Summer Reading Program

Yesterday marked the last day of the school year for my kiddos.  Summer has arrived.  With summer comes much more freedom for the kids, especially now that they are at an age where they can play out and about town without the need for an adult to be present at all times.  Just a few years ago, they were younger and not able to just hop on their bikes and go to a friend’s house.  In addition to their age, there was another detriment to them getting out and playing more often in the summer.  Two summers ago, my son became slightly obsessed with video games.  He would be online with a few friends playing games like Roblox or Fortnite.  My first reaction was that this was fine.  After all, he was being sort of social by playing with his friends.  Additionally, I have spent a part of my career working in the video game industry, so I have always had a soft spot in my heart for gaming.  As that summer wore on, it was getting to be a little too much.  When I would wake up for work, my son would already be awake and sitting at the computer.  On weekends, he would play for 8 or 10 hours straight if the adults didn’t intervene.  I also noticed that his attitude was changing, and he was being more aggressive and negative.  I am not certain that the attitude issues were directly related to the hours spent gaming, but it was the one variable that was most recently introduced so I made that assumption.  

I decided to make some changes and figure out a way to encourage less screen time.  I have friends who have dealt with this same issue and I have l listened to the solutions that they attempted, all with less than stellar results.  Some would ban devices for days at a time; some would limit it to one or two hours per day; still others would have a list of chores that their kids must do in order to earn screen time.  In each of those cases, they were holding out screen time as a negative and almost guaranteed that the child would not be in agreement.  Each case created an adversarial relationship between parent and child.  While I am not one of those parents who coddles their children, I just didn’t find these results to be what I was looking for.  I decided to come up with something that my son would see as more enticing than jumping on the computer and playing games.

Since my son was very “into” gaming, he had decided that he wanted to build a new gaming computer.  He spent much time deciding on the pieces and parts that he wanted this computer to include and had the overall price tag.  With this goal in mind, he was always asking for chores or jobs he could perform and get paid.  I decided to play on this desire, even if helping him achieve his goal would lead to a reward that would be largely used for the exact activity I was trying to deter.

The solution I came up with was to create a summer reading program.  I thought this would encourage him to read and if he were dedicated, the time spent reading would trump the time spent gaming.  I offered to pay him a penny per page that he read over the summer.  In order to receive any payment, he needed to read a minimum of 500 pages before school began at the end of the summer.  He agreed to this and was excited to get started.  After each reading session, he would write his total number of pages on a white board that was visible to the whole family.  At the dinner table, we would discuss the page count, he would make repeated requests to go to the local library.  All was working great.  Then when we were about half done with summer, he was quickly arriving at the 500-page number.  I was worried that hitting this milestone would diminish his drive but in reality, it had the opposite effect.  Hitting the 500-page milestone reinvigorated him to earn even more money.  He didn’t even realize that he wasn’t spending as much time online.  

As summer ended, he would up with a total of over 1,000 pages.  I was more than happy to peel off those dollars and give them to him.  I tried the same program last summer, but it just did not motivate him in the same way.  Now that the current summer holiday has begun, I have offered the same program and will anxiously await and see if we can recapture the excitement of that first year or if this summer will more closely mimic last summer.  My son has many hobbies and adds new ones each day.  Things that are currently piquing his interest are things like BMX bikes, skateboarding, remote control cars and airsoft guns.  Each of these hobbies has its own list of needed or wanted accessories and he seems motivated to earn money to be able to buy some of these things.  I am hoping that motivation will push him to hit the books again this summer.  For the first time, I have also added my daughter to this program.  Perhaps a little household competition will push each of them.  

Even though last summer wasn’t as successful from a page count perspective, his overall screen time has gone way down and remains that way.  I have noticed that his attitude has mostly returned to the happy little guy I was used to before gaming entered his world. 

My First Job

As I looked back on all of the previous posts, I realized that most have the spoken or unspoken theme of discussing early retirement.  With that focus on NOT working, I thought it might be fun to discuss actually working and this led me to think back to my very first job.  Little did I know at the time that this was first day of the rest of my life (haha).

My very first job came to be while I was the ripe old age of 10 years old.  I was in the 5th grade and had a classroom conversation with a classmate.  She was complaining about her newspaper route.  Yes, in those days (wow, I sound OLD) children performed the delivery of newspapers.  So, this classmate was complaining that she didn’t want to do this anymore.  I suggested that I could take over the route since she didn’t live very far from me and I was confident that I could handle that route on a daily basis.  Additionally, the hot technology at that time was Video Cassette Recorders (VCR- kids, ask your parents).  I had it in my head that I really wanted a VCR for my bedroom.  This may not seem like a big deal in this day and age where most kids’ bedrooms have a TV, DVD player, computer, iPad, iPod, cell phone and any number of other devices where they can get video or other entertainment.  But in my day, my parents, who went on to own a Video Store, didn’t even have a VCR in our Living Room.

I went home that day and asked my parents if they would allow me to take over this paper route.  They quickly agreed and Ta-Da, I was in business.  My classmate gave me a large canvas bag that she used to hold the papers.  I spent what felt like hours attaching that bag to the handlebars of my bicycle.  This was more time that I took considering whether or not I wanted this job.  Once the bag was secure, there was no looking back.  Each day, I would come home from school and there would be a stack of newspapers on my front porch.  I would open the package and individually bag each paper and put them into the bag on my bike.  I would then ride my route and toss the papers onto the driveways or porches of my “clients.”  This was pretty easy work.  I was essentially getting paid for riding my bike.  At age 10, this was the greatest deal I could think of.  I cruised along like this for the first week.  Then the job changed just a bit.  I quickly came to something called “collection day.”  As a 10-year-old, I was perfectly comfortable organizing the papers, bagging them and riding around town delivering them but this was something new.  I had to have the courage to interact with adults and ask them for money.  This gave me an incredible amount of anxiety initially.  I forced myself to just walk up to that first door and knock.  Once I did, I realized that this super scary experience was not so scary at all.  It was a great opportunity to interact with my customers, get feedback and ask if they had any special requests.  I quickly came to relish this part of the job, not to mention that I would go home with a pocket full of money.  

I quickly developed an organizational system to make sure I kept proper track of my accounts and also kept notes on customer preferences to make sure I met each request correctly.  I began to develop relationships with those customers, and this had many positive consequences.  I learned that by communicating and complying with their requests, I was rewarded with larger tips.  This interaction also had additional monetary gains in that customers began to ask me if I was interested in other money-making tasks such as babysitting their kids, raking leaves and mowing lawns.  As the first summer was approaching its end, I realized that I was getting closer and closer to having enough in savings to buy that VCR that I had my eye on.  As my relationship with my customers grew, I must have shared with some of them that this was my initial goal because at the end of that first summer, one of them let me know that they had a VCR that they would be willing to sell me.  They quoted a price that was a significant discount to a new one and I jumped at the opportunity.

With my primary goal satisfied, I continued with that paper route for a few more years, until the time came to hand the reins to my little brother.  But I was very proud of myself for having a goal, working hard to achieve it and for overcoming my initial fear and anxiety of “collection days.”  To this day, I encounter situations that present me with fear and anxiety and I often think back to that first job and remind myself that what seems scary almost never matches that level of negativity and I push forward.

Keeping Up with the Jones

As a young adult, I definitely fell victim to the phenomenon up trying to keep up with the Jones.  I have had all the cliched mental conversations where I would justify frivolous or ill-conceived purchases.  I remember when cell phones first became a thing that some people had.  A family member wanted one but did not have the credit to get approved.  They asked me to help them purchase a cell phone.  This was the sexiest little

flip phone.  I left work one day and went to the store to pick this item up for my family member.  On the drive home, I couldn’t resist the urge to open the box and check out this item that was so foreign to me.  I immediately became envious.  I was a 23-year-old, in my first real job.  I was in management for a video game company and I made the immediate leap to the “I deserve this” type of mental chat.  The very next day, I had my own phone and thought I was king of the world.  This euphoria lasted about 3 days.  I would like to say that the lesson was learned at that point and the rest of my adult years were led without succumbing to this type of thinking.  Of course, it did not.  While I was probably better with finances than most of my peers, I still traded cars, clothes and other toys based on what my friends and neighbors were doing.  This all wound up leading to the day I have written about in the past where I woke up and despite a strong salary and having invested in equities and real estate and being very money conscious, I was BROKE.  

Since that time, I have rebounded strongly and become much more deliberate with my spending.  However, I have noticed the next wave of keeping up with the Jones.  Now that I have children—one who is a teen and one a pre-teen—that pull to keep up with others is even stronger than it was for myself.  As a parent, the one strong goal has always been to give my children as good or better than I had growing up.  Now that they are at an age where their “toys” are no longer toys, but cell phones, bicycles, and (very) soon…. Cars.  I have had to strongly fight the urge to make sure my kids have the latest and greatest technology, clothes, equipment, etc.  I don’t want them to suffer the ridicule that we are hear about from those mean, nasty Jones kids.  The truth is though, that those kids do not exist; at least not in my children’s lives.  

My kids ask for things and may even pout if/when I say no but there is nobody ridiculing them if they don’t have what others have.  My kids are quite privileged, don’t get me wrong.  They each have a cell phone and iPad and my daughter has her own computer, but they seem genuinely appreciative of what they do have and requests for newer, shinier toys have presented strong opportunities for lessons about the power of saving.  My daughter babysits and accumulates good amounts of money for someone her age.  When this started, I would talk with her about putting that money in the bank, at least 50% each time she earned it.  She would resist this and want to keep the small horde of money in her room to have in case she wanted to purchase something.  I didn’t push her but did consistently remind her that I would recommend putting at least 50% away in the bank.  This led to conversations about banking and that the money was still hers and accessible, just not within arm’s reach so she would have to be more deliberate.  I am happy to report that almost every week, when she has money from a babysitting gig, she now immediately writes out her own deposit ticket and hands this off to us to put that money in the bank.  This is done with us prodding any longer and most times, I wasn’t even aware that she had money accumulated.

My son is a different story.  He is younger and not yet seeing many opportunities for earning.  Additionally, he and his friends tend to go all-in on their activities and those activities change about as quickly as the Midwest weather (which is often).  One week they are into skateboarding and the requests come flying in for a board and accessories and toys related to this hobby.  The next week, it is comic books and they want to start a collection and go to the comic bookstore almost every day.  Then he moved on to computer gaming.  This was a tough one.  Most of the other hobbies had costs that were not astronomical and could be dealt with by asking for certain items as gifts for birthdays or other holidays.  But once he got into gaming, he wanted to build his own gaming computer.  He mapped out everything he wanted, and it amounted to almost $1000.  To his credit, he never asked his parents to buy this for him, recognizing how expensive this was.  However, since that time, he has been on the hunt for money making opportunities.  He has asked about starting a pet sitting business.  He has asked about learning to mow lawns so that he can go door-to-door and ask neighbors if he could do that for them.  I have given him some other yardwork duties that he could do to earn money as well.  I am enjoying these conversations because it gives me the opportunity to flex my creative muscle in thinking of money-making ideas.  My son is the more impulsive of my children and has not done as well with saving as my daughter has but the fact that he is hoping to work and earn money and save for something he wants is a strong beginning.  

Ignore Your Critics

Today’s post is a little different than those of the past.  This is a story that has bothered me since it happened, and I think it is important to share.  Feel free to critique it in the comments.

When I do something, I tend to go all-in.  Real Estate investing was no different.  In the beginning, I searched and visited properties ad nauseum but never pulled the trigger.  I created so many excuses to NOT do a deal that I wound up in the familiar state of analysis paralysis.  Once I finally pulled the trigger and did my first deal, I realized that all my objections were nothing more than worst case scenario fears.  I closed my very first deal on December 31, 2007.  Once I realized that the prospect of real estate investing wasn’t as scary as expected, I quickly did several more deals in 2008 and beyond.  At this point, I fancied myself as a proper real estate investor.  I continued to read everything I could find on the subject and seek out as many mentors as I could find.  This led me to join the local Real Estate Investors Association.  These were monthly meetings of as many as 80 people who were interested in the business of real estate investing.  

These meetings usual began by passing the microphone around the room and having each attendee introduce themselves and give their quick elevator speech on what they are looking to do in the real estate space.  It was encouraged to mention how many deals you have done to date as part of your speech.  I attended several months of these meetings and was very surprised to see that approximately 75% of the attendees had never done a single deal.  They were mired in the same analysis paralysis that plagued me for all those years.  This fact surprised me but didn’t bother me at the time.  Everyone is entitled to their curiosity.

After about a year of these meetings, during the elevator speech portion one woman that I had never seen before stood up and gave her speech.  She very proudly announced to the group that that very day she had closed on her first deal ever.  She was prodded to give the details of the deal and she shared the neighborhood, specifications of the house and details of the deal.  It was clear that she paid very close to retail price for her deal.  As the microphone continued to get passed around the room, many of the other attendees referenced her deal and beat up on the details suggesting that she made a very bad deal.  This was a deal that fit her budget, was going to turn a small profit monthly and give her the important lessons that buying my first deal did for me.  The negative reinforcement continued throughout the remainder of the introductory period.  I could see that this woman was taking the criticism very seriously and was doubting herself for not only doing the deal but for joining this group as well.

When the group took a break about mid-way through the session, I sought out this person and congratulated her on her deal.  She quickly rolled her eyes and assumed I was being sarcastic.  At that point I asked her if she listened to the elevator speeches of the rest of the participants.  Not surprisingly, all she heard was the negativity that was levelled at her deal.  I reminded her that the huge majority of the attendees had never done a single deal.  By pulling the trigger on her first deal, she was already ahead of 75% of these so-called experts in the business.  We discussed the deal in a little more depth, and I reassured her that while experience may have led her to an even better deal, she pulled the trigger, acquired a profitable investment property and began her path in this business.

As the program was set for resume, I gave her my business card and told her to reach out if she ever had any questions or could help her in any way.  Over the next year, she and I spoke two or three times as she encountered things that she wasn’t familiar with and I was so happy that I had made the effort to speak with her that first day.  If that experience led her to continue in the real estate investment business, then I did what I would consider to be a great service.  If she realized that this was not the business for her, then I still consider myself as having done a great service.  The end result is for her experiences to lead to her decision and not allow the talking heads to judge her when most of them having ever put themselves out there themselves.  

This story has recurred to me more and more often lately as social media takes over our lives and I witness this type of behavior growing.  When I am faced with this type of situation, I try to shut out the noise and make my own decisions.  When I need advice, I try to seek out those who are actual experts in a certain space.  We live in a time with an unprecedented amount of opportunities for communication and crowdsourcing of knowledge, but these types of negative encounters have the opposite impact.

2019 Goals- Four Month Check-Up

Below is a look at the goals that I had setup for myself for 2019 and a snapshot of where I stand on progress for those goals.  

1. Keep Weight under 235 (see above for incremental goals):

FAIL.  I continue to struggle on this goal.  I am very disappointed in myself as I have allowed my discipline to waver.  Not only have I not achieved my secondary goal of getting and staying below 235, but I have actually gained weight.  I have succumbed to mindless snacking at work during the day and I have made very bad meal choices at home.  I am hopeful that the disgust I currently feel will motivate me to get back on track with this goal and I hope that by the end of 2019, I will have reached my goal and renewed my path to a healthier lifestyle.

2. Max my 401K contributions:

I continue to contribute 12% to my workplace 401K account.  Year-to-date I have contributed almost $7,500 but this included some variable compensation that I cannot count on going forward.  Based on my contribution level, I am still on track to reach the contribution maximum for 2019.  That limit is currently $19,000 and I should be on pace to reach that amount sometime in November or December.  Another option is to increase my withholding percentage.  I believe I have mentioned previously that the way I try to do this is in small increments.  As I write this, I think that is the route I will take.  This week, I will increase my withholding by 0.5% or 1% and then allowing my monthly finances to adjust to that new take-home amount.  I am certain that this will have little to no impact on my monthly budget and will help ensure that I reach this goal even earlier than currently expected.  I will report next month whether I followed through on this maneuver.  

3. Fully Fund Wife’s ROTH IRA (Stretch Goal:  Fully Fund my ROTH IRA as well):

Both of these accounts have been fully funded.  

4. Read at least 24 Books & Listen to at least 24 audio books:

My reading has slowed down a bit in the past month.  Work has picked up and that gives me less free time.  Additionally, my kids’ activity schedules have really gotten to the point where each and every evening we are on the run so once we actually get home, we are pressed for time to get all the other things done that need to get done.  All this combined has slowed down my reading.  However, even with this in mind, I remain ahead of the pace that I set for the year.  As of this writing I have read 15 books and listened to 13 Audiobooks.  That puts me on pace to read 45 books and listen to 39 audiobooks by the end of the year.  Since summer is fast approaching, I am hopeful that my pace will pick up and I will not only reach my goal but also give me hope that I can increase my goal for next year as well.

5. Re-read “The Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco & “Set for Life” by Scott Trench:

I have still not begun a re-read of either of these titles.  Each time I finish a book, it seems like another reserve from the library becomes available and I put off re-reading these two titles.  I will definitely get to them soon. 

6. Get Vanguard Taxable Investment Account over $55k

I am fast approaching the achievement of this goal.  As of today, this account sits at $53,594.10.  Based on current automatic transfers to this account combined with moving any additional “found” monies, I hope to report by next month that I have reached this goal already. 

7. Pay Credit Cards in full each month:

Thus far, I have paid all credit cards in full each month of 2019.

8. Get HELOC Balance under $30K:

This goal has been reached.  The current balance on the HELOC is $27,455.11.  I will continue to pay this down in an aggressive manner.  Since I have already reached this goal through April, I will set a new stretch goal for myself of getting the balance under $20,000 before the end of the year.  That is a very aggressive goal, but I feel like I am playing with house money since I already hit the original goal.  

9. Continue to Blog weekly:

I have continued to blog once per week.  I have set myself a goal of publishing a new article each Wednesday.  While I have successfully hit the goal of blogging weekly, I have missed the Wednesday deadline once or twice thus far (including this article with I am writing and hope to publish today, a Thursday).  

10. Earn additional $100 per month in income through various side hustles:

For April I was able to exceed this goal once again.  For April, we were able to generate an additional $208.00.  The details of that extra money are below.

  • ¬ Swagbucks.com:  $50
  • ¬ MyPoints.com:  $25
  • ¬ March Madness Pool:  $133

I have previously written a post asking the question of whether or not fantasy sports winnings can be considered a side-hustle or not.  While I think that including those winnings can be considered here, I struggle a bit with the above.  Along with a few friends, we bought various squares for the March Madness basketball tournament.  Above our initial investment, these produced winnings of $133 for each of us.  I include it here but not really sure that I should since this was really a game of chance and had no skill on my part whatsoever.  If you agree that this can be included, I have hit this goal for the month.  If you take out those winnings, then I came up short this month.  I have identified many books, CDs, and DVDs that I can sell either online or to a retail store such as Half-Priced Books, but I got lazy and did not actually sell any of these items in April.  

What I am consuming… (April 2019)

Here is the latest installment of my discussion on the various media items I am consuming.  

What am I reading?

I continue to mix and match my Fiction and Non-Fiction reading.  I have recently been enjoying several Fiction series and find those as a nice outlet to the everyday grind.  I have, however, also continued to sprinkle in Non-Fiction books that I encounter through various blogs, podcasts or recommendations from people that I respect.  This month’s entry is one of those Non-Fiction books.  I recently completed a book that has been on my list for quite some time.  That book is Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.  This is a book that comes up quite often in interviews that I have either read or listened to.  The idea of Grit is not a new one, but the author does a very good job of showing how such “stick-to-it” principles are often what separate success from failure.  While reading this book, I could not help but analyze the teachings through the lens of a coach.  I have personally coached various youth sports teams and have often marveled at the characteristics that prove one participant to be more successful, even when faced with obvious differing levels of talent.  This book helped put those things into perspective.  My own son has had mixed results as a youth wrestler.  He gets very frustrated when he does not have success, but I have also noticed that his interests are wide and varied and while he wants to excel at whatever task he is performing at the moment, that drive does not often carry over beyond the event itself.  He doesn’t seem to have the Grit to put in the extra work and motivate himself when not being pushed by a coach.  I have designed programs for him with exercises and drills that he can perform outside of the structured season, but I have not yet been able to find a program that he will stick with consistently.  When he reaches an age where a book such as this may be appropriate for his reading level, I may have to have him read it and see if it has any impact on his Grit level.  

What am I listening to?

As I mentioned last month, my podcast list is quite long and needs to be trimmed a bit.  With this in mind, this month I am highlighting one that I believe I will be trimming and discuss some of the reasons why.  One podcast that I have listened to for a while is Journey to Launch hosted by Jamila Souffrant.  

I first heard of this podcast after the host was a guest on ChooseFI, another podcast that I listen to regularly.  I enjoyed Jamila’s enthusiasm and felt that her background as a certified financial education instructor offered a different perspective on the usual personal finance topics.  I quickly went to the beginning and have listened to every episode she has produced.  I enjoyed the content and especially her story of trying to build up this blogging and podcasting business on the side while still working a full-time job and raising a family.  Her spirit is hard to ignore.  Not too long ago, she decided to go all-in on her side business and left full-time employment.  This was done at a time when her side business was gaining some momentum.  At roughly this same time, however, she seems to have found her voice as a representative of a certain community.   In particular she has a strong focus on promoting the stories of Women and Women of Color in particular.  Her podcasts have veered more and more away from specific personal finance advice and more toward celebrating members of this particular community.  I applaud this and understand that direction but as I am not a member of this particular community, this podcast doesn’t seem to meet my needs any longer.  I have continued to subscribe and listen in hopes that it would revert to its roots but at this point, I think I am going to pull the plug.  I may check back in at a later date to see if things have changed.  

Podcasting (and blogging) is a personal endeavor.  A mentor once told me that even though there are many different outlets promoting similar content, your particular voice may speak to someone in a way that others will not.  At this point, Jamila’s voice is not quite connecting with me.

What am I watching?

I do not watch much television at all these days.  With an extremely busy work schedule followed up by taxiing two very active kids around every evening, there just isn’t much time.  I found that once we actually sat down and turned on the television, we would simply default to re-runs of older sitcoms.  With this in mind, recently I went about searching for a new show.  The entry criteria are that I had to find a show that was at least in it’s second season.  I have been burned by investing in a new show only to have it cancelled … (I am still salty about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip being cancelled).  Doing a quick search of the various streaming options I have; I came across Scorpion.  This was a show that sounded interesting to me when it first came out, but I never watched it and never really thought much about it after that.  Then recently, I listened to an interview of Walter O’Brien on the The Tim Ferris Show podcast.  Walter O’Brien is a real-life genius who runs a company called Scorpion Computer services, which the show is based on.  The interview was excellent and piqued my interest so when I came upon the show, I decided to give it a shot.  To date, I have only watched a few episodes of the first season, but I am really enjoying it.  I recommend that readers give both the Tim Ferris interview and the show itself a shot.

As always, let me know what you are reading, listening to or watching in the comments.  It gives me great ideas on things to add to my future consumption list.  I would love to hear from you.

Fantasy Sports: Waste of Money or Side-Hustle?

That title is meant to produce a smile.  I don’t actually think that fantasy sports can be a legitimate side-hustle for most people, but I was led to this topic based on my past few monthly budget reviews.  In each of the past two months, I had entries for fantasy sports winnings.  These were payouts collected from my two fantasy football leagues.  The payouts also included pre-payment for each of my two fantasy baseball leagues that I am in.  This observation made me recall a conversation I had with a good friend and constant reader Mark (shout out, M-).  

When I first began the financial independence journey, I took it very seriously.  I started to eliminate expenses that were unnecessary, and the momentum became very obvious and this process of questioning everything I spent money on because quite addictive.  During this process we came upon the time of year when one of my fantasy seasons was about to kick off.  Since the initial outlay for my leagues is somewhat sizable, it led me to question whether or not I should continue to play fantasy sports.  When I broached the subject with Mark, the response was something along the lines of “… why would you quit, you keep winning…?”  While this was an oversimplification and a generalization, it did lead to further discussion about the fact that over the past few years, I have managed to come out ahead on my overall fantasy sports leagues.  For each sport that I play, at least one of the leagues has multiple avenues to earn money.  It isn’t simply the person with the best record who takes home the loot.  For example, in one league I am in, the top point scorer for each week wins a small prize.  String together a few weekly winners and you can earn enough to pay your entry fee.  There are additional prizes for overall leaders in points, playoff seed, best individual players and a few others.  By keeping each of these prizes in mind, I have been able to manipulate my team to the point where I have managed to maximize my investment.  

One example of this is in one of my fantasy baseball leagues.  It is an auction style league with keepers.  In this type of league, you bid on players and the winning bid becomes their “salary.”  Then you can keep a certain number of players from year to year, but their salary has escalation clauses.  About three years ago, my team was muddling along.  I had a roster filled with veterans and they were not performing well.  I came to this realization early enough in the season to understand that I was not going to vie for the playoffs.  I decided at that point to start building for the future.  I scoured the rosters of likely contenders and identified several young, cheap players that they would likely not be using much in the current year but who had tremendous upside. I then crafted a few trades that sent my few marketable players that would help them in their run to the playoffs and in exchange received a few players that I considered “scratch-off tickets.”  

Since this is a personal finance blog, I won’t go too inside baseball here but in a nutshell I would up with a few very impressive young players that were very desirable to all players in the league.  Once the season ends, there is generally a scramble to maximize the value of the number of keepers that are allowed.   At the time of this anecdote, we were able to keep up to 7 players.  I used some of these young studs as the anchors in trades that landed me several superstar players while keeping my overall team salary at a reasonable level.  This approach has allowed me to put together a team that has scored several weekly points prizes, made the playoffs each year since those deals and be among the league leaders in total points each year.  

So, just to bring things back to personal finance and perhaps answer the question asked in the title, below are the details of the most recent season in one of my fantasy football leagues (I chose football since the data is the freshest).

Entry Fee: ($175)

Weekly Top Points (2 weekly wins): $40

#1 Seed in Playoffs: $150

#2 in Overall Points: $130

League Champ: $280

Total Net Winnings: $425

Monthly Update – March 2019

As I mentioned last week, I am once again a little behind schedule on this post but here is my analysis of my monthly income and expenses for March 2019.  As per usual, below I have listed a running three month look for comparative purposes.  Since I missed this update for February, the three-month look reflects that.

First, here are the numbers:

Category: Dec 2018 Jan 2019 March 2019
Total Monthly Gross Pay: 100% 100% 100%
Taxes Withheld: 15.96% 23.02% 23.02%
Other Withholdings: 3.82% 4.85% 4.85%
401K Withholdings: 0% 12% 12%
Diverted to Investments Account: 27.14% 36.2% 7.4%
Diverted to Savings Account: 24.34% 0% 22.52%

The numbers that jump off the page at me start with percentage diverted to Investments.   This figure has dropped dramatically since January and I think that this may just be a timing thing.  The final pay period of the month of March fell at the very end of the month so the automatic diversion of funds to my investment account occurred after the turn of the calendar.  This should be picked up in next month’s review.  Additionally, I was able to divert a sizable percentage to Savings account.  At this time of year, I pilfered my savings account to invest in our ROTH IRA accounts.  This money was paid out of savings accounts / emergency fund money and I was able to divert $3500 later in the month back into my savings account to begin to replenish the emergency fund.  

I am beginning to investigate whether I can increase my 401K contribution percentage as well as increasing the amount that I divert automatically to my taxable investment account.  Those decisions will be put on hold until I can fully replenish my emergency savings.  Working in consulting can cause period of risk between projects where my income may not be very secure so the impetus to have a strong emergency fund is always there.  My goal is to have this account cover at least 5 months of spending.  Once I have this account fully replenished, I will strongly consider upping my bi-weekly contributions to Vanguard from $550 to $600.  Additionally, I will consider upping my 401K Contribution percentage from 12% to 13%.  Once those changes happen, I will report that in a future post.

2019 Goals- Three Month Check-Up

I noticed that I have fallen behind on some of the monthly items that I have committed to writing.  In particular, I need to add an entry for a check-up on my 2019 goals as well as a monthly budget review.  The budget review is more pressing as I believe I even missed a month for that series, but I have decided to do the goal check-up first as it requires less work on my part.  I will work on the budget review for the month of March soon and get that posted.  In the meantime, below is a look at the goals that I had setup for myself for 2019 and a snapshot of where I stand on progress for those goals.  

  1. Keep Weight under 235:

I am glad that this is the first goal on the list, and I am forced to dive right into this one.  In short, I have thus far FAILED miserably on this goal.  I started the year strong and was able to close in on 240 towards the end of January but since then I have allowed my weight to fluctuate dramatically.  I continue to exercise daily, waking at 5am each morning to get a 3-mile walk in.  I also use the stairs as often as possible throughout the workday.  I also continue to drink plenty of water.  Where I have fallen off is diet.  I have had way too many “cheat days.”  I guess you can’t really call them cheat days when they outnumber the good days.  I need to re-dedicate myself and buckle down.  I hope to have better news to report in my next update.  As of this morning I tipped the scales at 241.5.  

2. Max my 401K contributions:

Based on my current withdrawal percentage, I am on track to max out my 401K again this year.  The allowable amount was increased in 2019 to $19,000 from last year’s $18,500.  Even with this increase, my percentage will max this out at some point in the 4th quarter of 2019.

3. Fully Fund Wife’s ROTH IRA (Stretch Goal:  Fully Fund my ROTH IRA as well):

After a meeting with my financial planner, I executed the transaction to fully fund my wife’s ROTH IRA.  Since she does not have a traditional IRA, I was able to move the necessary money into an unused Traditional IRA and then perform a backdoor ROTH conversion.  As I have mentioned previously, I was unsure if the income rules for contributing to a ROTH would be met so we decided to execute the investment in this manner.  As for my own account, we decided to wait until consulting with our accountant on our yearly tax returns.  Since that was completed recently, we got the green light from the accountant to contribute to my ROTH IRA as well.  This too was executed recently.  This is the first time in several years that I have contributed to my ROTH IRA and it feels pretty good.  To be clear, my lack of investment has not had anything to do with concern over the income rules, it was merely laziness and lack of prioritizing this type of investment.  Now that I am back to contributing to this account, I hope to continue to do so going forward.

4. Read at least 24 Books & Listen to at least 24 audio books:

This goal is very much ahead of schedule.  In the first quarter of the year I have read 13 books and listened to 12 audio books.  I continue to read/listen to a mixture of Fiction and Non-Fiction and have found this balance to help keep my interest in reading very high.  Generally, when I am reading a Fiction book, I will offset this by listening to a Non-Fiction book on audio.  Currently I am reading Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and listening to Grit by Angela Duckworth.  So, depending on the mood I am in, I can gravitate to either the fun Fiction storytelling or opt for the self-improvement of the Non-Fiction book.  I would love to hear from the readers what they are reading currently as this helps give me ideas for future reads.   

5. Re-read “The Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco & “Set for Life” by Scott Trench:

I have still not begun a re-read of either of these titles.  However, I have decided to pick up one of them as soon as I finish the book that I am currently reading.  

6. Get Vanguard Taxable Investment Account over $55k

As of this writing, my Vanguard account sits at $51,451.89 so I am very much ahead of schedule on this goal.  I continue my regular bi-weekly automated transfers to this account.  I have supplemented this by moving over additional monies as I have earned them.  This has come from sources such as Fantasy Sports winnings, selling household items, Swagbucks and other sources.  Each time I have a few of these items, I move the money and execute a transfer to Vanguard.  It has amazed me how quickly these little transfers can add up.

7. Pay Credit Cards in full each month:

Thus far, I have paid all credit cards in full each month of 2019.

8. Get HELOC Balance under $30K:

The current balance on my HELOC is: $30,317.76.  This balance is up slightly since my last update even though I have continued to make monthly payments.  I guess this is a signal that my monthly payments are not big enough.  I have fallen off on my goal of paying as much as I can each month to this debt.  This is due to the fact that I have had higher than normal credit card spending, and other expenses arise.  I have continued to be committed to paying the credit cards in full each month so even though spending has been higher than I would like, I have still been able to pay them off each month and not incur any interest charges.  In addition to the credit cards, we have had some one-time expenses in the past month.  In particular, my son had his tonsils removed and this led to some medical bills.  

9. Continue to Blog weekly:

So far, I have maintained a weekly publishing schedule.  I have not been as organized as I would like and each week the publish date seems to sneak up on me.  My workload has picked up lately and that has taken some of my attention, but I would like to return to being much more organized and having a few articles drafted to choose from each week.  I am working on a productivity hack to help me with this goal.  I am working to block off some time each a few days per week to focus on the blog—whether it is writing, researching, coming up with topic ideas, etc.   

10. Earn additional $100 per month in income through various side hustles:

For March I was able to exceed this goal once again.  For March, we were able to generate an additional $380.00.  The details of that extra money are below.

  • ¬ Swagbucks.com:  $75
  • ¬ MyPoints.com:  $50
  • ¬ Sell Used Items:  $30
  • ¬ Fantasy Football winnings:  $225

The largest entry in each of the past two months have come from Fantasy Sports winnings.  I currently play in 2 Fantasy Football leagues and 2 Fantasy Baseball leagues.  Obviously, I cannot count on winning money in those leagues each season, but those little boosts have certainly helped me achieve this particular goal the past few months.

My Entry into Real Estate Investing

I have teased in the past about my experiences with Real Estate Investing.  This has played a large role in my financial life and seems to be the topic about which most readers send questions.  This post is my attempt to give background and details of what led to my first real estate investment. 

As a child, we rented our home and that is all that I knew.  My first eye opening moment came when my older sister got married and began looking for her first home.  Her and her husband found a modest 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom Ranch in a good neighborhood.  The house had a nice yard and was perfect for their new family.  However, what caught my attention were the financials.  They were able to only put 3% down and their mortgage payments came to approximately $1500 per month.  At the time I was living with my parents but several of my friends were renting apartments or renting homes with roommates.  On average they were each paying between $500 and $800 per month.  I quickly realized that if I were to buy a house and recruit two fiends to live with me, I could minimize or even eliminate my own housings costs.  This idea seemed like a no-brainer and I quickly followed up the realization by doing… NOTHING.  I simply acknowledged it as a smart idea but didn’t take action.  

Fast forward a few years and I moved to the Midwest.  I bought a home and did not consider getting roommates or house-hacking in any way.  I bought the biggest house that I could afford and started on my path of “adulting.”  However, I stayed engaged with our Realtor who helped us find our home.  She was a real estate investor and I had shared with her my interest in this topic.  I picked her brain at every opportunity and would often call her to take me to see potential investment properties.  After many of these jaunts, I called her one day with a property to view.  She quickly responded with a “NO.”  I was shocked.  I asked, “what do you mean, NO?”  She said that she didn’t believe I was ever going to buy an investment property and that I simply enjoyed looking at them.  This was a punch in the gut, and I had to analyze my behavior and realize that she was right.  I was looking but not taking any action.  I was over-analyzing ever potential deal to the point of analysis-paralysis.  

With this realization in the back of my mind, I was visiting a friend’s parents in a nearby city.  They lived on a quaint private road that led to a large lake.  The houses were cute little bungalows.  Their parents lived at the end of the street and on the way to their driveway, we encountered a small house with a for sale sign in the front yard.  Our friend’s mom was involved in real estate and during conversation we quickly asked her thoughts on the house we passed.  She gave us some background that the owner moved into assisted living and her two young sons stayed behind.  They let bills get behind and eventually the bank foreclosed on the property.  We had her make a few phone calls and we learned that the house had an asking price of $35,000.  I looked at my friend and snorted at that price.  At the time both he and I were driving cars that cost more than that amount.  We sort of shrugged and said, “wanna be landlords?”  We agreed to investigate it.  We decided that I would handle the financing and I quickly called a friend who was a mortgage broker.  The approval process moved very quickly, and we were all set to close on our first investment property.  As the days leading up to the scheduled closing approached, I was chasing the bank to get us the final documentation and confirm that we were on track to close.  This was a frustrating experience as their follow up was not what I was used to.  Finally, the night before closing, I was panic-calling every contact I had at the bank.  I finally connected with someone in underwriting and they flippantly informed me that the bank decided not to fund the transaction.  This had never once come up in discussion that this was even a possibility, so I was completely caught off guard.  When I pressed, I learned that the deal was so small that there was very limited upside for the bank, and they viewed the deal as being too risky for their tastes.  This was a very large bank that I had done business with for several years, so this line of thinking came as a shock to me.  (NOTE:  What I did not know at the time was that this was in 2008 and the real estate market was in a severe bubble that was on the brink of popping.)  

I had a decision to make.  Do I back out of the deal and lose the money I had put down or do I figure out a way to push through?  With my previous realtors’ words bouncing around my head, I decided to push through.  I had a Home Equity Line of Credit on my home and decided to use that to purchase the rental property in full.  I had to be careful since that line of credit was how I planned on funding the necessary repairs on the house as well.  My quick calculations showed that I would be able to cover both, but just barely.

So, when the time came, I purchased the house for $25,000.  We then worked very hard to get the property rehabbed and ready to rent out.  As first-time real estate investors we may have over-improved a house that we projected as a rental but most of the repairs and improvements were necessary.  The overall bill on repairs and improvements came to approximately $30,000.  We had been carrying the house during the rehab period and incurred costs there as well but for the sake of easy math, I consider my all-in costs to be $55,000.  At that point, I reengaged with a lender and we agreed to a mortgage of $55,000.  This was well below market value and presented a situation where the bank no longer felt the property was a risk.  Upon closing, we received all our initial funding back and were able to rent the property quickly for a monthly amount that paid the mortgage and other necessary costs while leaving just a little extra as a cushion.  

I have now owned that property for over 10 years, and I have learned quite a few lessons.  Based on this transaction, I have learned that I need to leave myself a larger cushion in my calculations.  I did not account for vacancies and other normal costs that creep up on any property.  The real estate market in that city has been stagnant during this time and the home’s value has decreased somewhat, limiting our options and exit strategies.  It is regularly rented but there always seem to be things that pop up that skew the financials into negative territory.  Another lesson learned is that I am not best suited to manage a rental property from a distance.  This house is approximately 2 hours away from my home and this does not allow for fast reaction times when self-managing.  I have since added a property manager for this property and that has further eroded the financials.  

Overall, I would consider this investment as a negative.  However, at the time, it stoked my interest in real estate investing so even though it was a bad experience, I did not allow it to sour me on the idea.  The low investment cost also allowed me to make mistakes and learn lessons at a reduced cost.  At present, this house is rented and running fairly smoothly.  I would still love to unload this house and continue to watch the market closely to determine the right exit strategy.  The main reason I would like to unload this is that I am at a point where I am trying to simplify my holdings and this property does not fit the overall investment strategy that I would like for my future.

As several readers has specifically asked for stories about my real estate investing, I am sure there will be many questions in response to this post.  Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will do my best to get those answers to you.