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.

 

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?

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?

The absolute worst thing about an office job

Having nothing to do.

As much as work can be annoying or difficult or frustrating, there is nothing worse than have nothing to do all day. There is only so much surfing the internet and checking your email you can do.

Sure I try to get involved in other projects, but there are some days that are just dead. It would be the perfect time to just go home or chill in a park somewhere. Even just a small nap would make the time go by quicker.

You get this feeling like it’s pointless to be there.  It doesn’t make any sense.  You can feel the days of your life going away too fast while you sit there and waste time.  It’s so annoying.

BUT, it could mean a few things.  If you truly have nothing to do, you should work on preparing yourself for finding a new job.  It’s a waste of your time to sit here all day.  You should at the least be working on your resume and learning anything possible to help you get a new job.

If this is just a temporary thing, then don’t worry too much about it.  Enjoy the slow time.  Create a side project and do some filing.  If this is a regular thing, you may need to be looking for a new job.  You could potentially get laid off at some point.  Even if you don’t, you could be stuck in this job feeling unfulfilled for years.  That’s a huge waste of time.

Use this free time to your advantage.  Work on side projects and work on getting your next job.

Ten great reasons to work in a cubicle

In an effort to be a bit more positive in life, I’m writing this.  Feel the excitement flowing from my vitamin D lacking brain.

  1.  You get paid.  This is why we’re really here.  Sure there are things like job satisfaction and recognition, but if you didn’t get paid for your time, you wouldn’t be sitting in that little carpeted room right now.  Plus it’s steady.  You get a paycheck every two weeks and it’s always the same.  Heck sometimes you even get a teeny tiny raise at year end.
  2. You get to stay inside on cold and rainy days.  Sure it sucks when you look outside to see a beautiful sunny day outside, then turn back to the glow of your LCD monitor, but next time it’s 40 and raining out, take the day off and drive around.  Take a look at all of the construction workers, road crews, mail men, park rangers.  They’re all freezing, wet, and grumpy.  Yes, we miss a ton of great weather, but we miss the crap weather too.
  3. You don’t have to deal with complete idiots.  Yes, this is debatable, but really in most offices, you have to have a pretty decent IQ and level of common sense to get the job.  There are a lot of dumber people out there than your cube farm buddies.  Want proof, go to a fast food place.
  4. That leads to; you don’t work in a fast food place.  Not much is worse than it.  I did it in high school and yes, it sucks.  Sure looking back now, it was nice to have no responsibility and just make sandwiches every day, but 7 bucks an hour doesn’t get you far and fry grease is pretty gross.
  5. It’s nice to have responsibilities.  As much as you might be bored in your job, you’re most likely pretty needed.  If you didn’t show up, what would happen?  Sure the work would eventually get done, but your coworkers depend on you do get your work done.  Plus the higher up you move, the more responsible you are.
  6. And along with responsibilities, it’s pretty cool to have a reason to dress a little fancy.  Sure there are tons of days where I would love to stay in shorts and a t-shirt for work, but it really does make a difference to dress professionally.  Look around, you feel like you fit in with a bunch of “grown ups”.  Kind of weird for someone like me who feels like they are still just a kid.  That and you can get pretty lazy wearing “bumming around” clothes all the time.  When I was laid off, it got pretty easy to just sit around in gym clothes all day.  That leads to less laundry, less showers, and down from there.
  7. You don’t work at night.  Well most of you don’t.  Working at night sucks.  It messes up your social life and sleep rhythms.  Having a day job is pretty kick ass.
  8. Free stuff.  Most office jobs come with a lot of perks that we forget about.  You get reduced insurance rates.  You might get holiday parties.  Maybe pizza parties.  There really are a lot of neat little things that you get for working under the halogen lights.
  9. You probably live in a city.  Living in a city is pretty sweet.  If it weren’t for office jobs, you probably wouldn’t be able to live in a city.  Now, I know not everybody works downtown, but a good portion of you do.  Remember the only reason the cool skyline is there is to make room for those sweet cubes.
  10. You’re not homeless or unemployed.  Both suck.  Sure you could be a glamorous hobo who rides in boxcars.  But most likely, you’d just sit in a shelter and listen to the crazy bag lady scream about her herpes all night.  Be happy you don’t have to do this.

Yes, working in an office can really suck, but there are some pretty awesome things about it.  Not to mention that you get the free time to read exciting blogs about cubicles.

On top of it all, you don’t have to work in an open-office.

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.