Good morning! When I started this blog, my general goal was to provide information to the widest possible audience that would help people to improve their finances and live better lives in general. Looking back after almost a year of posting, I’m pretty happy with the material I’ve put out there. But I’m always looking for ways to improve. In my day to day life, I regularly advise people on various matters. It has occurred to me that some of these conversations would likely be valuable to more people than just the ones directly involved. That got me thinking. And I realized I’m going to need some help…from you.
I’d like to add an interactive element to this blog. It
could take almost any form. But in general, I’d like to offer my advice on
virtually anything anyone could use it on. Yes, my primary area of expertise is
finance. But if you read my blog regularly, you know I’m also pretty
knowledgeable about a wide range of other issues.
So if you have a problem with your finances, or with any
other aspect of your life, I’d like you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell
me the situation in whatever level of detail you’d like to provide and ask
whatever questions you want to. I’ll do my best to answer the question and
hopefully it will be helpful to you. The only thing I ask in return is that you
let me post the question and my answer on this blog in case it could be of
value to anyone else as well. I promise not to reveal your real name or any
details that could possibly identify you. If it makes you feel better, you don’t
even have to tell me your name in the first place! You have nothing to lose so
why not give it a shot?
My hope is that together, we can make this a better
resource. Have a great day!
Today I’m going to write about something that is breaking my
heart because I see it happening way too often, resulting in devastating
consequences in people’s lives and subsequently, for society at large. There
seems to be an epidemic involving people thinking they can have whatever they
want without paying any cost at all. I’ve succumbed to this siren song at times
in my own life so I know it’s very powerful. But I’ve learned that everything
on life has a cost. Everything. Want to be in great physical shape? You pay for
it by spending a lot of time in the gym and eating well. Want to live in a big,
beautiful house? You have to pay a lot of money. Want a good career? You have
to dedicate a lot of time to it.
What I’m describing ought to be considered a law of nature
at this point. If there were no costs, what would anything be worth? Everyone
would have the best of everything and none of it would have any meaning
whatsoever. But the world doesn’t have the resources to support that and even
if it did, we would all be living terribly unfulfilled lives. Why? Fulfillment
comes from facing challenges, overcoming them, and growing as a result. You get
none of that when you take the easy road. Imagine if you had everything you
wanted right now – a big mansion, millions of dollars, a fleet of expensive
vehicles, a beautiful and loving family, the admiration of many people, etc. Your
vision probably includes you being happy. But what happens if you stay in that
vision as the days, weeks, months, and years go by? I believe that smile is
going to fade. Why do you have all those emblems of success? Why do those
people love you? There isn’t a reason. You didn’t earn any of it. And that
element is crucial. So many people don’t understand this and it crushes them in
life. They fetishize the material rewards of success but that’s nothing but
fool’s gold. The value of success isn’t in rewards; it’s in the process of
And beyond simply depriving yourself of fulfillment, making
the easy choices in life will actually make things worse for you. By bypassing
paying the cost of something, you increase the cost you will eventually have to
pay. If you just make the minimum payment on your credit card bill today
instead of paying the full statement balance, that bill is going to come back
bigger next month. If you keep doing it, eventually you are going to drown in
credit card debt. If you skip the gym today, tomorrow you’re going to have to
work even harder just to get back to where you could have been. If you stop
going to the gym altogether, eventually you are going to have health problems
you otherwise wouldn’t have had.
Most people aren’t very future oriented and as a result,
they see substantially higher long term costs as a perfectly acceptable trade
off for somewhat lower costs today. This is how obese people are built – one bad
decision at a time. This is how people in their sixties with no choice but to
work until they drop dead got there – “I’ll start saving tomorrow.” Please do
not choose that kind of path for yourself. I highly recommend The Time Paradox
by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd. That book explains this concept brilliantly in
Think about who you would be in life if there were no limits.
Whatever that looks like, I’m here to tell you that you can have it. Maybe not
exactly what you pictured, but you can make your life look much more like that
than it does now in ways that you will never believe. But you have to start
doing the work. Not next week, not tomorrow, NOW. You are building your future
with every decision you make. Instead of what is easiest right now, think about
where you actually want to go in life and make the choice that is going to move
you in that direction. It won’t be long before those little, good decisions
will start to add up to big, positive changes and you’ll realize how important
every one of them really was. And from there, it will get easier and easier to
make more of them – and bigger ones too.
Or, you can stop working on something important because it’s
too hard. You can have a Twinkie because vegetables don’t taste as good. You
can sit on your increasingly fat ass and watch mindless garbage on tv because you
don’t feel like doing anything productive. You get the idea. But don’t blame
anyone else when you have gone nowhere in life in twenty years. Don’t demand
that successful people pay for your mistakes. Don’t try to force your
bitterness on others who have made better choices than you have. Whether or not
you want to earn anything in life, I can assure you that you will. But it might
not be an outcome you, or anyone, would want. Please choose something better
and make something out of your time on this earth.
“Clean your room.” Such a simple concept, but so chock full of brilliance. I wouldn’t call myself a Jordan Peterson disciple. While I regularly find myself almost wanting to scream “get to the damn point, man!”, I agree with him a lot of the time, especially when he’s talking about using personal responsibility and discipline to improve yourself and the world around you. But I can’t abide his stated view that this personal responsibility must also extend to having children and that it is impossible to reach self actualization without doing so.
First, I believe we already have plenty of people on this planet
to pose a serious threat to its continued support of us as a life form. The
changing of Earth’s climate at a more rapid pace than has ever been previously
recorded, war in all its forms, hatred, chronic and unnecessary freeloading,
and many other problems seem to be progressing well enough without the help of
even more people to further intensify the constant, and often brutal competition
for the limited available resources. So I’m not sure that more procreating is
the answer. Second, I believe one benefit of this sentience thing we’ve evolved
is that we can make lifestyle choices for reasons other than biological urges alone.
I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the right to have children, provided they have the resources
necessary to take care of them and the intention of doing so. But I feel I can
live a full, meaningful life and contribute almost anything I want to the world
around me without ever reproducing. I guess we’re going to find out in any
case. Frankly, my genetics seem to be average at best and ya’ll should probably
be thanking me. But I digress. The man has a lot of very important things to
say and “clean your room” is one of them. Why?
A lot of people dismiss Peterson’s call to action as too obvious
or not enough to move the needle. But that’s the point. It’s an easy step one.
Look around you, figure out a way you can make your surroundings better in
about ten minutes, and do it. I believe that is closer to the exact words he
used. And anyone who has ever dealt with depression understands exactly why we’re
starting small. Sometimes anything more seems like an unscalable mountain and
then the end result is the same inaction that has already been taking place. But
just clean up a little in the room you’re already sitting in? That seems pretty
A funny thing happens once you make that small improvement.
Even in the depths of whatever you’re going through, you suddenly feel
something different – a tiny sense of accomplishment. You took ten minutes you
could have wasted and instead, you used them to impact the world in a positive
way. Suddenly you notice something else that could use doing. It’ll take a
little longer than the first thing, but those first ten minutes didn’t turn out
to be a waste, so what the hell? Twenty minutes later, you look around your
home and realize you’re really getting somewhere. That feeling gets addictive
and before you know it, your whole house is clean and it didn’t take nearly as
long as you would have guessed from your favorite spot on the couch.
But this isn’t just for people who have let things go a
little at home. You can apply this concept to any part of your life. Let’s say
your career seems to be going nowhere. You would love to take the next step in
your career, but it would require you to go back to school and finish your
degree, plus putting in a bunch of overtime, plus the position you want isn’t
even open at your company. That is a big pile of obstacles and if you only look
at it that way, you might rot in your crappy job for the rest of what will
likely be a pretty crappy life.
But then you remember “clean your room.” What if you just
went and asked the boss if there is anything extra you could do to help out? It
would be a simple enough conversation and there is almost no chance of an
adverse result, so you give it a try. The boss gives you some extra grunt work
and you do it. You realize it wasn’t so bad and it actually made the day go by
just a little quicker. So you do the same thing the next day. And the next.
Eventually, the extra grunt work turns into something a little more
challenging. You find yourself learning a new skill. Once again, it isn’t so
bad and this time you even enjoy yourself a little. Fast forward a few months
and the guy in the job above you leaves. Your boss approaches you about taking
over the job. Sure, you would have to take some classes, but it turns out the
company has a tuition reimbursement program and some of the classes can even be
done on your lunch hour. Now you’re getting somewhere. But it never would have
happened if you didn’t take that simple first step and discover in the process
that it was easier than you thought.
Regardless of what you think of him, it is pretty
indisputable that Jordan Peterson is a very well read, insightful man. He doesn’t
just understand psychology, he knows how to apply it to your life effectively.
I believe just about anyone could learn something from him. Yes, he is long
winded and meandering at times. And yes, his voice might sound just a little
like that of Kermit the Frog. But I’ve learned that valuable information can
come from just about anywhere. And it can certainly come from this somehow
controversial Canadian gentleman. It has for me in any case. If you’re
struggling to get things moving in the right direction in your life, you may
want to check him out and actually listen to what he says. You may be surprised.
Happy Monday, everyone! Here is the latest post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, you can check it out here. I’ve been going into detail on one category each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $1200 on gifts. Of course, the bare minimum spending in this category would be nothing at all and a reasonable minimum would be maybe $200. But this is one of those areas that I’ve let get out of hand on purpose because I believe it gives me a very good happiness return on my dollar. Some of what I do in this area is pretty traditional and some of it is a little different.
I do give out birthday gifts to the people I’m close to. But
those usually aren’t anything crazy – maybe $50 or so. And I’ve actually moved
in the direction of taking people out to their favorite restaurants,
activities, etc, more than giving out gifts for those occasions now. The other
routine time I give out gifts is at Christmas – also pretty typical. But I’d
say I spend no more than a total of $500 a year on those two types of gifts.
And sure, every now and again I get invited to a wedding. My standard gift is
$100 and while I do not bring dates to these things because it tends to give
them the wrong idea about how seriously I’m taking things, if I did, my gift
would be $200 instead. And if it were someone really close to me, it would be
significantly more. But I don’t get invited to all that many weddings. And no,
I’m not complaining about that.
Where do I spend the rest? Sometimes I like to surprise
people with random things out of the blue. A girl I was dating for a while had
a car with steel wheels and those horrible plastic hub caps and at some point,
she lost one of them. So one day, I made a replacement appear. One of my
favorite coworkers says a certain phrase in a hilarious way all the time so one
day I bought her a coffee mug with that printed on it and had it sent to her. I
find that these types of gifts, while not very expensive, tend to really
brighten the recipient’s day. It’s nice to know someone was thinking of you
even though it wasn’t a special occasion.
My favorite types of gifts to give out are also spontaneous,
but often more expensive. Every now and again, something crappy happens to
someone I care about. Maybe someone with a family to feed winds up in the
hospital and I’m able to pay a few bills for him since he hasn’t been able to
work and money will probably be tight for a while. Or maybe some asshole hits a
friend’s parked car without doing the right thing, causing damage that falls
right into that sweet spot the insurance industry has calculated so carefully –
you know, expensive enough that a claim could be filed (likely resulting in a
hefty premium increase), but barely above the deductible so that very little
would actually be paid out. Most people are savvy enough to not make a claim in
that situation by now, particularly with insurance premiums being as ridiculous
as they are. But a lot of people also don’t have a grand or so laying around to
replace a bumper, which means the damage goes unfixed. But I do. And if I can
right that wrong for someone, it can go a long way to restoring a little faith
in humanity – even if I have precious little of that myself.
The key with this kind of gift, however, is creativity. You
see, I only do these kinds of things for people who would never let me if I
asked. So often, this involves getting others close to these people involved.
But if it’s possible to do these things totally anonymously, those are my
favorite gift giving opportunities of all. Because the most important element
of any gift isn’t being thanked for it; it’s making someone else’s life just a
little bit better. And that tends to be infectious. And that’s why I don’t
police this spending category too much.
Happy Monday, Everyone! This is the second post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, check it out here. I plan to go into detail on every category with a post on one each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $2100 on cash donations. In most areas of my financial life, I feel pretty comfortable that I know what I’m doing. But since I have only been relatively wealthy for a few years now, this is one area where I’m just getting started and as a result, I’m still figuring things out. For that reason, any feedback or suggestions would be greatly appreciated – even more than usual. So far, the money I’ve spent in this category has mostly gone to either charitable organizations or personal causes people had. I’m no expert on this yet but I have figured out a couple of things.
One, lots of charitable organizations are questionable at
best in terms of the way they’re run and the percentage of funds that are
actually put towards their causes. I’m not opposed to reasonable costs that are
necessary to run an organization, including paying what the market necessitates
to employ highly talented people. However, it is pretty clear that some of
these organizations are excessively lining the pockets of individuals in one
way or another, which is disgusting given that the money is donated for
Two, once you donate to a charitable organization, it will
pursue you relentlessly trying to get more out of you. While I lived in
Wisconsin, I donated to a couple of very location specific organizations whose
mailers have followed me through two different Texas addresses already. It is
baffling to me that no one in these organizations has made the connection that
I’ve obviously moved and haven’t sent a dime since. I also wonder what portion
of the money I donated they are going to spend on sending mailer after mailer
before they finally (hopefully) give up. Is it really possible that the
entirety of my donations will eventually be spent that way?
While I’m no expert at charitable giving, I have developed a
few guiding principles for myself. First, I believe in making sure you are able
to donate before doing so. After all, if you’re living on the edge yourself and
you donate money, that could be the difference between your being independent
and you needing help yourself, which would likely cost society more than your
donation helped in the first place. As such, my donations have gradually
increased as my personal wealth has and will likely continue accordingly.
Second, I believe in helping those who either try to help themselves or have
been dealt such a terrible hand that it is almost impossible for them to. I
believe there is a distinct limit to how much money can help anyone – the “teach
a man to fish” concept. I believe the capability to earn money is much more valuable
than the result itself. So I’d be much more inclined to give money to someone
who is dealing with a misfortunate setback or set of circumstances and would
otherwise be a productive person than to someone who has never made a serious
effort to do anything productive. Not only do I want to do the greatest good
for society, but for the individual. I believe there is a huge psychological
benefit to being self sufficient.
I don’t have any particular target in this area in terms of
the amount I spend as it is pretty new for me. I think it is crucially
important that people with resources help the less fortunate and I am certainly
in that category. But trying to do so in a way that is both effective and not
frustrating has proven difficult. I’ve had some success volunteering in local organizations,
getting to know how they operate, and then donating additional money once I’m
comfortable doing so. But that doesn’t stop the endless hounding from following
me to the ends of the earth. I’m nearing the point where I will only donate
money if it can be anonymous. I don’t itemize deductions on my taxes yet, so
that isn’t an issue and I don’t care whether people know what I donate or not
so recognition isn’t either.
Here is a particularly egregious example in my opinion. My
alma mater has been after me since the day I graduated and I’ve never even given
it a dime. My reasoning there is pretty simple. Tuition was raised by the state
allowable maximum every single year I attended. This happened to be in the
early part of the Great Recession and in spite of this economic backdrop,
perfectly good buildings were constantly being torn down so fancier ones could
be built in their place. This struck me as being very out of touch with both
the mission of the school (presumably to provide a high quality education to
people from a wide variety of backgrounds – including those who, like me, grew
up relatively poor) and the reality of the times. A couple years after I left,
it was discovered that the school had been sitting on a slush fund in excess of
$100 million. I believe the tuition increases immediately stopped to avoid
making the PR disaster even worse. But at no point was there any mention of
doing anything to make things right with the students who had unknowingly
contributed so much to that slush fund. Many of my former classmates seem to have
similar reservations since they went through the school during the same
If I were going to send any money in this direction, it
would be directly to a student or group of students from a financially
disadvantaged background who had already continued to demonstrate a good work
ethic and continued to do so. I think both elements would be important for me
and I would need a way to ensure that both were present to feel good about what
I was doing. Additionally, I don’t think I would want to have my scholarship,
or whatever form it took, be school specific. But I haven’t started looking
into how to do any of that yet. Maybe it will be my first substantial
charitable endeavor. For now, I typically donate a hundred or two when I see
something that moves me to do so. Like I said, this area is a work in progress.