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
I decided to skip my latest Annual Expenses post for today and share a little excitement instead. I previously mentioned that my employer let a number of people go recently. That’s not the exciting part, of course. But I had the opportunity to recommend one of my former colleagues to a hiring manager and I was happy to do so. He is a great salesman and a great man as well. And over the weekend, I was thrilled to learn that he wound up taking that job!
It took him less than a month and given how specialized our
field is, that’s not bad at all. And while his new opportunity is with a fairly
unproven company from the standpoint of people who do what we do, I came away from
my conversation with the hiring manager very impressed. The business model is
fairly open ended compared to that of my employer and I believe it offers a ton
of opportunity. I’m just so happy for my former coworker and his family! I
think he is going to absolutely kill it out there. My employer didn’t have the
right opportunity in his territory but I really don’t believe it was his fault.
I know he worked his ass off nonstop and left no stone unturned. I’m looking
forward to hearing how it goes for him in the coming months.
This kind of stuff is what life is really all about in my
opinion. I was actually feeling pretty down for most of the weekend. But that’s
because I was focused on myself and my own problems. A little perspective goes
a long way. In this case, I’m not unemployed with a family to support and am in
very little danger of losing my job right now. In fact, I just closed a deal
that more than doubled my previous best and I have exceeded my previous best
quarter’s total in just July alone. Plus, my side business is doing better and
better. But all those good things, and many more going on in my life still aren’t
enough to keep my spirits up all the time. However, hearing awesome news from
someone else is a game changer and in this case, it may have saved my weekend.
As an added bonus, I talked to another of my friends over
the weekend and learned he made a big move with his business last week. I’m
really proud of him for taking a shot at making a business out of doing something
he is truly passionate about and I’m looking forward to hearing more about how
that goes as well.
Here’s hoping we can all get some great news like this in
the week ahead. Have a great Monday!
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” – Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Lately I’ve noticed a new trend in the media that I would
like to address. In most areas of life, it is generally accepted that you have
to walk before you can run. You don’t just walk into the gym one day, throw
four plates on each side of the bar, and start deadlifting it repeatedly. You
have to start with a much more manageable amount of weight and train your body
to handle more and more through sustained effort over time. And 405 is more
than many people will ever deadlift in their lives so there is the crucial
element of being realistic as well.
But with personal finance, there seems to be a backlash
against that concept. If anyone dares to repeat the totally valid, if tired,
advice that people replace $5 coffee drinks with $.10 ones they can make at
home and enjoy just as much, they’re met with ridicule or even the vicious
personal attacks that have sadly become commonplace in a world where so many
people seem to in an ongoing competition to be more outraged by seemingly
innocuous things than anyone else. Chase Bank, a bank I have mixed feelings
about at best, was crucified for posting simple, actionable advice of that sort
– advice that could help a lot of struggling people. And its CEO, again, a man
I have very mixed feelings about, has become a political punching bag for some
people who appear to have made it to adulthood without learning basic economics
at any point along the way.
The theme of these attacks seems to be that people in
general don’t make enough money, so giving them any financial advice that
doesn’t involve being paid more money (by someone else) is condescending and
insulting. In other words, it’s all someone else’s fault. It’s time for a
reality check. No one on this earth is entitled to anything. And no, this is
not political. I have to say that because the word “entitled” has been infused
with bullshit political implications to such an extent that its mere utterance
has become almost a war cry. In most of the world, people live in a reality
where if they themselves don’t make something happen, it won’t. The fact that
we live in the relative comfort of an incredibly prosperous place where life is
incredibly easy does not change this reality. We’re all adults here. The days
of someone else being responsible for us should have ended long ago.
If you want something, you have to earn it. If you want
someone to pay you a lot of money, you have to give them a reason to do so.
This typically involves using the infrastructure and resources of their
existing business to make them more money, some of which can subsequently be
paid to you. And outside of some very lucky folks, no one is exempt from this.
If the board of directors didn’t think Jamie Dimon was creating more value than
what he is being paid, I can assure you they would not be paying it to him.
If you don’t accept that concept, it’s going to be very
difficult for you to have a successful career. Even if you start your own
business, which is very difficult to do without experience, capital, or both, I
can’t see a path to prosperity for you if you don’t believe everything has to
be earned. It is imperative that many of us stop blaming our problems on others
and start taking an honest look in the mirror and changing the things that are
holding us back. It’s the only way anything is going to improve.
To that end, no, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you
can’t afford a $5 cup of coffee. Even a few of those per week could cause you
to pay a bill late and fall into a cycle of paying interest, late fees, etc,
that could become very difficult to get out of. And it doesn’t stop with the
paycheck to paycheck crowd. I very rarely buy a $5 cup of coffee. It is simply
too easy to enjoy not just drinking great coffee, but making it, at home – and
at quite literally 2% of the cost. This isn’t to say I never get coffee from a
coffee shop, because I occasionally do. But usually I’m meeting with a
customer, a friend, a date, etc, and the coffee itself isn’t the real reason
I’m there. Buying the coffee is just an expense I have to incur in order to
spend time in a particular place for a particular purpose. I’m already wealthier
than most people and I’m only in my early thirties, but I didn’t get here by
ignoring reality. In fact, I doubt almost anyone who is highly successful got
there by enjoying luxuries before they could afford them. The only way to
change reality is by first accepting it.
This is so much more than just coffee. No one is literally
saying that cutting out a coffee shop habit is going to make you a millionaire.
It is just an example of a very important concept that can be applied to many
different areas. The same applies to a restaurant meal, which if made even a
once a week routine, could easily turn into a $100 per month premium over
equivalent food that could be made and eaten at home. I’ve seen people using
Uber when they could drive to the same places and turning $10 worth of parking
and gas into a $50 round trip in the process. Again, even at once a week, this
costs over $100 a month over and above what it would cost to get the exact same
thing done. It all adds up – and usually pretty quickly.
I think most of the outcry over this very valid and
legitimate advice amounts to some bad actors trying to score points by telling
people they don’t actually have to deal with reality. It’s easy to make people
feel good telling them things like that. But it does them absolutely no favors.
Some people see a $5 cup of coffee, a $15 restaurant bill, etc, and don’t
realize what they represent. These are examples of doing things in wildly
inefficient ways and especially when you’re first starting out, expenses like
these can be the inches that make up the difference between winning and losing.
How important are the inches? Just look at the quote I
opened the post with. If you spend less than you earn over a sustained period of
time, even by just a little, you will build assets and life will get easier. If
you spend more than you earn, you’re doing the exact opposite. The average
person in this country has roughly $10k of credit card debt. Most of them
didn’t rack that up overnight. It usually happens when someone is living at or
close to the edge and gets hit with the inevitable unexpected expenses. If they
can’t cover them with either excess income or savings, then the only option is
to borrow. Too many people turn to credit cards, one of the worst forms of
borrowing. It’s so easy. Almost anyone who can fog a mirror can get a credit
card. And if you just pay a little bit each month towards the ever increasing
balance, you can have pretty much whatever you want.
But there is always a cost. In this case, it is that as the
interest grows, it becomes an expense of its own that does nothing for you and
increases each month unless you pay down the principal. Instead of living on
the edge, you’re now beyond it and gradually burying yourself deeper and deeper.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first. But over time, the situation will not
only get more and more difficult to dig out of; it will deprive you of
opportunities you won’t even know you’re missing out on. Those opportunities
come in many different forms, but the theme is the same. If you have money, you
can use it to make more. The more you have, the easier life gets. That, in
essence, is the American Dream – work, save, invest, prosper. What a tragedy
that marketing departments, and another kind of enablers with political
motivations, successfully turn so many people away from it before they even
know what they’re passing on by taking the path of least resistance.
But those people don’t control you. Only one person on this
earth does. You get to choose where you get your information, how you process
it, and how to proceed from there. This is both a privilege and a
responsibility, so take it seriously. The quality of your life depends on it.
If anyone is trying to feed you sugar – something that tastes sweet in the
short term but seems just a little too good to be true, ignore them. The
sweetness is gone as soon as you swallow; but the fat ass you’ll develop over
time is going to be with you much longer than that. Whether we’re talking about
food or finance, you want to be taking advice from the same people: the ones
who give you the tough love that doesn’t feel so good in the moment, but keeps
you on the path of true progress. They’re usually the same people who are
succeeding in their own lives – and these days, sometimes being demonized for
that very success. They can help you get there as well. In fact, paying it forward
is something many of them enjoy doing very much. But in order to benefit, you
have to ignore the yes men (and women) who peddle easy answers that never
deliver results. And then you have to listen to the proper advice and work your
ass off carrying it out.
At the end of the day, it’s about who you want to be. Mr Micawber was a tragic character in David Copperfield. He realized his folly, but not until it was too late. Don’t let that happen to you. You can join the masses of lazy people telling lies, pointing fingers, and bitching because they haven’t been handed the results they want in life. Or, you can admit you don’t know what you don’t know (there is power in that, NOT shame), learn what it takes to actually succeed, and then get to work. The latter will get you results. The former will keep you from getting any further than you already have. Reject that. Learn, grow, and live a better life. It all starts with taking responsibility for yourself.
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.
I occasionally hang out with early retirement minded people. Some of them have already taken the plunge, some are thinking about it more and more as I am, and some are much earlier in their financial journeys but are intrigued by an alternative to the “work till you’re either dead or wish you were” program that has been the standard for far too long. Easily the most common question I hear being asked of the people who have already retired ten, twenty, or even thirty years before the traditional age, is “what about health insurance?”
And I admit that was one of my first questions as well. Most
people I’ve met answer this question in one of a few disappointing ways. Some
were able to negotiate some sort of arrangement with their final employers,
some have a spouse that is still working, and many are structuring their incomes
in such a way as to be eligible for subsidies on individual coverage under the
Affordable Care Act. None of these is workable for me. My current employer will
likely be neither willing, nor able, to make any deal with me, I don’t have a
spouse who can keep working so I can “retire,” and I can’t stomach exploiting
badly written legislation for personal gain – particularly not when I’m
currently paying a substantial share of the associated bill.
After I recently learned of some significant challenges my current employer is facing, which threaten not just my job and those of many of my colleagues, but the company itself as a going concern, I’ve been thinking a lot about my options. I could find a similar job at another company. Since I started my latest job search, there have certainly been some encouraging signs that this will be a viable option – although nothing has come to fruition just yet. But aside from maintaining the status quo as an employee/entrepreneur hybrid, I’ve been looking at other, more adventurous options. One common thread among many of them would be stepping out from under the umbrella of having an employer at all. And this has brought the health insurance question back to the forefront.
But as I’ve begun to explore the issue, I’ve actually been
very pleasantly surprised by what I’ve learned. It turns out individual health
insurance is both fairly straightforward and less expensive than I had
anticipated. I acknowledge that things would likely be different if I had dependents.
But at roughly $15k per child, per year, for as long as one is willing to keep
the financial umbilical cord intact, having children is one of the most expensive
financial decisions a person can make. That is one of several reasons I’ve
personally opted out.
Anyway, I searched around and Blue Cross Blue Shield appears to be king of individual health insurance in my neck of the woods. By simply entering my birth date, non-smoker status, and zip code, I was presented with a menu of options ranging from the most minimalist plan at roughly $320 per month to something approaching the top of the line plan I have now at nearly $700. I didn’t see an annual payment option but if one is offered with a decent discount, it would amount to an awesome churning opportunity. One nice thing that I believe came out of the ACA is that it appears all plans now cover the one annual preventative appointment we should all be going to. Of course, that is priced into the premiums. But I digress. Beyond that, as a relatively healthy young adult, I’m almost certain to spend somewhere in the $0-1500 range per year on health care expenses, meaning paying an extra $400 a month for a high end plan that would cover most of that doesn’t make sense. I will note that there are subsidies offered for people with surprisingly high income limits. Sadly, I’m in the group that pays handsomely for those subsidies to be offered, and don’t anticipate that changing, so I’m paying full freight for my own coverage no matter what. But your results may be different – particularly if you have kids. And as the birth rate continues to decline, it is very likely that we will all see the government using more mechanisms like this to force people like me to subsidize your procreation efforts. For what it’s worth, that will likely offset at least a portion of the additional costs you would face in areas like this.
Ultimately, my choice would be a plan that costs $332 per
month because it is the cheapest HSA eligible option. With a deductible of $6k,
an out of pocket limit of $6650, and no prescription coverage until the
deductible is met, I would almost definitely be paying all of my costs beyond
the annual preventative appointment. In most cases, I would probably not even
use the insurance, instead opting to negotiate directly with doctors since my
insurance would effectively cover nothing anyway. I’ve heard there is often significant
room on the pricing if you aren’t forcing the provider to deal with an
But this is where it becomes important to calculate things out for yourself. If you tend to spend a lot in health care costs, it may make sense for you to go with a plan with higher premiums but more coverage. One thing to consider is that it’s not necessarily the end of the world if a plan doesn’t offer prescription coverage (it can’t if it is HSA eligible). Thanks to a wonderful website called Good RX, anyone can pay much less than retail prices for prescriptions whether or not they have insurance. Don’t ask me what kind of sorcery makes it possible, but this can be an absolute godsend if you don’t have prescription coverage and yes, I did use it back when I worked for an employer that offered a very minimalist coverage option.
I’ve mentioned “HSA eligible” twice now. Why? HSA stands for
health savings account and it’s a hidden financial gem. Unlike an FSA, which is
garbage unless you have health care costs you can forecast very reliably, an HSA
is a tax advantaged account that can be built into quite an asset. To put it
simply, it is a miniature Roth IRA for health related expenses only. This year,
an individual can contribute $3500 into one. The money can be invested in
whatever you want, provided you’ve chosen a good provider, and as long as you
don’t spend it, it will grow tax free just like a Roth IRA. It does ultimately
have to be spent on health care expenses, but given the state of the industry,
I don’t believe any of us will have too much trouble accomplishing that. In
fact, remember that quarter million dollars the media is always screaming about
you having to pay for your health care expenses during your traditional
retirement years? Well, if you contribute the max to a Roth IRA for twenty or
thirty years and don’t use any until you retire, that is more or less covered –
without dipping into your other assets. As usual, a little knowledge can go a
long way towards putting out the fires of mainstream ignorance. The important
thing to keep in mind with HSAs is that only certain more minimalist health
insurance plans are eligible for them. If you have a lot of health care
expenses now, you may be better off with a “Cadillac” plan paired with an FSA.
No one can tell you definitively without specific information; I recommend that
you run your specific numbers yourself to figure it out.
But in my case, a disaster only health insurance plan and an
HSA are a home run combination. The only problem is that pesky “Cadillac” plan
I have now. But given that I’m kicking in well under $100 a month for it, and
that’s tax deductible by the way, it’s obviously the best option available to
me as long as I’m with my current employer. However, once that relationship runs
its course, likely by the end of this year, it’s nice to know I will have some
great options available to me and that they won’t be nearly the financial
disaster the media would have folks believing they are.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Time for a fun post. This one is going to be long, opinionated, and speculative. But bear with me because I think I’m onto something here. The media won’t let us forget it; millennials are not buying houses at the rate members of other generations have. They have a hundred theories about why – most of which involve student loans, rising real estate prices, stagnant incomes, structural economic shifts, or simple lack of “good old fashioned American gumption.” Of course I don’t know everyone or everything, but as a millennial with an at least above average understanding of business, finance, and economics, I believe I’m as qualified as your average pundit to do some positing of my own on the subject. From my perspective, while each of the issues I mentioned plays a role, they aren’t contributing to a crisis at all. To the contrary, the nonstop hand wringing isn’t necessary and in fact, things are actually moving in a very positive direction.
Who am I? I’m a millennial who went to a consistently highly
ranked public university and graduated right into the heart of the worst
economic crisis the country has seen since the Great Depression – and into a
local economy that was struggling more than most for that matter. Between my
college girlfriend and I, we had a pair of decorated academic records, close to
$100k in debt, and zero jobs to speak of when we walked across the stage in our
gowns and funny hats. Our graduation speaker’s summarizing message was “we’ve
destroyed this once great country, you’re screwed, good luck.” It was about the
most depressing speech I could have imagined and also rather redundant since
our reality more or less already matched it. A little optimism would have been appreciated
and appropriate as well.
Over the next few months, both of us scratched, clawed, and
begged our way into the workforce. We each started out as underemployed temps
(so no guarantee of tomorrow much less benefits or work that was in any way
challenging or meaningful) serving in office drone functions making roughly
$30k a year each and well aware that we were lucky to be that well off. It
wasn’t an easy time but we were determined to get through it. Mortified by our
pile of debt, we made a plan to pay it off in a maximum of five years and stuck
to it, no matter how lean our life together had to be. We lived in a small one
bedroom apartment and drove one car together to work since our jobs happened to
be in the same direction. Luxuries like eating at restaurants were kept to a
minimum. Over the next few years, things gradually got better. We each
differentiated ourselves at work and got hired full time with small raises. My
girlfriend became my fiancé and my fiancé became my wife. And yes, it was a
relatively modest wedding – although a wonderful one as well. We both upgraded
jobs a couple of times and suddenly things looked much different. We bought a
pair of new cars – no luxury hood ornaments, but all the nicer features like
leather, fancy rims, touch screens, etc. We upgraded our living arrangements from
small one bedroom apartment to two bedroom condo style apartment to three
bedroom duplex. We did all of this while remaining on schedule with our five
year student loan repayment plan. A house might have been the next big step but
we were not about to consider that until our student loans were 100% eradicated.
But that never quite transpired. We had married too young
and while we had accomplished some impressive things together and grown
immensely as people, that growth had taken us in separate directions. We
divorced fairly abruptly, parted ways, and have never spoken again. Almost
simultaneously, I got my current job and my income doubled overnight and
continued from there. I worked hard and learned a lot and after a couple of
years, a significantly more desirable territory opened up. I lobbied for it
with all my might and got it and today I’m in Houston – over a thousand miles
away from the part of the world that never managed to feel like home in over
two decades of my living there. It has taken some time to develop this new
territory and that is still a work in progress but my income has increased
significantly since coming here. Plus my investments have continued to grow and
I’ve started a profitable side business as well.
While my post college life (and pre as well) started out
relatively bleak when compared to previous generations, I consider that an
advantage as I look back on it. I learned to separate wants from needs early on
– and significantly, I learned that before I had developed a taste for a more
expensive lifestyle than the bare bones existence of a student from a low
socioeconomic background. Gradually, in spite of the dismal economic
conditions, I was able to grind my way into a successful career path. And today,
well under a decade after setting out on that journey, my income has cleared
the 90th percentile. I’ve developed a taste for the finer things in
life but it has happened gradually and with the lessons of the past ever
present in the back of my mind, I am unwilling to spend more than half of what
I earn regardless of the circumstances.
Why the mini financial biography? I think the background of
my basic experience helps to illustrate the point I’m going to make. By my age,
most people in previous generations had a house and kids. I have neither.
However, my net worth is substantially higher than that of almost anyone of
previous generations at this point in their lives – adjusted for inflation, of
course. Barring a total disaster, it will be in the seven figures less than ten
years from now. At that point, I may or may not own a residence. But once again
barring a total disaster, there will be no kids. I think extremely logically
and have almost completely divorced myself from emotion when it comes to making
financial decisions. Kids made sense when each one repaid the parental
investment in full and then some, often in the form of free labor on a farm or
in the family business. Today, a kid will cost roughly a quarter million
dollars if you are a capable enough parent to prepare him or her to leave the
nest by eighteen – otherwise more. This is one of the most important financial
decisions anyone can make. Any argument in favor of having kids is 100% emotion
based and thus, irrelevant to me. No, I am not a robot. But I am willing and
able to override my feelings in order to put not just surviving, but thriving,
squarely in the number one spot.
Obviously I am not a typical millennial. But I believe that
more than members of any other generation, millennials reflect my way of
thinking on at least some level. For example, the rate of reproduction has
plummeted – in almost a perfectly inverse correlation with education level
attained. Millennials aren’t ruining everything; in many cases we’re ruining
bad things and making room for better ones. Motorcycles are about the most
dangerous form of transportation imaginable and guess what – very few of us are
buying them. Harley Davidson motorcycles are easily the worst possible variety
of motorcycles. They are big, ugly, egregiously loud, and they have zero of the
motorcycle’s three actual advantages – ridiculous speed, low cost, and great
gas mileage. Here again, millennials seem to have it right; Harley is on track
to be bankrupt in less than a decade because we simply do not buy their products.
How about beer? Entire generations drank nothing but piss water and apparently
it never occurred to them to ask for anything better. Millennials didn’t ask.
We demanded. And today, quality beer is widely available while the mass
producers of swill fight for dwindling market share with sort of clever
commercials as they quietly buy up every craft beer brand they can.
On to home ownership – the foundation of the mighty American
economic legacy. It’s true. We aren’t buying them in very high numbers. And
yes, all of the problems I mentioned are playing a role. But I fought through
all of them and could now buy a house without financing if I wanted to. Most
millennials aren’t quite there, but plenty are succeeding in fighting their way
through. The American economic engine has been finding creative ways to make
things affordable for people who can’t actually afford them for a very long
time – since before the Great Depression, in fact. I really don’t buy the
general argument that millennials have just gotten such a raw economic deal
that it can’t be done yet again. I think the biggest issue at play here is
choice. Just like crappy, obnoxious, overpriced death machines (yes, I hate
Harley and can’t wait to see everything related to the company relegated to
Pawn Stars and similar shows) or piss water at any price, we are not buying
houses because we do not want what is available.
Back to the example of my life since it’s what I know best. Yes, I am “throwing my money away” on rent from the conventional perspective. But am I really? I spend just shy of $1200 a month on a very luxurious arrangement. Sure, it’s only a 700 square foot, one bedroom apartment. But that is plenty of space for me, the few possessions I chose to keep when I came here, and the even fewer I have acquired since. It was built in 2013 and has granite countertops, hardwood floors, ten foot ceilings, beautiful track lighting, and a balcony overlooking a resort style pool complete with gas grills all around (the view from my balcony tonight is the featured picture for this post). In addition to the pool areas (yes, there are more than one), the complex has gated entrances, security guards on patrol, a serviceable gym (and I’m pretty picky about them), a clubhouse with a very nice pool table, coffee, and light refreshments, a computer room, several lounges that can be used whenever or even reserved for private events, a yoga studio, trash pickup at your door, about a hundred huge tvs everywhere you go that anyone can turn to any channel they like, and I’m probably leaving a bunch of stuff out. And by the way, I left out the best feature of all – portability. This area hasn’t turned out to be for me so in a little over a month, I’m moving to an even newer complex with even better amenities and in an area I think will be a better fit. And it will cost me roughly the same. If I were offered a better job in a different city, I could make a similar choice without having to worry about selling a house. Anyway, my current complex also happens to be located in an area where you’d be hard pressed to find a piece of real estate priced below half a million dollars. My new one will be in a somewhat more affordable market – if you consider $300k+ affordable when the median household income is around $60k a year. For the record, I do not.
And even if you were willing to spend that kind of money,
you literally couldn’t buy what I’m renting because it doesn’t exist. The
average American house has been growing consistently and today, it is around
2600 square feet. That would have been excessive when the average family was
twice the size it is today. Every one of those square feet has a cost –
mortgage interest, property taxes, time spent cleaning and maintaining,
utilities to heat/cool, more money spent on accumulating and maintaining
clutter, and more. The palaces people think they own are actually financial
prisons and worse, they take up tons of their time as well. This is
unsustainable. It was unsustainable in 2006 and society had a great opportunity
to learn that. But somehow that didn’t happen, just like it hasn’t in so many
other past opportunities, and the average house has only continued to grow.
I want exactly what I have – an appropriate sized residence
with premium, modern features and amenities and as little maintenance as
possible required – or preferably none. Sure, I could find a house or condo
with less than 1000 square feet. But it would probably be old and either
falling apart or shoddily renovated to attract buyers with as minimal an
investment as possible. And that’s because for a long time, we’ve been building
mostly modern mini mansions the average household can’t actually afford and
almost no appropriate sized homes. As a millennial, it certainly seems like far
more of my peers live in households of one or two than in households larger
than that. Even among those who have kids, very, very few have more than one or
two. And like it or not, millennials are now the largest generation in this
country, which is why all of this is so significant. So why do we continue to
build houses that could shelter small armies when almost no one needs more than
2000 square feet and most could get by with considerably less?
In theory, you should be paying more for rent than it would
cost you to own something comparable. That’s the premium you pay for bearing almost
no responsibility. But there are numerous, widespread scenarios where that isn’t
the case and that’s if appropriate properties are even available to buy in a
given area. My situation certainly falls into that category. Find me a property
in my area reasonably close to the size of my apartment that offers even
remotely similar amenities for $1200 or less and I will buy it and pay you
every dollar of equity I build in the first year as a finder’s fee. That’s how
confident I am that it’s not possible here. And I’m serious about that offer by
the way. I could go into an in depth analysis of the numbers and maybe I will
write a post on that one day but for now, suffice it to say that I’m a finance guy,
I look around and run the numbers regularly, and this isn’t even debatable in
I think we’re going to see housing change over time and I
believe the process has already started. We’re already seeing it on the margins
in the form of some extreme concepts like tiny houses, which started off as
media curiosities and today are growing common enough that most people have
heard of them. There is actually a market for those things and my guess is that
if builders were to start building new, modern houses of a slightly more
practical size, they would find that there is a huge market for those. Let me
rephrase that. When they start doing that, they will find that. I think we will
see a dramatic increase in premium featured houses being built in the 1000-1500
square foot range. In fact, if I see a builder doing this, I will seriously
consider investing. In time, I think the average size will drop to 2000, and
maybe even below, while the average age will decrease dramatically as tons of
houses are built to accommodate smaller household sizes and the weight of those
numbers pulls in that direction.
And we will all be better off. We as a country do not
benefit when such a high percentage of people are “house poor” to the point
where they are a few unexpected expenses or a moderate injury or illness away
from foreclosure. I don’t believe it benefits the economy when all factors are
considered and it certainly doesn’t benefit us as a society to have a bunch of
people living in such a terribly stressful situation. It certainly doesn’t
benefit us to have so much of our economy resting on the house of cards that is
the mortgage backed security system. And no, that has not been fixed since the
Great Recession. Just like the several previous times it has collapsed on
itself, some politicians slapped some wrists and introduced some new, “this
time we’re actually serious” sounding legislation that really just towed the
wreck of the Titanic in to port, threw a tarp (no pun intended here) over the
gaping hole in the hull, rearranged a few deck chairs, and sent it right back
out to sea. The problem won’t actually be fixed until we address the real, underlying
cause. But naïve optimist as it may make me sound like, I believe we will do it
– at least to an extent that will make a substantial improvement. I believe we
will “right size” houses and when the dust settles, it is going to be a very
good thing for everyone. The media and society at large loves to rip on my
generation and certainly plenty of it is warranted. However, I believe we have
been brought up in just the set of circumstances necessary to have made us
exactly the people to do what several previous generations have failed to.
Disagree? I would love to hear your reasoning.
Today was a very big day for me. This morning I was informed that I recently achieved one of the sought after milestones of people in my line of work: a five figure payday from a single deal! So I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my moment all day and now I want to reflect a little bit, both to mark this for myself and to hopefully inspire someone else to keep fighting the good fight even when it doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything.
First and foremost, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Only a
few years ago, I was working a salaried office job where I didn’t get any
bonuses at all. If that version of me could see me today, I don’t know if he
would believe it. It was just impossible to see even the possibility of a day
like this from where I was at that time. A very small portion of the population
knows what it’s like to be able to make this much money this quickly – probably
a single digit percentage. It is an incredible privilege to be among them and
even more so given that this isn’t even a terribly unusual occurrence in my
Of course I have worked very hard to get here. This
particular deal took weeks of back and forth and culminated in a whirlwind trip
that included a flight to Memphis, driving halfway across the state to Jackson
and back, and another flight to Chicago, all in about a twenty four hour
period. And of course I have also had some good breaks. Those do typically come
to capable people who work hard. But I also got plenty of help from some
incredible people. One woman was willing to go to bat for me with a good friend
of hers (now a good friend of mine) who happened to be a superstar with my
current employer before I even knew the company existed. My manager treats me
very well, works his ass off every day, and does an amazing job making
everything I do possible behind the scenes. Most of my fellow sales reps have
been welcoming and helpful but a few have treated me like family and provided
endless mentoring, advice, insight, and support all along the difficult journey
from brand new, first time sales rep to whatever it is that I am today.
Obviously my life isn’t perfect and neither is my employer. But I have gotten
better and better at focusing on the positive side of things and the results
have been wonderful. I couldn’t be more thankful for the many people who have contributed
to my ongoing success and I will be lucky to pay it all forward if I live to be
Gratitude is obvious on a day like this. And of course part
of me is incredibly excited. But I also surprised myself. Part of me just kind
of shrugged this whole thing off. How does that make sense when I’ve been
pursuing this day for almost three years? I think this is where the “it’s the
journey, not the destination” quote comes in. Sure, longing for this
“destination” has fueled a lot of my activities for a long time. But somewhere
along the line, it became about something else. As I started to succeed with
deals that led to big paydays, of course I was happy about the money. But I
noticed that I derived more satisfaction from the personal growth that had
allowed me to make it. These deals were the kinds of opportunities I had failed
to convert on or possibly not even noticed at all just a year or two prior. I
don’t think there is any feeling in life quite like the one you get when you
realize you can do something now that you couldn’t before.
And today is similar. Yes, I scored a big one. But there is a very good chance I will do it again this year and possibly more than once. I have a handful of deals nearly as big in the works as I type this. I probably won’t close every one. But I will almost definitely close some of them. The incredibly fortunate reality is that I am on a relatively lucrative career path and am at the point where things are starting to go my way more consistently. The excitement I feel over this win comes from viewing it through the window of my past whereas the feelings of pride, contentment, and joy are from where I sit today.This can be an amazing life if you work hard and position yourself in such a way that it is likely to pay off. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gotten myself a good education or taken advantage of the opportunities in the not so great jobs I had before this one. There were plenty of days when I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and sometimes I didn’t want to go to work at all but I did it anyway and did my best to learn more than my job required and go above and beyond in any way I could. I also wouldn’t be enjoying my current success if I hadn’t worked hard resiliently in this job. For every day like this one, there were probably a few dozen where I struggled mightily and didn’t come away with a win at all much less a big one like this. Even today, while basking in the glow of my good fortune, I was hung up on while making some cold calls. Life never stops being difficult but if you do the right things consistently, your capabilities will never stop increasing either and you will win more and more often. When I started this job, being hung up on would have bothered me. Today I simply shrugged and moved on to the next name on the list. That change didn’t happen by itself and it wasn’t easy. But if I hadn’t done everything it took to make it happen, today would never have happened either.
That’s all for now. Have a wonderful night, sleep well, and
go out and be the best possible version of yourself tomorrow! You never know
what might happen if you do.