We’ve nearly made it through another week – at least those of us who work conventional hours have. Here are some quick tips and recent observations to celebrate the coming weekend.
Listening is a lost,
but crucial art.
Back when he was just a regular NFL quarterback and not the center
of a controversy the media hasn’t completely stopped exploiting for ratings,
page views, etc to this very day, Colin Kaepernick was in a commercial for some
incredibly overpriced noise canceling headphones that involved him easily
ignoring very hostile Seahawks fans. At the end, the slogan “hear what you
want” is displayed. Much like paying a premium price for very pedestrian
headphones, the slogan was rather unproductive.
This week, I had a conversation with a customer that made it
painfully clear he had been taking this approach quite literally in numerous
conversations we’d had over more than a year. Not only had he missed some
fundamental, incredibly important points, but he had apparently been operating
under the assumption that what he “didn’t know” (I put that in quotes because
I’m still not sure I believe anyone could have every one of the conversations
we had and still not know things that were repeated so emphatically, so many
different times, in so many different ways) couldn’t hurt him, and that
everything would work out in a very advantageous, but tragically impossible way.
Based on this wildly inaccurate view, he wanted to make a decision that would
likely have cost him tens of thousands of dollars over the remainder of this
year and much more in the long run. I like the guy, but the sheer absurdity of
what he apparently believed almost made my head explode. It was a visceral
moment that forced me to understand that my efforts are simply not
accomplishing anything in his case. Anyway, when I informed him of the almost
certain consequences of the decision he wanted to make, he immediately changed
his mind. But clearly this was the first time he had ever listened when I told
him these things and he had managed to walk all the way to the edge of a
financial cliff while ignoring me repeating them again and again.
Listening doesn’t always have implications that expensive,
but sometimes they can be even more important. How many relationships have
broken down because one person stopped listening to what the other was really
saying? How many medical mistakes has this caused? How many decisions that
affected thousands of people have been made based on faulty or incomplete
information as a result? The costs of this phenomenon aren’t even quantifiable.
But one thing is certain; we can all do better in life if we go into
conversations with the goal of gaining whatever information the other person is
trying to share with us first. Not only will we make better, more informed
decisions, but relationships will improve. I’m working on improving in this
area myself and I recommend everyone do the same!
If you’re buying a
greeting card, the dollar store is your friend!
Obviously if you want something to last a while, the dollar store is a questionable choice at best. But if you’re buying a folded piece of paper with canned words on it for the strict purpose of having something to give someone versus not, you’re about to save some money. Rather than paying the ridiculous amount of $3-5 (or more!) for something that will most likely be in the garbage within ten minutes of receipt (multiplied times goodness knows how many per year), you can buy the same damn thing for a buck – or even fifty cents if you choose certain cards! Will this turn your financial situation around on its own? Not likely. But it will save you 80% or more on this particular purchase, which happens to be repeated many times, year after year. And perhaps more importantly, it will help you stay in the mindset of being financially intentional – accomplishing 100% of your goal without spending more money than you have to. This mentality will save you a ton more money if applied to all areas of your financial life.
Game of Thrones is
The ending, along with the entire final season, was ever so
slightly controversial. I don’t believe in ruining good entertainment for busy
people so I’m not going to post my thoughts on it yet. And besides, my opinions
are still swimming around upstairs as they form, almost solidify, break down,
form again, etc. But rest assured, that post will be coming in the next couple
A couple weeks ago, I switched from Republic Wireless to Mint Mobile, the company with the little green marketing spokesfox. Republic worked out great for me for over four and a half years and I have nothing negative to say about the company…except that it changed its pricing scheme in a way that would have effectively doubled the price for light users like myself when I wanted to upgrade my phone. So when it finally came time to do that, I first did what any financially conscious person would in that situation and re-evaluated the market. It turned out that while it was a price increase of about $5 per month from what I had been paying, Mint still came in about $5 cheaper than the new price Republic would have charged for what I do; and it offered 3gb versus 1 on top of the cheaper price. So I gave it a shot. I wanted to give y’all a quick update on how it has worked out.
So far, there isn’t much to say because Mint has done
exactly what it promised to do. In almost half a month, I’ve used just over
half a gb of data since I’m on WiFi the vast majority of the time. And to give
it a good, fair test, I haven’t made any effort to avoid using data whatsoever
beyond setting the phone to use WiFi when available. So unless I use about five
times as much data for the remainder of the month as I have in the first half,
I won’t hit the point where I start getting throttled. As for quality,
everything has been great. Calls are clear, I’ve had zero reception issues or
dropped calls (Mint uses the T-Mobile network; Republic uses Sprint), text
messages go through, and data speed is more than adequate in the rare circumstances
when I need to use it. The setup process was very simple and it took me less
than ten minutes from unboxing to having a fully functional new phone.
Being a relative luddite by design, I’ve been predictably thrilled with the upgrade from the Moto X1 to the X4 and with a little bonus I didn’t even anticipate (keep in mind that the X1 was my very first smartphone). I hadn’t realized I would still be able to use my existing phone as a WiFi device. That is a kick ass development since the only real problem I had been having was call related (and even this likely had more to do with Republic Wireless than the phone itself) and being able to continue using it this way for probably at least a few more years is worth much more to me than the few dollars I could have gotten in return for recycling it. Aside from that, I’ve particularly pleased with the X4’s speed, battery life upgrade (I only charge it every other day so far), fingerprint sensor, camera upgrade over the X1, and very fast charging.
The one downside about the phone itself is that the speaker
SUCKS for listening to music. But I use a Bluetooth speaker I got on Amazon for
ten bucks around my apartment so that’s not a huge deal. The only other
annoyance, aside from the dramatically increased phone size that comes with making
just about any upgrade these days (Why do they assume we want to carry around
laptop sized phones? Or am I the one making an assumption in thinking other
people don’t want that just because I don’t?), was having to add a second type
of charger (USB-C) and cable to the birds’ nests of them I keep at home, in my
travel bag, etc. But everything has its price and that lighting quick charging
of my new phone is no exception I suppose.
Overall, I’m very happy with this change. It sure is awesome
when a company delivers on its promises and thus, I’m more than happy to
recommend Mint Mobile to anyone! And as always, my recommendation cannot be
bought; I’m not being compensated in any way for saying this. Even if you use a
lot more data than I do, Mint is still a great option for you at $20 for an 8gb
cap and $25 for 12. Happy smartphoning!
There is no denying it; a good diet is key to both physical and mental health. For years I fought against that concept, insistent that if I worked long and hard enough in the gym, I could “have my cake and eat it too.” And while I was successful at staying in above average physical shape that way, I ran into two problems. First, I could never completely outwork an overindulgent diet. The only way I have ever gone from good shape to great is by being disciplined about what I eat and when. Second, as I’ve gotten older (I’m in my early thirties now), the degree of difficulty has increased. Dietary sins I could easily have shrugged off in my early to mid twenties result in significant punishment today – both in my appearance and in the way I feel.
In my experience, eating enough good stuff isn’t too
difficult. I love eating protein so getting enough of that is easy, although I
mostly stick to chicken and fish with beef being an occasional treat. I force
two to three servings of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables down my
throat each day in the form of green smoothies in the mornings and evenings.
From there, I just make sure there is some sort of vegetable element included
with most meals and I have that covered. I make sure to get a moderate amount
of decent quality carbohydrates, which is easy since I enjoy them. Making
things as automatic as possible and minimizing the number of decisions I have
to make helps me to maintain a solid baseline diet.
But one area has always been a thorn in my side. I love junk
food. And I’m not one of those people who has only a sweet tooth or only likes
salty/savory snacks. I’m an all of the above kind of guy, and a gluttonous one
at that. So I want to talk about what I’ve done to combat that – what has worked,
what hasn’t, and what I’ve learned from it. It probably won’t all apply to you
but if any of it gives you an idea that helps, then I consider this post a
success. So in no particular order, here we go.
1. Some things have
I loved soda (that’s “cokes” for my native Texan friends) as
a kid. Thankfully, I wasn’t allowed to have it at home very often but when I
was out of the house – hanging out with friends, for example – I went to town!
I distinctly remember being “up north” (a Wisconsin term to describe “vacationing”
in an even colder, more economically challenged place than your actual home,
which is more than likely easily characterized by both of those already) as a
young lad with some relatives when I consumed five sodas in a single day and
wound up throwing up multiple times that night. I loved the stuff. But in my
early twenties, I learned that it’s basically poison and almost immediately, I simply
stopped drinking it. At no point have I felt any urge to “relapse” and as a
result, I haven’t had any soda in a very long time. I’m almost exclusively a
beer or wine guy when it comes to alcohol, so no, not even in mixed drinks. I
have absolutely no idea why this was so easy for me but sadly, that hasn’t been
the case with other forms of junk food.
2. Moderation has not
been a successful approach at home.
Over the years, no matter what I’ve told myself, I’ve
learned I simply can’t keep junk food at home. I’ve tried everything I can
think of and the result is always the same; I start with the best of intentions
(I will make this last two weeks…), then make little bargains with myself (I
will eat tomorrow’s allotment today, but then NONE tomorrow), then break them
in favor of other less restrictive ones (It’s football season – I’ll eat the
rest of this bag this weekend, but then I won’t open another until next
weekend), until finally, I simply accept reality and wolf down whatever is
left, swearing to never buy it again. The take away here is pretty simple; I
don’t keep junk food at home. Lack of access has proven very effective.
3. Associations can
I don’t believe in drinking milk. At all. I wish I had known
what I know now as a child when I guzzled it like water. Clearly my Mother hadn’t
done as much research on milk as she had on soda; or perhaps the science hadn’t
gotten as far with one as it had with the other. But live and learn. Anyway, at
one time, my ultimate junk food weakness was Oreo’s – a product (note, I didn’t
even use the word food) that requires milk in order to be enjoyed properly. It
was very rare for a package of those evil things to last three days. If I was
doing well, I could limit myself to a single ROW at a time. And I didn’t often
do well. Thankfully, when I stopped drinking milk, Oreo’s no longer did it for
me. I even tried once but without milk, it was like going to the beach without
it being warm outside. It just didn’t make sense. So in that case, cutting out
one bad thing made it much easier to cut out another. This is a concept that
could probably be useful elsewhere…
4. There are
definitely degrees of bad choices when it comes to lunch options and my body
knows the truth.
As an outside sales rep, restaurant lunches are a reality of
life. This was before my working days, but I went to a McDonald’s in 2010 for
the first time in many years. I was involved in a big group activity, we were
in a hurry for lunch, I was not in charge of the group’s decisions, apparently
there was no decent alternative anywhere in the vicinity, there was peer
pressure, etc. It happened, and I paid the price. Almost immediately, I felt
like my stomach was going to explode. And it lasted for the rest of the day
until I gave in, went to the bathroom, and threw up. I didn’t have to try to do
that so much as I just had to stop preventing it from happening. My body’s
tolerance for the purest form of garbage food had been gone for some time.
Today, all I can think of when I see those golden arches is that experience and
I have not repeated that mistake again.
I do go to fast food restaurants sometimes, but only if they
serve some form of actual food. For example, I go to Chick Fil A and get just
about any of the entrees, a large superfood side salad, medium fries, and
water. That’s a pretty decent meal for a hungry, athletic man. If I want a
burger, I go to a place where they cost around ten bucks but you get actual
meat. Five Guys used to be a good example, although based on the last few times
I’ve visited, it seems like they’re going downhill. Also, Five Guys is
definitely a bulking phase only restaurant and even then I only order the small
versions of everything. I enjoy the abundance of quality fast casual options
here in Houston which, again, serve mostly real food. Or I go to any of a
handful of good sub shops – or if there are no good sub shops around, I resolve
to plan my day better, sigh, and go to Subway. Every now and again, I will go
to Freddy’s and splurge big time. If you’re not familiar with Freddy’s, you’re
both missing out and lucky at the same time. I fully prepare for a rough
afternoon on those days (although still not McDonald’s rough), but Freddy’s is
5. A balanced
approach works best for me – but again, not in the house!
Lately I’ve settled into a system that seems to work pretty well. I have a good “base” diet that covers the important things as I described in the second paragraph of this post. I eat in around a ten hour window, which is a relaxed version of an experiment I tried that was way too effective at weight management for a guy that looks and feels best carrying some extra muscle and is willing to sacrifice the exposed six pack look to do it. Seriously, if you want to maintain an extremely low fat/low weight build, this is almost definitely one way to accomplish it. From there, I enjoy life without letting things go off the rails. I get myself a coffee in the lobby of my apartment at least once a day (free and great quality – just one of the many perks of living where I do) and if I want to also indulge in one of the cookies they regularly have out, I do. Same goes for Costco samples. As long as it’s not IN my home, it doesn’t become excessive.
I generally eat nutritionally decent, but enjoyable food,
but I do allow myself a single cheat meal per week, complete with the happy
ending. No, I’m not talking massage parlors, you degenerates. I haven’t had to
pay for that stuff…yet. I’m talking dessert. For a guy in his early thirties
that spends a lot of time in the gym and wants to look like it, but also wants
a little of what Joe Rogan, a man I actually couldn’t stand as an MMA hype man
but love as a podcast host, regularly refers to as “mouth candy,” it works. For
now. But keep in mind that things are significantly more difficult for me today
than they were five years ago and five years from now, I will probably have to
re-balance what I’m doing to adapt to the continuation of that trend. Whatever
happens, I will try to maintain some food related enjoyment, even as it will
almost certainly dwindle closer and closer to none.
The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence
with Everyday Courage (2017) by Mel Robbins
I decided to read this book because I had been impressed by
a couple of Mel Robbins’ speeches I saw. In writing, Robbins has the same firmly
positive, but realistic tone. Her five second rule seems like a gimmick but it
also seems to help tons of people so it’s worth trying. While it hasn’t worked
very well for me, I am incredibly over analytical and going through a stressful
time in my life at the moment so virtually nothing is working well for me. I
believe you are very likely to have better results.
There were two things I liked the most about this book.
First, it is very human. Robbins is very open about the struggles she has had
and acknowledges that everyone will have some of their own. That said, she
advocates finding ways to push through those struggles and succeed in spite of
them. Second, while it is a very easy book to read, it is clear that a
substantial amount of research went into it. Robbins distills things into very
simple concepts but it’s clear she has a well earned understanding of
psychology that has made it possible. I believe just about anyone could learn
at least something valuable from this book that would help them improve in life
so I highly recommend it.
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone –
Especially Ourselves (2013) by Dan Ariely
I’ve been a Dan Ariely fan for quite a while now. His work
all falls between psychology and economics and the links between the two are
fascinating. I’m obviously not the only one who thinks so as Ariely has come
further and further into prominence in recent years. This particular book was a
lot of fun to read – although it was also a little eye opening in some
uncomfortable ways. It very vividly illustrates a concept I’ve believed to be
true for quite some time now; namely, we are all full of shit and the only real
differentiating factor is how honest we are about it.
This book goes into detail on numerous experiments by Ariely
and others that attempted to identify the significant factors that affect the
lying and cheating that make up a much larger part of life than most of us would
ever believe or admit. If you’re anything like me, this book will have you
thinking a lot about your own life and feeling slightly uneasy plenty of times.
But I’m a big believer in having information, even if it’s not the information
I wish I had, versus living in blissful ignorance.
And somehow, through all of this rather dark topic, Ariely
manages to maintain a light hearted, and even often humorous tone. My sense of
humor may be darker than most, but I chuckled to myself several times while
reading this book. Overall, this book taught me more about the dark side of people,
including myself, and kept me reasonably entertained in the process. I was
already a pretty big fan of Ariely’s work so factor in my bias, but I highly
recommend this book.
I wasn’t always where I am now with money. As a newly minted adult with a full time income that seemed substantial at the time, I thought the world was my oyster. I had zero respect for the value of the dollars in my possession. If I saw something I wanted, even a little bit, I bought first and asked questions later. If my friends and I were bored, dinner and/or drinks would solve the problem – maybe with a movie or a round of golf thrown in for good measure. And if I had a bad day, setting some money on fire for any reason, or even no reason at all, seemed to ease the pain. I probably wasted tens of thousands of dollars on almost literally nothing productive in just a year or two. Had I continued along that path, my financial life would be an unmitigated disaster today and I would have been part of the multitude of people who are woefully unprepared to retire in spite of living in the richest country in the history of the world.
Of course, this wasn’t healthy behavior and after I realized I had been working for a few years and had virtually nothing to show for it aside from some stuff that was mostly worth pennies on the dollar I had paid for it, I wised up pretty quickly. But as a relatively wealthy, still young adult, I’ve noticed that most people seem to have either missed that lesson or skipped it intentionally. Maybe they weren’t blessed (seriously) with the harsh reality of financial scarcity when they were kids like I was. Maybe they simply can’t bear to admit the truth about what they’re doing to themselves. Or maybe they simply prefer the bird in the hand of doing what is easy today to a much more prosperous future that isn’t 100% guaranteed, even if it is extremely likely. I really like the way my new Houston real estate mogul friend explained the concept in this post.
Whatever the reason, I see people driving their financial
cars with the e-brake on almost everywhere I look. I’ve long since learned not
to be “that guy” so I neither give unsolicited advice, nor ask any questions
that might lead anyone to the unpleasant experience of looking in the
figurative mirror. In my experience, if people want help, they ask for it and
if they don’t ask for it, they don’t want it. But I often have to stifle a
strong urge to try to help people anyway when I see them destroying their
financial futures because I know how much pain it will cause them in the long
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t consider myself even remotely
frugal and I hate everything about the term. There are very few aspects of my
life where I’ve chosen to spend the absolute minimum possible, or even close. I
live in a luxury apartment that costs more than double what a bare bones living
arrangement would. My car has leather seats, almost 300 horsepower, more electronics
than the spacecraft that took the first astronauts to the moon, flashy 18 inch
rims, and so much more; and I’m probably going to make a huge upgrade from that
in the next year or two. I eat and drink what I want, when I want, where I want.
If I wanted to take a vacation, there would be no practical limits to where I
could go or what I could do and given how difficult it is to find the time, I
wouldn’t be likely to waste the opportunity by going cheap. I could go on and
on but the point is that I’m in no way deprived of anything I could imagine
wanting in life.
So how am I different than my young adult self in the way I handle my money then? Aside from having tons more at my disposal, everything I do is intentional. Spending money is a means of accomplishing some specific purpose – not a pastime or a figurative drug I use to tamp down unpleasant emotions. If I get the notion to spend money, I think about it first. Is it necessary? If not, it’s a want, not a need. If it’s a want, is it something that will truly contribute to my life in a positive and meaningful way? If so, what, exactly, is my goal in spending this money? What is the best way to accomplish it? What is the most cost effective way? Where does it make sense to be on that spectrum in this particular context (between maximum utility and maximum cost efficiency)? Sometimes, I buy the best. Other times, I go with the cheapest option that accomplishes everything I want it to. On very, very rare occasions, I go with the absolute cheapest option. The important thing is that if I’m spending money, I know why I’m doing it and why I’m making the specific choices I am about it. And the good news is that while it may have seemed tedious when I was starting out, over time, this thought process has become almost automatic for me.
This may sound pretty obvious and to some of you, it
probably is. But there are tons of people out there who seem to have no clue
why they’re making the financial decisions they are. And there are tons of
people who are totally broke. And both groups are large enough that there is
almost definitely substantial overlap between the two. For anyone who resides
in both, you need to make some dramatic changes if you want to improve the
situation. Being intentional with your financial decisions, both large and
small, will almost definitely help. Not only will your finances improve, but
you will probably find yourself feeling calmer and happier. Have a wonderful
weekend, everyone! And if you’re in Houston, hopefully you either have a boat
or know someone who does – because that’s what it’s going to take to get very
far down the road pretty soon if this rain doesn’t let up.
To anyone who has been checking this blog regularly and finding nothing, I apologize. I know I’ve been neglecting this for the last week or two. I’m working on something big and I expect to have good news very soon. However, I am still around and I will have a new post up tomorrow. See ya’ll soon!
Morning folks! Sorry this is my first post of the week. I’ve been extremely busy with a number of things, some of which I believe will turn into big news I’ll be posting about pretty soon. I also had to carve out some time to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode so it wouldn’t be spoiled for me since the whole world seems intent on doing that to anyone who doesn’t watch it the second it’s available (seriously, get a life you dicks, it’s not 1995 anymore; networks haven’t dictated our tv watching schedules to us for quite some time). But more importantly, my personal cell phone has been having an odd problem that prevents some calls from going through – both outgoing and incoming. Given that I use my work phone for most calls, this isn’t as big a deal as it may be for some people. However, given that I use my personal phone to open the security gate when I have visitors and that I’m currently in job search mode, the situation needed to be remedied. I was hoping my current phone would make it to the five year mark, if only for the sake of pride, but it appears it is not to be. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure it’s an issue with my phone. It could also be an issue with my soon to be former carrier. But given that I’m already plenty due for an upgrade and ready to switch carriers anyway, I’ve decided not to mess with it.
I’ve been paying just over $12 a month for service with
Republic Wireless since September of 2014, but given that upgrading my phone
would literally result in doubling that (great business practice for a carrier
that markets almost exclusively on pricing…), I checked out what else is
available. I eventually decided to go with Mint Mobile, a no contract carrier
that works on the T-Mobile network. Supposedly Sprint is the worst network but
in my experience, it performs almost identically to the vaunted Verizon network
my work phone is on. So I’m hoping T-Mobile will be similarly adequate. The big
selling point with Mint is that you get unlimited everything for $15 a month
($16.94 after all taxes and fees in my case).
Now I do need to qualify that statement in a way that I
believe is necessary with every “unlimited” cell phone plan. Every unlimited plan
I’ve seen is technically unlimited, but begins throttling data at some point. Mint
Mobile is no different but unlike with many carriers, the company seems to care
about truth in advertising. Its plans are advertised at the amounts of data
they’re capped at. In the case of the minimum plan I got, that’s 3gb per month.
However, it is also stated that data is unlimited, but simply throttled after
the stated allotment. It shouldn’t matter for me anyway because I don’t watch
videos while I’m driving (and thus not on wifi) – and without watching videos,
I highly doubt I’ll ever come near using 1gb, let alone 3. But just in case, I
got the three month intro plan so I can make a change if I need to.
One downside I’ve discovered to Mint Mobile so far is that
it is prepaid. So I had to pay for my three months up front and if I want to
renew at the best price, I will need to pay for twelve at that point. That’s
not an issue for me as long as the service keeps working for the duration, but
for anyone with cashflow concerns, $180 + taxes and fees might be a lot at one
time. Another downside is that the pricing on the phones isn’t competitive in
at least some cases. However, there is an easy fix there. Supposedly, any GSM
unlocked phone will work with Mint. We’ll find out because I bought a Moto X4 4gb/64gb
version for a steal at $200 from Best Buy (the X4 is available directly from
Mint at the same price but it’s the 3gb/32gb version). And it’s even better
with 1% back from Ebates, 2% back from my Citi Double Cash card, and whatever I
wind up getting for recycling my current X1 (probably just a few bucks, but
every little bit helps). I’ll be picking the new phone up later today and
activating it as soon as the SIM card arrives.
I’ll post a follow up on this once I get everything going. But suffice it to say, I’m excited. The X4 with these particular specs will be an awesome upgrade from my current X1 and I would challenge anyone to find a better phone available for $200. If Mint lives up to its promises, then I will be very happy with the phone upgrade – even if it is four months shy of my X1’s fifth birthday that I was so excited to celebrate. You know what they say; shoot for the moon so that even if you miss, you will be among the stars. I really hope you imagined me saying that in an incredibly sardonic tone. While the sentiment is valid, I can assure you that I’m not the kind of guy who goes around saying things like that. Have a wonderful Wednesday!
Update: This deal just got sweeter by $20! Ebates was offering a straight $20 in cash back for Mint Mobile purchases but there was language that said it did not apply to starter kits. So naturally I tried it but since I had elected to only buy the three month plan from Mint and buy the phone from Best Buy where it was a much better deal, I didn’t expect to get that rebate. However, later the same day, I got an email from Ebates stating that I did, in fact, get the $20. So this deal was a home run all around and now I just have to wait for my Mint Mobile sim card to arrive to see how it all works out.
Anyone who read my previous Costco post knows I love the company. But in what I promise wasn’t an intentionally malicious act, I forgot to mention some very significant ways the store can save you a ton of money. Recently I was reminded of two of them in particular. So this post is more an addendum than a standalone but I felt it was important to correct my oversight.
Do you ever have occasions to give out gift cards? Or do you
just like going to a nice restaurant every now and again? Then you may want to
take a trip to Costco. Somewhere in the store (sometimes near the checkout
area, other times near the frozen food aisles, and still other times in some
other totally random place), you will find a display with a bunch of gift
cards. These won’t be that same assortment you find in nearly every store on
earth. This is Costco, so most of them will be for more upscale restaurants and
other services. But upscale is only half of what Costco is known for – with the
other half being almost impossibly low prices. And these gift cards are no
exception. Most of them are for $100 but will only cost you somewhere between
$70 and $80. Many of them also come packaged in the form of two $50 cards in
case you want to split them into two smaller gifts. And of course you can also
use them for yourself if you want a serious discount on a nice meal or two.
But one gift card in that section has saved me more than any
other – the 24 Hour Fitness one. Since I sold all my gym equipment before I
moved across the country and since even the nicest luxury apartment gyms never
seem to include a proper squat rack (usually just a smith machine), I needed a
gym membership when I came here. Planet Fitness is the cheapest but given the
company’s notorious “serious fitness people need not apply” attitude, I don’t
consider that a valid option. 24 Hour Fitness seems to be the best one in the
area for me. It offers all the necessary equipment at a reasonable price and
has many locations, many of which have extras like swimming pools, saunas,
basketball gyms, yoga studios, etc. But why pay full price if you don’t have to?
A basic level 24 Hour Fitness membership is going to run $35-40 a month –
fairly typical in the world of gym memberships but a tough pill to swallow for
a previous owner of a commercial quality basement gym that cost only an initial
investment of about $3k.
But Costco to the rescue! If you don’t need to go to a Super
Sport/Ultra Sport location, and most people don’t since there are plenty of
Sport and Active ones (but check your area out first before you buy), you can
get a two year membership gift card from Costco for $430. That works out to $18
per month – a savings of about 50%! If you do need the Super Sport/Ultra Sport
membership, Costco offers that as well at a similar savings. And as the late,
great Billy Mays said, “But I’m not done yet!” If you’re a pro level Costco
shopper like me, you know that just about everything is significantly
discounted at some point. When I got here, I only had to wait a month or two
before the membership was on sale for $370 – or from $18 a month to just over $15!
This is a great example of how I live an upper middle class lifestyle while
paying for a lower middle class one. I go to the exact same gym other people do
but I pay less than half as much. And this stuff is available to anyone who
wants it and requires virtually no hassle or sacrifice most of the time.
But there was still one loose end that had been lurking at the recesses of my psyche for some time. What happens when the two years is up and (gasp!) I have to start paying more than double for my gym membership? 24 Hour Fitness is still likely the best deal in the area even at the regular price. But still, paying full price? How could I tolerate such a travesty? Thankfully, after a little recent googling, I’m confident that I won’t have to. While it’s true that the Costco deal can only be used by someone who does not have a current membership, it turns out that this is even easier to get around than the “promotional pricing” game the ISPs play. Once your membership has expired, even for a day, you are no longer a current member. It can’t be that simple, can it? According to scores of posters online, it absolutely is. I read enough posts from people who have done this two, three, or even more times, to be confident it works. How did people do anything before the internet?
So there you have it. If you buy two or three $100 gift cards (or four to six $50 ones) in a year, your Costco membership pays for itself. If 24 Hour Fitness is in your area and you’re serious about making the most important investment of them all, the membership pays for itself every three to four months on an ongoing basis. And that means the hundreds of dollars (or more) you save on other purchases throughout the year are pure profit. Have a wonderful Friday and an even more wonderful weekend, everyone! And no, Costco still doesn’t have me on the payroll – although I should probably look into that…
Anyone who knows me, or who has been reading this blog for a while, knows that I was divorced in 2016 and that while I was about as devastated as humanly possible at the time, I have since come to view it as one of the best things that has ever happened to me. No, that’s not a vindictive swipe at my ex-wife, who I still believe was (and likely still is) a very admirable and impressive woman in most ways. We are all flawed; she has things to work on just as I do. Anyway, without the inherent compromise of that relationship influencing things, my circumstances have since changed dramatically, in ways they likely never would have otherwise, and I have grown immensely in the process. Terribly heart wrenching sequence of events? Absolutely. Wonderful, life changing blessing? Also absolutely. Very few incredibly valuable lessons come cheap.
Recently I’ve had another apparent setback in the form of learning my days in my current job are numbered. Given that I mostly love it and regard it as by far the best job I’ve had to date, that could have been a devastating blow. But it didn’t hit me that way – not even when I first found out. And given what I’ve learned in recent years, I believe I’ve reacted correctly. Almost every time I’ve been knocked off course in life, I’ve soon found myself on a more productive one, and have usually enjoyed significant personal growth for having been through the experience as a bonus. I fully expect that this time will yield the same result and I firmly believe I’ll be writing a triumphant, ecstatic post about that in the coming weeks.
This got me thinking back to earlier parts of my life. For
example, early in my grade school years, as most young lads do, I began to
realize I was fascinated with certain aspects of women. Our school was small
but there were a few young ladies I took a private interest in. At the time, I
would have been thrilled if one of them had displayed a reciprocal interest in
me – even if I didn’t understand exactly why I felt that way quite yet. But I
was a shy, skinny kid with an acne problem and it didn’t happen. At the time, I
thought that sucked. But thanks to the mixed blessing of Facebook, I’ve observed
how time has treated most of them in the decades since. And you know what?
Every single one of the women I’ve dated or had any sort of fun with has been
substantially more attractive than the adult versions of any of the girls I
lusted after as a boy. If my wish had been granted and one of them had shown an
interest, who knows what would have happened? We may have turned into one of
those “first and only love” couples and I may have missed out on the company of
numerous much more attractive women – including ones I haven’t even met yet. My
past disappointment has turned to present gratitude, and even relief. And as a
side note, being a late bloomer rocks!
Fast forwarding to my graduation into the worst economy since the Great Depression, neither my then fiancé or I (yes, we did that way too young!) was able to get a good job. In fact, both of the jobs we did eventually manage to get were unfulfilling and paid around $20k a year less than the type of job a recent college graduate could expect to get in even a mediocre job market. However, we worked hard to differentiate ourselves, moved up steadily, and within only a handful of years, we both wound up making about double what great jobs would have paid had we been able to get them upon graduating – and with dramatic additional growth potential from there. Looking back, what if I had gotten that “good” job right off the bat? I see two likely outcomes. Instead of having a fire lit inside me, I probably would have gotten comfortable and even with better than average annual raises, today I would likely be making roughly half what I do now at best. And I definitely wouldn’t have benefited from the same “tough love” lessons that taught me how to not just stretch every dollar and save/invest the proceeds, but to do it almost effortlessly. I could literally have lost well over $100k of net worth in around half a decade if I had received the “good fortune” I wanted at the time.
You hear this plenty but I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen
it time and time again in my own life; if something doesn’t work out, something
better is probably going to happen instead. In this post, I’ve shared just a
few of my own examples. I’m sure if you look back at your past, you will find
some disappointments turned triumphs of your own. I’m personally not at the
point where bad news equals me being excited – yet. But if I can turn my recent
career setback into a substantial upgrade, as it looks like I very well may,
then the evidence supporting that mentality will be just about stacked to the
ceiling. We will all be knocked down in life. Part of being the man I want to
be involves viewing it as an opportunity, getting back up, and making something
amazing happen. Mentally, I’m working on making that process automatic. I
encourage all of you to do the same. Remember, successful people have bad days
too. But they know how to turn present pain into future success. And that is
what sets them apart from the herd.
Do you love paying taxes? Ok, stupid joke. But today I want to talk about a couple of great ways to pay a little less and help your future self out in the process. For those who ignore the almost nonstop reminders in the media, the United States has a massive retirement crisis in its not so distant future. It seems that in spite of this being the richest country in the history of mankind, nearly half of everyone living here HAS NOT SAVED A SINGLE FUCKING PENNY for retirement. Many of the people who have saved at least something are still woefully short of where they need to be. With obviously unsustainable pensions (otherwise known as defined benefit plans) mostly relegated to the history books, the criminals fine, upstanding people in charge realized they would have riots in the streets if they didn’t toss a little bread out to those pesky subjects citizens. And thus, some new tax advantaged retirement savings options were born. So far, they don’t seem to be helping much, but that’s why I and countless others are writing posts like this one. 401ks and Roth IRAs are the two most common tax advantaged retirement savings options and an overview of the basics of both is below.
Both of these offer tax breaks, but only to people wise
enough to take advantage of them. In my opinion, they should both be maxed out
if possible prior to investing in anything else excluding building an emergency
fund – which is actually saving, not investing. And yes, there are other types
of these but they are less common and I’m writing for a mass audience. And yes,
there are various tricks and loopholes that entire posts could be written on
but this particular post is just meant to be a general primer. Also, I am not a
tax professional and I don’t know the details of your situation so nothing in
this post constitutes specific tax advice. This is for information only. Here
are the basics.
Usually offered by an employer
Maximum contribution for 2019 is $19,000 + $6000
“catch up” for people 50 and older
Employers often match up to a certain percentage
of your income if you contribute at a required level
No phase outs but HCEs (highly compensated
employees) may potentially have their contributions limited
Contributions lower taxable income in the
current tax year
Distributions are taxed when taken
Cannot take distributions prior to age 59.5
without being taxed and charged a 10% penalty
Usually not offered by an employer
Maximum contribution for 2019 is $6000 + $1000
“catch up” for people 50 and older
Phase outs starting at $122k MAGI (modified adjusted
gross income) and completed by $137k for single filers, or $193k and 203k for
married filing jointly
Contributions are made using post tax dollars
Distributions are not taxed
Contributions can be withdrawn prior to 59.5 but
earnings withdrawn prior to 59.5 will be taxed and penalized except in specific
I think the easiest general concept to remember about the
difference between the two is this: 401ks are taxed on the back end, Roth IRAs
are taxed on the front. To get the maximum benefit, you need to contribute $25k
in 2019, assuming you are 49 or younger and not prevented from it by having a
very high income.
If you can’t max out both, I would do the following in most
cases. First, contribute whatever your employer requires to get the full match
that is offered. For example, if your employer matches 3% of your salary if you
contribute 6%, a fairly common setup, you would want to contribute 6% to avoid “leaving
money on the table.” From there, I would work towards maxing out the Roth IRA
unless you are phased out, in a high tax bracket, or have some reason to expect
your income is going to go down significantly in the future. If you can do
that, I would put any additional available money towards increasing your 401k
contribution percentage. Anything you can do is better than nothing and slow
progress is better than none. For example, you could start out contributing
whatever you are comfortable with and set up an automatic increase of 1% a year
on one or the other or both. If you get even a basic cost of living adjustment
at the end of the year, you won’t feel any pain because you will still be
getting a raise after taxes. This would particularly be the case if you’re
talking about a 401k since you would be lowering your taxable income by
increasing the contribution meaning the 1% increase wouldn’t cost you the full
Hopefully this will help some folks get a better idea of how
to handle these accounts. If anyone would like me to get into more detailed
subtopics on this, please let me know in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have
a great day!