Category Archives: Lifestyle

Sports, Booze, and Guns

There are some things in American Culture that we are unwilling to give up no matter the costs. Even the frugal crowd amongst us seem to have a difficult giving up certain expenses. The big three I’ve noticed are sports, alcohol and guns.

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by arkorn

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by arkorn

Sports

When it comes cutting expenses, many people start with cutting the cord because of the high cost of cable. However, many refuse to cut the cord because they can’t give up sports. Awhile back, I read about a caller to the Dave Ramsey show who had no emergency fund yet wanted “permission” to spend $1500 on football tickets. Dave said, “it’s a game; you don’t put that ahead of your family’s financial foundation!” I have a co-worker whose beloved baseball team made it to the playoffs and he shelled out a few hundred dollars for tickets as well as team paraphernalia. He often complained about money being tight but magically came up with money for these expenses.

I’m in a Facebook group with members pursuing FIRE, who often post about frugal hacks, yet when a member posted about attending a playoff game out-of-state to support his team, many agreed that experiences are worth the costs. Obviously, we each individually have different value system and I’m not saying that this expense is ridiculous, but it does go to show how much we LOVE our sports.

I used to be a sports fanatic so I can understand the love that fans have for their teams. When I was a kid, I would listen to the Knicks basketball game on the radio because I didn’t have cable. I would read the box scores or my favorite sports teams. No, actually I read all the box scores and could probably recite every player from every team. I didn’t have any money to spend on sports at the time, and now that I do, the costs of watching and attending games is just not worth it to me. Also, with age, I’ve found other things that are higher on my priority list.

Check out this blog post on Freedom is Groovy: 10 Reasons Not to Invest Time and Money into Professional Sports. (While Mr. Groovy says professional sports, I would include collegiate sports in there as well. The NCAA in my opinion is a corrupt organization and I just can’t support them. Plus, my alma mater isn’t all that great anyway so it makes not following college sports easy!)

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Booze

Ah yes, booze…our culture seems to revolve around alcohol. I’m sure you’re saying that you don’t really drink all that much. You’re only a social drinker right? What do you do after a long stressful day…relax with a glass of wine. After work…let’s go to happy hour. Go to a sporting event…tailgate and drink hours before the game and then continue drinking during the game, and probably afterwards as well. Wedding…it better be open bar right? Watching a game at home…grab a cold beer from the fridge. Going to a kid’s birthday party…there better be alcohol because how else can I deal with screaming kids for 2 hours?! Watching the political debate on T.V…let’s drink every time a candidate says “fake news!” Going to a barbecue…let’s play ping pong, no I mean beer pong! Talking about personal finance on a podcast…”what are you drinking?” It’s January! Let’s do a Dry January Challenge since apparently we drink too much and it’s difficult to go without drinking, even for one month!

In a recent Twitter thread, I read how one person was faced with an hour wait at a liquor store prior to the holidays, but said that it was well worth the wait because how can you possibly survive dealing with family without alcohol! Wow, if you despise certain family members so much, I’m not sure getting drunk at a holiday get together will help. It’s also odd when I read some personal finance bloggers chastise others for spending on frivolous or materialistic items but will give a pass to alcohol, as if it were a necessity. Others will acknowledge that it’s a luxury item, but one that brings them joy so they will not and cannot give it up. Once again, nothing wrong with spending on an item that brings you joy. Just showing the powerful grasp that alcohol has on some of us.

No, I’m not a teetotaling Puritan who never drinks and is against others drinking. Sure, I’ll have a drink when I’m hanging out with a bunch of friends. It loosens you up, you laugh more and feel like you’re having more fun. Just as with sports, I indulged in alcohol much more in my younger days. My priorities have changed. Honestly, I never really liked the taste of alcohol. I liked it more so for how it made me feel and act. I generally drank when I went out to a bar or club. No, I don’t want a drink at a kids birthday party. I’m not sure how much alcohol one needs to dull the noise of screaming kids running around, but I’d prefer to be sober at that event. Also, call me crazy, but I actually get some enjoyment seeing my kid have a blast even though I might prefer some other form of entertainment.

David Cain who blogs at Raptitude had two great post relating to alcohol and him quitting it for a few months. He wrote a post, Goodbye Booze, For Now and what he learned from not drinking for four months. Raptitude is a great blog and David is an excellent writer, so he probably expresses thoughts about this topic clearer than me.

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Guns

The personal finance reader demographic might not include a lot of gun owners. Well honestly, I don’t really know so I’m just assuming. However, it’s undeniable that guns are an item which many in this country LOVE and cannot live without. They will argue that they need guns for protection or for hunting. I’m not talking about the person with a hunting rifle or the person with a handgun at home for protection. I’m mainly talking about those who like to play G.I Joe, wearing military fatigues and buy assault rifles. I don’t want to get into a political debate so I’m not going to go much further. However, I can’t help but point out that many who point to the second amendment seem to think it’s a Biblical commandment instead. Also, it’s an amendment which means it can be changed and is not set it stone. There was an amendment prohibiting alcohol at one point…we got rid of that one. No surprise! One final point, the first part of the second amendment actually says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” but many people don’t recite that part when they assert that the U.S Constitution prohibits any limitation on their gun ownership. Also, there are limitations on other rights which are included in the Bill of Rights. Oh, sorry, that was two final points!

Jeff Jeffries, an Australian comedian has a hilarious comedy routine which tears into the gun culture in the United States and is both funny and makes great points. Check it out. (Note: Jeffries uses explicit language).

As many of us who have gotten out of the consumption hamster wheel, we feel freed from spending mindlessly while others who continue on that hamster wheel wonder why we live such a life of deprivation. We should always be questioning whether a product or service is truly something you value rather than accepting that that’s what everybody does or that you’ve always done it.

What things could you never give up?

My Christmas Present

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Christmas day is always pretty special. Other than the religious reasons, it’s special because you get to see what gifts you received. It’s extra special when you have kids and see the excitement in their faces when they unwrap their gifts. I think this year was the first year that my four year old truly understood and was excited about the holiday season. He would countdown every time we turned on the Christmas tree lights. He was excited to see the lights and decorations as we drove or walked past other houses. He was waiting in anticipation for Santa to arrive and asked that we give him a key to our apartment as we didn’t have a chimney. However, he had second thoughts about having a stranger in the house and asked if I could leave a note for Santa to leave the presents outside the door instead!

Christmas morning started off wonderfully. My four year old was ecstatic with his gifts. My 17 month old was actually able to tear into the wrapping paper this year. We were having family over for dinner and I had some last minute errands to run. When I went out to my car, which was parked on the street, I see that somebody had slammed into the bumper. I’m assuming they were parking their car when they slammed into it, but I’m still perplexed as to how you back in at that angle and at that speed to cause that damage. Probably someone who was drunk after partying on Christmas Eve since the car was fine when I left it there around midnight.

I was very upset and annoyed that I had to deal with this on Christmas day. Fortunately, the claims process with Geico was pretty quick and painless. The police also came pretty quickly for a non-emergency to complete a police report. Although, I think the police officer probably looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if there were cameras around which might have caught the culprit (the car was parked on a big thoroughfare in a street filled with commercial stores). Obviously I’ve watched too many episodes of CSI. I’m sure no one is reviewing cameras for a hit-and-run of a parked vehicle.

When I returned home, I was telling my wife about the damage and the $500 deductible that we’d have to pay. My four year old overhead and must have been able to tell that I was upset. He said, “don’t worry papa, they can fix it.” Sometimes my four year old is smarter than me. Yea, I’d have to pay the $500 deductible and it is large sum of money, but something that we can afford. It would be much tougher if we were part of the “shocking number” of Americans who couldn’t afford a $400 expense. We were also fortunate that the accident occurred to our parked vehicle and no one was in it and injured. I did also take two days off from work while the car was being repaired since I didn’t want to deal with the hassle and expense of getting a rental car and installing car seats. I’m also lucky that my employer allowed me to take time off and I have paid annual leave to do so. Luckily, it was a quiet week at work, with most people taking time off anyway. Ultimately, taking two days off was a blessing in disguise as it was frigid those two days and I was able to stay home with the little ones, not having to schlep them off to and from grandma’s while I go to work.

So all in all, it was a mere inconvenience. I should be grateful for the financial position I’m in, the job that I have, and that it wasn’t all that bad. Nothing to get all bent out of shape about. It’s often much better to look at the cup as half full rather than half empty.

What Would Your Younger Self Say to Your Present Self?

credit: Unsplash

credit: Unsplash

“Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts

I’ve read many posts asking what advice you would give your younger self if you could go back in time. When it comes to personal finance, many people might tell their younger self to not live above their means, to not try and keep up with the Joneses, or to start investing earlier. And of course, there will be people who say they would tell their younger self to invest in Google! Your present self is older and wiser, learning much from experiences that your younger self has yet to go through. It makes sense that we would love to go back in time to impart advice to our younger selves to save him or her from making the same mistakes that we did.

In one of the comments from an article asking what you advice you would give your younger self, one person said that it wouldn’t matter what advice he would have given because his younger self wouldn’t have followed it anyway. He said that sometimes you have to experience those failures or mistakes to truly learn from them. In an interview, Tony Robbins said that he would not change anything about his past, even after sharing his experiences growing up where his mother physically abused him. He said those experiences shaped how he is today and he wouldn’t be where he is if he changed the past.

I think those, “What advice would you give your younger self” articles are fun to read. While there is obviously no time machine so you can’t go back and give advice to your younger self, a younger person reading your experience would hopefully learn from your own mistakes and hopefully avoid making them. Thinking about this question, I started to ponder the reverse of this question. What would your younger self say to your present self? I thought it would be an interesting question to ask. And a question that only you could really answer as only you truly know your past self and your present self.

Your younger self was probably not as wise and experienced so it would be tough to ask him or her for advice. But your younger self was probably more ambitious, naïve, more of a dreamer, idealistic and less cynical than your present self. Would your younger self be excited about what you’ve done with your life or would your younger self be disappointed that you didn’t fulfill the dreams you had when you were younger?

Thinking back to when I was in high school and college and trying to put myself into the shoes of the younger Mr. Living Rich Cheaply, I think overall my younger self would be proud of where I am now. My younger self always thought that at this age I’d be married with two kids and working as an attorney. So I have crossed those expectations off the checklist. I was a frugal person even when I was younger so I wouldn’t have been too surprised that I am still living below my means.

However, I’d be lying if I said that my younger self wouldn’t also be a little disappointed as well. My younger self may have been the type to live below his means, but he always thought my older self would have BIGGER means to live within! I’m pretty sure my younger self would have expected that my older self would own a house, especially with a family of 4, rather than in an apartment that is about 800 square feet. Sorry, younger self…housing is expensive in NYC! Also, while my younger self thought that I would become an attorney in the future, I probably pictured one in a prestigious position or one who was helping to change the world. Hey, I was young and idealistic, okay! I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine that I’d be working in a back office, mostly writing and doing research. Not to say I dislike my job. It’s okay and I enjoy parts of it, but I’m sure my younger self wouldn’t be daydreaming about it.

What would your younger self think about how your present self is doing in life?

Overcome Your Fears

Credit: Daniel Delle Donne (Unsplash)

Credit: Daniel Delle Donne (Unsplash)

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived” – Baz Luhrmann

As a pimply and shy high school kid, I was a part of the “nerd” crowd and not the cool kids crowd. I remember the biggest fear I faced back then was asking out a girl, who I developed a crush on while participating in a school project. She would always greet me with a big smile and was friendly towards me. We would joke around and chat whenever we would see each other. The school year was ending and I knew I wouldn’t see her for a while. This was before Facebook and cellphones, so communication wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays. The night before the last day of classes, I decided I had to ask her out. That night, I remember tossing and turning in bed. I couldn’t fall asleep. I was consumed with fear.

How do you get over your fear?

Identify the Worst case scenario

In my teenaged mind, I could picture the worst case scenario. I would go up to her and ask her out. She would laugh in my face and say “No!” Then she would proceed to tell all her friends and they would all start pointing at me while laughing.

Be Rational

Fear is often irrational. The worst possible scenario that you play out in your head is generally unlikely to happen. Fear is often worse than reality. Take a step back and think rationally. Sure, the worst case scenario I imagined was possible, but was it likely? If it was a random person I didn’t know, then the chances of it happening might increase. However, I was friendly with this person and knew her personality so the likelihood of the worst case scenario playing out was slim. The most likely bad outcome would be her telling me that she was only interested in being friends. That didn’t seem like all that great of an outcome either. Wouldn’t it be awkward if I see her in the future, I thought.

“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” – Louise E. Boone

The Fear of Regret

Okay, the rational portion of my brain gave me the green light, but there was still something holding me back. There was still a huge fear of failure and rejection. The fear of failure is strong and keeps many people from doing what they set out to do. But there is one thing worse than the fear of failure. The fear of regret. Regret is one of the worst emotions we face. Failures are tough but at least they can be looked at as learning experiences. The feeling of regret, the feeling of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” done whatever it is that you wanted to do can be a powerful motivator. “Failure is an option in life, but not pursuing a dream and then regretting it a few years later can be a continual source of self torment,” said Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. I knew that if I didn’t ask this girl out, I would spend the rest of the summer regretting it. I would beat myself up for being such a coward. I would wonder what if the feelings were mutual and I would have missed a wonderful opportunity.

What does this have to do with money?

This is a personal finance blog. Well I’d like to think it is. So how does this relate to money? I’ve seen a lot of people fear investing in the stock market because they equate it to gambling. You can lose your shirt, they argue! The worst case scenario they paint is losing all their money in the stock market and being homeless. Okay, maybe if you put your life-savings in a hot stock, this is a possible scenario. However, if you think rationally and learn more about investing, based on the entire history of the stock market, it has always gone up. No, that doesn’t mean there won’t be ups and downs. There will be. The stock market can have wild fluctuations and it can be a little volatile but if you invest in diversified index funds for the long term, you will reap the rewards. If you put your money in a savings account in the bank, the value of that money will be eaten up by inflation.

I feel similarly about investing in real estate. At first, I had a big fear of buying a rental property, especially one that was out-of-state and one that I had not physically seen. People sometimes ask me what if that house was some run-down place in a horrible place where no one would ever want to rent. But while there are always risks in investing in real estate such as having bad tenants, vacancies, and repairs, this specific fear is irrational. I had an inspection and there was a home appraisal. I used a plethora of online resources as well as service where you can pay independent third-parties to check it out.

Not investing your money and having it work for you because you’re fearful is a mistake. You will not build any sort of wealth if you merely put money in a bank account or other similarly low yielding investing. However, the worst thing about giving into fear is not losing money to inflation…it is that you won’t live the life that you were meant to live. Are you afraid to take the leap and make a career change, to start a business, to retire early, to travel the world? “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

Just in case, you’re curious as to what happened with the girl I wanted to ask out. Towards the end of that school day, I bumped into her in the hallway. Here was my chance. We chatted briefly and with my heart pounding and my hands sweaty, I asked her what she was doing that weekend. She told me that she had plans with her boyfriend! I told her to have fun and to keep in touch. I guess I’ll never know if she really had a boyfriend or if she was just letting me down easy. It doesn’t matter though. I was proud of myself for facing my fear and I was relieved that I wouldn’t feel the torment of regret.

How do you overcome fear?

Strive for FI or Take it Easy?

credit: Link Hoang

credit: Link Hoang

One topic that I’ve been obsessed about is the concept of reaching financial independence (FI) at an early age. It’s not about not working. It’s about spending time doing things that you want to do with your time. One obstacle that I face is that I live in a high cost of living city in NYC. Yes, I realize this is a decision that my family has made as moving to a lower cost area would definitely speed up our journey to early FI. However, we have no plans to leave the area because our family and friends are here.

I’ve always been a frugal person and a good saver. When I got my first job, I immediately signed up for my employer sponsored retirement plan. I also opened an IRA account thanks to the encouragement of my father. However, after reading stories of regular people reaching FI in their 30s and 40s, I started wondering if I could do it as well. While I had saved a good amount in retirement accounts, especially when compared to my peers, I was no where close to FI. I had to turbo-charge my savings and investing rate if I wanted to get there. I started to max out my 457 contributions and I increased my wife’s contributions. I also increased our contributions to each of our Roth IRA accounts as well. My wife and I are naturally frugal. Always have been. We had no consumer debt and never did. We were living well within our means, but having an audacious goal like early retirement/financial independence really motivated us to go from ordinary savers to extraordinary savers.

Saving Fatigue

Brandon from the Mad Fientist talked about how there were some dark times in his road to FIRE. He wrote that he went from being frugal to depriving himself and isolating him and his wife during his pursuit of FIRE. I am not facing that dark time. I am just uncertain whether early FIRE is attainable. And if it is not, would I be better off loosening the purse strings and coast to semi-early FIRE at age 55. If I was certain that I could hit FIRE, then by all means I’d push to get there. It’s hard to keep motivated when a goal is almost 10 years away. It’s even harder if you don’t know for sure if you’re reach it.

I’m already on track for semi-early retirement!

In my previous post, I wrote that I will have a pension at around age 55. I have no doubt that I would retire at that point. Actually, as a frugal family, I think we would be able to retire on the pension alone. But I wouldn’t want to do that. We save a good amount in our 457 plans as well as in our Roth IRA plans. Even if we loosen the purse strings, we would still save for retirement in these accounts. There is a calculator on my 457 provider’s website which tells you whether you are on track for retirement based on how much you think you’ll need, how much you’ve saved, and what you’re contributing to your retirement accounts. It tells me that not only am I on track for retirement at age 55, our savings rate exceeds what we’ll likely need in retirement. Of course, these are only estimates and being a bit risk averse, I’d prefer to overfund. Chances are if I don’t hit FI in my mid 40s, I’ll likely stick it out until age 55. Those golden handcuffs get stronger as the lure of a fully funded pension and subsidized health benefits might be too hard to pass up.

What would change if we ditched the early FI goal?

Many in the frugal and FIRE blog space write about value-based spending and intentional living. They write that if they came upon some extra money, they wouldn’t change anything with their spending. I have written that living a rich life doesn’t have to be an expensive life. That still remains true. But I would be lying if I said, my financial choices wouldn’t change one bit if I had an extra thousand dollars coming in each month.

No, I wouldn’t suddenly buy a fancy car or go out to expensive 5-star Michelin rated restaurants. That’s just not me. I’m never going to be a spendthrift wasting money on frivolous things. I do think that I would like to move to a bigger place at some point as we will likely outgrow our 850 square foot apartment. Housing is expensive here in this high cost of living area. This is the main area in our budget which would expand if we decided to loosen the purse strings. I’d be more likely to take on a higher mortgage or rent payment if early FI wasn’t the goal. I’d also be more likely to splurge on travel and entertainment activities too. And we’d be okay financially. We just wouldn’t be able to reach financial independence in our 40s.

Will I still want to retire early in 10 years?

Of, course I would, right? At first, it sounds like a silly question, but something that still needs answering. The main reason I’m obsessed with FIRE is because I feel like I have no time. My work days consists of a long commute as well as driving the baby to and from grandma’s for childcare purposes. By the time, I get back, it’s dinner time, bath time for the kids, and some household chores. When we wake up the next day, it’s the same routine. On the weekends, we try to run some errands while also making sure we do something fun with the kids. We also try to visit our parents. Many parents with grown children tell me not to miss these precious moments. Mr. Money Mustache and his wife retired early to rise their son together without the shackles of the 9 to 5 job. I’d love to have that freedom as well.

A lot can change in 10 years. By that time, my kids will be in the pre-teen to teenage years. Will they even want to spend that much time with good old dad? I haven’t really fleshed out what I would be doing in early retirement as it seems still far away. Sure, I’d love to spend more time on this blog, but would this blog still even exist? I would like to volunteer, spend more time with my wife, and travel. But, I have a decent amount of vacation days from my employer and my job isn’t too stressful. Is the extra freedom worth taking off my golden handcuffs? Would I enjoy spending a little more in the present rather than saving a whole lot for early FI?

So should I put the pedal to the metal and strive for FI or just take it easy?

Related posts: Just as I was facing this dilemma, I read some blog posts related to this issue. The blogger at Bayalis is the Answer said that you can’t fail at fire, because no matter what, you’ll get somewhere that is worth going. Likewise, Matt from Optimize Your Life, wrote that he is saving for FI because it gives you options even if you haven’t fully reached financial independence.