Howdy folks! This week, we saw something a little different.
My employer’s latest round of firings caught just about everyone by surprise
when it was done on – gasp – a Tuesday. Not even the last day of the month. Now
I think they’re just toying with us. But in any case, nearly half of our
division, by far the most productive in the country, is now gone – and that
includes several people I truly love and care about. Yours truly survived again
thanks to two very good months followed by a July so stellar it literally eclipsed
any previous QUARTER I’ve had by itself. Can I keep it up? Only time will tell.
The industry is in absolute shambles, with widespread attrition happening. That’s
why I haven’t been able to simply leave. Very few viable companies are hiring
and even if they were, I’d likely be jumping out of the frying pan and into the
fire. But this latest round has opened up an opportunity for me that I believe will
result in a lot of new business. So stand and fight, while diversifying by
growing my side business as much as possible, seems to remain my best available
course of action for now.
Do you like to play chess? I loved it as a young lad. And lately, I’ve found a fairly convenient way to get back into it a little bit. It wasn’t exactly difficult. I play on www.chess.com. You can play with a computer at various levels or with human players from around the world who you are matched with based on both of your ratings. It works pretty seamlessly. There are lots of different game settings, different types of tournaments you can participate in, analysis, lessons, different ways to practice, basically, it seems to have everything you could want. I’ve only been playing the free version and while it offers plenty of functionality for a casual player like me, there are also very reasonably priced paid versions for more serious players. I highly recommend the site if you enjoy playing chess. And if you give it a try, who knows? You may find yourself facing off with me – although you likely won’t know it.
That’s all for today. Have an awesome Friday and an even
Another week is almost behind us! Over the last few years, I’ve decided that one of the best ways to determine whether you’re living a life of significance is to pay attention to that. Do your days drag on in the seemingly endless pursuit of weekends that seem to melt through your fingers almost as soon as they arrive? Or do the weeks fly by to the point where you often forget what day it even is? Living in the latter category has been very satisfying for me while the former was often terrible.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my will lately – or rather,
my current lack of one. In addition to distributing my assets when I die, it
will need to unwind my business activities in a way that is as minimally
disruptive to my business partners as possible. I really need to get on this.
But this same line of thinking also leads me somewhere else. Somewhere most
finance blogs never quite seem to reach.
Saving and investing is all well and good, but what happens
if I die before I’m ever able to enjoy the fruits of any of that? Other people
have their own aspirations in life and while they may be happy to inherit my
money, it’s also quite possible that it may be disruptive to them in the long
run. After all, I firmly believe that struggle is what leads to personal growth
of all kinds. Money typically reduces the degree of struggle in life and I
would much rather help facilitate growth than stunt it. I have a lot of figuring
out to do in this area. But it is far from a foregone conclusion that my money
will do more good for people who didn’t earn it than it could for me while I’m
The people in life matter to me more than anything. This is
why I went to Austin this weekend to visit a friend who was there for a
conference. We go back about a decade at this point and it’s always a thrill to
see him. My career has taken me all over the United States since I met him,
while his has taken him all over the world. It’s a wonderful thing to bring all
of our experiences together against the backdrop of reminiscing about the past,
and usually in some novel new place.
This time, we had just enough time to get to an old favorite
– The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas – to
enjoy some of the best bbq on our planet along with the restaurant’s BYOB
policy. If you’re ever in the Austin area, I highly recommend you pick up a six
pack or three and give it a try. It’s a three to five hour undertaking once
wait time is considered, but that’s why you need to do it with good friends.
You drink in both the beer and some good company in their covered outside area
while you wait for your buzzer to go off, then go inside to enjoy some
incredible bbq when it does. It’s not a terribly cheap date, although the BYOB
policy balances things out a little since alcohol is usually marked up quite high
Is it economical to drive 150+ one way miles to see a friend
for an afternoon and then back in the same day? No, not particularly. But life
is about so much more than being economical. I’ll remember this particular
afternoon fondly for some time to come – maybe years. And that is worth so much
more than the money it cost me. So why am I writing this post? I just want to
remind the people like me, who may be a little too careful for their own good
at times, that you can’t take it with you. Don’t forget to drink in the moments
along the way. Most of the time, you can accomplish that without spending much
money. But don’t pass up truly special opportunities just because you can’t.
I’m pretty sick of the superhero trend in Hollywood. But over the last decade or so, one particular franchise was the exception to that. Ok, two if you count Deadpool; but I would argue that those movies offer much more than just another superhero series. Anyway, when I saw The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, I went in expecting a crescendo from a trilogy that had started off strong with Batman Begins, and then taken a giant leap forward from there with The Dark Knight. Sadly, I came away bitterly disappointed. However, while there is no denying that the movie was a step backwards from the Dark Knight, and possibly from Batman Begins as well, a subsequent viewing convinced me that my initial expectations for it had been unreasonable and left me feeling that it was a much worse movie than it actually was. Today I believe it was an overall solid movie with moderate plot problems that relied excessively on Michael Bay-esque large scale destruction in a flailing effort to emerge from the giant shadow its predecessor cast over it. And also, that it has more to say than I had given it credit for at first.
Early in the movie, as he squares off with Batman for the
first time, Bane tells Batman that “Peace has cost you your strength; victory
has defeated you.” He then proceeds to toy with his clearly overmatched
opponent until he gets bored and finishes the fight, pounding Batman until his
mask literally breaks and finally, lifting him over his head and cracking him over
his knee. Unrealistic? Yes. Brutal, visceral entertainment that culminates with
shuddering on the part of any audience member who has ever dealt with back
pain? Also yes. But the red meat of the fight is in Bane’s quote. It would
appear that life has been pretty comfortable for the caped crusader since the
events of The Dark Knight. But that comfort costs him the ass kicking of a
lifetime at the hands of Bane.
Fast forward to the near the end of the movie – before the
plot REALLY falls apart – to Batman’s second fight with Bane. This time, the
preparation has been anything but comfortable; in fact, it nearly broke him.
But as a result, he has come back much stronger than he was at the beginning of
the movie. Admittedly, he gets a little lucky in this fight when Bane’s mask,
which appears to be necessary for him to breathe, breaks. One does wonder how
that never happened in the first fight, given that Batman landed several
uncontested punches to Bane’s face in that one as well. But Hollywood magic
aside, Batman soundly defeats Bane in their rematch, if not quite as
dramatically as Bane won the first fight. This is not an uncommon lesson in
stories, but I chose this as an example because I love the way Bane articulated
Life has a way of putting us in uncomfortable situations.
But with the proper mindset and work ethic, we can turn these difficult
circumstances into gifts for our future selves. Growing up, I mostly lived with
scarce resources. This discomfort led me to learn everything I could about
money so I would never have to face those conditions again and today, it looks
very unlikely that I ever will. Fast forward to my MMA training. Early on, I
distinctly remember having my ass handed to me many times by smaller, physically
weaker men who had gone through countless hours of hell learning their
techniques. Going through that myself made me a much more capable fighter –
both physically and mentally. Later in life, I lost my wife in an excruciating
manner. I have heard plenty of people say that a divorce is significantly more
difficult to get through than the death of a spouse and while I acknowledge I
have only experienced the former, I would still tend to believe that is true.
It was a severe, complicated form of pain and it went on for the better part of
a year. But that terrible sequence of events motivated me to reevaluate
everything about my life and change most of it, and I am now immeasurably
better off for having gone through it.
But when life isn’t putting us on our asses, sometimes that
can be more problematic. Just like Batman, if we aren’t challenged, we atrophy.
Recently I was reminded of this when I began the process of learning to fly. I
challenge myself as often as possible whether it be in the gym, in doing a very
difficult job, in learning how to run my side business on the fly, in reading
about new things daily, practicing Spanish and German, etc. But I have been working
on most of those things for a long time now and while I’m certainly not an
expert in any of them, I’m far from that day one ass kicking experience in all
of them. I may be improving, but nothing is forcing me outside of my comfort
zone. But being handed the controls to a small airplane fixed that. Within
seconds, it became very obvious to me that I knew absolutely nothing in that
context. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced for a while.
Part of being older and wiser is being excited and thankful
for that feeling and that is how I feel now. There is a profound happiness in
admitting your beginner status because it means you’re in the best position to
learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Life puts us there fairly
often, but I don’t think that’s quite enough. I believe we should continuously
be actively looking for opportunities to be humbled. If something is too easy,
then it simply isn’t enough of a challenge to facilitate the dramatic growth we
should be seeking out each and every day. So today, I encourage each and every
one of you to go find something that will knock you on your ass. Then, work at
it. Stick with it and get better. I believe that is the best way to grow.
Happy Friday, folks! As most of you probably know, employers often do their firing on Fridays. Recently, mine followed that same philosophy, firing over twenty percent of our sales force and some office employees as well. We all knew it was coming; or at least we should have. There were ample signals from management in both words and actions. And even if there hadn’t been, it’s common knowledge that revenue in most of our industry collapsed late last year and has not improved ever since and our “numbers” have reflected that. Simply put, it wasn’t if, but when. But here comes the plot twist. In spite of almost certainly having been “on the list” at one time, yours truly not only survived, but wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about whether he would. There are two reasons for this.
First, since being personally warned that attrition was coming, I’ve been able to produce literally the best numbers of my young career in spite of the state of the market. I’ve gone from somewhere in the lower middle of our division to one of the company’s top performers in the entire world. How did I do it? Sure, I started pushing myself a little harder. But mostly, I kept doing exactly the same thing. I had always been working diligently to develop my new territory – even when the results weren’t reflecting it. It takes about two years to do that successfully and my employer is well aware of that. Had management pulled the plug early, they would have been making an extraordinarily expensive mistake. But economic stress often forces companies to make decisions from a very short term perspective. Luckily for all involved, my territory has absolutely exploded with production over the last couple of months to the point where the mere notion of me being fired would be absurd. At this point, it’s all I can do to keep up with the business I have. If the market recovers even a little bit, look out.
But there is another, more important reason for my lack of
trepidation over my job – I don’t need it anymore. The minute my boss broke the
news to me, the wheels in my head were already turning. He did me a solid by
giving me a warning. But nonetheless, before the conversation was even over, I
had mapped out my plan. A key part of it was to replace employment income
altogether in my life. I have always harbored a healthy hatred of authority;
and alliteration aside, I don’t take that word choice lightly. After spending
my life watching reliance on employers result in devastating consequences for
so many people and finally having it threaten me as well, it was time to act.
My real estate business was only in its early stages at the time. But no
matter. I decided it would be paying all of my expenses by the end of the year
and began ramping it up aggressively. And today, it appears that goal is going
to be accomplished ahead of schedule. Admittedly, the fact that I keep my
expenses low means that wasn’t as high a bar to clear as it may sound like. But
still, success is sweet.
Make no mistake, I still want my employment income. I want
to see my real estate business cover the bills and then some for at least a
year or two before I take the plunge. So the plan is to kick ass in both areas
for the time being and see where it takes me. However, to commemorate the
occasion, I must admit I’ve adopted a rather expensive new hobby – flying. This
is the first thing in my life I can think of that I’ve done without any plan or
goal in mind, but instead, simply because I enjoy it. I am taking lessons and
hope to have my private pilot’s license by around the end of this year. From
there, we’ll see what happens. As long as I’m enjoying myself, I’m happy. But
if I can’t keep an awful lot of money flowing in, I won’t be able to afford to
fly as much. So that should keep me hungry for a while.
The moral of the story? Believe in yourself. If someone
doubts you, be thankful. It’s just more fuel for your fire. If you know you
have a good hand and someone bets against you, be happy. The size of your
payday just increased. And if times get tough in your life, get excited. This
rough patch may be exactly what you needed to convince you to take things to
the next level. Happy Friday, folks! Have a wonderful weekend!
About two months ago, I mentioned that I’m in some career trouble. Simply put, the increasingly difficult economic conditions have put my employer in a precarious position and as a result, only the bona fide superstars are truly safe. And even they are only safe because they are marketable; no one who relies on my employer is because the company itself isn’t certain to survive. While I have been squarely in the rising star category for a while, I haven’t made the next leap yet and my status isn’t good enough in a situation like this. I could be let go any day and I don’t have a big enough name in my industry to ensure I’d be snapped up quickly if that came to pass. Since I found this out, I’ve addressed the situation with maximum effort in three different areas. While there hasn’t been an outright victorious moment yet, there are very encouraging signs in all three areas.
It seems only logical to hedge one’s bets in a situation like this and to that end, I’ve done what I can to find a new job. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself in a position that, while highly valued, is not terribly common. It is perfectly normal for someone in my position to cover a large territory – sometimes a whole state or even several. And there are only a handful of companies that do what my employer does – and some are only regional. So while I could try to get into something a little different, there are not many “smooth transition” options available. I’ve applied for two opportunities over the last two months. Of those, I quickly withdrew from one when I learned some disconcerting things about the company as I did my due diligence and narrowly missed getting an offer from the other (this was the major positive development I was hinting at for a while in some of my posts). I will continue to keep my eye on the market, but given the economic reality of this moment in time, very few people are leaving positions of this kind and very few employers are creating new ones.
My second area of effort is also obvious – I’m trying to put
out the fire in my current house in case I can’t escape it. This has actually
been enormously successful. The last two months have averaged out to be more
than double any other two I’ve had with the company and have included a fair
number of deals the company cares a lot about because they are crucial to the
bottom line. If I can continue at this pace, there is almost no chance I will
be fired. However, there is no guarantee that will happen. In fact, my recent
success has been wildly improbable given market conditions. For months, almost
all of my peers have been doing significantly worse than they typically do, just
as I had been until I suddenly caught fire. And even if I can keep the magic
going, there is still no guarantee the company will survive.
Enter my third area of effort: my side business. A deal just concluded very successfully, I see more opportunity, and I’m ready to push in more chips. I’ve pulled some money from other investments, which was easy to do given my views on where stocks are headed in the short to medium term, and I’m plowing it into the business. I’m not going all in, but I’m betting enough that the possibilities of enough income to cover all my annual expenses and significant pain are both on the table. This project has proven it CAN work. Whether it can be scaled up efficiently or not remains to be seen. But I’ve decided it’s time to have some balls and give it a shot.
There is one other thing I’m focused on: enjoying my life
and not worrying too much. I’ve gone to great lengths to set up my finances to
withstand even an economic catastrophe. And whatever happens, I’m still going
to be the same person who accomplished all I have up to this point. I am
confident that even in a worst case scenario, I would eventually find success
again. Besides, it’s kind of invigorating to be taking big swings at things
that are suddenly very important. Yes, there is a chance I’ll hit the canvas
before this is over. But there is also a chance I will be more successful than
ever before. Either way, I will almost definitely grow for having tried. And at
the end of the day, I think that’s the most important thing.
Another Friday is upon us! It’s been a long time since I’ve
spent my weeks lusting for Friday and the weekend that follows it quite like
this. That probably means something…
I don’t always just write about finance. I’m also big on
self improvement. It seems like most of the world has already discovered this
app but for anyone who hasn’t, I highly recommend that you check it out. Learning
a language is a very rewarding way to spend a little time. In addition to the
positive feelings that result from building a new skill or improving an
existing one, language learning forces your brain to exert itself in ways that
everyday life often doesn’t. Brain science is still so young but we already
know that doing things just a little differently makes lasting changes that
will benefit just about anyone in any stage of life.
Plus, Duolingo isn’t anything like your high school or
college foreign language classes. Believe me, I despised those! I’m decidedly
ungifted in this particular area for some reason. But this app actually makes
it a reasonably enjoyable process and it teaches pretty effectively as well. I’ve
been rapidly improving in both German and Spanish and it just doesn’t suck as
much as I would have expected, for lack of a better way to describe it. I’ve
only used the cell phone app version but I’m told it has a great web based one
as well. I will also note that recently, a new feature appeared – the leaderboard.
It has added a fun element by getting my competitive juices flowing. And
judging by watching other people on the app, I’m not the only one who feels
As always, I’m not getting anything from this. I haven’t
even added a link. I just think this is an awesome app that can really enrich
one’s life and I wanted to recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already given it a
I’ve been reading a book about sleep lately (review coming
soon) and mostly it has solidified what I already knew; sleeping affects damn
near everything about your body, mind, and life. It’s a little mind blowing how
many of the issues I’ve struggled with could potentially be affected, if not
completely caused, by this one problem. As a lifelong insomnia sufferer, this
is both good news and bad news. The bad news, of course, is that I’ve probably
done an incalculable amount of damage to myself by not getting this taken care
of much sooner. But the good news is that everything I’ve accomplished in my
life has been accomplished in a severely handicapped state; and now that I know
this, I can remove the handicap and see what happens!
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been very focused on
getting more sleep in general and I have definitely accomplished that. I’ve
been averaging well over seven hours per night, as measured by a Fitbit, for
most of that time. That’s around an hour more than I’ve ever averaged with the
same Fitbit previously and probably even more of an increase over what I’ve
done over most of my life. So that’s good and it has definitely been reflected
in how I feel. But I’ve noticed that even post improvement, my deep sleep is
consistently near the bottom of the range and my REM sleep never even touches
the bottom of the range at all. So there is still something left to fix.
Based on my research, I’ve purchased a mouth guard on
Amazon. Yes, one of the $30 ones the dentist I only went to one time assured me
wouldn’t help me one bit as she attempted to sell me a $600 version of the same
thing. But there were several reasons I didn’t go back to that dentist for a
second appointment, the reviews on this mouth guard are excellent, and I have an
easy way to measure my results against plenty of my past data. Worst case
scenario, I’ve wasted $30. Best case scenario, I’ve moved closer to fixing a
lifelong problem that has been much more serious than I wanted to believe all
along. I’m always willing to try an experiment with that kind of risk/reward proposition.
I’ll give ya’ll an update on how it works out in a couple of weeks or so.
I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with depression in the past. Many people who deal with this very stubborn affliction know all too well how it can make even the best of times in life seem bleak. It can color current events darker than they actually are and it can barrage you with obsessive thoughts about the worst moments of your past. And it can even be life threatening if it gets you to the point of thinking the only way out of the fog might just be to stop being alive at all. But over the last several years of my life, I’ve been having more and more success fighting back against all of this.
Today, although things are mostly pretty good, I’m dealing with a somewhat difficult moment. My job is in jeopardy and even my employer may be. And while my finances will most likely withstand whatever comes, our current economic conditions and trajectory make this an unfortunate time to be in such a predicament. Additionally, I’ve been frustrated by my lack of progress in building up a social life here in my new home of Houston, Texas. I think a big part of the problem is the paradox of the big city – or at least this one. While there are tons of people around, most of them seem to be here for a very specific, career oriented purpose. The norm seems to be to come here for a new job or a promotion, hang around for a few years, and then leave for the next one. Of course there are people who stay long term too. But they tend to be family oriented, which means they have neither much spare time, nor much in common with me. That said, I’m making some progress on these problems.
On the career side, I’m working on finding a new job, even as more companies go into panic mode and hiring rapidly decelerates. I’m taking things day by day in my current job. I actually had a record month in May in spite of increasingly dismal economic conditions, so all is not lost just yet. And finally, I’m working on expanding my side business in the hopes of moving it closer and closer to capable of funding my living expenses by itself. The good news there is that the worse the economy gets, the more opportunities there are likely to be in the real estate market – even as rent is likely to keep going up.
On the social side, I’ve kept trying and have had some
successes. I’ve met people through a local financial independence oriented
group, even as I’ve grown increasingly frustrated that most of them have kids
and are almost exclusively interested in activities oriented around them. I’ve
met people playing sports like basketball and tennis and particularly with
tennis, I appear to be gaining traction in terms of getting a regular group
together. Finally, I’ve met people doing random activities. The reality is that
I enjoy spending time with a fairly small percentage of people and as a result,
meeting people has a very low success rate, meaning it’s the dreaded “numbers
game.” But I’ve definitely made progress.
Overall, I’m in a solid mental place. Life is never going to
be problem free so that is the wrong thing to hope for. Working towards being
capable of handling as many problems as possible successfully is a much more
viable goal. And I’m proud to say that for the most part, the problems I’ve
described above are not threatening me. I believe they’re each putting an
appropriate amount of stress on me to keep me actively working on solving them
without being overwhelmed or obsessed.
So what is messing with me now? Somehow, my past has crept back in. 2016 and 2017 both held some pretty serious disappointments, particularly romantically. So that is always an easy place to find myself mentally mired, especially as I get tired in the evenings, since it is relatively fresh. And then, of course, there is my childhood. Historically, I’ve avoided thinking about it as much as possible. To this day, simply speaking to my mom or my sister can be enough to get me down because it reminds me of a time I so desperately want to forget. Freud may not be quite the widely revered figure he had been anymore, but he was definitely on to something with his focus on childhood.
Anyway, last night I had a bout with some of these past oriented negative thoughts. But thankfully, rather than the nightmare of insomnia, it was ended with a revelation I think could be really valuable. It’s a simple concept and it may seem silly, but within maybe ten minutes, it completely pulled me out of what could had been a spiral into a bad place I’ve visited way too many times and helped me relax and get to sleep. For anyone who doesn’t already know, good quality sleep is probably the ultimate weapon against depression and a host of other struggles, both mental and physical. I’ll be talking more about that in another post very soon.
But for today, what was this revelation? It was a metaphor. The world, both spatial and temporal, is a giant wooded area that I’ve been walking through with the resulting paths being my life so far, and my current location my life today. It’s true that some of the paths I’ve followed up to this point have led me through ugly terrain I would have preferred not to traverse. But I don’t have to go backwards and experience those things again. I can, but it is a wildly ineffective way to live. Instead, I should be using the lessons I’ve learned and my mental capabilities to plot a better course from here based on what I really want. So much of my pain has resulted from not having much of a plan at all. How can I complain about where I’ve wound up if I haven’t even had any particular destination?
I think this concept could have great potential in combating depression and even suicidal thoughts. Whenever I’ve thought about suicide, it has been for primarily two reasons. One, I have felt that the pain I was in would never subside and the only escape was death. Two, I have felt that I had screwed up my life so badly that there was no possibility of “coming back” and making it into something I wanted it to be.
Let’s go back to the woods. If you’re thinking about
suicide, this is what I would say to you. You feel you’re in a bad place now,
which is a result of the paths you’ve taken. But is there a place you would be
happy to be in? If there isn’t, then chances are you need more help than this
metaphor can provide and I suggest you get it. But if there is, think hard
about that place. What does it look like? What about it makes you happy? And
here is the most important question. Is there ANY way you can get there from
where you are now? If there is, why kill yourself? You have just admitted that a
path exists that will make you happy if you follow it. And sure, you may be
facing long odds of success. But dying will reduce your odds to zero. Plus, if
you try to follow this path to the place you believe would make you happy, it’s
very likely that you will find some measure of happiness even if you don’t end
up making it all the way there.
Maybe this concept will work for you and maybe it won’t. But I’m telling you, it worked for me last night. My favorite part about it is that it didn’t just turn me away from darkness. It turned me towards light. If you follow the thought process I just described, it should be much more difficult for you to think about negatives when you’re finished because you will have replaced them with positives. Instead of thinking about bad paths you’ve already walked down, you will be thinking about a place you actually want to be in and what it will take you to get there. And sure, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I get that. But if you map out this path to this particular place you want to be in, you will have a mission. And if you work on chipping away at that mission, you’re going to have less room in your head for thoughts that don’t relate to it. Maybe I’m way off base with this. But it helped me through a dark evening and I intend to revisit it as necessary in the hopes of repeating that success. If you’re struggling, maybe it’s worth a try for you, too.
Words are all well and good. But without numbers, how much do they really mean? I’ve decided that in order to make this blog as valuable as possible for readers, I need to make it specific. As such, I’m going to give you a very intimate look at an important element of my personal finances. In particular, I’m going to show you what I spend on EVERYTHING. Obviously this is all specific to me, but to illustrate things more vividly, I’m going to go into detail on each of these “line items,” one post per week. Hopefully it will give some folks an idea or two on how to cut expenses without sacrificing anything that’s important to them.
Before I jump into the numbers, here is some basic
information about me for context. I’m a male in my early thirties with no
dependents (not even pets) and while I spend my share of time with certain young
ladies, I live alone. The numbers below are average figures between what I
spent in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, I lived in an upper middle class Milwaukee
suburb with a relatively moderate cost of living. But for most of 2018, I lived
in the Galleria area of Houston, which is pricier than almost anywhere in
Wisconsin, but still very reasonable for a wealthy part of a major city.
I work as an outside sales rep in the commercial finance
industry. That affects a couple of areas of my spending. First, since I expense
around half a dozen restaurant meals most weeks, I don’t have much desire to eat
at restaurants in my personal life and as a result, I spend almost nothing in
that category. This also cuts down on my grocery spending somewhat, although I
like to cook and spend fairly liberally on groceries for the meals I do buy.
Second, in spite of my employer’s generous vacation policy, actually taking
advantage of it would cost me much more in income than in any other way. Plus,
I travel a lot for work, resulting in general travel fatigue, and I’m single. So
this is just not an area I spend much in. However, I consider both restaurants
and vacations luxury spending categories and thus, if one were trying to live
as economically efficiently as possible, these numbers would still be very low.
As I said above, I’ll get more specific about what I do in
each area in subsequent posts. But in general, my lifestyle (note, I said
lifestyle, not spending; the difference between the two is the foundation of my
financial success) is somewhere between middle class and upper middle class and
I save over half my gross income. In other words, there is plenty of fat in my
expenses since I pretty much do whatever makes me happy. No economic
constraints limit my spending besides my desire to increase my net worth
The first number in each category is what I actually spent;
the second is about what I would spend if I needed to live as economically as
reasonably possible. I will note that the most advantaged living situation is
two productive people under one roof, assuming they can trust one another and
are on the same page financially. When I lived with my ex-wife and we were
working on paying off a mountain of student loans, we spent more than my bare
bones total figure below but didn’t come anywhere close to doubling it (keep in
mind the figure is for one person, not two). So it is definitely realistically
achievable. If you are astute, you will notice that I’ve omitted one very large
expense: taxes and fees. In the interest of keeping things at least somewhat
private, I’ve decided to leave that exact figure out, at least for now. I’ll
simply tell you it is less than the total of all my other expenses but not by
much. Plus, there is only so much one can do to limit that number when the
majority of your income is W2. I’ve been investing more of my time into improving
that situation and if I find success, I may post about it at a later date.
Anyway, here we go!
My Average Annual
Expenses Between 2017 and 2018
Auto maintenance/repairs: 1300 (500)
Cash donations: 2100 (subjective)
Clothing: 700 (100)
Food – groceries: 1700 (1200)
Food – restaurants: 500 (0)
Fun: 2100 (300)
Gas: 2800 (1200)
Gifts: 1200 (200)
Household expenses: 700 (300)
Housing: 12,600 (6000-10,000)
Insurance: 3000 (2000)
Medical: 900 (0)
Memberships: 300 (300)
Other: 2400 (0)
Supplements: 100 (0)
Technology services: 500 (350)
Utilities: 1100 (600)
Vacation: 300 (0)
Vehicle depreciation: 2100 (500)
Total: 36,400 (13,550-17,550)
How did I arrive at these numbers? And why the range in the housing
category for the minimalist budget? You’re just going to have to stay tuned to
There is no denying it; a good diet is key to both physical and mental health. For years I fought against that concept, insistent that if I worked long and hard enough in the gym, I could “have my cake and eat it too.” And while I was successful at staying in above average physical shape that way, I ran into two problems. First, I could never completely outwork an overindulgent diet. The only way I have ever gone from good shape to great is by being disciplined about what I eat and when. Second, as I’ve gotten older (I’m in my early thirties now), the degree of difficulty has increased. Dietary sins I could easily have shrugged off in my early to mid twenties result in significant punishment today – both in my appearance and in the way I feel.
In my experience, eating enough good stuff isn’t too
difficult. I love eating protein so getting enough of that is easy, although I
mostly stick to chicken and fish with beef being an occasional treat. I force
two to three servings of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables down my
throat each day in the form of green smoothies in the mornings and evenings.
From there, I just make sure there is some sort of vegetable element included
with most meals and I have that covered. I make sure to get a moderate amount
of decent quality carbohydrates, which is easy since I enjoy them. Making
things as automatic as possible and minimizing the number of decisions I have
to make helps me to maintain a solid baseline diet.
But one area has always been a thorn in my side. I love junk
food. And I’m not one of those people who has only a sweet tooth or only likes
salty/savory snacks. I’m an all of the above kind of guy, and a gluttonous one
at that. So I want to talk about what I’ve done to combat that – what has worked,
what hasn’t, and what I’ve learned from it. It probably won’t all apply to you
but if any of it gives you an idea that helps, then I consider this post a
success. So in no particular order, here we go.
1. Some things have
I loved soda (that’s “cokes” for my native Texan friends) as
a kid. Thankfully, I wasn’t allowed to have it at home very often but when I
was out of the house – hanging out with friends, for example – I went to town!
I distinctly remember being “up north” (a Wisconsin term to describe “vacationing”
in an even colder, more economically challenged place than your actual home,
which is more than likely easily characterized by both of those already) as a
young lad with some relatives when I consumed five sodas in a single day and
wound up throwing up multiple times that night. I loved the stuff. But in my
early twenties, I learned that it’s basically poison and almost immediately, I simply
stopped drinking it. At no point have I felt any urge to “relapse” and as a
result, I haven’t had any soda in a very long time. I’m almost exclusively a
beer or wine guy when it comes to alcohol, so no, not even in mixed drinks. I
have absolutely no idea why this was so easy for me but sadly, that hasn’t been
the case with other forms of junk food.
2. Moderation has not
been a successful approach at home.
Over the years, no matter what I’ve told myself, I’ve
learned I simply can’t keep junk food at home. I’ve tried everything I can
think of and the result is always the same; I start with the best of intentions
(I will make this last two weeks…), then make little bargains with myself (I
will eat tomorrow’s allotment today, but then NONE tomorrow), then break them
in favor of other less restrictive ones (It’s football season – I’ll eat the
rest of this bag this weekend, but then I won’t open another until next
weekend), until finally, I simply accept reality and wolf down whatever is
left, swearing to never buy it again. The take away here is pretty simple; I
don’t keep junk food at home. Lack of access has proven very effective.
3. Associations can
I don’t believe in drinking milk. At all. I wish I had known
what I know now as a child when I guzzled it like water. Clearly my Mother hadn’t
done as much research on milk as she had on soda; or perhaps the science hadn’t
gotten as far with one as it had with the other. But live and learn. Anyway, at
one time, my ultimate junk food weakness was Oreo’s – a product (note, I didn’t
even use the word food) that requires milk in order to be enjoyed properly. It
was very rare for a package of those evil things to last three days. If I was
doing well, I could limit myself to a single ROW at a time. And I didn’t often
do well. Thankfully, when I stopped drinking milk, Oreo’s no longer did it for
me. I even tried once but without milk, it was like going to the beach without
it being warm outside. It just didn’t make sense. So in that case, cutting out
one bad thing made it much easier to cut out another. This is a concept that
could probably be useful elsewhere…
4. There are
definitely degrees of bad choices when it comes to lunch options and my body
knows the truth.
As an outside sales rep, restaurant lunches are a reality of
life. This was before my working days, but I went to a McDonald’s in 2010 for
the first time in many years. I was involved in a big group activity, we were
in a hurry for lunch, I was not in charge of the group’s decisions, apparently
there was no decent alternative anywhere in the vicinity, there was peer
pressure, etc. It happened, and I paid the price. Almost immediately, I felt
like my stomach was going to explode. And it lasted for the rest of the day
until I gave in, went to the bathroom, and threw up. I didn’t have to try to do
that so much as I just had to stop preventing it from happening. My body’s
tolerance for the purest form of garbage food had been gone for some time.
Today, all I can think of when I see those golden arches is that experience and
I have not repeated that mistake again.
I do go to fast food restaurants sometimes, but only if they
serve some form of actual food. For example, I go to Chick Fil A and get just
about any of the entrees, a large superfood side salad, medium fries, and
water. That’s a pretty decent meal for a hungry, athletic man. If I want a
burger, I go to a place where they cost around ten bucks but you get actual
meat. Five Guys used to be a good example, although based on the last few times
I’ve visited, it seems like they’re going downhill. Also, Five Guys is
definitely a bulking phase only restaurant and even then I only order the small
versions of everything. I enjoy the abundance of quality fast casual options
here in Houston which, again, serve mostly real food. Or I go to any of a
handful of good sub shops – or if there are no good sub shops around, I resolve
to plan my day better, sigh, and go to Subway. Every now and again, I will go
to Freddy’s and splurge big time. If you’re not familiar with Freddy’s, you’re
both missing out and lucky at the same time. I fully prepare for a rough
afternoon on those days (although still not McDonald’s rough), but Freddy’s is
5. A balanced
approach works best for me – but again, not in the house!
Lately I’ve settled into a system that seems to work pretty well. I have a good “base” diet that covers the important things as I described in the second paragraph of this post. I eat in around a ten hour window, which is a relaxed version of an experiment I tried that was way too effective at weight management for a guy that looks and feels best carrying some extra muscle and is willing to sacrifice the exposed six pack look to do it. Seriously, if you want to maintain an extremely low fat/low weight build, this is almost definitely one way to accomplish it. From there, I enjoy life without letting things go off the rails. I get myself a coffee in the lobby of my apartment at least once a day (free and great quality – just one of the many perks of living where I do) and if I want to also indulge in one of the cookies they regularly have out, I do. Same goes for Costco samples. As long as it’s not IN my home, it doesn’t become excessive.
I generally eat nutritionally decent, but enjoyable food,
but I do allow myself a single cheat meal per week, complete with the happy
ending. No, I’m not talking massage parlors, you degenerates. I haven’t had to
pay for that stuff…yet. I’m talking dessert. For a guy in his early thirties
that spends a lot of time in the gym and wants to look like it, but also wants
a little of what Joe Rogan, a man I actually couldn’t stand as an MMA hype man
but love as a podcast host, regularly refers to as “mouth candy,” it works. For
now. But keep in mind that things are significantly more difficult for me today
than they were five years ago and five years from now, I will probably have to
re-balance what I’m doing to adapt to the continuation of that trend. Whatever
happens, I will try to maintain some food related enjoyment, even as it will
almost certainly dwindle closer and closer to none.
Anyone who knows me, or who has been reading this blog for a while, knows that I was divorced in 2016 and that while I was about as devastated as humanly possible at the time, I have since come to view it as one of the best things that has ever happened to me. No, that’s not a vindictive swipe at my ex-wife, who I still believe was (and likely still is) a very admirable and impressive woman in most ways. We are all flawed; she has things to work on just as I do. Anyway, without the inherent compromise of that relationship influencing things, my circumstances have since changed dramatically, in ways they likely never would have otherwise, and I have grown immensely in the process. Terribly heart wrenching sequence of events? Absolutely. Wonderful, life changing blessing? Also absolutely. Very few incredibly valuable lessons come cheap.
Recently I’ve had another apparent setback in the form of learning my days in my current job are numbered. Given that I mostly love it and regard it as by far the best job I’ve had to date, that could have been a devastating blow. But it didn’t hit me that way – not even when I first found out. And given what I’ve learned in recent years, I believe I’ve reacted correctly. Almost every time I’ve been knocked off course in life, I’ve soon found myself on a more productive one, and have usually enjoyed significant personal growth for having been through the experience as a bonus. I fully expect that this time will yield the same result and I firmly believe I’ll be writing a triumphant, ecstatic post about that in the coming weeks.
This got me thinking back to earlier parts of my life. For
example, early in my grade school years, as most young lads do, I began to
realize I was fascinated with certain aspects of women. Our school was small
but there were a few young ladies I took a private interest in. At the time, I
would have been thrilled if one of them had displayed a reciprocal interest in
me – even if I didn’t understand exactly why I felt that way quite yet. But I
was a shy, skinny kid with an acne problem and it didn’t happen. At the time, I
thought that sucked. But thanks to the mixed blessing of Facebook, I’ve observed
how time has treated most of them in the decades since. And you know what?
Every single one of the women I’ve dated or had any sort of fun with has been
substantially more attractive than the adult versions of any of the girls I
lusted after as a boy. If my wish had been granted and one of them had shown an
interest, who knows what would have happened? We may have turned into one of
those “first and only love” couples and I may have missed out on the company of
numerous much more attractive women – including ones I haven’t even met yet. My
past disappointment has turned to present gratitude, and even relief. And as a
side note, being a late bloomer rocks!
Fast forwarding to my graduation into the worst economy since the Great Depression, neither my then fiancé or I (yes, we did that way too young!) was able to get a good job. In fact, both of the jobs we did eventually manage to get were unfulfilling and paid around $20k a year less than the type of job a recent college graduate could expect to get in even a mediocre job market. However, we worked hard to differentiate ourselves, moved up steadily, and within only a handful of years, we both wound up making about double what great jobs would have paid had we been able to get them upon graduating – and with dramatic additional growth potential from there. Looking back, what if I had gotten that “good” job right off the bat? I see two likely outcomes. Instead of having a fire lit inside me, I probably would have gotten comfortable and even with better than average annual raises, today I would likely be making roughly half what I do now at best. And I definitely wouldn’t have benefited from the same “tough love” lessons that taught me how to not just stretch every dollar and save/invest the proceeds, but to do it almost effortlessly. I could literally have lost well over $100k of net worth in around half a decade if I had received the “good fortune” I wanted at the time.
You hear this plenty but I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen
it time and time again in my own life; if something doesn’t work out, something
better is probably going to happen instead. In this post, I’ve shared just a
few of my own examples. I’m sure if you look back at your past, you will find
some disappointments turned triumphs of your own. I’m personally not at the
point where bad news equals me being excited – yet. But if I can turn my recent
career setback into a substantial upgrade, as it looks like I very well may,
then the evidence supporting that mentality will be just about stacked to the
ceiling. We will all be knocked down in life. Part of being the man I want to
be involves viewing it as an opportunity, getting back up, and making something
amazing happen. Mentally, I’m working on making that process automatic. I
encourage all of you to do the same. Remember, successful people have bad days
too. But they know how to turn present pain into future success. And that is
what sets them apart from the herd.