We’ve Created this Nightmare but We Can End It Too

Even the produce department had virtually nothing. I wound up buying a can of peas because it was literally one of the only vegetables available in the entire grocery store.

No one can hurt you as badly as you can. I learned this lesson in a very brutal way as I worked through my divorce in 2016. Yes, the girl I had dedicated myself to loving and spending my life with had done some horrible, cruel things (please don’t misconstrue this as me saying I had no responsibility for the failure of the relationship – I certainly did). But I’m the one who tortured myself over them. I’m the one who took much longer than necessary to let it all go. And in the end, the vast majority of the pain I experienced wound up being self-inflicted. Now I want to apply this concept to the situation we find ourselves in today.

The most dangerous virus on earth is the mainstream media and the product it creates. This collective group of people profits from reporting on almost exclusively the worst elements of humanity. And it is getting worse. What had been an hour of reading the news with little or no personal opinion being featured has turned into hundreds of channels of absurdly biased, round the clock “analysis,” which actually amounts to little more than propaganda in most cases. What had been a clickbait headline has turned into a rage baiting headline that fuels hatred of fellow human beings.

And now this horrifying phenomenon has devastated the entire world economy over a virus that, by all accounts, amounts to a moderately worse strain of the common cold. It’s not just the trillions of dollars in equity that has been vaporized in markets all over the world. People in everyday America have lost desperately needed income (way too many people live paycheck to paycheck even in the richest country in the history of the world, but that is another topic for another day) because the hysteria has demolished the businesses that had provided them. Some of these job losses will become permanent. And it’s also the fear and mob mentality that has resulted in some of our stupidest people buying up almost all the household supplies and even food so there is barely any left for the rest of us to buy.

If this goes much further, we’re going to see riots, looting, and other behavior that has no place in a civilized society. Already there have been reports of physical fights over toilet paper. Yes, there are actually people in this world who will get into a fight over fucking toilet paper. I would love to blame the media for all of this, and undoubtedly that would be at least partially correct. But at the end of the day, the media only exists in its current form because we let it. MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, and the rest of the horde of ENTERTAINMENT news channels (and websites) are only doing what they are because it is profitable. And it is only profitable because people watch.

Under normal circumstances, this is a big enough problem. The media encourages us to hate people who think differently and yell them down rather than to try to understand and work together. It amplifies everything that is evil in us as humans. If someone is doing something genuinely good like feeding starving children, it may get a passing mention, but it is very unlikely that anyone will remember this person’s name in a week. But if someone shoots up a school full of kids, it will be shouted from the rooftops for months until none of us can ever forget his name. This doesn’t just make it very easy to believe that “the world’s going to hell in a handbasket!” It also creates a feedback loop of negative behavior. Lots of other troubled kids watch this all happen and it isn’t lost on them that suddenly the whole world is paying attention to someone who had previously been a bullied, ignored kid a lot like them. I would bet my life that the media has literally caused school shootings that otherwise would not have happened.

In the case of recent events, the media has created a panic where none existed before, nor would one have been justified. Enough people watched enough of this nonsense on tv, decided they had to prepare for Armageddon, and went out and did just that. I’ve heard reports of people cleaning out their bank accounts to go supply shopping. This is nothing short of hysteria. And guess who then gets to report on it, profit from it, and create even more of it? The same group of people that started it to begin with. Make no mistake; despite the grim faces on the tv, this situation is an absolute dream for the media. But for the rest of us, of course, it’s a nightmare.

This reminds me of a Simpsons episode from years ago when the show was worth watching. It was smart back then. This particular episode was a Halloween themed nightmare scenario. A bunch of giant advertising creatures had come to life and were terrorizing people. Lisa visited the ad agency that created some of them and was advised that just like any other advertising, these creatures would go away if people simply stopped paying attention to them. With Paul Anka’s help, she came up with a little jingle called “Just Don’t Look” and sure enough, as soon as people stopped paying attention, the monsters all collapsed and the town was saved.

If we want to stop our real life media monster, this is exactly what we have to do. Stop paying attention. For the love of God, turn off the fucking tv. Get off of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other methods you are using to squander the precious time you have on this earth being addicted to misery. Go back to living a productive, healthy life. The summarizing message of the coronavirus should be “wash your hands, eat healthy food, exercise, get enough sleep, stay home if you’re sick, and otherwise go about your business.” These are all common sense practices that should be followed regardless of the circumstances. If we stop feeding the disease that is the current state of the media, it will have to die – or at least change into something less destructive.

I’m going to close this post with a plea for sanity. Please, let’s stop hording years’ worth of supplies and let some other people buy what they need in order to get through the next week or two. Please, let’s be calm and rational. And most importantly, please, PLEASE, let’s stop allowing the mainstream media to turn us into little more than angry, hateful, idiotic puppets. We are better than this.

What I’m Doing Now that the Long Overdue Market Correction Is Finally Happening

Yes, I’ve used this picture before. But it’s a good one for today’s post too since stock market corrections are just another example of something going on sale!

I’m back! A wild string of events, combined with some laziness on my part, has resulted in me posting absolutely nothing for an entire month. I even considered shutting down the blog altogether. But after some reflection, I’ve decided that my original purpose of sharing my financial and life experience with anyone who wants it is still worthwhile and more than doable – provided I recommit myself to it a little. At this point, in light of my rapidly changing life circumstances, my goal is one post a week. And what better cue to get back to posting than a historic stock market event?

For the last couple of years, I’ve had plenty of people laughing at me. After all, I’ve been calling for a significant correction, or even a recession, since 2018 and I even did so publicly on this blog. In my eyes, the underlying economic fundamentals of this economy, as well as those of others around the world, have nowhere near justified the stratospheric asset pricing we’ve been seeing for quite a while now. And while recent events may be a little vindicating, this is no time for schadenfreude or gloating. Besides the fact that I’m not that petty, that wouldn’t do anyone any good. Instead, here is my take on where we are now and what I plan to do going forward. Please note that everyone should do his or her own diligence and I am in no way advising anyone to do anything in particular.

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, over the last week or so, stocks have collapsed, blowing right through correction territory (a loss of 10% or more) to the cusp of finally ending the more than decade long bull market that has had more people believing themselves to be investment savants than at possibly any previous point in the history of the world and entering a bear market (20% loss or more). Today alone, the DOW, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 indexes each lost over 7% of their value and even caused trading to be temporarily suspended for the first time since the Great Recession. At first, this was attributed mostly to the coronavirus, or more accurately, to the resulting mass hysteria drummed up by the typically profit motivated, rubbernecking mainstream media. But at this point, it appears pretty safe to say that was nothing more than a catalyst to the broad-based obliteration of trillions of dollars in asset value.

So what am I doing about this? Absolutely nothing…yet. I’ve had less than 5% of my assets exposed to the stock market in any way, shape, or form for well over a year now. But I’m eying the trigger with greater and greater excitement as I await the right time to start moving back in. I don’t think we’re there yet. I anticipate at least another week or two of serious volatility and carnage. Remember, the oil price collapse element just happened over the weekend so there will likely be more industry fallout there. Plus, the FED is likely to do at least one more pointless knee jerk rate cut, which will likely have a similar lack of positive effect to the .50% one they did last week, since they’ve long since painted themselves into a corner by following a policy of presidential placating rather than giving the economy the tough love it actually needed. When I decide it’s time, I’ll start pushing my 401K and Roth IRA money back in, probably 20% at a time. It’s almost impossible to “catch the falling knife,” so I’ll use dollar cost averaging to get as close as I reasonably can.

What if you didn’t get out when I did? If you have a long enough timeline before you need the money – I’m talking years – you’re fine. Staying in as opposed to bailing out has historically been the right move. Remember, you haven’t lost a penny until you’ve actually sold your asset for less than it was worth when you bought it. And if you keep putting additional money in, you will dollar cost average your way into a better position over time.

If you don’t have a long enough timeline, you shouldn’t have been in a stock heavy position. Sorry to be blunt, but sugarcoating isn’t going to make the situation any better. At this point, you have to adjust your plan to accommodate the new reality. Maybe you can hold off on retiring until the market recovers or if you have to retire soon, maybe you can work part time or do something else to bring in enough income to avoid being forced to sell and realize losses. Or if you have gains elsewhere, maybe you can use those assets for some liquidity and harvest some losses to offset them so you at least get a tax benefit out of the situation. It depends entirely on your individual circumstances.

Remember, there are two ways to look at this. One is that your asset values have declined. The other is that there is a big sale going on! If a recession does take place, it will definitely create huge opportunities one way or another. Happy hunting!

Big News and My Latest “Life Hack”

After all these years, I believe I have finally seen the district office in Chicago for the final time. And I’m thrilled to say that after everything that has happened, I’m walking away on MY terms. Note: there are many companies in the building so don’t worry, I’m still maintaining my anonymity…for now…

Happy Friday, Folks! I know I haven’t been very consistent with my posting lately. I’ve simply been insanely busy. I’ve been spending most of my time during the weeks working my current job and then traveling north to central Texas to spend the weekends working my new one.

Oh yeah. I found a new job. It involves working with great people I’ve built a great relationship with over the last year or so. They want me to help them take their company to the next level. And it gets better. They’re allowing me to continue to build my own company under the umbrella of theirs in the process. This is the best opportunity I’ve seen thus far in my young life and as well as things have gone for me over the last few years, I’m risking a lot of it to take this “from good to great” step up. I will most likely be resigning from the best job I have ever had within the next few weeks.

In order to juggle all of this, I’ve needed to find ways to budget my time much more effectively. And this morning it occurred to me that it’s finally time to grab a very low hanging piece of time saving fruit. I deactivated my Facebook account. Should I have done this a long time ago? Obviously. But better late than never. I hadn’t done it before because there are some groups here in Houston that only seem to post details about their events on Facebook. However, I rationalized that not only do I not have time for these activities right now, but any group that doesn’t offer a non-Facebook way of keeping up with it isn’t a group I’m interested in anyway.

I only deactivated my account for now so that I can go back to it if I want to. However, if some time goes by and I don’t miss it, I will complete the process and delete it completely. Won’t I miss out on people’s updates? I doubt it. Anyone who is truly significant to me is in touch with me regularly on the phone or in person. What I will miss out on is the annoyed feeling I always seem to come away with after scrolling for a while and seeing updates from the hordes of people I don’t truly know (because I never had a desire to) who have friended me over the years and constantly post on there. I believe the annoyance is usually mostly with myself for wasting time on something so pointless.

Here’s a hint. If you’re truly happy and successful in life, you are probably too busy being happy and successful to brag about it to the world on social media. That goes for Linkedin too, which has gotten more and more Facebook-y over recent years. I once literally watched someone destroy his career using primarily that site. And it just so happened to turn into a pretty amazing opportunity for me at the end of the day.

Anyway, I will post some updates soon and I intend to get back to my regular topics at some point when things calm down a little bit. Have a great weekend!

Don’t Be A Lifestyle Slave and You Will Be Much Happier

Being fully present while observing this beautiful sunset doesn’t cost a penny. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

The Matrix was an amazing movie. Yes, the entertainment value was excellent. But what really made it special was the way the concept got people thinking. It can apply to so, so many areas of life. The Red Pill community has literally based its name on the movie, and with good reason. The concept of unplugging oneself from an entire system of intentional, insidious deception, whether living in an entirely virtual world, as in The Matrix, or in a feminine dominated reality that is blindly accepted by almost everyone in our society, is powerful. Today I want to challenge you to do it with the supposed connection between consumption and happiness. And what better time than just before Christmas?

Look around you. Everywhere you go, someone is trying to convince you to spend your Christmas dollars with them. And everywhere you look, someone is rewarding that effort by doing just that. There are literally people taking out loans or loading up their credit cards because of the social pressure they feel to participate in this annual spending orgy. And these poor decisions aren’t just being made on an individual basis; to the contrary, this is a movement of self destruction that has a nearly religious fervor.

Don’t get me wrong. As a member of society with family, friends, etc, I participate in all of this to some degree. It is definitely possible to derive joy from the act of giving. But my giving is entirely grounded in my ability to do so. If I were living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay down a mountain of student loan debt, unemployed, or in any other form of financial difficulty, you can bet my efforts would be focused on putting out that fire. I happily give out gifts at this and other times of the year solely because I have excess available to dedicate to that purpose.

But save for a short, unfulfilling period of my early twenties, I have never completely subscribed to the “buying more crap will make me happy” mentality we see all around us. Bigger houses to fill with more and fancier furniture, more expensive vehicles, stuff galore, it doesn’t matter. The theme permeates everything. More is better. But there’s just one little problem. It isn’t. In fact, quite the opposite has been true for me. And I don’t believe I’m alone in that.  

I lived a relatively simple life before I moved from Wisconsin to Texas. My commercial quality home gym was by far my most prized set of possessions. But I still had to get rid of over a thousand square feet worth of stuff before I could move because I had decided to live in a nice, but small apartment while I got acclimated to my new home. Every item I had accumulated over the years was something I had just had to have when I originally bought it. And most of them had seemed too important to get rid of at any point before that. But when suddenly forced to get rid of all but a small, carefully chosen selection of my earthly possessions and move into a much smaller space, a funny thing happened. I felt better.

Today, I have almost no desire to buy or rent a larger home in spite of the fact that I could easily afford to do so. In fact, the mere thought of doing so stresses me out. If I bought a house and suddenly had more space, I would almost certainly fill it with similarly pointless possessions to the ones I had previously thought I wanted, but had felt liberated by getting rid of.

Now let’s look at the other side of this equation. By avoiding being one of the many people whose very life embodies an obsession with the word “more,” I’m able to save and invest over half my income. This has given me something intangible that no “stuff” could: peace. For example, my industry is currently in a deep, ugly recession that has destroyed jobs, businesses, and even lives. And at the moment, no end is in sight. But I have over a year’s worth of living expenses in cash alone and much, much more in other forms.

Is a man like me likely to be unemployed for an entire year? No. Unemployment is extremely low and I’m a high achiever. And besides, already growing very weary of the sucking dick for money that is most W2 employment, over the last year, I’ve already taken the initiative of starting three businesses. One was a fairly quick failure but another has been a modest success so far and will likely continue to be that at a minimum. And I believe the third, and latest one, has a strong possibility of not just paying my expenses, but replacing most, or even all, of my current income by the end of 2020. So in the midst of relentless job attrition in my industry, and even within the smaller world of my employer, I sleep great at night. In fact, if I were offered any sort of reasonable buyout today, or forced to take one, as is the more likely scenario, I would gladly take it. I’m confident that between my currently small, but rapidly growing business income, my investment income, my cash, and if all else fails, getting another job, I will be just fine. To me, that is worth more than almost any possession I could possibly have.

But this isn’t just because I’m good at making money. It’s also because I keep my expenses reasonable, thus setting myself a low bar to clear. With the combination of the two of them, I’ve set myself free from the shackles that keep most people trapped in enormously stressful lives that are so far from ones they would truly love. And you could do the exact same thing. But it would probably require challenging some assumptions you’ve been programmed to believe – like “more is better” or that any worthwhile people might love you less if you don’t give them the right gifts.

So this Christmas, why not enjoy some time with the people you love while also being thankful for free will? Why not use that free will to start questioning your expenses one after another – are they really making you happy in a way that you wouldn’t be without them? Are they really worth more than the step closer to freedom that money could be instead? It’s your life. You have every right to live it the best way you can find. What a tragedy it would be to spend the entire thing as a plugged in consuming machine without ever even trying anything else.

Why You Don’t Want to Make the Big Bucks

Sure, these guys make a lot of money. But they have to take enormous risks and literally mortgage their health, both physical and mental, for the remainder of their lives to do it. And those are just some of the obvious costs.

I don’t want to send the wrong message. I’ve chosen the path I’m on, I take full responsibility for it, and knowing what I know now, there is a good chance I would still do it again. But if you’re frustrated with your income, I want to pull back the curtain and give you a taste of what it really costs to make six figures and up. I don’t want to trivialize your situation. I spent years of my life in circumstances of scarcity to the point where I still struggle with strange personality quirks that are probably rooted in those experiences. I don’t want to go back there. So in the interest of presenting both sides as fairly as I can, I’m going to write a second post to follow this one called “Why You Want to Make the Big Bucks.” But today, we’re looking at why you wouldn’t want to. Here are my reasons, in no particular order.

  • You will have very few friends at work.

Sure, people might act friendly to your face. But nothing happens in a vacuum these days. They may not know the exact amount you make, but they know it’s a lot more than they do. And jealousy can definitely make people treat you differently. You may even have people trying to take you out in an attempt to get what you have for themselves. Additionally, in order to survive in a very high income position, you have to do unpopular things. If you’re in management, you will have to fire people, you will have to tell people NO all the time, and you will have to choose between options that seem terrible to everyone below you while ignoring the options they prefer because they simply aren’t feasible. If you’re in sales, you will have to fight for your deals. Hard. You can do all you want to try to maintain a relationship with an office employee. But when he is standing between you and payday, you’re going to roll over him or go over his head. If you don’t, you not only won’t make money, but you’ll eventually be fired for lack of production. Having more power may appear to give you more options. But once you have it, you realize that those options are limited by factors people on the outside rarely see.

  • You will have a difficult time knowing if you have friends at all.

I have some wealthy friends who you would never think have more money than anyone else. If you were to meet one of them in a day to day situation, you’d see someone driving a normal car, wearing normal clothes, living in a normal house, etc. This isn’t just an effort to save money, or even to live modestly out of personal preference. It’s also an effort to hide. Lottery winners and sports heroes often don’t have that option and that is one reason so many of them wind up broke. They’re human beings just like anyone else, and they want to have normal relationships in their lives. But bad actors know that and they work their way in, taking advantage of any trust that is placed in them. Of course, there is a big difference between Adrian Peterson, who everyone knows has (or had) tens of millions to his name, and someone who has a mere one or two million in the bank. But the concept works similarly for both. Is that new girlfriend with you because she likes you and enjoys spending time with you, or is it because she can smell a payday if she can only get herself married, pregnant, etc? You want to trust her. But it is very difficult to know if you should. Often you won’t find out for sure until it’s too late.  

  • You will have a huge target on your back.

Like most companies in our industry, my employer has been under serious financial stress recently. Cost cutting has become necessary. And guess what? Firing highly compensated employees is a much quicker method of accomplishing that than firing low or average paid ones. I’m not saying people in the latter group will never lose their jobs. But if you make a lot of money and you’re not an elite level performer, you’re definitely the low hanging fruit. Even some of our most successful sales people are feeling the heat now.

  • You will be in high demand…until you’re not.

I wrote about how a lot fewer people than you think make big money just last week. That means that especially within a particular industry, most people near the top will at least be aware of each other. If you’re fired, word will get out quickly along with all sorts of rumors and theories about why it happened. If you want to move to a different company, you will probably wind up working with people you know from the past. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing. But in a world where even the nicest people have to do some pretty ugly things to get to the top, it is bad more often than it’s good. And if you lose your job as a result of your industry tanking, it’s going to be very difficult to find another one because the other companies that could best utilize your skillset probably aren’t hiring. There are plenty of those people in my life right now, whether they’ve been fired or are just at the point where they feel a switch is their best option.

  • You will be expected to give absolutely everything you have and it will never be enough.

There is no clocking out when you make six figures. You can’t really even go on vacation. You would basically just be working from home, except from a different place. If you have a family, friends, or other personal commitments, they will come second more often than not. The other option is to find another job. And remember, you’re a highly compensated employee. So when you succeed, well, of course you did. That’s what we pay you for and frankly, you still should have somehow done better. And when you don’t, you’re crucified – whether it was a result of factors under your control or not. Simply put, you’re paid to win, that’s expected, and anything less is a failure even if you did the best job you possibly could have.

  • You will make a lot less money than you think.

Political pandering aside, the reality is that unless you’re part of a small fraction of the top 1% of income earners, you don’t have access to most of the accounting tricks that allow the truly rich to avoid some of their tax liability. And even if you are, the numbers don’t lie. In 2016, the top 1% of income earners made just shy of 20% of income in the US, but paid nearly 40% of the taxes. For the top 10% of earners, those numbers were about 50% and 70%, respectively. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% made almost 12% of the income, but paid only 3% of the taxes. Keep in mind that these statistics are just for federal income taxes. Making a lot of money is very expensive just about anywhere the government is involved. Long story short, the more you make on paper, the less of your income is actually yours.

When people talk about money, they tend to focus on the benefits and ignore most of the costs. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as they say, but things are never quite as easy or wonderful when you make the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and view them objectively. Like I said at the beginning of the post, my personal verdict is that I’ll take the money – at least for now. But everything has its cost. Plenty of people would be capable of making very high incomes, but they choose not to make the sacrifices required. And that’s fine – perhaps even admirable. There are definitely more important things in life than money and the higher you go on the income ladder, the less of any of them you tend to have. The most effective decisions in life are made when all costs and benefits are factored in. If I’ve given you a window into the costs of something very few people actually get to personally experience, then I accomplished my goal with this post. And it isn’t all bad by any means. Stay tuned…