My September 11th Story

I have not blogged regularly as of late.  Largely this is due to a lack of motivation for blogging that I have been fighting.  But I attribute this lack of motivation to the fact that I have veered from the path somewhat with my personal finances.  I am fighting to get back on track with both and hope that this blog will reflect that in the coming days.

With today being September 11, 2019, the 18-year anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11/2001, I thought I would suspend writing about personal finance and use this space to talk about my memories and experiences on that date in our country’s history.  Here is my story.

In September 2001, I was working in New York City as a technical recruiter, trying to take advantage of the Tech Boom of that time.  This was not a good job fit for me as it was largely a sales-oriented role that did not fit well with my introverted nature.  Once we have a req to fill, I was very comfortable (and I would even say I was pretty good at) recruiting quality candidates for the req, but the heavy lifting was doing the business development to find companies willing to use our services.  

I arrived at the office thinking it would be another routine day of lifting that phone receiver that felt like it was 100 lbs. at times.  Shortly after arriving, as I sat in my nondescript cubicle making small talk with my co-workers, I heard an airplane fly overhead.  It was an odd sound since we sat in a building in mid-town Manhattan.  I even joked to my co-workers that it sounded like we were at Shea Stadium (former home of the New York Mets, which was close to the airport and regularly experienced flyovers by commercial airplanes).  After that simple comment, we moved on and didn’t think anything of it.

A little while later, one of my co-workers saw a news headline stating that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  This didn’t even register as a major event as we all just assumed it was an inexperienced pilot in a small two seat plane or something along those lines.  Around that same time, we started to experience internet slowness.  As the story unfolded and we realized this was a much larger event, our staff all reacted differently. One co-worker left the office to head down to a local electronics store to watch news on the TV’s there.  Many of us went out to our rooftop patio, which had a straight-line view down 6th Avenue and we could see the top quarter of the World Trade Center buildings, or as we locals still called them, the Twin Towers.  By this time, we could see the damage and fire.  We alternated between this view and running back into the office to get news updates from our boss who was tied to his computer getting whatever updates he could.  Around this time, I realized that my family would be hearing the news and worrying about me since I worked in the area.  I began my efforts to connect with my fiancé or parents.  However, by this time, enough cell towers were damaged that calls were not going through.  This started my day-long process of hitting send, waiting for the message that my call could not go through, hitting END and then repeating this process.  

Once the second Tower was hit, we began to understand that this was a major event and we came together as a team to come up with a plan.  By this time, we were hearing stories of the bridges and tunnels being unpassable with stopped traffic and people even walking across them.  Trains were also not running as needed.  As a group, we decided to leave our office since we sat in a skyscraper and had no idea what we were dealing with.  As we entered the elevator to exit the building, a maintenance worker entered with us.  As the doors closed, we heard over his walkie-talkie that the building was being closed and not allowing anyone in or out.  Luckily, we were already on our way out, so they did not stop us.  We moved to a local park to figure out what to do next.  We found a homeless person with a transistor radio.  We huddled around this gentleman listening to any information we could gather.  Shortly thereafter, his radio died.  We quickly ran to a convenience store to buy him new batteries.  We already noticed that any and all supplies were flying off the shelves.  We huddled with that gentleman for a while longer before my boss offered to take us all to his apartment, which was uptown.  The group of us began that walk, which took a few hours as the streets were packed with people in the same boat.  During this walk, I was finally able to reach my fiancé.  I had enough time to tell her I was fine and ask her to inform my family before the call was cut off.  

At that point, I began to think of others that I knew who lived or worked in the city.  My little brother quickly came to mind as he worked downtown in the area of the World Trade Center.  I quickly put that out of my mind since he worked in a bar and would not have been near work that early in the morning.  My next thought was my close friend who worked in one of the other buildings in the World Trade Center complex.  I began trying to call him over the next several hours without luck.

We arrived at my boss’ apartment and spent the next several hours there, watching news and trying to figure out next steps.  During this time, several hours later, I was able to reach my friend.  Luckily, he was running late for work that day.  He stepped off the subway just after the first plane hit and decided to stay on the street to watch what was going on.  He wandered around downtown for a while and when the towers began to fall, he was chased by the cloud of smoke and debris until a doorman of a local building grabbed him and others and pulled them inside his building and rushed them to the basement.  The basement had a camera on the front door and for quite some time, the camera showed nothing but the white cloud.  Eventually, that cloud dissipated, and they moved on from that building.  It took him the better part of the day to work his way out of the downtown area.  Around dinner time, we finally connected, and I decided to go meet him and stay with him that evening.  

Once he and I met, we went on search of something to eat since we had each gone all day without eating or drinking anything.  We hit a few markets only to find that there was not a single item left on the shelves.  We decided to head back to his apartment and figure out what we could scrounge up there.  On the way, we found a bar/restaurant that appeared to be open.  We wandered in and found one person working there.  We ordered beers and the three of us sat in silence for the next several hours.  At some point, we went home and passed out.  

The next morning, I decided to try to get home to my parent’s house in Long Island.  I learned that trains were running, albeit sparingly.  I walked the deserted streets of New York City and found my way to the train station.  This was such a surreal experience as the streets were empty of people and filled with trash and debris.  It looked like a scene from a movie where the world had come to an end.  I made my way home and slept for what felt like several days.

I was closer to the scene of events than most people but was certainly incredibly lucky to not be too close or worse.  It was something that I will remember for the rest of my life but also understand how lucky I am.  I later learned that I lost a family member in the day’s events.  This was not someone that I was very close with, but I will never forget him.  Each year on this anniversary, I take the opportunity to speak with my children about that day’s events and make sure to mention to them the name of that family member to ensure that his memory survives.  

A few years ago, my daughter had the opportunity to visit New York City with her grandparents.  She went to the memorial and was able to find my cousin’s name on the memorial.  She did a pencil rub of his name and this is something that she holds very dear, even though this is someone that she had never met.  I cannot explain the pride I feel in her for wanting to hold onto this memory as it makes me believe that she grasps the gravity of the events of that day, even though she was not yet alive when they took place.  It is hard to believe that her entire generation will forever think of the events of that day as something in a history book and not the world-shaking events that I lived through but I can rest assured that at least she has a small glimpse of the importance of those memories since we have a small, personal connection to them.

The Loneliness of FI

I continue to dive deeper into the universe of financial independence.  As I continue to pursue this goal and lifestyle, I continue to encounter a certain feeling.  This is a feeling of loneliness.  I have often heard folks in this space talk about the loneliness of FI, but it is always in reference to that first year of early retirement where you no longer have the daily interactions that the workplace provides.  What I am experiencing is something very different.  This brand of loneliness is occurring during the journey, not once the destination is reached.

Admittedly, this is a different path than the norm for someone my age and station in life.  That alone creates a situation where I almost feel that other people don’t “get” me.  I watch friends purchase new luxury cars while I decide to continue to drive my 125,000-mile scratched-up truckster.  I see friends move into larger and larger houses, while I work hard to pay off the mortgage on my current house.  I have even considered moving into a smaller, cheaper house but can’t even broach that subject with my wife, who is definitely not on the FI bandwagon.  I pretend I don’t hear the comments or “jokes” made at my expense about being cheap or when my kids make comments such as “… I know, we can’t afford it…”  All these things together combine to make this a very lonely road.  

I truly believe that the path I am on is what is best for me and my family but that doesn’t mean it is an easy road to trek.  I will continue to keep my head down and plug away, but it is really tough at times.  With the explosion of social media, there are more and more narrow communities taking root.  There are local FI-inspired user groups.  I might seek those out and find myself a pool of like-minded folks that might help to reinforce my choices and decisions.  However, I tend to be very introverted and putting myself out there in those types of settings are tough for me.  But, if it helps quell the alone feeling, it is probably worth pushing through that discomfort.

2019 Goals- Six Month Check-Up

I have not been blogging as regularly as I would like.  Chalk that up to lack of time and to a lesser extent, motivation.  I will try to improve on that so as not to disappoint my one or two constant readers (haha).  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):

This goal continues to elude me and is a cause for much disappointment and self-loathing.  I just returned from a week-long vacation and my current weight is the highest it has been in about two years.  I hope to regain my motivation and get that back down to my target.  We shall see.

2. Max my 401K contributions:

In the recent past, my compensation structure was altered which led to a somewhat sharp decrease in my earnings.  The correlating impact is that my 401K contributions have decreased in parallel.  To date, I have contributed $10,920.03.  Based on current calculations I should still reach this goal of maxing out the full $19,000 for calendar year 2019.  As I have mentioned previously, I may also slightly increase my contribution rate.  I will decide on that path later in the summer.  

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:

As mentioned above, I just returned from a vacation.  That week gave me plenty of time to catch up on reading.  My travels included approximately 12 hours in each direction in the car.  Due to this I was able to complete 3 audio books.  Additionally, ample beach and pool time led me to finish one book and start another.  To date, I have completed 22 books and 19 audio books.  This puts me way ahead of my targeted pace of 2 of each per month.  If I can continue this pace, I will certainly raise my goal again next year.

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.  I continue to utilize the reserve system at my local library, and this has kept me in a strong supply of books to read and this has caused me to fail to restart these two books, which I own.  I have them sitting on my nightstand and fully intend to re-read them in the near future. 

6. Get Vanguard Taxable Investment Account over $55k

This goal has been accomplished.  At present, my taxable account sits at $57,613.89.  While the market winds can change, I am confident that my continued bi-weekly contributions will keep this account above the targeted amount.  Additionally, I am in the process of selling one of my rental properties (I will detail this transaction in a future post).  Once this sale is concluded, some of those funds will be held aside for taxes, others will be earmarked for a kitchen renovation in my home and the rest will be moved to my taxable account.  With this in mind, I hope to push this account above the $100K mark by years end.

7. Pay Credit Cards in full each month:

Thus far, I have paid all credit cards in full each month of 2019.  However, this month, that target is in jeopardy.  I ran up the credit cards quite a bit lately with issues at my rental properties and then vacation.  Based on my current budget, I do not believe that I will be able to pay this card in full in the coming month, but I will ensure to get caught up in the next month at the latest.

8. Get HELOC Balance under $30K:

This goal has been reached.  The current balance on the HELOC is $27,133.06.  I have mentioned previously that I will revise this goal to now get the balance under $20,000 before the end of the year.    

9. Continue to Blog weekly:

In the past few weeks, I have begun to struggle with this goal.  I was on a strong streak of weekly publishing and starting to gain some momentum in creating community with certain readers and commenters, but this has fallen off as of late.  I am struggling with my motivation a bit lately, but I will attempt to buckle down and get back on track.  

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

For the most recent month, June 2019, I failed to reach the targeted amount.  Below are the items I was able to earn.

  •  $50
  •  $25

I did, however, receive a Father’s Day card from my parents that included a $25 check and additionally received a $50 gift card from my co-workers for my birthday.  I was not sure if those should be counted in this category since they were gifts and not earnings.  I can see the argument in either direction.  But at the end of the day, this goal was about realizing additional money each month above and beyond my paycheck, so I guess with that in mind, I was able to realize an additional $150 in total for the month.   

My Gripes with Podcasts

I have been a huge supporter of podcasts.  I absolutely love this medium and have made podcast consumption a very large part of my daily activity.  I listen while exercising, I listen while driving, I even listen during any desk time while at work.  I currently have 56 different subscriptions in my podcast player.  I listen to personal finance podcasts, sports podcasts, comedy podcasts and several other categories.  As a consumer of this format for several years now, I have noticed a few discouraging trends.  These would be recycled content, a changing voice and/or a very clunky transition to a financial model.

Typically, the host starts off excited about their subject, offering a somewhat unique perspective on their chosen topic.  While the basics of the topic they are discussing may be the same, their personal approach or view may vary slightly.  At least it is slightly enough for it to resonate with you as a listener and get you to continue to tune in.  The enthusiasm for the medium is evident, the excitement in the host’s voice is even contagious.  However, after a certain number of episodes the host may run short on new ideas.  I know that this has happened to me as a budding blogger and I can usually spot the turning point on podcasts.  Around this same time, that podcast may have reached a certain level of success and become an important voice in their space.  At least important enough to get more mainstream guest on their show.  They start to bring in those more mainstream guests, which to them may signal a new milestone in their growth, but to me as the listener, this is usually met with an eye roll.  These guests are usually limited in their stories and have already made the rounds of other podcasts that you may already listen to.  The regurgitate the same stories and offer the same advice on each one.  This becomes what is referred to as an echo chamber.  The absolute worst case of this (to me) is when a person in that space launches a new book that they have written.  They make the circuit of podcasts and give the exact same interview on each one.  Since they are going a promotional tour for the launch of their book, all these episodes hit at the same time and your entire playlist is a filled with carbon copies of one another.  This has led me to tire of that guest and even at times to convince myself NOT to pick up their book that I would have otherwise tried.

Another regular trend I am finding on podcasts is when the host is met with a certain level of success and then their voice changes from what made them successful in the first place.  A high percentage of my podcast library have to do with personal finance—shocker, I know, considering this is mostly a personal finance blog.  In this space, there are more and more women.  I think this is a great trend as I tend to have much in common with many of them in the way they approach money matters and decision making.  However, on many of these podcasts, I have noticed that once there is a certain level of success, their voice tends to change.  While these women gain popularity, their followers appear to be mostly women and they wind up changing the tone and direction of their podcasts.  They make more and more stereotyping statements about how men handle things vs. how women do.  I find such stereotypes boring and inaccurate and this forces me to question the host’s place as an educational voice that is speaking to me.  Granted, I understand this change since if the audience is predominantly women, you will cater to women in your topic selection and advertising, etc. But I just think it often goes too far and there are many statements made about how men do this or that.  It is usually followed up by a statement about how the host is not going to apologize for their take, it is just how it is.  This tends to make me want to tune out.  I understand that historically women have not advanced as much as men in the areas of finance, saving, investing and others and I am all for promoting that they dive in and take control of their money.  I just don’t understand how the hosts feel that being one-sided in their discussion helps with this.  This is not promoting equality, which is what most say they are striving for.  Just my two cents (get it, that is a money joke since I am sort of getting away from my normal personal finance related topics).

Lastly, and probably the issue I am having the hardest time adapting to is the financial models for podcasts.  This falls into two categories that I have noticed.  The first (but not as frequent) is the podcast that gains an audience but abhors advertising, yet still wants to monetize.  In these cases, the host usually dedicates a portion of each episode saying how much they hate advertising and how it diverts the listeners attention.  They usually follow this up with trying to get listeners to donate money directly by going to a separate website and either donating once or subscribing or even buying merchandise.  Sometimes they will offer unique content only for those that donate.  The problems with this model are many.  First, podcasting is almost exclusively a mobile activity.  Getting users to go to your website is not convenient or easy which will prevent this from happening. Secondly, podcasts became popular as a free source of information so nakedly asking for donations tends to make the listeners a little squeamish.  Third, and probably most importantly, the host will say they dislike advertising and will never include it as it disrupts the flow of the show, etc.  However, they will dedicate a portion of each and every episode to their plea for support.  This usually winds up taking more time than any single read of advertising and disrupts the flow of the podcast more than advertising would.  Luckily, this tends to be done at the very end of the episode so you can usually just fast forward through this awkward plea for money.  

The more common monetization attempt is done through advertising.  I understand that much work goes into putting together a podcast and I don’t wish anyone to not be recognized for their work.  However, the way that advertising is done leaves much to be desired.   They either are clunky, too frequent or deceptive.  Most first-time advertising will fall into the clunky category.  They just aren’t well versed in this activity and the ads don’t have any real flow and often don’t fit into the flow of the show or the product doesn’t fit their brand.  Since they are usually new to this, I don’t begrudge this.  I tend to hold my nose and hope they get better at this.  When ads are too frequent is where it starts to become annoying.  Too frequent can be either the same advertiser appearing on too many similar podcasts or just the sheer number of ads on a single podcast being too many.  I am sure that anyone who has ever listened to a podcast knows which companies jumped into the advertising space as early adopters to this medium.  They tend to jump on to any podcast where the audience is larger than just the friends and family of the host.  I am talking about the Blue Apron, Me Undies and’s of the world.  It is to the point where even if I were in the market for those types of services, I would never consider one of these brands simply because there are doing their best to ruin podcasting.  The other issue I have is when I host finally dives into advertising but goes a little overboard.  In one of my favorite podcasts, the host has recently ramped up their advertising.  Their show is usually around 40 minutes per episode.  Currently, they break three different times for ads and when I timed up the total, it came out to almost 9 minutes of ad reads vs. 31 minutes of content.  While I love the content and want the podcast to remain sustainable, this is just too much of each show dedicated to trying to sell me.  Not to mention that this is a personal finance podcast that spends quite a bit of time talking about anti-consumerism and frugality… then turns around and spends almost 25% of their time trying to get me to buy things I may or may not need.  This particular podcast also does Q&A episodes from time to time and recently read a question from a like minded listener who commented on the frequency and volume of ads.  The host gave a very strong response saying that they have been giving free content for years and they will not apologize for trying to earn money to help sustain the podcast.  I think this was a little tone deaf.  You are able to monetize your podcast BECAUSE of your listeners, not despite them.

The last, and perhaps most frustrating part of advertising is when a host tries to weave the read into the episode.  It is inorganic and comes across as trying to “fool” the listeners into listening to the ad, rather than skipping over it.  To me this shows a disrespect to the audience.  I understand that the more ears you get on the ads, the more valuable you are to the advertiser, but this tells me that they advertiser (and their wallets) are more important to you than the listener.  Each time I encounter such advertising, it is not very long before I unsubscribe to that particular podcast.

In closing, I absolutely love podcasts and will continue to listen to them as a source of information, education and entertainment.  However, with such a broad selection of options I can be a little choosy as to who I listen to and how frequently.  Podcasting, like blogging, is an intimate medium where a community is built around the content provided and the interaction with the audience.  If you lose the authenticity of that interaction, the community crumbles.  

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.

  • ¬  $50
  • ¬  $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.