Achieve Financial Life Milestones One at a Time

I really think that we should all try to focus on one thing at a time.  Every time I try to split my attention across multiple ideas I get a little frustrated.  I think this applies well to the idea of personal finance.

It seems like most people in the US don’t really follow this path.  We try to have it all as soon as we possibly can.  After we get out of school and start working, we want it all.  We buy a car with payments.  Get married.  Buy a house.  Furnish the house.  Have kids.  Buy a bigger car.  Buy a bigger house.  And on and on.

This leads to a massive amount of debt and bills.  After ten years, people look back and realize that they have no idea how they got into the debt and signed up for the bills they are paying now.  It gets hard to dig your way out.  If you have credit card debt on top of it, you’re even more frustrated.

I’d propose that we do it a different way.  I think people should do things one at a time.

College: If you go to college, go right away after high school and put all of your focus into it.  If you have to take out student loans, that’s okay, but keep in mind how much the total balance you owe is.  Write it on a white board on your fridge.  Update the number every semester.  Looking at that will help you to not screw around as much and focus.  Also, avoid any long term relationships in school.  You’ll have time for that later.

First Job: Once you graduate and get your first job, keep living the college lifestyle.  Keep living with room mates or in a small studio apartment.  Find the cheapest livable place and stick it out for a while.  Don’t buy any new furniture.  Check out thrift stores and garage sales.  Immediately max out your 401K, Roth IRA and any other tax advantaged accounts.  Put the rest into your student loans.  Your job right now is to save as much as possible and pay off any debt as fast as possible.  Avoid getting into a serious relationship as much as possible.  If you do end up in one, make sure to talk about what you are doing with your money. Definitely don’t finance a car.

Post Student Debt: Now that you’ve paid off your student debt, you’re feeling good.  You should be totally debt free now.  You should also still be maxing your retirement accounts.  Now you’re seeing an excess amount of cash flow coming in and you’re starting to wonder why you still live in a dump.  That’s okay!  Your job now is to save up a 20% downpayment for a primary home.  Depending on where you live, this could be a house or condo.  You’ll also probably have started some kind of relationship at this point.  It would be good to ear mark some savings for a wedding.

Home Purchase and/or Wedding: Now that you have a solid foundation of savings, you can think about buying a home. Make sure to buy something that you can rent out if you need to move. You may be thinking about getting married too.  That’s great!  Just don’t take on debt to do it.  Make sure you put 20% down on your home and buy just what you need.  You should still be driving a car you own outright.  There are plenty of options out there for $5k or so. You also are still maxing your retirement accounts.

Kids: Only have kids once you can really afford it.  They can cost $300-$500k to raise, so make sure you are ready.  Don’t have kids if you are in any debt other than a mortgage.

These are just the main big life events.  There are many other milestones along the way.  The main point is to do things one at a time.  If you buy the house, wedding, have kids, nice car and everything else all at once, you will be buried in debt.  This is extremely stressful and really sucks.  Freedom in life is all about freedom from these types of stress.  Do things one at a time and you’ll thank yourself later.

 

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Open-Office Plans Suck

I have to admit that I no longer work in a cubicle.  The days of soft grey walls are over for me.  I’ve moved on to a new type of annoying work life.  The dreaded Open-Office Plan!

The new trend in the tech industry is to get rid of all cubicle walls and offices to jam everyone together into one big room.  This way we can have the maximum number of loud conversations going on at one time.  Instead of having a nice half wall and 5-10 feet between employees, we now have 3 feet max and our desks bump into each other.

Personally, I find it really annoying.

Working in this kind of workspace is like being in a crowded bar.  There’s a constant conversation going on somewhere.  People continuously talk a big louder to hear each other.  Once you get three to four conversations going on it’s basically just people yelling at each other to “collaborate”.

Fans of this work style say that it’s a great way to increase collaboration among teams.  They want to get people working together and talking about all things work.  Well this doesn’t really happen.  Most of the conversations I overhear throughout the day are about people’s kids, their weekend or where they are going to eat later.

The constant noise is a major distraction to most people.  The main way to counteract the distraction is to wear noise cancelling headphones.  This helps a bit, but also kills any actual collaboration that was possible.  So now you have half of the office yammering on about what their kids did this weekend and the other half blasting music to drone it all out.  How is this a good thing?

Open-Offices are a total productivity suck.  You spend more time being annoyed with other people than getting work done.  The noise is a constant distraction.  Even the important work conversations that do happen are random and frequent enough to be a distraction on top of it.  I honestly think that working in these types of environments cuts productivity by 50%.  And then you wonder why people complain about working such long hours…  They have to stay late to make up for all the work they didn’t do during the day.

The real reason we have these plans is to save money.  All corporate real estate is paid for on a dollar per square foot basis.  If you can fit more people into the same square footage, you can save a ton of money.

The only redeeming factor about the open workplace is that they can come along with stand up desks.  Which is a nice perk, but do we really need to stand 3 feet from each other?

How to pay off your student loans as fast as possible

As of last week, my wife and I have paid off $96,000 in student loans.  We paid most of it off over the past year.  It has been an awesome experience and a pain at the same time.  It’s a wonderful feeling to start from zero though.

We’ve struggled with what to do with student loans for years.  They have gone in and out of deferment and income based repayment a few times before we finally decided that it was time to get rid of them once and for all.  I totally believe that this is one of the best decisions we’ve made.  So I put together a list of a few of the best ways to pay them off as fast as possible.

Pay them first:  Once a month, the day of my paycheck, I would immediately pay a large chunk of the loans off.  This made it feel like we never had the paycheck in the bank account.  Think back to when you’ve been tight on money in the past.  It’s super easy to just not buy things.  We can stay in and eat ramen in college because there is no money available to do anything else.  If you create that sense of brokeness by dumping all of your cash into the loans asap, you’ll feel like you can’t spend on other things.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone.  Nothing you can do about it.

Pay as much as possible:  We mulled this one over a lot.  There is definitely a thought to pay less while spending your money on other things. We all want nice things and to enjoy life, but the loans were a priority.  By putting the maximum amount possible into the loans, we felt like we were broke every day.  Mainly because we were…  You’d be amazed at how scrappy you can get when you have no money to spend.  Treat any new money as if it is burning a hole in your pocket and has to go asap.  Make sure to only put it into the loans though.

Pay things one at a time We’ve wanted to buy a house and travel more, but put that off while paying these loans back fast.  I wanted to buy those other things so badly, but am glad that I didn’t.  To me, the idea of paying loans plus a mortgage plus a car payment plus travel, etc. just sounded hard.  I don’t like the idea of spreading yourself really thin with lots of payments.  We made the conscious decision to put off buying a house and other big life “milestone” type of things while paying the loans.

Keep investing:  While we put off buying things like houses and cars, we did keep investing in our 401K and IRA accounts.  The tax benefits of retirement accounts are just too good to pass up.  These should be first priority over student loans.  At the very minimum, you need to contribute up to the match on your 401K account.

Ignore everybody else:  You’ll see all of your peers “pass you by” on social media.  Your friends and family will buy houses, cars, go on trips, have kids, get pets and all kinds of other exciting things.  You have to ignore this.  Either those people are super rich or they are using debt to achieve most of those things.  I would bet on the latter if they are under the age of 30.  Stop caring about what they think and enjoy your frugality.

Enjoy your frugality:  It can be really fun to find cheap ways to have fun and live your life.  You can enjoy being a minimalist in your tiny apartment.  You can go hiking a lot.  You can go to free events in the park nearby.  You can learn to cook your own food.  You can shop at local farmers markets.  You can shop at thrift stores.  There are so many fun things to do that cost almost nothing.

Downsize your living situation:  If you are renting, you should be living in the cheapest place that you can find in a safe area.  Ideally live in a studio or one bedroom.  Or with roommates.  Keep living the young 20s lifestyle until the debt is paid off.  You might not like your tiny apartment.  Use that annoyance to motivate yourself to pay those loans faster.  One of the biggest things people complain about is that they have no money to pay their loans, but they live in a nice place in a cool part of town.  This makes no sense.  Nice places are for rich people.  If you’re in debt, you’re not one of them.

Avoid car payments:  This is huge. There are so many transportation options that don’t require a nice car.  You can take public transit.  You can bike.  You can buy an old car.  There are a lot of nice cars for sale for under $5,000.  Take advantage of this.  There’s no reason to have a car payment ever.

Live on half of your income:  All of these things lead you to this big one.  Live on half of your income.  No matter what.  You should be doing this even after your loans are paid off.  Life is tough and you can lose your job at any time.  If you live on half, you have plenty to spare in rough times.  Think of it this way.  If you are going to be working for 30-40 years, then be retired for 30-40 years, you will need to make 2x your expenses for life.  1x to get you through the first 30-40 and 1x to get you through the second.  Starting your working life by paying half of your income into your student loans will set you up to keep living on half until you can retire.

 

Ten Ways to Make Working in an Office Less Soul-Crushing

After reading this post:   What makes “the office job” such a predominant soul crushing monster?    on reddit.com, I came up with this list of ways to make the office job less “soul-crushing”.

1.  Work on side projects and hobbies – We spend too much time at work, thinking about work, commuting to and from work, dreading coming back to work, etc.  Spend some time on your own interests.

 2.  Care as little as possible – This doesn’t mean do nothing at work or do a poor job.  By all means, do the best job as possible while we’re stuck here.  We just have to learn to stop thinking about it once we’re out of the office.  We have to stop bringing things home.  Don’t worry about anything.  If it needs to be done, get it done, but don’t worry about it until absolutely necessary.

3.  Talk to everyone – We need to spend as much time socializing at work as possible.  This will help pass the time and make the day more enjoyable.  Even if the people are terrible, it’s not that hard to bullshit with them for five minutes a day.  By socializing, we become friends with others and generally enjoy the day more.  It also helps build confidence and will eventually help to make more money.  And hey if we have to have our souls sucked out we might as well make decent money.

4.  Take breaks – Stop eat lunch in the cubicle.  We have to get up at least twice a day to go for a walk around the building or outside.  If the smokers can do it, we can too.

5.  Cut down or cut out the caffeine – Caffeine makes people antsy and pee a lot.  It makes it hard to focus on work.  When I drink a lot of coffee, I will eventually drink more and more of it until I’m hopelessly jittery.  It’s expensive too.  And we’re trying to save money to quit our soul sucking jobs so we might as well stop blowing it on caffeinated water.

6.  Sit as little as possible – I know this is hard.  Like above, take breaks and walk around.  Get a small water bottle and fill it up often.  Go to the bathroom.  Print from the printer across the room.  Talk to people.  Do anything to spend as little time sitting as possible.  Our bodies will thank us.  There are tons of studies out there now about how sitting kills people slowly.  Most of us can’t get a stand up workstation or a treadmill desk.  Standing up just to stretch helps too.

7.  Eat healthy and exercise – The only thing worse than sitting at a desk all day is sitting there stuffing our faces with junk food.  Eat as healthy as possible.  Exercise regularly.  Check out r/fitness and start lifting weights a couple times a week.  This won’t counteract the sitting, but it will help.

8.  Decorate the cube – Get some nature pictures up there.  Cover the gray.  It’s terrible.

9.  Play pranks – This is just fun.

10.  Don’t sit when at home – This is a big one.  Stop watching television before 9pm.  Cook some real food while standing.  Go out and exercise.  Walk around the neighborhood.  Play with the kids.  Basically do anything but crash on the couch.  Our bodies will feel better.  This also helps a lot with feeling like we’re not wasting our lives.  When I sit all day and come home to watch TV, I feel like the time flies by and makes the office job suck even more.

What else can we add to this list?

Everything is Temporary

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that everything is temporary. Everything good or bad in our lives and everyone else’s lives is only here for a short amount of time and then it’s gone. All of our problems are really just temporary problems.

I’ve been frustrated with my job a lot lately. The cubicle can really be draining. Poor management decisions are annoying. Not having enough money is depressing.

But in all reality, all of that can and will change. I can change these things on my own of course. I could find another job or ask for a raise. Not all of the options I try will work out all that well, but something will. Things could even get worse, but if I keep in mind that they are only temporary, I can keep looking for a way to change them.

This works both ways unfortunately. You can’t hold onto the things you love most in the world. Everyone you know will some day leave you or die. Your great friends will some day not even remember you. You might not remember them. The love of your life may leave you and marry someone else. Or die in a car accident. Your parents will most likely die before you.

The question is, how can we keep this from depressing us? We love the idea that the bad things in our lives are temporary. Everyone has said, “Someday when things are better, xyz will happen”. It’s a relief to think about that. Someday I will make more money or have a better job or find someone who loves me or move to a new city. But we hate the opposite. The idea that we will lose everything good in our lives is hard. Death and loss are sad. They hurt us and make us cry.

So where’s the balance? Maybe if we think about the fact that everything is temporary regularly we won’t be as sad. Maybe when something good happens, we might think that someday it will be gone. Maybe then we’ll appreciate it more. When something bad happens we can do the same. We can realize that it’s only a matter of time until it’s over.

I think once we realize that everything is truly temporary we can be relieved. Everything our lives won’t be perfect. It never will. Change is happening constantly. Every day something new can happen. Don’t hold on to your loves and hates. Just recognize them and enjoy them for what they are.

Once you realize that things just are you can truly grow in life. You make your own happiness. The events that occur are just a part of life, but if you aren’t happy inside you will not be able to weather those events.

Big changes coming soon. Not sure if they’ll be good or bad, but they are going to happen.

Regret and how to make big decisions

I had a really interesting idea last night. I’ve been struggling with some big decisions lately and am really at a loss of what to do. I think I’ve figured out why. Regret.

I’ve realized that I have a lot of regrets about things in my life. I think everybody does. I’ve also realized that the reason I have such trouble making big decisions is that I constantly worry about whether or not I will regret the decision. This leads to indecision and countless hours spent worrying about something. In the end, I make the decision and end up regretting something regardless.

I think this is a good process to make big decisions:

1. Thing about all of the big decisions in your past. What do you regret about them? I have regrets about moving to Minnesota. Moving to San Francisco. Women. Taking certain jobs. Going to college at UF. Buying a condo. Buying a crappy cell phone. Even buying little things like clothes or shoes. I think about these decisions and realize that I have tons of regrets.

2. Now think about if you’d made the opposite decision. What regrets would you have then? If I’d stayed in FL, I would regret never leaving. If I’d stayed in MN, I’d regret never leaving. If I’d dump my girlfriend, I’d miss her. If I’d taken a different job, I’d regret missing the one I got. If I’d kept renting and not bought the condo, I’d regret not living downtown. The point here is to realize that you would have regrets no matter what you do. We all try to justify how perfect and awesome our lives would be if we’d only made a different decision, but the reality is that we will always regret something.

3. Now you can realize that you would have regrets no matter what you do. We all try to justify how perfect and awesome our lives would be if we’d only made a different decision, but the reality is that we will always regret something. Life is short and you can only do so much. You can really do anything you want with your life, but you can’t do everything. You can only live in one place at a time. You can only have one job (or maybe 2) at a time. You have to make decisions and pick one thing over another. And sadly, you will always have feelings of regret about not picking the other option. This is human nature we always find things that we don’t like about our current situation and wish we had another situation.

4. This means you can stop worrying about whether or not you will regret your decisions. No matter what you choose, there will be something you don’t like about it. By realizing this, you can free yourself from worry. You now know that there will definitely be feelings of regret in life. Why worry about it? They’re going to happen anyway.

5. Decisions will still be tough to make though. You will still wonder which option you will regret less. So, start with a list. Write out a big list of all of the things you might regret about each option. We always like to get caught up in the good things, but forget the bad. So what will you regret about each choice?

What will I regret if I move back to MN? I will regret not having warm weather, working in the tech industry in SF, living in a great city, being in California, being on an adventure, being close to the mountains, being able to see all kinds of neat stuff on the west coast.

What will I regret if I stay in SF? I will regret not having the close friends I once had there, not seeing my nieces grow up, not being able to easily go camping during the nice months, being further from my family in MN and FL, being able to live in a house, having a car, being able to save more money and become financially independent, going fishing in Canada, going to the BWCA, having more vacation days.

There are more on both sides. The point is to make a huge list, but focus on what you will regret about each decision. Then weigh which will have more regrets. You should start leaning one way or the other. Combine this with the gut feeling you have and you should be able to make your decision.

6. Make the decision. Realize that you will have feelings of regret about that decision. But also realize that you would have regretted the other option too. It doesn’t really matter which one you chose, there are always downsides to both. Now you can live with the freedom and peace of mind that either decision wasn’t perfect.

Big decisions are tough and I haven’t made one yet on this. But I have truly realized that I can stop worrying about what I will regret because I will always regret something. Without the worry, you can make a clear choice and leave the stress behind.

I should do something

How many times have I said this?  How many things have I said this about?
I should eat healthier.

I should work out.

I should be working harder.

I should be doing something fun today.

I should be doing my laundry.

I should quit smoking

I should do the right thing and not the wrong thing.

It’s always the same thing.  I’m constantly telling myself what I should be doing and thinking about what the right or “perfect” thing to do is.  I’m starting to realize that this is wrong.  Why am I not doing what I want to do?  Why am I thinking about what I should be doing.

It’s weird when you think about it.  Is there really a point to it?  I think I should be acting, eating, dressing, doing things, sleeping, breathing etc a certain way.  But there is no right way.  There is no right or wrong.  We just do things and are a part of what we do.  Who cares which way I decide?  As long as I’m not doing anything to hurt someone or get me put in jail, does it really matter?

Should is one of the worst words you can think.  It means that you wish you were doing something, but know that you don’t actually want to be doing it.  I say I should work out.  This isn’t because I want to be fit or healthy.  It’s because I feel like it’s the “Right thing to do”.  Why don’t I want to work out?  I do want to be fit and healthy, but that’s not enough reason to do it for some reason.

Maybe I’m not doing it because of the “shoulds”.  Maybe knowing that I should be doing something makes me not want to do it in itself.  Maybe if I just really fucking wanted to work out, I’d do it like crazy because I’m doing it for myself instead of doing it because I should.

Why do I constantly do this?

It’s the same with the words “would” and “could”.  I would have done something if something else was just right.  Well yeah, but it wasn’t so who cares?  I could have done this thing perfectly and everything would be great right now.  But what does that even mean?  I didn’t do it that way.  Maybe I should have, but who cares, I didn’t.

There are a million things that you should do, could do or would do that will make your life better, but if you don’t do them what does it matter?

Maybe if I don’t want to do things, they’re not worth doing.