rent than it would
cost you to own something comparable. That’s the premium you pay for bearing almost
no responsibility. But there are numerous, widespread scenarios where that isn’t
the case and that’s if appropriate properties are even available to buy in a
given area. My situation certainly falls into that category. Find me a property
in my area reasonably close to the size of my apartment that offers even
remotely similar amenities for $1200 or less and I will buy it and pay you
every dollar of equity I build in the first year as a finder’s fee. That’s how
confident I am that it’s not possible here. And I’m serious about that offer by
the way. I could go into an in depth analysis of the numbers and maybe I will
write a post on that one day but for now, suffice it to say that I’m a finance guy,
I look around and run the numbers regularly, and this isn’t even debatable in
I think we’re going to see housing change over time and I
believe the process has already started. We’re already seeing it on the margins
in the form of some extreme concepts like tiny houses, which started off as
media curiosities and today are growing common enough that most people have
heard of them. There is actually a market for those things and my guess is that
if builders were to start building new, modern houses of a slightly more
practical size, they would find that there is a huge market for those. Let me
rephrase that. When they start doing that, they will find that. I think we will
see a dramatic increase in premium featured houses being built in the 1000-1500
square foot range. In fact, if I see a builder doing this, I will seriously
consider investing. In time, I think the average size will drop to 2000, and
maybe even below, while the average age will decrease dramatically as tons of
houses are built to accommodate smaller household sizes and the weight of those
numbers pulls in that direction.
And we will all be better off. We as a country do not
benefit when such a high percentage of people are “house poor” to the point
where they are a few unexpected expenses or a moderate injury or illness away
from foreclosure. I don’t believe it benefits the economy when all factors are
considered and it certainly doesn’t benefit us as a society to have a bunch of
people living in such a terribly stressful situation. It certainly doesn’t
benefit us to have so much of our economy resting on the house of cards that is
the mortgage backed security system. And no, that has not been fixed since the
Great Recession. Just like the several previous times it has collapsed on
itself, some politicians slapped some wrists and introduced some new, “this
time we’re actually serious” sounding legislation that really just towed the
wreck of the Titanic in to port, threw a tarp (no pun intended here) over the
gaping hole in the hull, rearranged a few deck chairs, and sent it right back
out to sea. The problem won’t actually be fixed until we address the real, underlying
cause. But naïve optimist as it may make me sound like, I believe we will do it
– at least to an extent that will make a substantial improvement. I believe we
will “right size” houses and when the dust settles, it is going to be a very
good thing for everyone. The media and society at large loves to rip on my
generation and certainly plenty of it is warranted. However, I believe we have
been brought up in just the set of circumstances necessary to have made us
exactly the people to do what several previous generations have failed to.
Disagree? I would love to hear your reasoning.
Time to save some folks some more money. Since it’s that
time of year for me again, today I’m going to do it by writing about how I play
the internet game. Why didn’t I say the cable/internet game? Because cable is
useless. You can get every show or movie with internet alone and as a bonus,
there are no commercials in most cases. If live sports are your poison, those
are often on over the air tv so you can get your fix in HD with a ten dollar
antenna. They make fancy ones that cost ten times that much but if you read the
reviews, you will likely conclude, as I have, that no one has ever topped the
rabbit ears at any price point. You can even put them in your basement or attic,
as I once did, so you don’t even have to look at them in your living room. If
your live sports are not on over the air tv, you still have plenty of options –
bars, friends’ houses, streaming, etc. In conclusion, no cable needed – and I
didn’t even have to go into how the average person spends way too much time
staring at a screen and should simply be doing it far less in the first place.
Or Kodi for that matter…
Why do I call it the internet game? That’s all that most of
life is. And that is certainly the case with internet service providers (ISPs).
They lure customers in with a relatively reasonable rate, then double it a year
later. The fewer customers fight back or do so successfully, the better the ISP
does in the game. More profit equals winning. But you don’t want to fatten up
an ISP’s profit margin and you don’t have to. Now in the internet game, there
are only two basic scenarios – one easy and one slightly more difficult. But
not to worry. I’ve experienced them both and both are beatable. You have
scenario one if you live in a major metro area with more than one viable
internet option. In other words, child’s play. Scenario two is when you have
only one. And no, satellite and the like don’t count as options. Remember, we
do not inconvenience ourselves in the name of saving money; we simply save
If you have options, as I do here in Houston, the game is
already over the minute you show up. First, sign up for your “promotional rate”
internet with AT&T. Bonus points if you negotiate an extra hundred dollar gift
card out of them as I did last time to negate the unnecessary “installation fee”
they charge for a technician to pay you an unnecessary visit. Remember, you are
in the driver’s seat because there is competition. When they raise your rate a
year later, look at what Comcast, or whatever other option you have, is
offering. In this case, I’m about to save some money because they’re offering
internet in my area for $30 instead of the $40 I’m paying now. Yay for me. Next,
you call your current provider and tell them to cancel your account. When they
ask why, simply tell them the truth; they jacked your rate up and there is a
cheaper option available to you – so bye. They will probably transfer you to
their retention department but that’s why you’ve done your homework. Stick to
your guns unless they can beat your other option. There really is no more to it
than that since your next call is actually going to be to your other option,
which does exist. However, in this scenario, the retention department just
might actually work hard to win your business because they know that. Going
into the call, I know I’m going to save a minimum of $10 a month, but possibly
more if their numbers are down and they’re feeling especially motivated today.
If you don’t have options, you can still win, but you have
to be a little more creative. The game starts off the same way as above, but
when your year is up, it changes. You can try negotiating with the retention
department if you want to but again, they know the local market. So if you don’t
have any better options, they are pretty unlikely to be in deal mode. But that’s
ok. If you don’t get anywhere with them, simply cancel. Next, have your significant
other call them and set up new service at the address. Don’t have one? Invent
one. If they require a social security number or something over the top like
that, have a friend call and return the favor for him or her. You get the
point. This is war, people, so band together against the common enemy, which is
anyone trying to rip you off. Once your alternate account name’s year is up,
you can typically call and set up your own service again at the “promotional
rate” since most ISPs purge your information from their system after six months.
That is the main game but here are a few other pointers.
1. If there is any kind of a modem/router rental fee
charged, don’t pay it. You can usually buy a compatible setup for no more than
$50-100 and they usually last at least a few years if not longer. Given that
you’re avoiding a $10-15 a month rental fee plus taxes and fees being charged
on top of it, this small “investment” pays for itself in less than a year.
2. Like all businesses, your ISP wants to make as much
profit as possible. Its cost is whatever it takes to provide your service and
its revenue is whatever it can get you to pay. Here’s the dirty secret: most of
the cost is in setting up and maintaining the network. In other words, there is
very little marginal cost between different speeds. And here’s another secret:
most people need no more than 10-20 mbps – usually around the bottom rung of
service that is offered. When they ask what you use the internet for, they’re
listening for that magic phrase – streaming. That’s when they’ll say you need
some ridiculous speed like 50 or even 100 mbps (depending on how gullible they’ve
decided you are) and attempt to upsell you. If you let them fool you, you can
quickly wind up paying way too much for internet. Go with the lowest speed that
is offered and when they try to play the upselling game, tell them you use the
internet exclusively for email and web browsing. At this point, they may try
any number of low brow sales tactics and of course they would; the more they
get you to pay, the more they get paid. Once again, stick to your guns. I
promise the world will not end over this decision, no matter what they tell
3. Another note on speed is that sometimes the best deal isn’t advertised. When I was in Wisconsin, Time Warner (later acquired by Spectrum) used to offer a “budget plan” of maybe 3 or 5 mbps for $15. The next highest speed was about three times the price. As a bonus, it was somehow exempt from the “promotional rate” bullshit. I was able to keep it for years. I still fondly remember the day a sales woman from some company or other came to the door and asked what I was paying. I told her what I paid for internet and that I don’t pay for cable under any circumstances and she literally did an about face and headed for the next house without another word. Good times. But this plan wasn’t advertised on the Time Warner website. I happened to have heard about it from someone so I called and asked for it. After listening to a few minutes of the inside sales rep insisting I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my internet if I went with this horribly inadequate plan and ignoring it all, I was in business. And guess what. ISPs can’t perfectly control the speed you get. So even though 3-5mbps would have been adequate anyway, I often got double or triple the speed I was paying for – most likely a regression towards the mean situation. If you want to find out how much speed you are getting, you can find tons of online options by googling “speed test.” But in any case, it certainly doesn’t cost anything to try the slowest available speed and switch if it doesn’t work. Assuming it won’t work very well may cost you something. Assuming can do that in tons of different situations in life.
That should about cover it. If you’re paying more than
$40-50 a month, you’re paying too much. By employing these three methods, you
should be able to prevent that from ever happening. Adios for now.
It is no secret among those who know me that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. While it seems counterintuitive, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the prevalence of this problem and the unprecedented and continuing economic success our country has enjoyed. So if you struggle with it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Most of us do, at least some of the time, and our circumstances in life really don’t seem to have a significant effect on that. As difficult as depression symptoms are to deal with, the sheer persistence of the disease in the face of long term, consistent efforts to eradicate it, has been the most frustrating aspect for me.
However, there is plenty to be hopeful about. Several months
ago, I started making a more focused effort than ever to get my depression
under control. First I had to accept, once and for all, that depression is a
part of me and probably always will be. Acceptance is so important! As I
understand it, suffering isn’t a direct result of circumstances, but rather,
the result of the difference between those circumstances and one’s expectations.
So in other words, anyone can be unhappy if he isn’t willing to accept reality.
This is a large part of the explanation for miserable billionaires and happy
people who don’t know where their next meals are coming from.
Accepting the reality that I will always have depression to contend
with was a huge help. The next big step was taking responsibility for my own
mental health. Too often in my life I’ve leaned on mental health professionals,
thinking that if I invested enough time and money, I would have to see results.
But just like with anything else, that isn’t enough. Simply going through the
motions didn’t work for me. I wasted thousands of dollars in copays and
hundreds of hours because I went in with the wrong mindset. The correct
mindset, as in any situation, is to take responsibility – not for making the
investment, but for attaining the RESULTS. When I finally did that around the
middle of last year, I naturally started putting in the focused work that was
necessary and everything changed.
What were my tactics? For one thing, I started reading with
the specific purpose of defeating depression. Some of the books that really
helped me include: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey,
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz,
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, Self-Compassion: The Power
of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for
Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS
Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, and Mind Over Mood: Change How
You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Christine
Padesky, and Aaron Beck. But beyond just reading, I started actively working on
changing my thought process. There are hundreds of very worthwhile exercises
and things to think about in just the books I listed and I highly recommend
working through them all to find the ones that help you.
But reading books takes time. Today I want to challenge you
to start with one simple, but incredibly powerful concept: gratitude. This isn’t
the first time I’ve mentioned it in this young blog and that is no accident.
Why is it so important? If you can change the way you think and start looking
for positives instead of negatives, a few things will happen. Biologically, you
will literally change your physical brain as you force it to work in different
ways. That means that thinking positively will become easier with practice just
like lifting weights does as your muscles get stronger. You will likely notice
that your happiness level increases fairly quickly. But maybe the most exciting
thing that will happen when you make it a priority to be thankful for the good
things in your life is that you will get more of them. That’s right; changing
the way you think will literally change your circumstances in life.
This isn’t some silly gimmick or pseudo-science. I’m not
talking about thinking about things you want and the universe magically
manifesting them for you. What I’m talking about is real. How does it work?
When you start focusing on positive things in your life and being thankful for
them, you will start to see more of them. This is human nature; you tend to
find what you’re looking for and miss a lot of what you aren’t. When you start
seeing more positive things, you start feeling better. When that happens, you start
acting differently. You make an extra sales call. You meet a smoking hot girl
and ask her out on the spot. Or maybe you just simply hold the door for
someone. When you change your actions, your results start to change. Each of
the examples I just listed can lead to something good happening for you and if
you make enough changes like them, they certainly will. The first step to
success is simply showing up and doing something. Success has a way of
snowballing really quickly so literally all you have to do is start the process
and ride the momentum from there and things will improve.
So how am I going to challenge you today? I want you to
focus on making gratitude a part of your life. Immediately. In order for this
to be as effective as possible, it needs to be obnoxious. Start keeping a notebook
around or taking notes in your phone or whatever works for you. Every hour you’re
awake, write down something you’re thankful for. Every single hour. I guarantee
you can think of something. It can be as big as getting a promotion at work or
as small as a conversation you had that you enjoyed. Still can’t find
something? I bet you aren’t dying of cancer right now. I’ll bet even more that
a tsunami didn’t just destroy your house and all your belongings. Try not to
lean on the “it could always be worse” crutch too often but you can use it when
you have to.
At the end of each day, review your list and pick out your
favorites. Think about them as you lay in bed and go to sleep. There is no
better way to start a night of restful sleep. Look back over previous days’
lists whenever you’re starting to feel down and remind yourself of some of the
blessings in your life until the mood passes.
This exercise isn’t going to cure anyone’s depression. Much
like alcoholism, I am not sure there is a cure. I think you just have to
acknowledge that it exists and commit to fighting it every day. Do my gratitude
challenge for a week or two and see how you feel. See if it is easier to come
up with an item to add to the list than it was when you started. You are already
going to notice progress and that is a money back guarantee! Obviously this
doesn’t end your war. But it puts one battle in the win column. Next, pick out
something else to try. Remember, big victories are made up of many little ones.
If anyone decides to complete my challenge, I would love to hear about the
results. So leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and
let me know how it worked for you.
While combing through a friend’s finances with him in search
of savings opportunities recently, we struck gold with his car insurance. He is
going to save hundreds of dollars over the next year as a result of making one
minor change and at this point in his life, that will go a long way for him. In
the process, I realized that car insurance is probably a large potential
savings opportunity for a lot of people and I was inspired to write a post on
the basics. Please note that I am no insurance expert and none of this, or
anything in any other post for that matter, is intended as legal advice. But I
do know a fair bit and I may be able to help point you in a direction that will
save you some cash.
The first thing I tell anyone about insurance in general is
that in many cases, loyalty counts for nothing. In my experience, the only
reward for staying with a company long term is a consistent premium increase.
This doesn’t necessarily apply to all companies but it also doesn’t cost you
anything to get a few quotes to make sure your existing company is still
competitive. I recommend doing so every couple of years or so. Companies seem
to make fairly regular changes to the way they rate drivers, vehicles, etc, and
the only way to find out about them is to shop around and see who is offering
you the best deal today. Don’t assume that anything will be consistent from
person to person or even from year to year for the same person. Numerous
variables go into what premium is charged. Some agents seem to be very willing
to shop around for you as a new customer but very reluctant to do so when you
are already on the books. This has to do with their business model. However, just
as with almost any other service, if you are less valuable as an existing
customer than you were as a new one, become a new one again – for someone else.
Another important thing to look at with car insurance is
your coverage itself. Liability coverage is required in most states now and is
required by common sense and basic human decency everywhere. Sometimes the
legal minimums are lower but I recommend at least 100/300 for bodily injury and
100 for property damage – and 200/400/200 wouldn’t be overkill either.
Remember, if you run out of insurance coverage, you’re on the hook from that
point on. And things can get expensive very quickly whether you’re paying to repair
cars or people so skimping on this to save a few bucks on premiums could be a
very painful decision in the long run. Liability coverage also benefits you in
the form of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. There are simply far too
many irresponsible people out there and as usual, people who make one bad
decision, such as not having car insurance, tend to make others as well. In my
relatively young life, I’ve already been rear ended by not one, but two
uninsured drivers while stopped behind lines of cars at stoplights. It doesn’t
get any more “not at fault” than that. In both cases, I was very glad to be
covered by my own insurance company even though the drivers who hit me hadn’t
had the decency to get coverage of their own.
So where can you save money on coverage? In the physical
damage section. For this part, you need to consider both the car you’re driving
and your financial situation. First of all, if your car is worth less than
$5000, you may want to consider passing on collision coverage altogether. Of
course, this means if you are in an at fault accident, you have to pay to repair
the damage to your car. But most accidents are minor ones that involve little
more than replacing a bumper, which is usually around $1000. Plus, if your car
is worth that little, chances are you’re not going to repair minor damage
anyway. So by not having the collision coverage, you’re really betting that you
either won’t get in an at fault accident or that if you do, it will be a minor
one. I like those odds. That said, if you don’t have a reasonable emergency
fund of at least $5000, you may want to think twice about this.
Please note that if there is a lien on your car (in other
words, if you have yet to pay it off), you cannot do this because it will put
your loan in default status. You probably don’t want a visit from the friendly
repo man anytime soon – even if your lender is likely to call and threaten you
for a while before they go to that extreme.
If you want to follow a more minor version of the no
collision coverage strategy that doesn’t put an auto loan in default, you can
raise the deductible. Going from $500 to $1000 usually makes a decent
difference in the premium. I have never seen going higher than $1000 do much of
anything so I leave it there. This should pretty well confirm what I said above
about most accidents amounting to a $1000 bumper replacement; insurance
companies literally bet on it with their pricing.
Aside from coverage changes, there are a few other more traditional methods of lowering your car insurance premium. You can pay for six months at a time or annually if your insurance company offers that option. This usually saves you a little and offers the bonuses of both a head start on any credit cards you may be churning and locking in the premium for the full term you’re paying for. For example, I will only do a full year here in Houston since premiums are rising very quickly as insurers work to recoup their Harvey related losses. You can also get a discount for getting your car insurance from the same company as your homeowners/renters policy. You can talk to your agent to make sure you’re getting all the discounts you may be eligible for (good student, membership in certain associations, completed safety classes, etc). In the case of many insurers, you can also get a discount for letting them use a gps to monitor your driving habits. However, as a safe driver, but one who also likes to get where I’m going in a timely fashion, I’m always going to pass on that offer.
This obviously isn’t exhaustive of every possibility but
hopefully it will give you an idea or two to try out. Good luck and safe
travels out there!
Happy weekend to you! A while back, I wrote a post about exactly how I use credit cards to make an extra $2k a year of tax free income. If you haven’t read it already, I recommend doing so now because parts of this post are going to build on it. I have a couple of minor changes to tell you about that are going to make things just a little bit better. This is a great example of a procedure I engage in periodically – redoing my research to make sure I am still getting the best deals available in every area of life.
The Bank of America Cash card recently prompted me to do
this when it introduced a small upgrade. Now, instead of paying 3% on gas purchases,
it will pay 3% on your choice of a handful of categories – gas, dining, travel,
and some others. You can even change your selection as often as once a month.
So if you have a vacation coming up, for example, simply switch your selection
and boom – you’re now getting 3% on travel! The card will still pay 2% on
Costco purchases. Please note that I’m sticking with the format of my last post
in only listing the optimal bullet points. For example, I didn’t mention the 1%
this card offers on the “all other” purchases category since the Citi Double
Cash card already pays 2% there. In my case, of the new options, I was leaning
towards rotating between dining and travel depending on how much travel I had
planned for any given month. However, the situation suddenly became more
complicated – in a good way.
Since as part of this I wouldn’t be earning 3% on gas purchases anymore, I decided to do a quick check to find out if there are any current offers that beat my default 2% for gas. The first stop on this search was www.doctorofcredit.com. This is an excellent financial hacker type blog that does a far better and more thorough job of covering credit cards, in particular, than I’ve seen anyone else do. And today the good doctor had some good news for me; there is a newcomer on the scene that will put a little extra money in my pocket!
The Wells Fargo Propel card, which apparently came out last
year, has two claims to fame. First off, it appears to offer the largest sign
up bonus (30k points/$300) of any credit card available that doesn’t charge an
annual fee. Second, it pays 3% on a nice range of categories – travel, gas,
dining, and streaming services. This is an excellent no fee card and it’s going
to have a place in my wallet as soon as the snail mail can get it to me.
But here is the rub. The Bank of America Cash card, which
prompted me to redo my research in the first place, is suddenly looking
irrelevant. For those following along at home, the Wells Fargo Propel card
covers each of the most valuable Bank of America Cash categories – except that
instead of paying 3% on one of them at a time, it does so on all of them. So is
the Bank of America Cash card facing the cruel fate of offering an upgrade and
being rewarded with a “do not pass go, do not collect $200” style trip through
Not so fast. Bank of America offers a 10% bonus if you redeem your rewards into one of their checking or savings accounts. So for every $100 I earn on the Bank of America Cash card, I get $110 if I put it into the savings account I already use to maximize the rewards of my Bank of America Better Balance Rewards card. There is also the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program that could give you bigger bonuses than that. But I am strictly a low effort level hacker so I will have to refer you to www.doctorofcredit.com if you want to learn more about that angle. In any case, that 10% bonus, plus the 2% paid on Costco purchases (the Wells Fargo Propel card is an Amex and Costco only accepts Visa right now), means the Bank of America Cash card will narrowly avoid the shredder although now it will only be used for whatever category I’ve chosen to pay 3% in any given month.
Keen observers of big business will probably note that the proximate
timing of these two events is almost certainly no coincidence. This is how things
work. So when one company does something of note, you should automatically be
watching its competition because more likely than not, there will be a response
and it may just benefit you.
So there you have it. One opportunity begets another. In
this case the gain will be $300 this year plus a modest amount in the low
hundreds in subsequent years. But given that applying for the Wells Fargo
Propel card took me no more than five minutes and switching my Bank of America
Cash category selection here and there will take me no more than that over the
course of an entire year, this is still a more than worthwhile maneuver.
Reading is a very rewarding aspect of my life. I believe
that the day a person stops learning, he begins to lose relevance. Of course
there are plenty of ways to learn but with reading, you can expand your
knowledge in a very focused manner. You can then integrate this new knowledge into
your life in all sorts of ways which will make you a more interesting and capable
person. This will translate into a more successful and fulfilling life. Plus,
reading a book while you drink coffee in the morning is a wonderful way to get
your day off to a great start. Every now and again I will post a quick review
of a book I really enjoyed and here is the first one.
The Consuming Instinct by Gad Saad (2011)
Gad Saad has made a name for himself by applying his study
of the young, but revolutionary field of evolutionary psychology, to marketing.
He also happens to be very adept at explaining very complex concepts so that
even someone who is not naturally very scientifically inclined, such as the
author of this post, can not only understand them, but feel them come alive. In
this book, Saad examines the relationship between consumption and the sum of
what we have all had bred into us over the course of human history. The kicker
is that he defines consumption very broadly so in the course of the book, he
ends up covering a wide range of human behaviors.
This book helped me to understand a lot of what doesn’t
appear to make logical sense about the world. For example, junk food exists. It
is literally garbage that makes us less healthy and we all know that. And yet
we pay our hard earned money to buy it and put it in our bodies, often in
ridiculous quantities. If this were a purely logical world, junk food would not
be produced at all because there would be no market for it. Once you’ve read
this book, you will understand why it happens anyway along with so many other
things. Saad also delves into the recently socially dangerous, but ever
relevant topic of the differences between the way males and females think and
act. Once again, he has very valuable insight and suddenly a whole bevy of
behaviors I have observed but never fully understood are starting to make more
This is a book that will really get you thinking and that’s
what makes it so valuable. Plenty of scientists could undoubtedly write a book
full of concepts that would be worthwhile to learn but difficult for a
layperson to understand. This particular book accomplishes the former but
bypasses the latter in favor of being very engaging. Simply put, this book is a
great teacher and if you read it, you will come away richer for the experience.
Normally I’m lucky if I see a movie a month. But since my weekends right now involve being as inactive as possible for a while so my ankle can heal, here are my thoughts on the movies that have been part of the bright side of this situation thus far. Oh. And also from this weekend; as a guy who is STILL bitter about the 09 Vikings loss to them in the NFC Championship, the Saints got screwed.
Deadpool 2 (2018)
I went into Deadpool 2 not knowing what to expect. Would it
fall short of recapturing the lightning in a bottle its predecessor did as so
many sequels of surprisingly excellent movies do? It was a very different time
in my life when I watched the first one. Could I have changed so much since
then that I would feel differently about the entire concept now even if it were
executed very well again? I’m happy to say that those concerns were unfounded
whether evaluating the movie relatively or on its own merits. Everything that
made the first Deadpool great is not only preserved, but developed a little
further. One of my favorite elements of the first movie was the juxtaposition
of ridiculously violent scenes and music that just didn’t match them at all.
That has been taken to about its limit in this one and it had me laughing as
hard as I’ve laughed in a long time. The unapologetic irreverence and constant
smart ass quips are still there and the timing and pace are just as good. All
Deadpool’s friends are back (with the exception of Francis obviously) and he
makes some compelling new ones as well. Minor spoiler alert: not all of the new
characters last very long but their quick deaths are about as hilarious as
deaths can be.
But beyond being rolling on the floor funny, the plot is
where this movie really shines. This time it’s more complex than simply “good
guys against bad guys” as not everyone is quite who they seem to be. The
romantic relationship of every man’s dreams is still part of the movie but Mr.
Wilson has to go on another hero’s journey rather than simply being allowed to
enjoy it in peace. Ethical choices are presented and struggled with. Unlikely
alliances are forged, broken, and forged again. An impressive range of emotions
are explored given the nature of the movie. And ultimately, the whole spectacle
This is one franchise I will gladly keep following until it
stops hitting it out of the park and that hasn’t happened yet. It accepts
neither categorization nor convention and instead, it simply entertains without
taking so much as a single breath between jokes, punches, etc. There isn’t a
roller coaster with rapid enough twists and turns to merit being a metaphor for
what this franchise does. I’m not a fan of most superhero movies and I hope the
concept has almost outlived its day as the automatic profit machine of the
industry so we can start seeing a little more variety. But the Deadpool series
is so much more than just another superhero movie. And while it makes liberal
use of jokes about, and references to, other storylines I personally know
nothing about (I think most of them are X-Men related), it never seems to do so
in a way that leaves me feeling on the outside looking in. At the end of the
day, I can’t think of any valid criticism of this movie and I made a pretty
determined effort to do so in the time since I watched it. If you can, I would
be very interested to hear it.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
I know, I know. This is a classic and it’s criminal that
I’ve lived this long without seeing it. But cut me a break; I wasn’t even ten
years old when it originally came out and it has taken me some time to find my
way to it as an adult. I suppose I should give the movie the benefit of the
fact that it is a quarter century old and a lot has happened since then. For
example, today Kevin Spacey is more to some folks than simply an incredibly
gifted actor. But he certainly is that as well and he was awesome in this
movie. The elapsed years have also given me the benefit of having seen a lot of
movies that have likely stood on the shoulders of this one and others like it,
which may explain why I was able to see the ending coming fairly early on.
Usually I don’t have that ability.
In general, this movie was well acted and the plot very
cleverly crafted. It was entertaining and enjoyable and I can understand why so
many people love it – even in 2019. I will say that it didn’t overwhelm me from
an emotional standpoint. Maybe if it had, my brain would have been distracted
enough to prevent me from figuring out the ending as early as I did. But
regardless, the movie certainly challenged itself and the audience more than
most of the rehashed, formulaic crap we see today. And I believe it conquered
that challenge, even if not in a totally transcendent way.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
I don’t see many biopics and even fewer musical ones but
Queen, or more specifically Freddie Mercury, has always captivated me so I
decided to check this movie out. Freddie Mercury was acted very well, some of
the supporting actors were also pretty solid, and the music was great, of
course. But there is one thing that started gnawing at me early on and only got
worse. For me, a movie of this nature is only the beginning; the first thing I
did when I finished it was to google Queen and Freddie Mercury and start
reading. And at that point, I quickly understood where that disconcerting
feeling had been coming from.
Why? The movie changed a lot of facts for no apparent reason
and based on my reading, it may have done the same with some of the less
quantifiable aspects of who Mercury actually was as well. I didn’t find
anything written about why most of these liberties were taken with the history
of a man and the band that rode his legendary star power from very likely
obscurity to “fame and fortune.” But I can’t help but feel like maybe it has to
do with that old quote about history being written by the winners, applied to
this particular situation on the basis of who is still alive and who is not.
I’m not going to go into all the discrepancies I noticed because I don’t want
to ruin the movie for anyone but there were quite a few if much of what I read
had any credibility at all.
I don’t know how much of a hand the surviving band members
had in making this movie but I understand it had to be made in such a way as to
garner their approval so they would allow the music to be used – obviously an
essential element. And I think that is probably the likeliest explanation of why
the movie almost seemed to be trying to alter the characters involved to make
the balance of the situation appear different. I get it; there were band
members besides Freddie Mercury. To highlight their contributions would have
been fine. But to cast unjustified aspersions on Mercury’s memory in an attempt
to make others appear more significant or more responsible for the band’s otherworldly
success does give off a hint of sour grapes. I would still say the movie is
worth seeing for the combination of some very capable acting and the fun of
seeing the music performed. But the whole thing did leave me with a funny taste
in my mouth and the more I read about the real story the movie was based on,
the more I realized why.