Over the last few weeks, my day to day life has grown brutally demanding and I’ve been pushing myself very hard, including a few consecutive days of working nearly around the clock. As a result, I started getting pretty run down. Exhaustion set in and with it, some weak thinking that led me back down the path to my old nemesis, depression, which I had not experienced in quite a while. All my problems seemed to have grown to insurmountable sizes and new ones were popping up faster than I could deal with them. I was really letting things get to me until Saturday night, when I made a conscious decision to get the situation under control.
I determined that in my overloaded state, I had fallen into
three main forms of self destruction. I chose to focus on attacking just those items.
First, I had been getting very little sleep to the point where I wasn’t even physically
able to get up at my usual time (lately between 5 and 5:30). As a result, I
would be behind schedule before my day even started. I had even missed two
workouts – something I try extremely hard to avoid. This was happening partially
because of the very high demands on my time, but also due to something I was
doing. When I get too stressed out, I tend to get stuck in a state of mental
paralysis and waste a bunch of time browsing the internet on my phone, and I
had fallen back into that habit. So that was the second thing. Third, I was
making everything more difficult by indulging my sweet tooth too often –
another habit I’m prone to when I’m overstressed. Each of these things was
causing problems on its own, but each was also making the others worse in some
way. I had trapped myself in a negative feedback loop.
So I resolved to get those three things under control. I
would force myself to get to bed by 9:30 each night so I could be up by 5:30
and still get enough sleep. I would limit myself to only browsing the internet
on my phone during my time on the cardio machines throughout the week. And
finally, I would limit myself to a maximum of one “treat” per week. I didn’t go
extreme on any of these items, but set goals I felt were both reasonable and
adequate to improve things dramatically.
Getting up this morning was brutal, but I did it. I suspect
it will be easier to fall asleep tonight (I’m writing this on Sunday). The phone
item proved too difficult on fantasy football day, but I only had a few quick
lapses, which didn’t waste more than fifteen minutes or so total. And I successfully
got through the day without eating any treats. It helped that I made myself some
delicious, but healthy meals to enjoy. And the results? I do feel much better.
Things aren’t completely back under control yet, but I believe I’m well on my
way to getting there. Of course, it remains to be seen how I fare with Monday
morning, as I’m sure the stress level will be cranked right back up to eleven.
But hopefully I will be able to keep myself mindful of the fact that the way I
respond to things is extremely important. Plus, I only have to make it through
three days this week and then I have four more to use for further recovery
Do you have any preferred methods for snapping yourself out
of it when you lose sight of things? Please share them in the comments or email
them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And have a great Monday!
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 email@example.com. 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!
A couple months ago, I replaced my car with a nicer, newer
one. Unfortunately, cars can have issues at any time – even early in life. And
on one recent morning, when I went out to the garage, my car wouldn’t start. In
fact, the dash wouldn’t even light up. The battery was 100% dead. Thankfully, I
have AAA, so I was able to get someone out there within about half an hour to
As anyone who has bought a battery for a late model car
already knows, batteries die all the time now. In a typical example of
“progress” in action, what had been a $50 purchase that would last roughly a
decade is now an often $150+ purchase that lasts about three years. The
warranty period, of course, has adjusted to reflect this new reality and in my
experience, batteries tend to survive just barely long enough to surpass it.
The culprit, of course, is our obsession with putting more and more electronic
crap in cars, including a significant amount that continues to draw when the
car is turned off. Today’s batteries are actually much more powerful than the
ones that used to cost so much less, but the demands on them are also much
Anyway, I priced out batteries while I was waiting for AAA
to show up and determined that NTB had the best offering for my car. Once the
car had been jump started, I drove straight there. It was less than a ten
minute drive, but interestingly enough, by the time I got there, the battery
tested perfectly fine. It was still a little low, but it had more than enough
juice to start the car. I discussed this with the manager, who ultimately
advised me to test it again after driving a further distance I had planned for
that day. He suspected that it may be the alternator. In the over 250k miles of
driving I’ve done in my still relatively young life, I’ve never once had an
alternator fail. And I would have been rather surprised to see it happen on a
five year old car with well under 50k miles, but testing is free and my AAA
membership would have taken care of me again if the battery died again, so I
went on my way.
I drove around for the rest of the day without incident. Of
course, this only deepened the mystery of how the battery had died. But that
very evening, I had a lucky break that led me to the answer. I happened to
leave something in the car after I had closed the garage so I went back out to
get it. To my surprise, when the door was open, I discovered that the
headlights were still on. Like any modern luxury car, my car has automatic
headlights. So while the battery mystery was immediately solved, it also gave
way to another one. Why weren’t the headlights turning off?
When trying to diagnose any car problem, you want to start
with the simplest possible explanation. In the case of an electrical problem,
that means checking any potentially applicable fuses, which I immediately did.
But none of them were bad. So I was back to square one, although at least for
the moment I knew I could keep the battery from dying by turning the headlights
on and off manually. But I had a lot of other stuff that had to get done so I
moved on from the car situation for the night.
The next morning, I thought more about the car as I sat in
the sauna. I had realized something had been different for a few days, but I
couldn’t put my finger on what. But in thinking about the automatic headlights
not turning off, I realized what it was. The dome lights, which are
inexplicably non LED and incredibly dim to begin with in this car, had not been
coming on. And that’s when it came to me. The automatic headlights were working
fine. The issue was that the car didn’t know the doors were being opened and
closed! When I thought about it, the automatic adjusting windows, which open slightly
when the doors are opened and then close when the doors are closed again,
hadn’t been functioning normally either. Clearly I had found the problem. But
how to fix it?
First, I went back to the fuses again, this time looking for any door specific ones. But again, none were bad. So I started looking very closely at the doors, checking to see if any wires looked damaged, etc. Everything looked ok. But there was one thing slightly – and I mean SLIGHTLY – out of place. This little guy.
It was just slightly loose when I touched it. I didn’t know what it was, but I figured it had to be related to the door somehow due to its location in the door jamb. I tightened it up and VOILA! Suddenly everything worked correctly again. Apparently, the little thing is a sensor that compresses when the door is opened and decompresses when it is closed. And apparently it is very sensitive. So what lessons are there in this experience?
First and most importantly, don’t make assumptions with
cars. There are way too many mechanics out there who will just start replacing
parts that might solve the problem rather than first finding the exact
diagnosis. This can be simple inexperience, but it can also be more sinister.
After all, the more work they do, and the more marked up parts they replace,
the more money they make. And there is really no way of holding them
accountable for doing that aside from not coming back. Had I taken that
approach in this case, I would have replaced a perfectly good battery for about
$150 and been no better off than when I started. Then, when that didn’t work, I
may even have replaced an alternator for considerably more than that. Thankfully,
most auto parts stores are happy to help you with testing and even some advice,
as the friendly folks at NTB were in my case.
Second, know your car and pay attention to it. While I am no
electrician, had I been more observant, I could still have solved this pretty
easily. I would have noticed the dome lights not coming on and the automatic
adjusting windows not adjusting. At that point, I would already have known what
the problem was and could have skipped straight to the last step of the process
I just finished describing. Sadly, with as much as I have going on in my life,
someone in a clown suit could probably be riding a giraffe through the parking
lot of my apartment complex as I walked out to the garage and I’d say there’s
at least a decent chance I wouldn’t notice anything unusual. In today’s world,
I’m guessing I’m not alone in that.
Third, even in a world of incredibly complex cars with
numerous computer modules and miles of wiring, the simplest solution is usually
the right one. Yes, a bad battery would have been an easy explanation in this
case – but not the correct one. That was in doubt as soon as I got to the auto
parts store. In the end, it turned out to be a part so simple that cars have
probably had them for as long as they’ve had dome lights that turn off when the
doors open. And it wasn’t even bad – just slightly loose.
Happy Monday! If you haven’t read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, I highly recommend it. Most likely, it will either help to explain some of the trends you’re seeing in your life or it will give you some ideas that will improve that life dramatically if you implement them. Simply put, it’s an absolute classic in the world of self help, success oriented books. I could easily write posts about every one of the habits and how they’ve helped me, but right now I feel compelled to write about the very last one: sharpening the saw.
The reason I want to write about this concept is that
although last week was pretty rough, today, I feel better than I have in a
while heading into a new one. What did I do this weekend that brought this
about? Yes, I did some work on both of my side businesses (I’m working on a
brand new second one; I’m sure I’ll talk more about that as it progresses),
this blog, and my W2 job. But mostly, I sharpened the saw. What does that
entail? Instead of focusing on production, you focus on doing the things that
In my case, I got some fresh air while playing tennis, did
my usual weekend cardio, cleaned up my apartment, read, drank delicious coffee,
talked to some good friends, made and enjoyed some delicious food, watched some
quality football (unfortunately the Packers won, but at least it was a good
game), and just generally relaxed and recharged. None of this is revolutionary
stuff, and none of it will directly result in anything measurable. But that’s
not the point.
The point is that on a Monday morning, I feel energized and
ready to attack my workout and get my week going. As always, there are plenty
of challenges ahead. Plenty of things I would rather not do, or even think
about. But take away that weekend I had, and rather than feeling ready to take
all of it on, I’m feeling run down and nowhere near in the right frame of mind.
So that’s about it for today. When you get a chance in your life, I encourage
you to sharpen your own saw.
Here’s to an awesome start to the week for all of us!
Happy Monday, Folks! Today’s post is not going to apply to everyone. The problem I’m going to address falls into the category of “good problems to have.” However, if it does affect you, it will cost you money if you don’t address it. The post applies to folks who A) max out their 401k contributions, and B) have variable income – commissions, bonuses, etc. For those who don’t fall into both of those categories, don’t feel bad and don’t underestimate what can happen in your life either. This is only the third year this information has applied to me and the year before the first, I never would have seen it coming. This method may seem complex, but it is actually really simple once you understand the concept.
In most employer sponsored 401k plans, employers match some
percentage of your contributions. The most common one I’ve seen is 3% if you
contribute 6% of your salary, or simply 3% of your salary to keep things simple.
Some are more generous than that, and many are less so. But let’s use that for
the sake of our example. Let’s say you have a set $100k a year salary and want
to max out your contributions for 2019. Since the limit is $19k this year, you
would simply need to contribute 19% of your salary, which would both easily
cover the 6% requirement to get the entire match and hit the contribution limit
exactly by the end of the year. If you did that, you would contribute $19k,
your employer would contribute an additional $3k, and your total would come to
But what if your income varies depending on performance and
other factors? Herein lies the problem. If you anticipate your income will end
up being roughly $100k, you want to max out your contributions for the year,
and you subsequently set them at 19% and forget it, one of two things is very
likely to happen. Either you’re going to undershoot and leave tax shelter on
the table (every dollar you contribute to a 401k reduces your tax liability) or
you’re going to overshoot and lose out on some of your potential employer
Here are some examples to illustrate the point. Let’s say
you end up making $80k. At the end of the year, you will have contributed
$15,200, missing out on $3800 of tax shelter. You can multiply your top
marginal tax rate by that number to determine how much that will wind up
costing you. But regardless, ouch! Now the opposite scenario. Instead of making
$100k, you wind up making $120k. You would have contributed more than the
maximum $19k at some point, except that whatever company administrates your
plan is likely to simply cut off your contributions when you hit the limit. So
instead, you would have finished making your $19k in contributions for the year
at some point before the end of the year. It’s good to be early, right? Not in
this case. Unless your employer “trues up” the match at the end of the year,
which I doubt most do, you would have left $600 in employer match on the table.
Why? Barring the “true up” exception, an employer matches check for check. In
other words, you wouldn’t be getting any match for the $20k you had left to
earn after you made the first $100k and had subsequently contributed 19k. Once
So how do I avoid either of these scenarios? I make
adjustments throughout the year. At the beginning of the year, I set my
contribution percentage as if I were only going to make my base salary. In
other words, it is much higher than it will be by the end of the year, but if I
don’t make a single dollar in bonus compensation throughout the year, I will
still max out my 401k. Then, each time I get a bonus, I calculate how much I
have left to contribute for the rest of the year, divide it by the amount of
base salary I have left to make, and make the result my new contribution percentage.
Admittedly, this is a conservative method. But that’s the way I prefer to
You can modify this system to your liking, and you may have
to if your base salary is a relatively small percentage of your total annual
income. It just requires a little “guess and check.” For example, if your base
salary is $40k and your total annual bonus is typically in the high five
figures, you’re not going to start the year contributing 47.5% of your salary. Not
only would that make for some very lean times until you got your first bonus,
but it would also very likely cause you to eat up way too much of your $19k way
too quickly, thus eventually defeating the purpose of the entire exercise once
you couldn’t contribute a large enough percentage to get the full employer
match without going over the annual limit. So in a situation like that, I would
probably just estimate, start out contributing around 15-20%, and adjust as
needed to stay on pace.
But one nice side advantage of doing things my way is that
as the year goes on, the paychecks get bigger. In my case, the result is that I
tend to do more of my after tax investing later in the year since I have more
cash coming in the door. But regardless of how you do this, the important thing
is that you not leave money on the table – either with your employer, or with
the bad guys. I know this may seem like overkill to some of you to save what
will likely amount to less than $1k a year, but this is a finance blog. And
besides, no one knows what the future holds. When you’re at retirement age, you
just might need that money and besides, it will almost certainly have grown
considerably by then. Plus, although this took a lot of words to explain, it only
takes me maybe fifteen minutes total of calculating and making adjustments
throughout the year, so in my opinion, it is well worth doing. Have a wonderful
week and go Cowboys!
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.
Happy Monday, Folks! This is yet another post in my annual
expense series. I’m sorry it’s been a little boring, but we’re nearly through!
And hopefully I’ve helped you save at least some money. Today I’m going to tell
you how I keep my technology expenses much lower than most people and still get
everything I need. I’ve already written posts that address this, so this will
be a quick one as a good portion of the information is already available at the
links I will provide. Over 2017 and 2018, I averaged $500 a year on technology services.
I believe a bare minimum number could be as low as $350 a year if you were
trying to save every penny.
Step one is simple. I don’t have cable and I don’t recommend
it for anyone. Instead, if I were the type who watched tv much outside of
football season, I would simply figure out which streaming services had the
shows I liked and subscribe only to those, only when those shows were on. Or
just use Kodi. But I didn’t say that… So anyway, the only technology services I
need are internet and cell phone.
For internet, I use whichever option is cheapest. The dirty little secret of this industry (at least the one most relevant to saving money) is that you need a hell of a lot less bandwith than most people think. Unless you’re streaming video on multiple devices in your home consistently, 20 or so Mbps is plenty. Even then you could get by with it. Those 100+ plans are the internet equivalent to driving a Ferrari on a road where the speed limit is 65 anyway. Last year, I was paying about $40 a month for AT&T. The year before that, I was paying $15 a month for a very minimalist Charter (formerly Time Warner) plan in Wisconsin. This year, I’m paying $30 a month for Comcast Xfinity. I do have my own router and modem, which I spent about $100 total on and should last several years. AT&T provided their own unit and while they didn’t come out and say they were charging rent, their service was about $10 more per month than Xfinity, which means they probably were. But since they didn’t separate that out on the bill, there was also no option to not have it. However, I was able to negotiate $200 in Visa gift cards up front, which made the difference for me and got me to sign up for a year. What do I do when the “promotional pricing” period ends? This. I don’t EVER reward the shenanigans that seem to be standard practice in this industry by paying more.
That leaves cell phone service. Everyone offers unlimited talk and text for basically nothing now, knowing that data is the choke point. So how do I slay the data demon and ultimately spend so little? I know how much I actually use (very little when not on WiFi, which is almost everywhere now) and I use services that provide minimal amounts for minimal money. Previously, and for all of the years 2017 and 2018, which the average above was calculated on, I had been using Republic Wireless. But when their new pricing scheme came out, it effectively doubled the price for a minimal user like me. So I switched to Mint Mobile when I got a new phone and would have had to start participating in that pricing scheme. Either service is a much better option than the contract carriers for most people and I’ve had zero issues with either. The key is taking the time to figure out how much data you actually need. For most people, it is actually a lot less than you think once you factor in that most of it is on WiFi.
That’s it – everything you need to know to pay a small
fraction of what most people do for technology and still get everything you
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
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!
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?
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
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
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.