Happy Friday!

Driving down a beach (South Padre Island in this case) definitely felt like a Friday thing, even though I did it on a Tuesday morning this past winter.

Happy Friday!

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…

Duolingo

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 that way.

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 try.

Sleep Issues

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.

Have a wonderful weekend!

A Walk in the Woods: A New Metaphor I Thought Up During a Difficult Evening

This particular “walk in the woods” was taken in the Sam Houston National Forest.

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.  

This Is How Much I Spend in a Year

My view of the famous Jerry Jones screen/dome from my trip to the 2017 Cotton Bowl, in which my Badgers narrowly defeated an over matched, but extremely motivated opponent with a bizarre team motto that was repeated almost nonstop by its fans – and yes, the expenses from this trip are included in the numbers below.

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 rapidly.

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 find out…

Lessons from My Odd, But Mostly Successful Fight Against the Siren Call of Junk Food

The wonderful/diabolical man who has destroyed millions of diets, posing for a picture with his surprisingly svelte family. I don’t think they’re trying to claim this was taken at the time of their 55th wedding anniversary but if they are, I call bullshit. I know people got married young back in the day, but COME ON. Also, damn, that’s a lot of kids! It’s a good thing the restaurant chain thing worked out so well!

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 been easy.

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 be powerful.

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 worth it.

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.

How I’m Learning to Be Excited When Things Don’t Go My Way

Now there’s some excitement for you. I’m not the biggest NBA fan myself, but I do enjoy watching that bearded gentleman make fools of even the best defenders from time to time. – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

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.

My 50th Post Spectacular (Yes, That is a Play on the Title of a Simpsons Episode – Yes, From Back When the Show Was Still Worth Watching)

No, I’m not sure how this relates to the post. But it does strike me as one of those cool “only in Houston” sights and since I haven’t found an occasion to use it yet, I’m using it now.

With this post we’ve reached a milestone on Health, Wealth, Power. By my count, this is post number 50. So far, readership has been going up steadily and that has been very exciting. To those of you who have been coming here for a while, I’m glad to have you along on this journey. To anyone who has started reading more recently, welcome. Today I want to highlight both some of my most viewed posts and some of my favorites that haven’t been seen as much – in many cases because I posted them before many people were reading the blog at all. Thank you to everyone for reading and here’s to the next 50 posts (and many more) to come!

Most Viewed

How Do You Respond When Your World Comes Crashing Down (Again)?

A window into my raw thought process on a recent night when I got some seemingly devastating news about my career. I wrote this almost immediately when I got home so I would have a good record of my immediate reaction to look back at later. I’m still in the midst of dealing with this situation but I have a very exciting recent development that I’ll be sharing soon.

Bank Account Basics

A basic guide to how I use bank accounts to maximize income, minimize risk, and pay zero fees in the process

The Importance of Outlook – How I Still Struggle with the Scarcity Mentality of My Past

A discussion of how even though I am more financially fortunate than 99% of the world, I still haven’t been able to completely adopt that mindset over that of my much more difficult financial past

A Happy Night of Insomnia

This is one of my personal favorite posts so far. It is a nostalgic look at the way the most difficult event of my life so far has spawned so many wonderful changes. While I and my life will never be quite the same as before it happened again, that is mostly a good thing.

My New Diet Experiment

In this post I talked about time restricted eating and how I planned to implement what I had learned about it. It has been a very positive change for me and I wrote about that in a follow up post – Time Restricted Eating Update: There is Definitely Something to This!

My Favorites

The Most Important Investment

Health and fitness is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. Medical science is keeping people alive longer and longer today. But what is it worth? My argument is that we’ve long since passed the point where quality is much more important (and elusive in many cases) than quantity. This post is my attempt to lay out the basics for anyone who feels similarly and wants to do something about it.

The Opportunities in Life’s Challenges

I’ve written a number of posts on this theme now – the value of finding the positives in situations that don’t seem very positive at face value. But this was one of the first. As someone who has put a ton of work into thinking more positively and seen firsthand how dramatically that mentality shift can change life in often unexpected ways, it is very important to me to share my experiences in this area.

Today I’m Going to Challenge You

I wrote this post for people who struggle with depression or have in the past. It’s not comprehensive and I’m no mental health professional, but it’s a discussion of some tactics and information that have helped me in the past when the weight of the world seemed to be crushing me with no sign of relief. If it helps one person, it was worth far more than the time it took to write it.

The Internet Game and How You Can Win It

I’m trying to be less of a bastard in life. But I do tend to temporarily suspend that effort when it comes to fighting back against what I view as unethical tactics. In this post, I illustrate how I’ve been mostly successful at keeping the shenanigans of those damn ISPs from succeeding in robbing me blind.

How to Spend a Fraction of What Most People Do On Electronics Without Having to Sacrifice Much

Simply put, the methods I described in this post have saved me five figures by this point in my life. One of the many benefits of living in the richest country in the history of the world, particularly at a time when technological advancement has been unprecedented as well, is that extremely marginal compromises can result in enormous savings. There is an almost constant chorus in the media about the retirement crisis in the United States. That means that for most of us, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of opportunities like this to get so much in return for so little.

How Do You Respond When Your World Comes Crashing Down (Again)?

A storm is coming. – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

I was working on a very different post for today but that one is going to have to wait since something else has grabbed hold of my attention. This is going to get into the “way too personal” category but since this blog has turned into a sort of journal for me, since I’ve intentionally maintained a high degree of anonymity so I can post things of this nature if I want to, and since I hope that this post might be valuable to someone out there, I’m going to write it. I am writing this in real time; I found out the news I’m about to share with you less than four hours ago. So I’m writing it without the benefit of “sleeping on it” and I decided to do it because I want to preserve the moment as authentically as possible.

It would appear my employer is heading into troubled waters. I certainly am, in any case. My boss visits everyone in the field periodically and this week was my turn. But while it is usually a fun and enjoyable experience, this time he had to do something that I’m sure was very difficult for him. Tonight he told me I’m effectively on notice and that barring a dramatic performance improvement over the next few months that is unlikely if not impossible, I’m going to have to find something else to do with my time. Furthermore, this same message is being delivered to most of us, save the top handful of performers. So either he was trying to cushion the blow with that last part (I’ll find out soon enough) or this is a lot bigger than just me. I believe he is a man of integrity and I have no reason to doubt him but it really doesn’t make a lot of difference either way.

My performance has actually been very good for quite a while in some ways and I’m very proud of the way I have grown, both as a salesman and as a person, and how I have succeeded many times against very difficult odds. I have shortcomings and limitations like anyone else, however, and the bar is being moved above what I believe is possible when all circumstances are factored in. I have no ill will towards anyone. My boss didn’t make this decision and delivering the news couldn’t have been easy, especially if he knows he has to do it several more times over the coming weeks. He has always been a decent man in my experience and that is far more important than anything else in my book. His boss probably didn’t make this decision either and even if he did, I have nothing but respect for him and appreciation for everything he has done for me over the years. His boss probably did make the decision. But while I have only met him very briefly, I’m sure something like that wouldn’t be easy for him either and even if it was, he did it because he has a boss to answer to as well – in his case, the investors who collectively own the company. At the end of the day, almost everything in business boils down to economics and it appears either revenue needs to increase or expenses need to decrease. We salesmen live and die by that reality. And regardless of growth, positive aspects of my performance, or any other factors, I have not done enough to remain viable under current conditions. Many, many people who work in sales will face this day and today is my turn.

I have struggled with negative thinking all my life but I want to promise myself and the world, here and now, that I’m going to ace this test that has been put in front of me. And I don’t make promises I have any reason to doubt I can and will keep. My first thoughts after I got the news gave me that confidence. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude – for the incredibly lucrative run I’ve had with this company, for the personal and career growth the opportunity has resulted in, for the many good people and the handful of truly amazing people I’ve met that I hope to keep as beloved friends, for the fact that I run my finances ultra-conservatively and thus am in an excellent position to withstand any loss of income, for having a solid resume with a great school and solid experience on it, for being given notice and a fairly specific timeline, and on and on. My response to my boss was along these same lines. Of course I’m going to do my best to raise my performance to the new standard. But he and I both know the odds of me (or several other people) getting there are remote. The reality is that his job may not last much longer than mine and in fact, that could even be true of everyone in the organization on a relatively short timeline. At least I’ve been given some sort of chance to both try to change the situation and prepare for it in the event that my efforts to do so come up short.

My subsequent thoughts were also all really good ones. I remembered the proverb about the Chinese farmer, which is one of my favorite concepts of all time. If I were a tattoo man (I’m not), and there were some single artistic concept that could remind me of the parable, that is probably the tattoo I would get. I don’t know the source but I believe its origins date back plenty far enough to put it in the public domain so I will put it at the bottom of this post for anyone who hasn’t read it. It has gotten me through some difficult days and inspired me on some good ones. I thought about all the things I can go out and do to try to shoot the moon or at least keep my job as long as possible. I thought about some of the many well-connected people I can reach out to in an effort to find a new job. I thought about how lucky I am in so many ways: no dependents, enough cash on hand to live with no income for well over a year, enough overall wealth to do so for close to a decade, having been born in the richest country on earth at the most prosperous time in its history to date, and on and on. I thought about how I took a very hard hit (a fairly sudden divorce from a woman I loved with all my heart) in 2016 and how three years later, my life is better in many ways than it was before that happened. I thought about how thankful I am to have my closest confidant; then I called her and told her the news and thanked her in as many ways as I could think of for the wonderful impact she has had, and continues to have in my life. I thought of what an unlikely closest confidant she is and how I met her near the depths of despair. You just never know when something awful might turn into something amazing.

This is just another opportunity dressed in ugly clothes. It’s an opportunity to prove I’m the man I aspire to be against the backdrop of difficult circumstances. It’s an opportunity to use those same circumstances to grow stronger than I am now. Nothing does it like adversity. I truly believe that. Hell, this is an opportunity to upgrade. In a few months or a year, I could look back on this as a day that forced me to turn away from something good and towards something even better.

Undoubtedly, there are tough days ahead. There will be rejections – just like every other day, except that I myself will also be getting rejected as I pursue other opportunities. There will be moments of weakness and I will have to fight through my nemesis, depression, for hours, days, or longer. Anxiety will probably be in the mix as well. I could even experience one of my greatest fears – being fired and having no employment income for some period of time (even that is something to be thankful for; how many people on earth face realities infinitely worse than that every day?). But I can’t afford to let any of it beat me. This is a crucial time and I need to be at my absolute best. I’m going into a storm, like it or not. I can either cower in fear and drown, or I can embrace the challenge and fight. Fear is ok and in fact, it is only natural. Failure is neither. Who we are is determined by what we do every single day. But some days are a little more important than others. I’m going to go get that sleep now. After all, tomorrow is a big day.

The Parable of the Chinese Farmer

A wise man once told me that back in the day, there was a Chinese farmer who lived with his son. He was very poor and only had one horse that he used to plough the fields. The Farmer was elderly and relied on his son and the horse to do all the work on his farm.

One day his son left the gate to the horse’s pen open and the horse escaped. The Farmer kept sending his son out to find the horse but it was nowhere to be found.

When the Farmer’s friends and neighbors found out they came round to commiserate with him and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.

After many days of searching, the Farmer’s son found the horse. It was grazing with a group of other horses. When the Farmer’s son returned with the horse, its new friends followed. And when he closed the gate, there were seven horses in the pen.

The Farmer’s friends were delighted and all visited to celebrate, telling the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.

The son set about breaking in the horses so they could be sold at market as tame rather than wild. When he was working with the last animal, he fell off and broke his leg. Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors visited to commiserate and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.

The very next day, the Chinese army passed nearby. They were on the way to a huge battle with the Mongols and arrived at the Farmer’s house saying they had heard there was a young man there and he must come with them to fight. The Farmer showed them in so they could see that the son had a broken leg. They left without him.

Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors arrived delighted and told the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe…”

Time Restricted Eating Update: There is Definitely Something to This!

In the wild, I believe this guy would spend most of his time hungry and primed for action – not fed round the clock. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

It’s been about a month since I wrote about my time restricted eating experiment and maybe two months since I started so here is an update. The title really sums it up; this experiment has produced far and away the most measurable results of any of the many I’ve conducted on myself over the years. It has me rethinking a lot of what I thought I knew about my body, nutrition, and so forth. Let’s get into the details.

I’ve been pretty successful about sticking with an eight hour eating window. I went with eight because that’s who I am; if I’m going to do something, I’m not going to half ass it. On a typical day, I start eating around 10:30am and stop by 6:30pm. When I know I’ll be out late – no later than eleven for me these days and usually more like ten –  I don’t start eating until a late lunch in order to maintain the experiment (remember, any calories count and that includes drinking anything but water). I’ve had only a few days where I slipped and wound up around a nine hour window and one where I screwed up completely and ended up at about twelve.

Overall, the most surprising element of this experiment has been how easy it is. As an avid food lover, I expected to suffer miserably. But that hasn’t transpired at all. After some modest discomfort the first week or two, I’ve barely even had to think about what I’m doing. The habit seems to suit me very well and it even seems to have made me noticeably more productive. Yes, I’m consistently referred to as “very disciplined,” although my worst critic (me) considers my discipline level to be atrocious. But nothing I’ve experienced makes me think anyone would struggle to implement this in any significant way. It just requires a little bit of mindfulness and a few adjustments.

And the results have been more than worth the effort. The most noticeable change has been weight loss and with this part, keep in mind that my body is very ectomorphic by nature so unlike many people, keeping weight on is my biggest challenge. Prior to embarking on my restricted eating journey, I had already been down about twenty pounds from my normal weight due to a dramatic reduction in both eating (intentional to account for a dramatic reduction in calories being burned) and gym time/efficacy as a result of a frustrating string of injuries I went through. I had a lean, muscular build prior to that weight loss so there was a lot of good weight in that twenty pounds and after losing it, I had very little fat left available to lose. Since there is definitely a limit to how low a healthy person’s body fat percentage can go, additional fat loss was not a goal for me.

However, I have lost about an additional five pounds since starting time restricted eating and my body fat has, in fact, almost completely disappeared. I believe there are two reasons for this. One, you only want to eat so much in an eight hour window. Once I noticed my weight dropping even further than it already had, I started forcing myself to eat more. I even loosened up on eating lower quality foods a little bit to make things easier. And still I’ve only managed to stop the bleeding. I’m stuck at the five pounds down mark and am gradually eating more and more in an attempt to start putting weight back on. Keep in mind that since I’m finally 100% physically healthy again, I’m back working hard in the gym along with this. The second reason I suspect is that I do almost zero snacking of any kind now. Since I seemingly can’t eat enough, I rarely feel hungry at all. So snacking not only doesn’t come naturally anymore, it would literally amount to an effort I would have to make. Long story short, if you’re after weight loss, fat loss, or both, time restricted eating seems very likely to help you.

There have been other very measurable changes as well – and much more positive ones in my case. My resting heart rate, which used to hover around an average of 60 bpm, now sits in the low to mid 50s. I suppose this makes sense since my metabolic functions are only happening about half to two thirds of the time they previously had been. That is a huge energy savings and my guess is this is much more appropriate for my body from an evolutionary perspective. But the most exciting change for me has been to my sleeping. I’ve struggled in this area all my life and even employing every method I’ve ever read about to an almost religious degree, I’ve never managed to average over 6.5 hours per night in a week outside of the occasional anomaly. However, since not long after I started time restricted eating, I’m averaging over 7 hours a night consistently. I don’t doubt for a second that this has made a huge difference in my day to day life. I have no precise way to measure this, but I feel more energetic and mentally sharper/more alert. I had been in the habit of drinking coffee twice a day – morning and early afternoon. Now I usually only do so once and sometimes not at all. Note that coffee isn’t harmful in any known way. But not feeling compelled to drink it is still a very positive sign in my book.

Overall, this has been a huge net positive for me and I’m going to continue with it. Yes, my strength in the gym has declined somewhat. But that can probably be almost exclusively attributed to the weight I had already lost prior to starting this experiment and the way I lost it (both eating and working out dramatically less). And given that my strength numbers are still excellent for a man my size (which has itself changed), I’m not concerned about this other than being motivated to gain back my good size in spite of the additional challenge. And for most people, the weight loss would be viewed as a positive. Other than that, everything has been a huge positive for me. My body and mind both seem to work much better this way. This experiment has been a huge success!

The Importance of Outlook – How I Still Struggle with the Scarcity Mentality of My Past

Navajo Bridge, Grand Canyon – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Howdy folks! I just got back from a couple days on the road and I’m exhausted. But I wanted to write a quick post about something I wish I had handled better today. I ran into a setback. I didn’t do anything wrong to cause it and no one else did either. It was simply bad luck and it will wind up costing me around $300 when the dust settles. The nature of the setback isn’t important and that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I want to discuss my reaction to the setback and why outlook is so important.

I didn’t have an easy childhood. While we didn’t live in poverty or anywhere close, we were squarely in the lower middle class category, with emphasis on the lower part. Money was a dirty word as far as I was concerned – a word that usually meant I couldn’t have something I wanted. At the time, it felt like a terrible burden. Today, I look back and see how lucky I was. I learned that if you want something, you have to work for it. And I learned that if you have something, you had better not waste it. I’m sure those harsh, but invaluable lessons have played a huge role in allowing me to get to where I am today. A lot of kids who seemed luckier than me at the time missed out on these lessons until later in life and if the statistics have anything to say about it, it cost many of them dearly.

But my successful mindset isn’t without its costs. And today’s situation was a great example. When I realized I was going to lose $300 and there was no way around it, I was furious. As I mentioned, there really wasn’t anyone at fault for what happened, so I automatically directed my rage at the same person who usually gets it – myself. For about an hour, I was in a terrible state. And unsurprisingly, Houston’s trademark rush hour traffic didn’t help. Luckily, business hours were over, or my rotten mood could have destroyed a deal and cost me significantly more money. But a bad attitude can cost so much more than that. If you allow that kind of darkness a regular place in your life, it can cost you relationships or even your health. It certainly contributed to the failure of my marriage and there is plenty of time left for it to do the latter in my case as well. And yet, even after having paid so much, I still don’t have this under control.

But there is still hope for me. After brooding for a while and cursing the traffic a little more than usual, I was able to use perspective to get beyond it. $300 would be a real problem for many people. It might mean having to choose between paying one bill or another in many cases. This could start a downward spiral that could be difficult to pull out of. But for me, this is an afterthought. Hell, I’m so fortunate in life that $3000 would be a minor setback and nothing more. I save/invest more than that every single month.

But in my head, I’m on a treadmill 24/7/365. In front of me is the financial independence I want. Behind me is the scarcity of my childhood. In reality, it would take a serious sequence of mishaps for me to go off the back of the treadmill. It’s certainly not an impossibility but at this point, it’s unlikely at best. Claiming financial independence, on the other hand, will happen in the next three to five years, or ten at the absolute most, barring any catastrophic setbacks. And I’m much closer to thirty than to forty and only started making significant financial progress in my late twenties. So I should really just throw the treadmill in the garbage and focus on enjoying the moments of my life while making sure I stay on track with the big picture stuff behind the scenes.

For tonight, at least, the demon has been slain. I am calm and back to being thankful for how well my life is going. But even for someone as fortunate as I am, this can be very difficult. And it will undoubtedly be difficult again. However, it is important to look at this in a balanced way. There was a time when I could have gone into a tailspin of depression, anxiety, and anger over something like what happened today. But this time it only cost me an hour of misery. I will never fully escape my past or my tendency to occasionally let emotion cast a dark cloud over my actually sunny reality. But I can work at it and improve. In time, maybe I’ll get to the point of avoiding the negativity altogether.


My New Diet Experiment

Delicious chicken burritos

Up until now, most of my health/fitness effort in life has been on the exercise side with nutrition being an afterthought. Of course I know now how foolish this was but hindsight is 20/20. For years, I ate without a thought beyond that I needed a lot of protein and a lot of everything overall and my time in the gym would take care of the rest. This was obviously a terrible approach and I can only guess what it has cost me. Unfortunately, because I usually do spend a prodigious amount of time in the gym, I have always been in above average physical shape so I have never been forced to confront the nutrition side in a serious way. In my mid twenties, I started to pay a little bit of attention to nutrition, but not much. At least I started eating more fruits and vegetables but aside from that, my diet was still pretty bad. When I was married, my diet got a little bit better, but again, not much. We both spent a fair amount of time in the gym and were both in above average shape so again, we did the bare minimum with nutrition and neither of us was interested enough in breaking the cycle.

But when I got divorced, things finally changed. With no one else around to worry about pleasing and a newfound mission to prove someone very, very wrong, I started experimenting more in the kitchen. Instead of choosing a recipe I wanted to eat and then making it, possibly substituting a healthier ingredient or two but otherwise keeping it the same, I started to choose the healthiest ingredients and then find recipes that featured them. And sometimes I would simply build my own recipes from the ground up that would start out as very healthy culinary disasters but evolve over time into very healthy, edible meals – and sometimes even beyond that point. But over the last year, I’ve taken it to the next level. I’ve started paying attention to the big picture – making sure I get plenty of vegetables, a moderate amount of mostly high quality carbohydrates, a reasonable amount of protein, and less garbage. And since this year started, I’ve eaten almost no garbage and have paid for zero. As a result, my fitness level, which was probably at an 8 before, is knocking on the door of 9 – even in spite of a rash of injuries that has held me back.

Why the nutritional history? I want people to know what a flippant attitude I’ve had towards nutrition for most of my life because it’s a great example of how it’s never too late to start doing the right things. This concept applies to many areas, although today I want to talk about nutrition. Over the last year, I’ve heard more and more about intermittent fasting and recently, it reached the tipping point quite by accident. When I sprained my ankle, I wound up missing a couple weeks of doing almost any leg exercises in the gym. In an attempt to mitigate the situation as well as improve my overall efficiency, I devised a plan to eat less. I had been spending 30-40 minutes making elaborate breakfast burritos totally from scratch in the mornings.

I decided to temporarily scrap this meal to account for the dramatic reduction in calories I would be burning and get myself moving more quickly in the mornings at the same time. This is easily the healthiest meal I eat so imagine my surprise when I started feeling better without it (I have since added it back in, often as dinner since I have more time in the evenings). And it wasn’t just the way I felt. Even though I was putting in about half the work in the gym and even less than that on the cardio side, it wasn’t the all out disaster I was expecting. I did lose about twenty pounds (not a one of which I wanted to lose, mind you) and while a lot of it was muscle, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of it was also fat, to the point where my overall composition was noticeably improving.

I started researching in an effort to figure out what was going on and all roads seemed to lead to the same place. While the focus of nutrition is usually on what you are eating, there is more and more evidence that the timing of that eating is very important as well. I had inadvertently stumbled onto time restricted eating – the very same thing I had overheard so many people talking about and dismissed as “just the latest trend.” I’m still in the process of researching but I’ve learned enough to form a hypothesis and launch an experiment. In simple, general terms, the theory is that one’s metabolism can only work effectively for so many hours per day. Unfortunately, we in the western world tend to eat basically the entire time we’re awake. If you think about it, this wouldn’t have been possible for our distant ancestors and even for people a century ago, who largely wouldn’t have been able to afford such excess. Anyway, for some of those hours we’re eating, our metabolisms are struggling severely. In order for them to work optimally, it appears that eating should be restricted to twelve hours per day on the high end. And there is evidence that fewer hours will yield even better results.

As for me, I’m aiming for eight to nine hours per day. One unwelcome revelation in my research was that coffee counts, even if you only drink it black as I do, because it forces metabolic processes to start. So I’ve had to make some adjustments and here is what I’m doing now. I wake up at 6am and instead of having coffee, I head straight to the gym after chugging the 24 ounces of water I drink immediately when I wake up (your body gets dehydrated during the night). I get home between 7:30 and 8. Then I do 20-30 minutes of core work and then I do some language practice (I’m always working on improving my German and Spanish). Sometimes I also work in a chore or two around the apartment. Finally, around 9, I make coffee, drink a protein shake, and drink a smoothie of mostly leafy green vegetables with a little fruit. When the coffee is ready, I do my morning reading. From there, I get my workday going.

I eat a big lunch and a reasonable sized dinner. But the dinner (and my evening smoothie) has to happen by about 5 if I’m going to stay within my eight hour target. I will note that I’m not going to be 100% rigid. If I’m out for drinks once or twice a week, I’m not going to sit there sipping water in order to keep my fast going. However, I may consider starting the day with a late lunch; I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Lucky for me, I work out of my home, don’t travel as much as I did in the past, and am usually back home doing emails, follow ups, etc by around 4 so as to avoid as much of the stupidly insane Houston traffic as possible. Back in my office droning days, this would have taken more planning and effort. But even if I were in that position today, I would probably try something like this. For me, success in life is quality times quantity. If there is a way to improve my health and fitness level, then I’d be willing to tolerate a very high cost in both financial expense and inconvenience. There was a time when I didn’t think that way. But I’m thankful to be here today. There is absolutely nothing worth more than health.

After a while, I’ll do another post on this with both my observed results and any conclusions I come to with my research. If anyone out there wants to try this with me, I would love to compare notes!