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.

 

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.

What if you can’t find your passion?

 

What does it take to truly care about something?  How can someone become passionate about something?  Sometimes you start to realize that nothing is exciting to you anymore.  How do you get past that?

You may be sick of your job, but what if you don’t know what you’d rather do?  Maybe we should all just keep trying new things until something sticks.  Maybe we should all just learn to stop worrying about it and pass the days as if everything is alright.

I don’t really think that is the way to do it though.  Someone has to do something.  Someone has to care enough to get things moving in the right direction.  I wonder how many people feel this way.  What do you do when you realize that you can’t even think of things that you are passionate about?

This is a weird thought to me.  I’ve always just done the next thing in life because that’s how you do it.  Graduate high school, go to college, get a job, get a girlfriend.  When does it actually become a career?  When do you start to get excited about something?

Or is it really all about just finding what you can tolerate and going with it?  This just seems crazy to me.  Why would you want to just pass the time?  That seems like such a waste.

There has to be an interesting idea out there.  Remember when you were a kid and people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up?  I don’t remember saying what it is, but I know it wasn’t that I wanted to sit in a cubicle all day.  I realize now though that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  It seems like I should have gotten there by now or at least started on that path.

I know there have to be more people out there like this.  It’s weird when you wonder this.  What if everybody else knows exactly what they want to do with their lives?  What if you just forgot to decide that when you were a kid and will always be confused as to what that answer is?

Why do people think so much?  Sometimes it would be great to just shut off the mind and see what happens.  Over thinking is a major problem for a lot of people.  I think it is especially a problem with young people in my generation.  Everybody thinks of the greatest answers to everything, but so few people are actually working to make those things come true.

I’ve had a billion ideas for inventions and businesses, but never acted upon any of them.  Maybe I’m passionate about coming up with ideas and not doing anything with them.  Who knows.  Is everybody else out there this confused about things?

How does one go about becoming passionate about something?  How does one go about deciding what they want to do with their life?  Or do you just go with what you’re doing and figure out how to stop yourself from thinking about this stuff?

What do you think?  Do you have a passion and are you following it?

 

Stop worrying about losing your job

A big reason most of us are unhappy with working in an office is due to fear.  We are afraid of losing our jobs and the paycheck that comes with them.  If we lose our jobs we think that the entire world will end.  We won’t be able to have a home or feed ourselves and our families.  We think of the worst possible thing and imagine how bad it would be if we lost our jobs.

It’s this fear that keeps us sitting in our cubicles day in and day out.  We may hate our jobs for years, but we are too afraid to do anything about it.  We don’t talk to people or stand up for ourselves because we are afraid of being fired.  We don’t take vacations because we don’t want to be seen as lazy.  We work all day without breaks so that we look like hard workers.

We don’t look for other jobs that might make us happier because we are afraid of change.  We ask ourselves what will happen if it doesn’t work out.  What if we don’t like our new boss?  What if we get laid off from that job?  We tell ourselves it’s scary out there.

This isn’t healthy.  It stresses us out constantly.  This kind of life gives a kind of stress that people have never experienced before the modern workplace.  It’s chronic stress.

It used to be that people were afraid of starving, or being killed by a lion, or falling off a cliff, or something truly dangerous.  Now we are afraid of losing a job title.  We are afraid of losing a paycheck.  Yes, we may starve because of it, but probably won’t.  It confuses us.  Our bodies can do things to fight off lions and starvation, but they can’t do anything to stop this chronic stress.

We spend our days doing our job.  We sit all day.  We fret about inconsequential things.  Then we sit in traffic on the way home.  Sometimes we have a few beers to relax on the really stressful days.  Then we wonder why we’re always tense and have to go to the chiropractor.

A life of fear won’t get you anywhere.  Even if you work the office job your entire life you’ll still probably die of the heart attack brought on by the stress.  We might make plenty of money and never have to change jobs.  On paper, we might be a total success.  Inside we’ll be a wreck.

I’ve met people who are 50 years old and have been working in their jobs for the past 30, yet they are still deathly afraid of losing their jobs.  What a hard life.

I propose that we give up this fear.  Let’s stop worrying about whether or not we have a job tomorrow.  Just stop worrying about it.  If you get fired tomorrow life will go on.  It won’t kill you.  You can find another job and another way to make money.  You can change your lifestyle if you need to.  You can become a hobo.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.

The important thing to remember is that no matter how much you worry about something, you can’t stop it.  You can fret and worry and be afraid about losing your job, but it won’t change anything.  You will still get fired if they want to fire you.

By no means am I saying that you shouldn’t work hard.  Do your job and do it well.  Be the best at your job.  Be awesome at it, but don’t worry about losing it.  Worrying will only stress you out.  It won’t stop anything from happening.

Like a lot of people, I was laid off last year.  It really sucked.  I was working for a company that was having financial problems and they had to make cuts.  I was one of them.  I did a good job, showed up on time, was nice to everybody, and was all around a good employee.  I still got canned.

Losing a job sucks, but I think everyone should go through it once in their lives.  It helps to put things into perspective.  I had been worried for years about losing my job.  I didn’t know what I would do if I lost it.  I thought my whole life would fall apart.  It didn’t of course.  I was unemployed for a while, but I found something.  Everything worked out in the end.  It may take longer for some people, but things will work out.  Even if they don’t, you’ll be ok.

The big thing I realized though is that no amount of worrying would have helped me keep my job.  It was going to happen.  I was a great employee and I still got canned because of “budget changes”.  I wish I wouldn’t have been stressed out about it.  I wish I wouldn’t have been afraid of losing the job.  I could have really enjoyed my time there if I didn’t stress out about the possibility that I might be laid off.  What a waste of time and energy to be stressed for so long.

Just remember that even if the worst possible thing happens and you lose your job, your house, your family, your car, your clothes, and can’t even feed yourself, worrying about it won’t help.  Worrying everyday won’t do you any good.  Be prepared for things, but stop worrying.

Coming soon:  How to prepare for losing your job.