A Few More Expenses – Unremarkable, But Still Savings Opportunities

Even airplanes need roadside assistance sometimes. In this case, another student had left the master switch on and the battery was dead. As a result, the maintenance guys had to tow the plane over to the battery machine so they could jump it for us.

I haven’t done an annual expense post in a while and the year is quickly winding down, so I need to get back on track. The next three expense categories on the list, Memberships, Other, and Supplements, are pretty uninvolved, so I’ve decided to combine them into a single post. Over 2017 and 2018, I averaged $300, $2400, and $100 in these categories, respectively.

Of the $300 I averaged on memberships, roughly $180 a year went to my gym membership. It’s a 24 Hour Fitness membership I got from Costco. They usually sell a two year membership for $400, but it occasionally goes on sale for $360. And that’s when I pulled the trigger. As a bonus, based on my research, it appears that once my membership expires, I’ll be able to repeat the feat. The offer is only for people who are not current members at 24 Hour Fitness. However, according to many forum posts, you can attain that “not a current member” status in a single day. I will certainly give it a try once my membership expires next year. 24 Hour Fitness isn’t the nicest gym I’ve ever used. Many of the locations aren’t all that clean or well kept up. Don’t get me wrong; they’re not terrible. I’d say they’re squarely mediocre. However, they are cheap, they have all the necessary equipment, and they have tons of locations all over in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio – a huge value to me given my frequent traveling. 24 Hour Fitness also has locations in many other states so I recommend checking them out if you’re looking for a cheap, decent gym with many locations.

The remaining $120 a year was split evenly between my AAA membership and my Costco membership. AAA seems to be a pretty decent company and as someone who travels by car a lot, I’m likely to need the service eventually. When I do, based on my research, I expect to save a significant amount of money on one roadside service or another. Even if I don’t, I appreciate having some peace of mind. I have this instead of a similar service through an insurance company because I don’t trust insurance companies and like most people, my premiums are high enough already. Maybe using the service wouldn’t be treated as a claim and everything would be fine. But I wouldn’t want to bet on that with an industry that is well known for both jacking up premiums and screwing its customers at every possible opportunity. I tend to be a little cynical for sure, but I haven’t found many more crooked industries than insurance and will do whatever I can to avoid letting it take advantage of me even more than it already has, and still does. AAA has been around a long time and has a pretty decent reputation. That’s enough for me until my experiences indicate I should change my view.

As for the Costco membership, I’ve written about my favorite store many times on this blog – in fact, it saved me money in both of the other categories in this post and no, that was not intended. I would estimate that the $60 membership pays for itself at least half a dozen times per year. It is actually likely more than that. It would be difficult to overstate the value here.

I avoid putting expenses into the Other category if I can, opting instead to add more specific categories as necessary. When I do use it, it’s for something I don’t expect to do often. In the case of 2017 and 2018, I made a cross country move from Wisconsin to Houston, Texas. My employer generously paid for most of it. However, as part of the process of recovering psychologically from my 2016 divorce, I decided to get rid of almost everything I owned and replace it once here in Texas. It wouldn’t have been right to ask my employer to pay for that since it was voluntary, although they would have if I had. It wound up costing me about $4800, mostly on some middle of the road quality furniture, resulting in an average of $2400 over the last two years.

As for supplements, I don’t use many at this point in my life, although I’ve used almost all of them over the years. So this category used to be a much bigger one. Today, the vast majority of this spending is on protein powder. And I’ve been using less and less of that in favor of ingesting as many calories as possible in real food form. The protein powder I do buy, unsurprisingly, comes from Costco. Their deals are normally pretty competitive, but if you wait for their sale prices and then stock up, you will blow any other options out of the water. And this is coming from a guy who has bought almost every supplement and checked out almost every possible option over time.

That’s it for today. Yes, it was kind of a mundane post. But even here, there is plenty of potential savings if you happen to be overspending in these categories. As usual, I get everything I want, rarely compromise on quality, and pay as little as possible. Overall, it works out to approximately an upper middle class lifestyle for the cost of a lower middle class one. Have a great week!

Possibly the Most Unattractive Statement I’ve Ever Heard

Just a phenomenally timed photo! – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

No matter what your goals are with the opposite sex, you will probably have to play the numbers game. And since my divorce a few years ago, I’ve done just that. Not long ago, I met a woman who seemed pretty worthwhile at first. She was attractive and clearly intelligent. But my assessment changed in an instantaneous and permanent manner when she said something that absolutely appalled me. “I wouldn’t want to be with someone like you because you clearly live a healthy lifestyle and I don’t want to feel pressured to live that way too.”

One issue with dating women in their early to mid twenties is that you can’t necessarily assess their lifestyle very easily. Sure, some of them are already significantly overweight at that age and others are showing signs of aging prematurely, both of which are indicative of consistently poor choices in one or more areas. But many of them still look great thanks to nothing but a combination of age and genetics. And that was clearly the case here. She went on to describe her party girl lifestyle, which sounded like it mostly involved staying out drinking at bars, clubs, etc until the wee hours of the morning, rather proudly. This was clearly a woman who is well on her way to hitting the wall head first and at full speed.

But it wasn’t even the fact that she’s squandering every resource she has – her health, her money, and the time her very life is made up of – that shocked me. I see women her age still living that way all the time. Consequently, the reason I tend to date women that age, as opposed to younger than that, is because the smarter ones tend to be starting to realize that they aren’t going to be young forever and adjusting their choices accordingly. The reason I usually avoid women thirty and above is that many of the ones who are single at that age have never made those all important adjustments, but now want kids regardless – with whoever is foolish or desperate enough to attach himself to that mess for a couple of decades at a minimum.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong. I’ve suspected plenty of women of harboring this “I don’t want to be with someone who looks like he might have even modest expectations” mentality. I’ve just never met one who was actually willing to admit it before. She apparently wants to date a man with no more drive or self discipline than she has. And the crazy part is that she went on to talk forlornly about being single as the minutes, which started to seem like hours, passed. Of course she is single! What kind of man would be attracted enough to someone with an attitude like that to have anything beyond casual sex with her? What are the odds that she herself would find a man like that attractive? It’s amazing how self destructive people can be. But in this case, she has an almost unbelievable combination of awareness of what she’s doing to herself and insistence on continuing to do it.

The lesson here, of course, is to live exactly the opposite way this woman is. Make the right choices, not the easiest ones. Surround yourself with people who motivate you to be better in every area of your life. Avoid people who are going to drag you down to their level with their mere presence. I’m sure you have all heard the quote about being the average of the five people you spend the most time with. While I don’t think it’s quite that simple, I’m a big believer in the basic concept. Clearly the woman I met was, too. She just had a very perplexing vision for what she wanted her “average” to be. More power to her, I guess. But I strongly recommend you choose the best life you can for yourself. Why would anyone want a crappy one?

What I Learned From the Latest of My Many Car Purchases

Sunrise, sunset. As you can see, when it comes to cars, I definitely have a “type.”

Happy Tuesday, Folks! I took yesterday off since it was Columbus Day and I’ve decided to do more to make holidays special, even the more dubious ones. This post has been a long time in coming, since it happened about a month ago now, but after months of researching and deliberating, I bought my next car. As the picture shows, I replaced my 2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited with a 2015 Infiniti Q60S. This was pretty out of character for me since I ended up buying a totally different car than I had planned to and I committed some car buying sins I never would have previously considered in the process. But at least so far, I’m very happy with my decision. I’ve been buying cars for almost two decades now, and while some aspects stay the same, every purchase is also a little different. So here are the specifics from this time.

What stayed the same?

I did a ton of research before I even stepped foot on a dealership lot.

In this case, I found what I thought was the perfect car for me – on paper. I was going to buy a 2015 Lexus ES 350. In addition to having the usual bulletproof Toyota reliability, it has a venerable, naturally aspirated engine, meaning none of the turbo related issues so many of the cars being sold today are likely to suffer from somewhere down the line. The gas mileage is a solid 21/31 and it doesn’t require premium gas like most luxury cars do. It is a big, smooth, comfortable car, which is important for someone who drives a lot as I do. The main compromise I felt I would have to make is that like most cars today, it is not very pretty. But that’s not terribly important and other than that, the car checked all the boxes.

Doing the research is crucial. You need to know everything about the car you’re looking at – the fair market value, the long term reliability, any specific problems the year/make/model is known for, the features in different trim packages, etc. Most salesman suck at their jobs and will not know a lot of these things, especially with used cars. This doesn’t mean they won’t answer any questions you have; it just means you shouldn’t rely on the answers they give you. Keep their motivation in mind and go in armed with information from unbiased sources.

I also had financing lined up before I went to any dealerships.

I decided to finance this car instead of paying cash because my credit score has suffered some since I paid off my last car years ago as a result of having no current installment debt on it and I want it back where it was. No, there isn’t much practical difference between the mid 800s and the low 800s. But this stuff is literally what I do and yes, there is also some ego element to it. Anyway, another reason I got a loan is that at today’s interest rates, a small one (just over $10k in this case) costs basically nothing. I had a sub 3% rate ready to go at a local credit union.

 I walked away from two potential cars because the deal I wanted wasn’t there.

This is extremely important. Car salesmen know how to toy with your emotions and if you aren’t careful, they will have you feeling that you MUST have THIS car. Or that they’re such nice people that you owe them something. Or any number of other psychological tricks that they might play depending on what you respond to. Any time you start feeling yourself having an emotional response to anything involving money, it is a good practice to walk away until it has passed. And when buying a car, if you sense that you’re at the salesman’s limit and the numbers aren’t where you want them, that is the perfect time to walk away anyway. If he lets you leave, you know it really was the best he had to offer. And don’t believe any bullshit he gives you about this being “a one time, today only offer!” I promise he’s lying. And even if he’s not, if he was willing to give it to you, someone else will be too. If you remember nothing else, remember this: you will never lose money by not spending it. Think about it.

Like many of my previous car purchases, I bought a late model used car and saved a ton.

My Sonata was actually the one new car I’ve bought so far. I only bought that one because it was a demo model (6000 miles or less on it but still legally a new car) and it was selling for about an $8k discount off of its retail price of $31k. But even though I got a deal that good on that “new” car, and even though this latest car was significantly more expensive when it was new, I still paid less for this one. With options, the Infiniti retailed at just shy of $50k. But five years old and with only about 30k miles on it, I got it for $21k. I wasn’t concerned about the year/mileage imbalance affecting my resale value since I put on a ton of miles and will quickly reverse it anyway. Considering this car has a long proven, naturally aspirated engine and the Hyundai had a turbo, you could make the argument that this car’s powertrain probably has as many trouble free miles in it as the Hyundai’s did when I bought it – but this powertrain is in a considerably nicer car. And in case you think this particular model depreciates unusually quickly, there were plenty of available ES 350 options at right around $20k for that same vintage as well. Keep in mind that the secret has been out on Lexus for some time so they depreciate slower than almost anything on the road. But even there, the late model used discount is alive and well.

What was different about this purchase?

I bought my car from a “no haggle” dealership.

Most people know that Carmax is a fantastic ripoff by now. If you still don’t, compare any car on their lot with other comparable options in your area. Even without factoring in that most dealers will negotiate some on their advertised pricing, thus making it even lower, Carmax is going to be at least 10% higher than the best available options on nearly anything. They make it simple for you…to pay them an enormous premium for a car. This time around, I found a lot of dealers that appeared to be copying that business model. However, upon further inspection, I noticed something surprising. Many of their prices are actually pretty competitive and some are even exceptional. The dealership I wound up going with happened to have the exact car I wanted at the lowest price available for hundreds of miles. Could I have found a similar car for a thousand or two less somewhere else? Possibly. But it probably wouldn’t have been worth the time and effort. I only buy black cars with black leather interiors and the Q60S is a fairly rare car to begin with. This is a preference that always costs me money but one that makes me happy and thus, that I’m willing to pay a little for.

Anyway, I ended up getting a pretty decent deal on the car without the fun of negotiating, which normal people don’t seem to enjoy anyway. So don’t ignore all the “no haggle” dealerships; not all of them are ripoffs. I will, however, note that this was not one of those “delivered to your door” dealerships. I would NEVER buy a car I couldn’t inspect in person first, whether new or used, although it is significantly more important with a used one. And yes, I know they offer return policies, albeit for very short time/mileage windows. Do you want to try returning a car? I can’t imagine any scenario where that would go smoothly. For example, there will already be a loan in your name. That will have to be zeroed out or paid off. I can’t imagine that will report cleanly on your credit report. The titling process will already have been started. Do you think they refund that money? Do you think you won’t also be paying to title the second vehicle? Those are just a couple of issues off the top of my head. If you can’t inspect a car in person, don’t buy it. These aren’t tv sets; no two are alike.

I actually wound up financing through the dealer.

This particular dealer only dealt with a selected group of finance companies. Ever the cynic, I figured this meant they were going to add one or more points into my deal, which is a very common practice at dealerships and one of the main reasons to line up financing before you go. Had they tried to do that, I would have simply bought the car with cash or walked away. However, they wound up getting me a loan within a quarter point of the one I had already lined up. And with a loan as small as the one I took, I will pay basically nothing in interest anyway and a rate difference that small means nothing. Why did I take such a small loan?

I actually wound up trading my car in.

I have always sold my own cars in the past and have been very successful with it. In my experience, I’ve gotten anywhere from 20 to a whopping 50% more than dealerships were offering by doing things this way. But in this case, the dealership actually made me a pretty fair offer. I know because I did my research in advance. If I had sold the car myself, I would most likely have gotten $1-3k more for it. However, that would have involved spending time I simply don’t have and dealing with at least some people I absolutely don’t want to deal with. When you’re dealing with the public, you’re usually going to meet some assholes, some weirdos, etc. But the bigger issue was the time factor. For me, at this stage of my life, I decided it wasn’t worth squeezing every last dollar out of my car. Plus, the $10k I got for it by trading reduced my sales tax by $625 (you are only taxed on the sale price that’s in excess of your trade and the rate is 6.25% here), further reducing my motivation to sell the car on my own.

I threw my research in the trash and started over.

Like I said above, the 2015 Lexus ES 350 would have been a nearly perfect car in my situation. So why didn’t I buy one? Because I test drove one. I can honestly say I have never been so disappointed with a car in my life. The car was, in fact, nearly perfect – except for one little problem. It was the most sterile driving experience I’ve ever had. Although the stats were pretty similar to my existing car, the performance didn’t feel like it was. And even if it had been, it wouldn’t have mattered. I could have been in a car as fast as the heavily modified Supra I had back in the day (you know, when they weren’t just BMWs marketed as Supras), but so what? I couldn’t feel anything. It was like someone set out to create a car that felt like you were floating in it rather than driving. The car is extremely good at what it does and I thought I would like it. But I absolutely didn’t.

By the by, this is also a strong selling point for the Hyundai. I wanted to get out of that car for two reasons – the mediocre build quality (don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t a Chrysler product or anything, but it was starting to creak and groan way too much for a car its age) and the turbo engine that would inevitably start costing me money well before I wanted to get rid of the car. I drove a car that is significantly more expensive and objectively better in almost every way and yet, it didn’t feel like much of an upgrade at all. For anyone looking for a lower priced car that still offers an awful lot, you could do a lot worse than a Hyundai. And if you get a maxed out one like mine was, you might have a harder time noticing the differences between it and a luxury car than you would expect.

Anyway, after that colossal disappointment, I decided I’m at the point in life where I can compromise a little more between financial optimization and enjoyment. I do have to drive this thing after all. The car I bought is significantly faster, sportier, and more fun in every way than the Lexus. It will not be quite as reliable over time, although it should still hold up decently, especially for being a sports car. And while the gas mileage will rarely be north of 30, again, it’s not terrible for a car this fun to drive at 19/27. And like with most cars, I’ve already been finding that it does a little better than its EPA rating in real life since I don’t beat on it. So far I’m averaging a little north of 27 with probably 75% highway driving.

And I actually love the car. It is a few years “behind the times” in terms of technology, but I think that’s great since I want a car, not a computer. The reason I was looking at a 2015 Lexus in the first place instead of a 2016 or newer is that after 2015, they started adding more and more of the self driving features I have zero interest in, at least until further notice. In the case of the Infiniti, 2015 was also my year because Nissan caved to the turbo trend in the next model year. It’s no race car, but it’s a sporty, fun little car with a very nice interior and everything I want in it. I’ll do another post on the cost of ownership between the three cars (the Hyundai, the Lexus, and this one) but for now, suffice it to say, while this one is the most expensive of the three, I still consider it a reasonable compromise compared to something very sporty like a Corvette. It is certainly well within my means and as long as you stay there, at the end of the day, I think it’s ok to enjoy yourself a little every now and again.

Your Life Is Going to Change; What Do You Want It to Look Like When It Does? Part 2

Happy Friday! Here is the conclusion to Wednesday’s post.

Waiting our turn to taxi. Jets are usually prioritized and with good reason – they’re burning hundreds of dollars of fuel in just minutes!

I’ve discussed how I got here plenty over the life of this nearly year old blog so I won’t revisit that here. This would be a good post to check out if you’re interested in the cliff notes version. Over the last few years, I’ve met all sorts of people and seen all sorts of things – a whole world I never would have experienced if my old life hadn’t ended so catastrophically that I decided to start over nearly from scratch. And one thing I’ve learned is that you aren’t defined by your current circumstances. You can be anything you want to be. If you don’t like your current circumstances, change them. It will probably require making some changes to yourself, but that is possible as well.

In fact, beyond being just possible, it’s inevitable. Remember those “cool kids” from high school? The quarterback and the hottest girl, who were always at the center of everything? Well, they changed too. They got married and had kids. Now he’s fat, bald, and trapped in a crappy job he hates while she’s fat and bitter and sits at home watching daytime tv all day. Obviously, that isn’t what always happens, although I do think peaking too early in life can be disastrous. But every person on this planet will change and so will their circumstances. Winners today are definitely not guaranteed to be winners tomorrow. And blessed are the “late bloomers” among us. We had to fight through significant challenges before the sun would shine in our worlds and as a result, today it’s shining brighter than we could ever have imagined it would. 

So who do you want to be and what do you want your life to look like? You do have a say in these matters. Look around you. Do you see the people you DON’T want to be? Those people had a choice too. Chances are, their attitude was that they didn’t. Life just “happened” to them. And look at them now. They didn’t decide what they wanted and force it to come into their lives, so they got the leftovers no one else wanted. Not making a choice is still a choice. I strongly suggest that if you’re a pessimist, you make changing that your first priority. I’ve recommended some great books on the subject in the past, but anything by Martin Seligman is probably the best recommendation I can possibly make.

From there, think about what you want your life to be. Envision it. If you were who you wanted to be, and you lived exactly the life you wanted, what would that look like? Now don’t just let it fade away like another daydream. Write it down. Next, figure out what steps you need to take in order to make your reality look like the one you just imagined. This may require some research. Finally, break the necessary changes down into small, actionable items and start doing them. Don’t get caught in the traps of perfectionism or “analysis paralysis.” Starting imperfectly is much better than never starting at all.

That’s it. You should start to notice changes in both your life and yourself almost immediately. Taking action is very powerful. It’s one of the main differences between people who life “happens to” and people who mold their lives into what they want them to be. I know someone who bought his first rental house five years ago and now has over seventy of them and a seven figure net worth to boot. I know someone else who has gone from a beginner sales rep to one of the best and most successful in our company in about that same timeframe. You really can transform your life, and in a lot less time than you would probably guess. But it won’t happen unless you decide to make it.

Your Life Is Going to Change; What Do You Want It to Look Like When It Does?

The very coffee machine referred to in the post making the very coffee I was waiting for when I conceived the idea for it.

The other day, I heard a song that reminded me of a very different time in my life. My then fiancé and I were both working what felt like dead end jobs with few prospects for anything better. We lived in Wisconsin, suffering through the standard six months of hellish weather on an annual basis. Everything I did in life, including staying in Wisconsin, was dedicated to her – something I now know was a terrible mistake and would have been whether or not our eventual marriage had only lasted two years. But how could I know that? I hadn’t been with many women before her, so like most men in that situation, I held on for dear life and smothered any chance of her remaining interested in me out of existence. Anyway, we lived in a decent, but modest apartment, and we each drove a 10+ year old vehicle. We had some fun, but mostly it amounted to hanging out with family and friends. Every spare dollar went to paying down our student loans. From an objective perspective, our life together wasn’t much to look at. However, I was naively happy and didn’t expect any of the fundamental parts of it to change too dramatically from there. There’s a powerful sense of security in that, albeit a false one in many cases.

But as I waited for the fancy coffee machine in the clubhouse of the luxury apartment complex I live in to finish brewing the amazing coffee I enjoy every morning I’m in town, I marveled at how vastly different my life is today. While it can certainly be stressful, and is particularly so lately given the current state of the industry, my job pays about three times what I made back in the time I was referring to in the last paragraph. My side business adds almost as much as I was making back then with very little time commitment required on my part, bringing my total income to about four times what it was. I still have friends and family, but now instead of a long term relationship, I tend towards enjoying being with someone while it’s mutually enjoyable, then moving on when that passes. I appreciate every experience and I look forward to the next. I have no trouble finding women who want to spend time with me, so there isn’t any over-committing on my part and as a result, my relationships tend to be much better while they last. I fly planes and write for this blog in my spare time, and enjoy both activities immensely. Oh yeah. And I’m enjoying all of this stuff from the comfort of my favorite state, over a thousand miles from bitter Wisconsin, and I get to spend regular time in four of its biggest and best cities – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. Why choose just one?

Problems that used to seriously worry me aren’t even problems at all now. I was having some trouble with my computer the other day. And while I was able to get it fixed with the help of my teacher turned IT professional mother, it occurred to me that if I had needed to replace my year and a half old computer, I could do so and I would barely have noticed the difference in cashflow that month. I’m considering going on a nice vacation early next year and it has already occurred to me that once again, I can pay for it out of monthly cashflow and not really think twice. Oh. And I just bought myself a luxury sports car – although I did stay true to my principles in the way that I did it. I’ll get into that next week; I promise this time! The point of this isn’t to brag. The point is that there is a night and day difference between these two periods in my life. I’m going to guess what you may be thinking here. There must have been a decade or more of hard work separating these two almost polar opposite chapters of my life, right? Wrong. Try six years. And if you’re going from the demise of my ill fated marriage until today, when things still weren’t dramatically different from the first paragraph above, you can make that three and a half. I have wasted much of my life so far as a pessimist. I still struggle with it. But it is much easier to challenge that way of thinking now that I’ve seen the seemingly miraculous changes that are possible in life.

To be continued…

How Much of Your Life Will You Spend Working for Free?

Someone paid an awful lot in taxes en route to buying this beauty!

The FIRE movement is everywhere these days and at times it seems like every possible related topic has been covered. But somehow, I haven’t seen a lot of discussion of the topic I want to cover today. As a finance guy, I’m all too familiar with how taxes work. When I was younger, that was one of the reasons I wasn’t too keen on getting a high paying, high commitment job – although I eventually found myself in one anyway. What my younger self saw, and what will ultimately lead to my much earlier than average exit from such a situation, is that there is a diminishing return effect. And that is especially true when you consider that in most cases, making more money requires working more hours. Those hours are literally the building blocks that make up our lives.

The more you make, the more of your money is taken away. It can seem fairly innocuous when you’re working forty hours a week and making an income somewhere in the average realm. In fact, all things considered, many people are breaking even or even getting more than they put in to begin with. But someone has to pay the bills, and if you’re working closer to eighty hours a week and making six figures (or more), that someone is you. For some folks, the reality is that when all taxes are considered, about half the money they earn is gone before they ever see it. So in another way of looking at the situation, they’re working twice as much, but only being paid for half the time.

Why would anyone take that deal? Sure, some people are workaholics. Some truly love what they’re doing to such an extent that they would be doing it even if it paid nothing. But for the vast majority of us, we do it because we want the money because we have expensive lifestyles to pay for. But what good is an expensive lifestyle if you’re spending well over half your waking hours working? What good is it if you don’t even get paid for a lot of those hours when all is said and done?

The cheaper your lifestyle, the less you have to work for free. Let’s say you only spend about $20k a year, as my ex-wife and I did when we were first out of school and clinging to the student lifestyle for a little longer so we could pay off our student loans quickly. If all you needed was $20k a year, you could work a job paying just a little more than that and live very nearly tax free (actually, you would almost certainly be getting back more than you paid in). In another way of speaking, your income efficiency would be at or around 100%. If you could tolerate that lifestyle, there would be an incredible upside in terms of having to invest very little in it. But now let’s say you spend $50k a year, which is actually still below average for United States households I believe. There’s no way you’re going to make that much without paying taxes. So your income efficiency goes down and your lifestyle costs you more of your life. And the trend continues until you’re well into the six figures and your income efficiency gets to be as low as roughly 50%. It can go even lower than that in places like California. And lifestyles tend to be a tad expensive there too, so it’s no surprise that those people are fleeing to Texas in droves.

It pays to keep your lifestyle expenses as under control as possible – quite literally. And remember, to the extent that more money correlates to more hours worked, you are literally paying for your lifestyle by working more hours (in other words, giving away part of your life) for free. This brings me back to the title of the post. How much of your life will you spend working for free? The foundation of the answer is in the cost of your lifestyle.

So next time you’re considering spending money on something, you may want to try framing the question this way. Would this purchase bring enough value into my life to compensate me for spending even more of it working for free than I am now? In some cases, the answer is going to be yes. Most of us have decided that being able to drive where we want, when we want, in a safe and reliable vehicle, is worth it. But you have to decide where to draw the line. Most of us aren’t driving Ferraris, for example. Today my suggestion is that you take the portion of your life you are literally giving away into account as you make these decisions. You only get so many hours before your time is up.

Happy Monday! Here Are a Few of the Things I’ve Been Up To.

Nothing to do with the post, but I just had to use this badass photo by my man, Jean-Marc! – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Happy Monday, Everyone! Here are some assorted thoughts and experiences I’ve had lately. I hope you find them amusing or enlightening in some way.

Clean your fucking house if you’re single!

Seriously, I was just eating dinner the other night, just like any of the other thousands of times I’ve done it, when suddenly, I found myself choking. Total freak thing. Somehow, something went down the wrong tube. Thankfully, I was able to cough it all back out. But if I hadn’t been able to, it could very easily have been lights out. And I’m a very healthy man in his thirties. Aside from having an extremely stressful job, I’m nowhere near being part of an “at risk” population. But fate doesn’t care about probability. And if I hadn’t coughed that stuff up, someone would have been walking into a mess since I’ve been on the road so much lately that I haven’t had time to keep up with things like I should. Food for thought.

Everyone knows JD Power awards are bullshit…right?

With football season upon us again, I’m watching some tv again. And with watching tv comes seeing those heinous Chevy ads with that guy I find incredibly irritating. Don’t get me wrong; he looks like a very nice, mild mannered, incredibly beta guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly because he doesn’t have the balls. But there is something about that man that makes me sincerely wish he would die painfully. And soon. A grossly excessive response? Probably. But at least for now, I’m still free to think what I want. Anyway, the ads always feature said annoying man preaching to “real people” about how Chevy wins basically every JD Power award on the planet.

First of all, if you haven’t found it already, head over to Youtube and search for Zebra Corner for a little therapy. The channel has tons of videos where a guy hero named “Mahk” sits in on these commercials and singlehandedly takes them from painful to hilarious. The only thing funnier than his absurd accent is his relentless criticism of Chevy and the situation he’s found himself in. There should probably be a law requiring that Mahk’s work be played on tv in place of the original commercials because it would make the world a better place. Just saying.

Second, JD Power awards are 100% bullshit. They’re based on survey results and those surveys are about “initial quality.” That’s the first 90 days of car ownership. Call me when you’re talking to people about their cars five or ten years down the road and we can talk. But 90 days? I’d be shocked if even a Chrysler product had any issues that quickly. So basically, JD Power verifies that people still like the cars they chose to buy…90 days ago. If you know much about psychology, you know how pointless that exercise is. Also, there is absolutely a financial incentive involved. Chevy, and any other car company that wants to use the “awards” in their marketing, pays to do so. Plus, the proof is in the pudding. Chevy builds mostly crappy cars and would have gone bankrupt a decade ago if it hadn’t been bailed out. If the company is winning awards, those awards obviously have no credibility on those grounds alone.

If you want to find out which cars are good, talk to a mechanic you trust. Or do your research online from a variety of reputable sources (keeping in mind that reviewers may not be paid directly by manufacturers, but if they give out a bad review, they’re not going to be reviewing that particular manufacturer’s cars for very long) and then draw your own conclusions. Ignore all advertising. I cannot stress that enough. Marketing people are clever little bastards who know how to manipulate your mind, even if you’re on the intelligent end of the spectrum. Ignore everything they say. Not a word of it is credible.

SoFi still rocks.

A while back, I recommended the SoFi checking account. While I did provide my referral link, I would only do something like that for a product I myself use and feel comfortable recommending, regardless of financial incentive. Recently, I was using the bill pay feature and I thought of a couple suggestions that I felt would improve it. Ever since I first got the account, I’ve been meaning to try out the “Email the CEO” link at the top of the page. I figured this was as good a time as any, so I emailed him my suggestions. The very next day, which was a Saturday by the way, I got a phone call from someone in his office. She told me that Anthony occasionally answers the emails himself, but that whether by him or a member of his executive team, every single email is answered. As a man with thousands upon thousands of unread emails in my various inboxes without being the CEO of a large corporation, this impresses me. She discussed my suggestions with me a little, thanked me for both them and my being a member, and told me to watch my account because they may be implemented. I’m excited to see if anything has changed the next time I pay my monthly bills.

But whatever happens, it means a lot to me that I can get a response that quickly. And I think it says a lot about the way the company is run. I am reiterating my recommendation of the SoFi checking account and if anyone is interested, here is my referral link. https://www.sofi.com/share/money/2015744

Speaking of customer service, Marriott is on notice with me.

Lest you think I’m some shill who only gives glowing reviews, I had a very disappointing experience at a Marriott recently. At roughly 9:30AM, someone put a key in my hotel room door and proceeded to open it. If the safety lock hadn’t been there, he would have been in my room looking me dead in the eyes as I toweled off in the bathroom, having just stepped out of the shower. As it was, he had the door open a few inches. There had been no warning of any kind – no knock, nothing verbal, etc. I quickly stepped out of the bathroom, slammed the door back shut, and advised the gentleman in no uncertain terms that the room was occupied and a second attempt to enter it would not be met with as kind a response as the first had been. His response, which was not apologetic in the slightest by the way, was to tell me that management had told him all the rooms on my floor were empty. Admittedly, I was angrier than I otherwise would have been since I was literally standing there naked. However, this guy was in the wrong, and by a wide margin. If it had been a naked woman in the room, there is a good chance he would have been leaving in handcuffs. He may well have been anyway if I had chosen to call the police. So I was a little surprised he couldn’t muster even a half hearted “I’m sorry.”

When I told the hotel manager what had happened, her response was even worse. She told me that a notice had been given to me that they would be cleaning the carpets in the rooms that morning (it was not – I even went back and checked my email to see if maybe it had been sent out that way – and if I had received such a notice, I would certainly have made a reservation at a different hotel) and that I needed to let them in. The fact that there had been two and a half hours until check out when this unauthorized entrance attempt occurred was deemed irrelevant. And there wasn’t even a hint of an apology in anything she said. Needless to say, I told her to cancel the second night of my reservation, which to her credit, she did. However, upon further review, it appears that the rate on my bill was increased by $20.

For a little context, I stay in a lot of hotels – probably about a hundred nights a year on average over the last few years. So I know how things work. The “do not disturb” sign goes on the door before I even set my luggage down upon checking in. But occasionally, a member of the housekeeping staff, no doubt in a hurry to get the job done, does try to walk in before check out time anyway. I’ve even had the safety lock disengaged once and had someone succeed in walking in before realizing her mistake. However, she was immediately apologetic in that case, as was the hotel manager when I informed her what had happened. She refused to charge me a penny for the night and assured me that they would be retraining immediately. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that caliber of response, because it was exceptional, but in this case, the manager’s response to the situation was utterly unacceptable.

I called Marriott’s customer service number immediately after that. The woman who answered was very professional and kind and took down all the pertinent information. She was very sympathetic and ultimately told me I would be receiving a response in 3-5 business days. That’s a little disappointing given that my complaint was in regards to a safety issue, and an egregious one at that. Had this man made it into my hotel room, the outcome would have been one or both of us leaving in an ambulance and a lawsuit being leveled at anyone in any way involved by the most vicious attorney available. It seems to me a much more immediate response by customer service should have been in order. But I will give them until the middle of next week to respond and report back when they do. If the response is less than satisfactory, I will not be staying at a Marriott property again, which would be a sad outcome given that by and large, my experiences with them have been good. I will also be researching which government agency (or agencies) is responsible for overseeing hotels and making a complaint to them. Stay tuned, folks.

The Illusion of Security – Part 2

Good morning everyone! Today’s post is the conclusion to my post from last Monday. Whereas that one exhibited more of an “old testament” tone, today’s is more in the “gospel” direction. It felt good to write it and I hope it feels equally good to read it.

I believe I’ve used this picture before, but I don’t even care. It’s an awesome message that tends to come true more often than not.

But just like with anything else, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. I’m on track to be a millionaire by forty if I continue to work that long and I still spend sleepless nights envisioning what might happen if I lose my job. I get worked up over relatively small setbacks that pose almost zero threat to my long term success in any area of life. Through hard work on my mindset and rapidly improving actual circumstances, I have gotten better about this. But my desires are still way too close to the security end of the spectrum. As far as I can tell, there are at least two antidotes to this problem.

One is to assess your position and worst case scenario from a rational viewpoint. Think about things as if an average, unbiased observer was watching your life on tv. In my case, if I lost my job, I could live on cash for at least six months without that income and if I needed to go further, I could liquidate enough in other assets to extend that by years. It is pretty difficult to imagine a scenario where I wouldn’t have another job by the time all my assets were exhausted and it wouldn’t even have to be a remotely comparable job to my existing one since my living expenses are less than $30k a year and I could cut them by half and still have everything I technically needed. But if none of that worked out, I have friends and family. I’m not the easiest guy on earth to get along with, as you may have guessed by reading my blog, but there is almost a zero percent chance that no one would take me in while I worked to get back on my feet. Even if no one would, there are organizations and programs dedicated to people in such dire circumstances. And even if none of that helped me, I see homeless people on the streets every day; they are surviving somehow. Almost the entirety of this analysis is absurd because I’m relatively unlikely to take the very first step down the path I’ve just described. I’m well educated and intelligent, I have a good work ethic, there is a (generally) high demand for people with my skillset, and thus far, my income has increased rapidly and consistently.

Another approach is to look at things from the opposite point of view. Since graduating from college, my income has risen over 20% on an annualized basis and while obviously not infinitely sustainable, the rate has only increased as the years have gone on. While I’m on a strongly upward trend in my current job, it is fairly common knowledge within my industry that my employer offers more of an experience building opportunity than a wealth building one and as such, the pay is on the low end of the market. I occasionally get calls from recruiters throwing out numbers $50-100k higher than my current total compensation in an effort to get me to interview for positions I’m getting more qualified for every day. Those calls are getting more frequent over time and in the next year or two, it’s likely that the right one will come. I have a profitable side business that I will likely be able to scale up as large as I would ever want to. My investment account balances grow pretty rapidly since I’m adding a huge portion of my income to them on an ongoing basis. I have a great network of past and current coworkers, many of whom I count as friends. And I have talents besides the ones I’m currently using to bring in money that I have only barely begun to explore. A strong argument could be made that I am likely to have substantially more resources for the foreseeable future – not less, and certainly not none.

All in all, I’m an extremely fortunate guy and a hell of a lot would have to go wrong in this world before I’d be on the street. Your situation may be better or worse than mine but working through the analysis would likely make you feel better if you’re a chronic worrier like me. If it doesn’t make you feel better, then figure out what would and start setting some goals that will help you move in that direction. But the bottom line is this: time spent worrying irrationally is time that could have been spent enjoying the buffet of happy experiences and growth opportunities life offers every day.

My Current Storm and the Adjustments I Need to Make

This is actually from Hurricane Ike, but last week’s tropical depression and subsequent flooding caused substantial devastation in Houston as well. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

I’ve reached a critical point. The stress of my situation has increased to such a degree that I need to address it in a very purposeful way in order to keep it from destroying me. It has literally begun to manifest itself in physical symptoms – terrible headaches that refuse to go away, shortness of breath at times, my heart rate speeding up for no apparent reason, etc. Obviously, I need to first acknowledge that I’m creating the symptoms by handling things the way I am on a psychological level. Then I need to figure out exactly what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what changes I need to make. I have the entire day (I’m writing this on Sunday) to dedicate to doing just that while I also work on the usual chores everyone has to do to keep life moving along smoothly. As part of that, I decided to write a post about the situation. I’m hoping that it will both help me to see things in a different way and inspire someone else to work through something of their own.

The heat is up about as hot as it can go. My employer’s firings have continued and while we’re being reassured that anyone left is safe, that, of course, means nothing beyond that the company has an interest in tamping down the panic among its remaining employees as much as possible. Already a couple they didn’t intend to lose, including our perennial number one rep, have escaped and the consequences to the bottom line will be severe. They’ve done it to themselves with their panicked reaction to the circumstances – and it goes way beyond simply firing a large percentage of the sales force. I’m very happy for him because it sounds like he is in a genuinely better situation with enormous potential. But guys like that will always have employers lining up to pay them basically whatever they want. For me and most of the other reps who have neither been fired, nor found the door on our own, better options aren’t necessarily available, especially at a time like this.

Every last one of us is looking, of course. But it’s not so simple. Over the last year or so, our broader industry has been absolutely devastated by a massive oversupply problem that has crushed revenue, putting hundreds of small, medium, and even large businesses under and thousands of people out of work. If one of us were to find a job at another company within the industry, we would very likely be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. You never know the reality of a job until you’re actually doing it and under the current circumstances, that reality is very unlikely to be a good one – no matter where you go and no matter how much a biased recruiter gushes about how great the opportunity is. Every company is dealing with its own version of the same problem right now.  

So how about getting a similar job in a different industry? No dice there either. First off, most of us are finding that there is very little interest in our services in other industries because even though our skillsets are extremely valuable in the right circumstances, we are not exempt from the fact that most employers these days want someone who is already doing exactly the same job they are applying for. While this is obviously a short-sighted attitude that has made hiring quality people more and more difficult and caused significant structural problems in our workforce, it’s still reality. Besides, even if I could get into a different industry, it probably wouldn’t solve my problem for long.

Why not? I’m in a barometer industry. When things get ugly, we tend to get hit first. When things improve, we also tend to see that first. So if I leave now after fighting a year of industry wide recession, I will probably find myself in rapidly worsening conditions as the recession spreads to my new industry. And to make matters worse, my current industry will likely be in recovery mode by then. But having just changed jobs, I would be taking a huge career risk at that point by doing so a second time in a short timeframe. It is best to be in that 3-5 year tenure range before you make a switch if at all possible. Anything less is likely to produce a suboptimal outcome in a variety of ways.

So what should I do? I believe my best option is to continue to stand and fight. I’ve made it this far and besides, bailing out doesn’t appear likely to be possible, or even profitable. Going back to the beginning of this post, since I can’t adjust the outside circumstances, I need to look inward to improve the situation. I’ve already made the disappointing decision to stop taking flying lessons. I was really enjoying them, but I simply can’t afford the time the overall process was taking up anymore and it’s not something that can be “half-assed.” I’ve also cut back on writing for this blog, although I did so a little more than intended, dropping from three posts a week to one. I intend to get that back up to two as I had planned.

The biggest thing I need to work on is to focus on optimizing everything I can control and not letting the things I can’t stress me out the way they have been. That means doing all those things that I know are crucial to my continued success to the best of my ability every day. It also means shutting out the noise. Or, as one of my more senior colleagues told me, in times like this, you just have to keep your head down and work. This is one of Stephen Covey’s seven laws and if you haven’t read his book, I strongly recommend that you do.

I have to be as mentally strong as I possibly can right now. The pendulum is going to swing back the other way for us. It always does. For all I know, it could happen as soon as a few months from now. Even if it doesn’t, it is almost certain that we’ve seen the worst of things. It would be a tragedy to fight so hard for so long and then fall apart so close to the finish line – the equivalent of being among the last soldiers killed in a battle that has already been materially won. I’m not going to let that happen to me. And on the other side of the finish line? A scenario where the market is improving again and anyone who survived the purge is well positioned to take advantage. Every hardship I’ve ever faced has made me a better man in some way. This one isn’t going to be any different.

By the way, it appears this is my 100th post on this blog. Thank you to everyone who has been along on this journey with me and I hope you all have a great day!

The Illusion of Security – Part 1

One day, all evidence of this “mighty civilization” will be gone.

Good day to you, folks. I’ve got some serious philosophical rambling to do today, so let’s get right into it! I don’t care what the context is; security is no more real than the fairy tales people tell their kids where everyone lives happily ever after (the American versions, that is; the German versions are a whole different ball game!). A bike locked to a rack is a bolt cutter away from being stolen. A lifetime employee is a disappointing trip to the boss’ office from being unemployed. A decades long marriage can be ended by divorce or death on any given day. No matter how secure a home may seem, it can still be robbed, burned down, hit by an asteroid, etc. Even something as big and powerful as a country can, and eventually will end. And of course one day, we will all die. In my case, this was, and still occasionally is, a very difficult concept to accept. But it is an integral part of life and in fact, without it, life might not even be worth living.

When I was a kid, I remember the kind of fantasies I would have about my future. I would be a pro athlete, a rock star, an astronaut, the usual stuff. But for me, there was a unique element. Instead of romanticizing the excesses or glorious moments of these “dream” lifestyles, as I’m sure many people do, I lusted after mostly one aspect – the security. Sure, I would have whatever I wanted. But that was a footnote. The real draw was that no one could ever take my dream life away or put me in any real danger at all. I could cordon myself away from the world and never be exposed to any problems again. I would simply be too rich, too famous, too powerful to take down. Obviously this wasn’t realistic. Living any of those lives, I could still have been taken out by a plane crash, a car accident, or cancer. Rich and famous people are killed by all of these, and by plenty of other things, on a regular basis.

As a young adult, I had similar, but more scaled down dreams. Gone were the fantasies of fame and fortune. I didn’t need admirers or a mansion or a fleet of Italian sports cars. I just wanted a decent house with a decent car and a wife who loved me for who I was. I thought the fact that I only wanted “enough” made me enlightened. But I still had the same illusion that one day I would have this elusive security, if only I could accumulate enough money to protect me and provide for a reasonable set of wants and needs for the remainder of my life. And make no mistake; this is a personal demon that I have to contend with to this day. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, enough money will buy me security. And that has led me to chase and hoard money relentlessly. I have been very successful in this pursuit; but at times I’ve taken it to an unhealthy degree, especially in my thought processes. There is a word that sums this all up well – fear. My mind tries to tell me I’m not strong enough to win out against the problems I face in life. It tries to tell me my only option is to outrun them.

But that option doesn’t really exist and even if it did, it wouldn’t be the right one, or even a good one. The people who get closest to having no problems at all have bad outcomes at several times the rate of people who don’t. Lottery winners often squander their newfound wealth in a matter of years and end up less happy than they were in the first place. Genetic lottery winners (pro athletes) often suffer a similar fate once they’ve retired. Musical lottery winners (rock stars) destroy themselves with drugs at a much higher rate than that of the general population. What goes up will inevitably come down and if the ascent is abrupt and rapid, the descent is likely to be the same way.

Of course, balance is crucial in life. Just because security isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean you’re going to leave your car running in the driveway with the doors open or visit the darkest alley in the most dangerous part of town at 2am with neither a weapon nor a companion. It also doesn’t mean you adopt the “I might die before retirement anyway so why bother saving anything” attitude. There is a reasonable range of security levels in life and your ideal point within it depends on your unique situation. But step one is to get to a point somewhere within it.

To be continued…