Month: April 2019

Good Things, Ruts, and Transitions

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I recently came across a wonderful essay by Michael Barrish entitled System. In it, he describes a model for life made up of three stages:

In 1988 Laura and I created a three-stage model of what we called “living process.” We called the three stages Good Thing, Rut, and Transition. As we saw it, Good Thing becomes Rut, Rut becomes Transition, and Transition becomes Good Thing. It’s a continuous circuit.

A Good Thing never leads directly to a Transition, in large part because it has no reason to. A Good Thing wants to remain a Good Thing, and this is precisely why it becomes a Rut. Ruts, on the other hand, want desperately to change into something else.

This pattern immediately made sense to me. In most aspects of my life, I follow this cycle, except that the three stages are never anywhere near equal in length.

If you were to look at the long scale of one of these cycles in my life, it would go something like Good Thing, Rut, Rut, Rut, Rut, Rut, Rut, Transition, Transition, Good Thing, and so on, in an endless cycle.

The “Good Thing” is what I’m always striving for. It’s as close as I can get to something like an ideal life in that aspect of my life.

However, over time, things change. I hold onto some aspects of the “Good Thing” in the habits I’ve created or the automatic things I’ve put into my life or the permanent alterations done during the earlier Transition. Some aspects fall away, though – the more difficult habits in terms of time and effort often fall away, as do things that fall away due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I don’t think this is quite a Rut, but a maturing of a Good Thing.

Sometimes, however, I fall into a Rut. This Rut is usually better in some ways than earlier Ruts, as it encompasses more of what I value right now and more knowledge and understanding of the world, but it’s still a Rut. It’s an area of my life where I’m not actively thinking about changing anything and just going through the motions.

What ends a Rut? There are usually two agents of change. One, I notice something in my life that I’m unhappy with. It’s usually a tiny pebble, but if I don’t do anything about it, it ends up being like a pebble in my shoe, a constant irritant. It eventually nudges me to make some changes due to constant irritation with that aspect of my life. I usually pick up on this when I’m thinking about my life, which is something I do regularly and will discuss below.

The other agent of change is an unexpected event in my life. Perhaps it’s a medical crisis, or maybe it’s an addition to my family. In either case, that unexpected event either causes major disruption to my routines or forces me to really consider aspects of my life that hadn’t been on my mind prior to that.

During a Transition, I’m usually deeply focused on making changes to my life. Sometimes this is fun, like when I notice something I want to change in my life and I choose to make those changes. Sometimes this isn’t fun, like when an unexpected event drops on my lap.

Good Things, Ruts, and Transitions in My Own Financial Life

My own personal finance history is a good example of this pattern.

When I first graduated from college and moved into a full time career, the huge increase in salary was a Good Thing. It enabled me to do a lot of things that I just couldn’t do during college and I dabbled in a lot of consumer behavior. I bought a new vehicle. I started hanging out with a heavy spending group of young professionals. I bought lots of expensive meals and rounds during happy hour. Sarah and I adjusted our standard of living upwards.

After a while, this turned into a Rut. We kept up a lot of expensive routines, but they gradually became just that – routine. After a while, I even recognized that I was in a Rut.

So, what moved me out of a Rut and into a Transition? There were two things, really, that happened pretty close to each other on the calendar. The first was the birth of my oldest child, which brought about a lot of changes in many areas of our life. The second, and perhaps even more influential, was a day when I realized that our credit cards were maxed out and we didn’t have enough money to pay the bills.

Those two events brought Sarah and I into a Transition period, where we rebooted our entire financial picture. We radically altered our spending habits, chopped off a lot of debt very quickly, and put ourselves on a much healthier financial path. That was clearly a Good Thing.

Since then, I think we’ve largely stuck with the Good Thing. We have a lot of good spending habits that we stick with – we’re not perfect, but pretty good. We’re making great financial progress toward our goals year in and year out. Most of that is due to two things: we’ve automated savings for most of our big goals and we hammered some good sensible spending habits into our heads. Our life doesn’t feel like a repetitive and endless cycle that we’re unhappy with, which is what a Rut can feel like.

We’ve certainly broken out of Ruts in more narrow aspects of personal finance over the last several years. For example, we decided to cut the cord and get rid of our cable package, completely changing our family’s entertainment routines. That was a Rut jolted into a Transition. In terms of our overall financial picture, though, we’ve mostly been in a positive Rut, one that we’re happy with not changing in any radical way.

Looking at my life through these principles reveals some valuable truths that apply well to personal finance and to life.

Good Things Turn Into Ruts When You Don’t Think About Them

The aspects of my life that go from being a Good Thing into being a Rut are aspects where I’m not giving them the time and attention that they deserve. I start taking them for granted. I stop asking myself what I need to do to keep this Good Thing going.

Personal finance has stayed in the Good Thing category for so long because I give it a lot of attention as part of the process of writing articles for this site. I’m forced to think about my finances in great detail.

What about the other areas, though?

For me, the best way to keep Good Things going in my life is through regular time spent reflecting on my life. I consciously put aside time in my life to think about the major areas of my life and whether I’m happy with their direction in general or with specific aspects. This takes place in four distinct ways.

One, I spend a bit of time each morning reviewing the day ahead of me. How am I going to spend my time today? How can I spend it in ways that are most valuable to me? What do I most need to get done?

Two, I spend about 45 minutes journaling each day. I use a technique called “morning pages,” which basically means you open up a notebook and just start writing whatever comes to mind for the next 45 minutes. I find that my mind often goes down a rabbit hole of some aspect of my life and I end up working out what makes me happy or unhappy about that aspect and what I should change.

Three, I review the things I want to change about my life once a day in the evening. I have a list of things I’m working on that I want to improve about myself and I ask myself if I did my best today to improve in those areas. I actually give myself a 1-10 score on each of those things. I wrote about this in detail in the article Did I Do My Best Today? and in my review of the book Triggers.

Four, I do a weekly review where I consciously walk through each of the nine major areas of my life and make sure I’m doing something positive in each of those areas. The nine major areas are physical, mental, spiritual, social, parental, marital, vocational, avocational, and financial. For each of those, I just ask myself what I did in that area that was positive and meaningful, whether I’m happy with my life in that area, and what I might want to do in the coming week in that area.

Finally, I do a big review every three months. I usually block off a work day to sit down and give each of those nine areas a really in depth review. Are there any “unclosed loops” in those areas? What would I like to do in those areas for the next 90 days? Am I happy with this particular aspect of my life? If not, what can I change about it to bring me closer to happiness?

I’ve found out that these processes do a really good job of figuring out which parts of my life are Good Things and which ones are falling into Ruts, at which point I try to inject some kind of Transition into it. What’s a better way to do this? How can I get there?

The Difference Between a Good Thing and a Rut

The difference between a Good Thing and a Rut is whether or not you actually feel positive about the results of your efforts. If you have a Good Thing going, then you feel good about the effort you’re putting in and the results you’re getting in that area of your life.

On the other hand, when you start to feel like your effort is falling behind or you’re no longer happy with the results you’re getting or you’re finding that this particular area of your life isn’t bringing you real joy any more, then you’ve fallen into a Rut.

The trick is that this shift often happens subtly and quietly. You often don’t even notice it. It just happens. Because of that, you can be in a Rut for a very long time because you’re still thinking of it as a Good Thing because you’re not really looking very close at it. You’re just going through the motions.

A Rut Isn’t Always Bad, Particularly When It’s Not Your Focus Right Now

One might think that I’m saying that having an aspect of your life in a Rut is always a bad thing. It isn’t. Being in a Rut has an advantage – it frees up your attention and focus to be spent on other areas of your life.

It’s really okay to let some aspects of your life fall into a Rut sometimes. In fact, that’s probably normal and healthy.

However, it means that you should approach Transitions knowing that you have a good chance of eventually falling into a Rut. You want to set things up so that even if you realize you’re in a Rut eventually, it’s not that bad. You’re not digging yourself out of a disaster.

For me, the best way to do this is through automation and routine. I try to make as many things as I can happen automatically in my life, like paying bills and contributing to savings goals and adding to retirement accounts. I try to come up with really good routines that I know work well and have good outcomes and just stick to those routines, often using an actual checklist for them (like my morning routines and my evening routines and my exercise).

Obviously, a big motivation of these kinds of moves during a Transition is to set up a Good Thing in life, but it also ensures that when a Good Thing becomes a Rut, it keeps chugging along in at least a somewhat positive direction.

Transitions Are About Thinking, Good Things Are About Refining and Doing, Ruts Are About Continuing

A big part of the value that this model can add to your life is that it can make your Ruts a whole lot better. Obviously, Transitions and Good Things are wonderful parts of life, but the reality is that parts of our life will be in a Rut sometimes. The question is what you can do to make that Rut as good as you can.

For me, I think the best approach is to look at a Transition as being mostly about thinking and a bit of experimentation. You see a problem and you’re trying to learn how to solve it. Ideally, you’re trying to solve it in a way that really fits in your life and makes sticking with these changes as easy as possible while still achieving the goals. That takes thought.

The Good Thing happens when you have a good plan in place and you’re executing it and you feel that forward momentum and it’s good. You might refine your plan a little, but the forward momentum is there. What you’re really trying to do is to make sure everything you’re doing is part of an automatic or nearly automatic routine in your life.

The Rut happens when you’re less focused on that area of your life and you need to rely on automation and routine to make sure that area doesn’t just fall apart when you’re not focused on it. This is where things like automatic contributions to a Roth IRA or automatic weekly transfers to a savings account can make a real difference. You’re in a Rut, but the wheels aren’t falling off the bus.

That way, the only reason to come out of a Rut is when your personal goals change or an unexpected event happens. Ideally, you should never exit a Rut due to a hole dug by your bad behaviors.

Final Thoughts

So, how does this apply to money?

Automate your savings. Start an aggressive automatic contribution to your retirement savings. Set up a weekly automatic transfer to your savings account for an emergency fund. Turn on automatic contributions to your child’s 529 college savings plan. Those should be Transition moves.

Make a lot of big moves when your focus is on that area of your life. If you’re thinking about your finances, now’s the time to do things like change your auto insurance package or homeowners insurance package. Now’s the time to think about moving to a different area with a lower total cost of living. Those big moves that aren’t easy to undo are powerful ones to do when you’re in Transition.

Build better spending habits. “Better spending habits” doesn’t mean “cutting all spending on everything fun.” Rather, it should mean “cutting spending on things you don’t care about that much so you can afford the things that really matter to you.” Figure that out and refine it over time so that you’re comfortable with some new spending rules for yourself. For example, try buying store brand household products and food staples instead of name brand items. Try establishing a routine at home where you make coffee before you leave rather than buying it on the way to work. Push yourself toward these kinds of behavioral changes with 30 day and 90 day challenges.

Adopt some sort of daily reflection habit. This is the best thing you can do to ensure that each aspect of your life is either a Good Thing or in a Rut that isn’t going in a bad direction. Some time spent just thinking meaningfully about each area of your life each day, even if it’s just a few minutes, can help you see what’s coming and help you avoid disasters from bad Ruts.

Good luck!

The post Good Things, Ruts, and Transitions appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

Questions About Remote Employment, Shampoo, 30 Day Challenges, and More!

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What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Advice on working remotely
2. Finding a frugal shampoo
3. 529 funds and uncommitted student
4. 30 day challenge difficulties
5. Making the right decision
6. Deciding on a bank
7. Deciding on fresh produce
8. Deciding on fair trade
9. “Gap year” thoughts?
10. Credit card declined
11. Relationship with big spender
12. Unclear on Due app use

This past weekend, I had hoped to go on my first decent hike of the spring. I found a couple of trails I wanted to hit, figured out a nice window of time in which to get in a hiking adventure, and really enjoyed all of the warm weather of the week before.

I wake up on Saturday to find that it’s 38 and rainy.

Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry.

On with the questions.

Q1: Advice on working remotely

It seems with the advancements in technology, I run into more and more people that have jobs working remotely. I’m considering something in the accounting/finance/consulting field. Do you have any advice? Or suggestions of sound places to look for such job opportunities? Many thanks in advance!
– Mary

The truth is that some employers are very friendly when it comes to remote employees, while others insist on having people in the office most of the time. It really comes down to culture.

My first suggestion would be to talk to your current employer(s) about remote options. Do they allow people to work remotely? If they do, see if that’s something you can do.

If your current job doesn’t allow for any sort of remote working, you need to figure out what your next step is. Are you looking to quit this job and start anew with remote work? Are you looking for remote side gigs?

If you’re looking for full time remote work, treat it as a job search except that you’re filtering the opportunities by whether or not they allow remote work. One good place to start is FlexJobs – it’s a paid service, but it will help you find good remote work opportunities. You might also want to check out the accounting opportunities at Upwork, though many of them are more in the part-time range.

If you’re just looking for side gigs or quick jobs to earn a few extra dollars, look at sites like Fiverr, where you can churn out things quickly that match up well with your skills. Upwork might fill in this gap, too.

It really comes down to what you want to do, and you have to define that for yourself first.

Q2: Finding a frugal shampoo

Do you have any suggestions for finding an inexpensive shampoo and conditioner that works well for my hair? Some of the cheap stuff turns my head into dandruff city so I use some pricy stuff from the hair cut place that doesn’t make dandruff but costs a mint. I don’t want to buy five bottles of shampoo and have them all go to waste.
– Gary

In your situation, I would visit a big box retailer like Target and/or Wal-Mart and check out their travel-sized toiletries. Snag one of the travel sized bottles for $0.50 or $1 and try it out. If you notice dandruff, go back to what works for a while. If you get through a travel bottle without dandruff, then buy a full sized bottle and go with it.

I use Suave or Pert Plus based on whatever’s on sale and they both work fine for me, but my hair is quite short and thus I only use a couple of drops to wash my hair. I used to get dandruff when I kept my hair longer and used more shampoo, but cutting it short made a huge difference for me.

The key is to find the kinds of shampoo that work with your scalp, and starting with tiny travel bottles keeps that as cheap as possible so you don’t wind up with a big bottle of unusable stuff.

Q3: 529 funds and uncommitted student

[Last week], a parent wrote in about concerns with their college student not being committed to getting good grades and how to handle their 529. We also have an uncommitted college student. We told him that we would reimburse him 100% for all A’s and B’s. The 529 could be used similarly, with the second semester paid with the first semesters good grades.
– Stacy

This is an interesting system that left me thinking about how to put it into practice, because different universities have different grading systems and payment systems.

For example, when I was in college, if you took 12 credit hours, you were considered a “full time student” and thus could take up to 18 credit hours per semester for no additional cost beyond 12. Below 12, the cost was prorated per credit. So, for example, each credit might cost $500 and thus $6,000 would make you a “full time student” and you could take up to 18 credit hours worth of classes.

In that system, if the child managed to get 12 credits worth of As and Bs, I would assume then that you would cover the “full time student” level of tuition, even if they got a C (or lower) in an additional class or two.

I like that system! That’s a good idea! It doesn’t completely punish a kid for having a hard class or two, but it incentivizes hard work and not goofing off on the easier classes.

Q4: 30 day challenge difficulties

This year, I decided to do a different 30 day challenge each month. I wanted to try to build toward some real life changes. I haven’t had a problem doing them each month, but I found that within a few days at the end of the month I reverted right back to the “old way” of doing things. I’m not sure what’s going wrong and I wanted some suggestions.
– Kerry

First of all, it usually takes more than 30 days to build a new lasting habit in your life. It can take 90 days or 180 days of consciously following a new habit until it becomes an unconscious and natural habit.

The reason I find a 30 day challenge useful isn’t that it sets a new habit in my life, but it lets me figure out if that new habit really fits in my life and whether or not it’s producing the kind of results I want and expect from it.

For me, if a 30 day challenge isn’t producing results after 30 days or I find it prohibitively difficult, I dump it (at least in its current form). On the other hand, if it is successful, I keep it around as a habit I’m constantly reminding myself of or doing as part of a checklist for at least a few more months, in order to set it as a natural thing.

A 30 day challenge is just a trial run, not a recipe for building a new permanent life change.

Q5: Making the right decision

My biggest goal for now is my journey toward (financial) independence. There are some things I readily do right; buying quality over quantity, living habits inspired by minimalism (I follow Joshua Becker and the life on purpose movement), … Other than financial independence, I also strive to reduce my negative footprint on the planet and living beings. I don’t like the idea of living like a queen over the backs of others. Certain decisions have definitely helped me for the better. For example, on the first of January I started following a strict plants-based diet with whole foods being the core of it. It’s easier now for me to make healthier choices, simply because there is less junkfood available and because I am often too lazy to figure out whether something is vegan or not. However, there are times that I feel challenged to live up to my goals and what I value. Or to be more specific, to know what the right decisions are.

For example, I was in the store because I ran out of sun screen. I had learned from a ted-ed video that mineral based sun-screens do not damage coral-reefs as much when swimming in the sea, about micro-beads and plastics and the damage they cause. Hence I bought the mineral-based one that was just way more expensive. I come across the issue of wanting to save money vs. making better choices for the planet and the living beings inhabiting it all the time. It’s frustrating.
– Megan

Here’s the thing: virtually everything we do as people has some sort of consequence on the earth, on wildlife, and on the people around us. It is impossible to always make the perfect ethical choice, because there is no perfect ethical choice.

Take your sunscreen example. You mention that mineral based sunscreens do not damage coral reefs, but on the other hand, the processes used to produce the minerals used in sufficient quantities have real environmental impact. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can be mined, but it can also be manufactured via metal smelting. If you step back and examine which bottle of sunscreen has the most environment impact during production, the most effects on your health, and the most effects after use, it’s really hard to tell which one is strictly better. I spent a lot of time looking into this and I honestly couldn’t come up with a clear conclusion, other than to say that mineral-based sunscreens are better for people and are likely better for the environment after you’ve used them, but they certainly do have an environmental impact in being manufactured.

The best skin protection solution is to wear clothes and a hat when you’re outdoors in direct sunlight. Regardless of what you choose, if you choose something to rub on your skin to protect it in sunlight, it’s made up of ingredients that were mined and/or smelted and/or chemically produced and then manufactured and transported to you via a long supply chain.

The choice you really have as a consumer is either to go without a lot of the advantages of the most effective products or choose from a spectrum of environmental impacts. There are almost no purchasing decisions we can make in the modern world of supply chain manufacturing that doesn’t have real environmental impact.

In my opinion, the best way to be an ethical consumer is to buy from local sources as often as you can, support co-ops where people who are interested in being an ethical consumer can filter your purchasing decisions for you, buy less stuff overall and use what you do buy until it’s worn out and used up, and make and grow things for yourself as much as you can.

Megan followed up her email with a few specific examples, which I’ll address one at a time.

Q6: Deciding on a bank

For example:
Which bank to use:
Sticking to ING-bank is cheaper and comes with a credit-card (my whole family uses mine responsibly for online orders, tickets to the theatre… ). However, ING invests in nuclear weapons, oil and other highly controversial things. ASN bank invests more in things that have less of an environmental footprint, such as organic farming. However, is slightly more expensive and does not come with a credit card.

– Megan

This moves in a bit of a different direction. What you’re asking here is whether or not your individual choice actually matters. If you choose to boycott ING, does it make a difference?

You alone, as an individual consumer with a pretty small amount of net worth, won’t make an impact with your decision. However, if you can stir up lots of people to make an ethical choice in their banking, then a difference starts to happen. The issue, of course, is that it requires people to get more politically and socially active than they’re often comfortable being.

There’s also a third option here that you’re not exploring: why not just use a local bank or credit union, or the most local banking option available to you? That keeps the money as local as possible. I generally feel like a local credit union is usually the most ethical banking option for most people.

Q7: Deciding on fresh produce

Which produce to buy: The fruits and veggies marketed as being grown without nasty pesticides being more expensive than the ones that are grown with?
– Megan

This question actually comes close to the research areas where I used to work. The truth is that different plants absorb pesticides at different levels. For example, strawberries absorb tons of pesticides and they’re probably best to buy pesticide-free. On the other hand, avocados absorb almost no pesticides, so pesticide-free avocados are probably not worth the money. Here’s a good summary of this information.

As I’ve been alluding to above, the most environmentally friendly solution when it comes to buying things like this is to get them locally, preferably as locally as possible. The most local solution, obviously, is to have your own garden; that way there’s no transportation cost and you can use no unnatural pesticides if you so choose. However, a lot of people won’t choose to do this.

The best balance is probably to check out produce at your local farmers market. Find what’s actually grown locally with minimal pesticide use, buy plenty of it, and put some of it up for the winter months.

Q8: Deciding on fair trade

Coffee, tea, clothing and other products that come from far away lands… do I buy the fair-trade option or not?
– Megan

The idea of “fair trade” products is a lot more complicated than just buying something with a fair trade sticker on it. You’re putting a lot of faith in what that sticker means, and it might not mean what you think it means.

I think the general consensus is that a fair trade label is worth something, but often not as much as the price increase. This paper seems to indicate that limited benefit actually makes its way back to the originating farmer.

What’s the point, then? The point is that the idea of being an ethical consumer is extremely difficult. Products are often marketed to appear more ethical than they are, and even things that genuinely seem to be healthier and more ethical may have different side effects.

As I said earlier, in my opinion, the best way to be an ethical consumer is to buy from local sources as often as you can, support co-ops where people who are interested in being an ethical consumer can filter your purchasing decisions for you, buy less stuff overall and use what you do buy until it’s worn out and used up, and make and grow things for yourself as much as you can.

And now we’ll move on to some other topics.

Q9: “Gap year” thoughts?

My oldest son is a sophomore in high school. He wants to take a “gap year” between high school and college to do volunteer work. His reasoning is that it will actually make him more appealing to colleges but it will also better prepare him for college and be a major life experience. To me it just seems like a year of goofing off without responsibility. Thoughts?
– Aaron

I have a hard time, from your email, assessing how exactly your son intends to spend his gap year. A pledge to do “volunteer work” might mean he’s planning on spending a year doing something that’s really in line with the other things he’s been building toward, or it might be a year goofing off.

Your son is largely correct as to the benefits of a gap year. Many higher-end colleges see a gap year as a benefit, especially when the activities of that gap year tie into things that the child has been doing during their high school years. Is the activity of that “gap year” a good capstone on the things he’s doing or plans to do during his junior and senior years? Is the “gap year” activity something that would be impressive on a resume?

If your son has a clear plan that’s connected to things he’s doing now and can articulate exactly what he’s hoping to do, then the gap year is good. If your son just wants a year off to “volunteer” without any real plan, then it’s probably not worthwhile.

Q10: Credit card declined

What exactly should you do if you go to a store and your credit card is declined?
– Andrew

Well, it probably means you’re not buying what you intend to buy unless you have another method of payment. So, you either produce another method of payment or apologize and leave the store.

In terms of the bigger picture, having a credit card declined likely means that you’re either a victim of identity theft or your finances are out of control. You should immediately look into this and see if this is caused by your own poor spending behavior or whether someone is charging stuff to your card without your permission.

If it’s caused by unauthorized charges, start working with your credit card company to get that all straightened out.

If it’s due to your own mismanagement, it is time to start taking a hard and serious look at your spending choices. To max out a credit card and be surprised by the decline, you have to be rather out of touch with your own spending habits. My suggestion? Cut up the credit card and learn to live without it. Figure out how to live on the actual cash you’re bringing in, including paying off debts. Start paying off that card without adding more to the balance.

Q11: Relationship with big spender

I’m 26/F and have been dating the same guy for three years. I am very careful with my money. I have paid off 85% of my student loans in four years while contributing approximately 20% of my salary to my 401(k). I live in a shared apartment with two other college friends and we’ve lived here since before graduation, keeping all of our costs low. My boyfriend has a 2BR apartment to himself, barely makes minimum payments on his student loans, and eats out all the time (often paying for my meals, so I know how much he eats out). He’s always buying new electronics and seems to upgrade his phone every six months. He’s a wonderful guy but I find myself really turned off by all of the spending. I am afraid he is thinking of proposing and I will say “no” if he does, but I don’t know for sure what to do. Hoping for advice.
– Kendra

You absolutely have to talk to him about this. This needs to be a serious conversation between the two of you now because if you think he’s considering a proposal, he thinks things are great and views you two as very compatible.

Money issues are difficult in any marriage, and that’s especially true when you’ve got values that are out of alignment. It sounds from this like you guys are way out of alignment when it comes to spending issues. I don’t think you’ve dug deeply into your individual personal finances though. Do you know how much income he’s making? Is he getting financial help from his parents?

Figure those things out before you make a definitive “no” decision on a proposal. He may have a parent giving him cash. He may be making a lot of money and already have his loans paid off. Or, he may just be spending himself into happy oblivion. You can’t always tell what the truth is from these kinds of outward signs.

Q12: Unclear on Due app use

I wasn’t 100% clear on how exactly you use the Due app. You say you use it every day but not for things that are due… so what do you use it for?
– Carmen

I use it for nudges toward better behavior or things I need to be thinking about.

For example, when my kids get home, I have a large block of time that I set aside for family time. I spend it with them, doing things like helping them with their homework or getting them ready for their soccer practices and so on.

I use Due to nudge me toward things I should be thinking about at certain points in that period. For example, let’s say my daughter has soccer practice at 4:30. Due will nudge me at about 4:05, telling me I should nudge my daughter to start getting ready for soccer practice, gathering up her gear and filling her water bottle and so on. At 4:35, it’ll nudge me to say that I should start working on supper prep and that I should get my youngest son to help.

Each day is full of ten or so of those types of nudges. They’re just little reminders of things that I should consider doing in advance of when I should do them so that they’re front and center on my mind.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

The post Questions About Remote Employment, Shampoo, 30 Day Challenges, and More! appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

I’ve updated my best-selling book. Here’s what’s new and what to expect

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Ten years ago, I published my book, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich.”

Do you remember what also happened 10 years ago?

In March 2009, we were in the depths of a once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis and full-blown recession. Chances are, you know someone who was laid off.

In fact, it was so bad that, as The New York Times noted:

On March 9, 2009, the day the bull market was born, the stock market, like the economy, was in deep, seemingly existential distress. The S&P 500 was down 57 percent from its 2007 peak.

Compounding the pain was the nationwide collapse in home prices, which landed a direct hit on most households’ greatest source of wealth.

Yes, my book was published at the bottom of the worst financial crisis of our generation.

The day it launched, it became the #1 book on all of Amazon, then sold out within hours, and became an instant New York Times best-seller.

That was what happened in public, but behind closed doors…

…my publisher was freaking out. Before the book went to print, they frantically asked me if I wanted to change any of my advice because of the recession.

I was like, “Why would I? Long-term investing doesn’t change.” They were concerned.

If you bought the first edition of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” and applied the book’s lessons when it was released, you’re financially set for life.

And now, after receiving the 19,435th email correcting or yelling at me about the interest rates I published in the book, I am thrilled to say that the new, updated version of the IWT book is here!

Second edition of IWTYou can pre-order it on Amazon here.

In the 10 years since the first edition, I’ve added 80 pages with new tools, new insights on money and psychology (including why millennials continue to believe buying a house is always the best investment — untrue), a greater focus on managing money when you have a part-time side gig, and integrating money and relationships.

A majority of the things I said in the book 10 years ago still hold true today.

I’m proud that the advice I gave in the first edition stood the test of time (I’ve included dozens of real reader testimonials in the new book to show it). That’s the kind of advice I like — timeless advice that doesn’t fall apart after a few years. It doesn’t change with the whims of the market.

Below is a Q&A I put together as part of my publisher’s press kit, and I wanted to share my answers on what’s new, what I’ve learned, and what’s changed with you too.

Fortune called you “the new finance guru,” but your background is in technology and psychology — how did you come to occupy this spot within the world of personal finance?

Anyone who chooses to write about personal finance is a little weird. In my case, I don’t really get that excited learning the intricacies of Roth IRAs any more. But ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by human behavior — today more than ever.

Why do we claim we want to do something, then do exactly the opposite? (In the book, I explore the similarities between fitness and finance.)

When does it make sense to let peer pressure affect us — and when should we ignore it? (Should you buy a house? What if you want to spend $1,000/month on clothes, or eating out, or traveling? I show you how to decide.)

Most of all, understanding psychology taught me why most personal finance advice (like “stop spending money on lattes” and “keep a budget”) is forever doomed to failure. There is a better way.

Reaching financial independence seems like it takes a lot of work — what are the first steps you recommend readers take?

The good news is you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be rich — you just have to get started. Follow the automation system in the book, which will automatically move your money to save, invest, and give you guilt-free spending every month.

I show you exactly where to start, including the best accounts to use (and the ones to avoid), where your money should go first, then second, and so on … and finally, how to invest your money for real growth.

Plus, answers to questions like “What’s the best way to get free vacations using points?” and “Am I too late to start investing?”

The real fun comes in deciding what your Rich Life looks like: Do you want to pay off your debt years faster? Or travel for 4 weeks every year? You decide. Then use your money to create your Rich Life.

“I Will Teach You to Be Rich” features real reader results and testimonials throughout the book. What have your readers found to be the most effective during their personal finance journey?

I love this question. We included an incredible number of reader stories in the book, showing how they used this book to create their Rich Lives:


Notice when you look at their photos — they’re men, women, young, old, black, white, and every possible combination. The diversity is breathtaking. And representation is important. I want every reader to know that there is someone out there who looks like you and talks like you … who created their own Rich Life.

How has the insurgence of cryptocurrency, robo-advisors, and more shifted the way money is used and the relationship between money and technology?

What’s funny is if you ask most bitcoin speculators what the rest of their portfolio looks like, they’ll give you a blank stare back. “What? Portfolio? LOL, what a Luddite.”

I have zero tolerance for scams and fads that deprive ordinary people of their money. As an investment, bitcoin is great — only after you’ve already built a diversified portfolio.

In reality, if you want to make high-risk investments, it’s important to have a diversified portfolio first. Then, you can take 5-10% of your investments and go high-risk. I show you how and when it’s appropriate. Sadly, for the vast majority of bitcoin speculators, they fell all in with yet another fad.

Robo-advisors are a real presence, especially for my readers. I cover my thoughts in the book, including when to use a robo-advisor vs. a traditional advisor (and the exact accounts I use).

In the book, you focus on the importance of having the right mindset to attain a Rich Life. Why is that mindset important?

Think about the invisible money messages you grew up with. For example, how many of us had parents who said, “We don’t talk about money in this family.” Or “Easy come, easy go.”

In the book, you’ll be surprised to discover that your own spending behavior might be guided by the phrases you heard decades ago.

And once you understand your own behavior, you can change it. I’ll show you exactly how to rewrite your invisible money scripts and focus on the future.

What have you learned about integrating finances when marrying since your recent nuptials?

I’m still learning!

This was one of the most eye-opening financial journeys I’ve ever been on. I had to learn to compromise and to see money as a team. Along the way, my wife and I had a lot of tough conversations: How do we see money? How do we want to use money? Should we sign a prenup? I cover this in Chapter 9.

What do you hope readers walk away with after reading the second edition of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich”?

I’ve always wanted people to know a few key things about money:

  • You can spend extravagantly on the things you love, as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.
  • Buy as many lattes as you want. Get the 10 Big Wins right, and you’ll never worry about $5 expenses.
  • Don’t listen to everyone. Buying a house isn’t always the best investment.
  • It’s not too late. You can take control of your money this week. Nobody is going to do it for you.
  • Most people say money is about “no”: no lattes, no vacations, no fun. I want to show you how to reframe money to saying “yes”: YES, I can take an extravagant vacation. YES, I can pay off debt years faster. And YES, I can decide on my Rich Life — and use this book to create it.

Mark your calendars: The book officially comes out on May 14, 2019! Preorder the book now on Amazon.

Thank you for reading, and if you’re a long-time reader, for your support all these years.

I’ve updated my best-selling book. Here’s what’s new and what to expect is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Four Fermented Foods I Love to Make at Home

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A few years ago, my wife bought me a copy of The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. She knew that I loved to experiment with foods and unusual recipes and figured I’d enjoy digging into this book, especially since there was a long tradition in my family of making homemade sauerkraut.

She was absolutely right.

Making fermented foods and beverages has developed into a low-cost hobby of mine over the last few years. I’ve tried and failed and succeeded at making all kinds of strange fermented foods: some that were delicious, some that were not so delicious, and some that were decidedly strange.

After many, many experiments over the last several years, I’ve come to realize that there are really four things that come out on top in terms of things I’d recommend to others. These four items are often being made in our home. They perfectly balance flavorful and useful with being relatively easy to make. (I really enjoy a few other things, but they’re a lot of work – keeping a sourdough starter alive comes to mind here.)

Here are the four fermented food items that I think offer the most “bang for the buck” in terms of making them yourself. They’re easy to make, don’t require much equipment, and use pretty inexpensive ingredients. If you make these even twice, you’ve paid for any equipment compared to buying these foods in the store; if you make them several times, you’re saving a ton of money versus buying them in the store.


Sauerkraut is simply finely chopped fermented cabbage. You simply take a head of cabbage, chop it up into small bits, add some salt to it, mash it around until a lot of the liquid comes out of the cabbage, and then store that juicy salty cabbage in a jar for a few weeks. That’s literally all you do. Sauerkraut is something of a family tradition for me, as my father used to make large batches of it every year in a giant crock in the garage when I was growing up.

My preferred easy way of doing this is to use a large wide-mouth quart Mason jar and put a simple air lock fermentation lid on top. Those are the only two things you need that you might not already have in your kitchen (besides the cabbage and salt). You might also want some glass fermentation weights, but they’re not essential, merely very useful.

The process is about as simple as can be. Go to the store and buy a head of cabbage – weigh it while you’re there and note the weight in pounds. When you get home, take the cabbage head and remove a few of the big outer leaves from the head and set them aside for the moment. Take the rest of the cabbage and chop it up into fine pieces – I usually aim for pieces that are roughly the size of a small matchstick and I discard a small portion of the stem.

To that chopped cabbage, add one tablespoon of salt for every two pounds you weighed in the store. Mix the salt in and let it sit for about 15 minutes, then start squeezing it with your hands or with a blunt instrument. Your goal is to try to get as much water out of the cabbage as you can, and the salt will naturally help with this; you don’t want to discard the liquid, but make a salty “soup” out of the cabbage. Do this for about 10 minutes or so. You’ll be left with a lot of salty liquid and a bunch of squeezed cabbage. Fill a jar about 3/4 full with the wet cabbage, then pour on enough of the liquid so that the cabbage is fully submerged. Take one of the leaves, cut a circle out of it that’s a little wider than the size of the jar, then stuff that cabbage circle down on top, pushing it down below the liquid level. If you have a fermentation weight, put that on top of the cabbage leaf to keep it weighted down so that it’s less likely that the sauerkraut will push up above the liquid level.

Then, pop on the fermenting lid and let it sit for three weeks or so. You might see a bit of white mold on the very surface of it if any of the cabbage is exposed, and that’s okay – you can just toss that part – but if you see any other colors, your liquid wasn’t salty enough.

After three weeks, it’s ready to eat! You can serve it as a condiment or as a side dish with many different meals. You can also experiment with future batches by adding other ingredients to the mix, such as shredded radish, caraway seeds, shredded beets, jalapeño peppers, or minced garlic.

Here’s a great recipe for homemade sauerkraut with more details.


Kombucha is fermented sweet tea. The fermentation process gives the tea a bit of a distinct flavor – it’s still sweet, but it has a hint of pleasant sour to it as well. I personally like to mix it with a small bit of fruit juice.

Again, making kombucha is pretty easy. The only permanent equipment you need is a gallon glass jar, a clean cloth to cover the opening, and a rubber band to secure the cloth in place. If you want to individually bottle it and try to make it fizzy, you’ll need a few resealable bottles – I use these for all kinds of homemade beverages, including kombucha.

You’ll need to buy a bottle of kombucha at the store – this is the “starter” you can use to get your own batch going. I highly recommend the popular GT’s Kombucha brand for this because I’ve personally verified that you can get kombucha started from it. Don’t worry about which flavor to buy.

This part is going to sound crazy, but what you’ll want to do is simply open up the bottle of kombucha, cover the opening with the cloth, use a rubber band to secure it, and just leave it out in the open at room temperature. I’m not kidding in the least. You’ll want to leave it for about a week or two.

What will happen is that a small layer will form at the top of the liquid. It might look more like a small ball, or it might be a layer along the top – both are fine, and the one that forms depends entirely on the type of kombucha you have and the ambient air in your home. That layer or ball is called a scoby, and it’s a key ingredient in making kombucha. This can take a couple of weeks, so don’t sweat it if you don’t see any changes after several days.

Note that, as with any fermentation, if you see anything that looks hairy or black, there’s a problem and you should toss the mixture, but this is a rare occurrence and generally only happens when you’ve messed up a step.

Once that little ball or layer has formed, give it another few days, then you’re ready to make your first batch.

You’ll need 14 cups clean water, 6 bags of black tea, 1 cup of sugar, and your bottle of kombucha. First, simply boil the water in a large pot on the stove. When it reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and put the tea bags in. Let them steep for five minutes or so, then remove the tea bags and let the entire mixture cool to room temperature over a few hours. When it’s at room temperature, add the cup of sugar, stir it thoroughly, then pour it into the clean gallon jar. Then, pour the contents of the kombucha bottle right into the jar, scoby and all. Stir it for a minute or so, then put the cloth over the top of the jar and rubber band it in place.

Let it sit for a couple of weeks. What you’ll notice is that the scoby will grow a lot larger over this time. That’s a good thing.

When you decide it’s time to try it, you’ll want to remove the scoby and two cups of the liquid from the mixture. What you may find is that the scoby separates into multiple pieces or layers; that’s fine. Keep at least one scoby and the liquid. The rest of the remaining liquid is kombucha that’s ready to drink – be aware that it’s not carbonated at all and at room temperature. If you want to carbonate it and add a fruit flavor, add two cups of your preferred fruit juice to the jar, mix it thoroughly, then fill some of the resealable glass bottles mentioned earlier. These will carbonate over the next several days; leave them out on the table and check one of them each morning and evening by simply opening one of the bottles quickly and closing it. When you open one and hear a small popping sound, then carbonation is happening and I would recommend moving them to the fridge and drinking them in the next few days.

The scoby and two cups of liquid that you saved can serve as the starter for your next batch. Just repeat the above process, using your scoby and starter. If the scoby is getting really thick and hard to handle, you can easily divide it into smaller pieces; this allows you to start making multiple batches at once.

Here’s a great kombucha primer from Joy of Cooking.

Fermented Pickled Vegetables

There are a number of ways to “pickle” vegetables. Some of them involve vinegar as a way to introduce acetic acid to encourage the pickling process. Others simply use salt and allow the pickling process to occur naturally. In both cases, you can wind up with a delicious treat.

I personally like many different fermented pickled vegetables. Cucumbers are an obvious choice, but pickled carrots and pickled cauliflower and pickled peppers and pickled radishes are all delicious. I also like mixing vegetables in this process.

My process is simple. I just use a wide-mouth quart jar and a fermenting lid, as described in the earlier section about sauerkraut. I also use a glass fermentation weight or two, as noted earlier. I cut up four cups of vegetables that I want to pickle and put them in the jar – I’ll cut pickles into spears or carrots into smaller long strips or trim down cauliflower florets or cut peppers into strips. If I want to add some spices, I add them now – for example, I like to add peppercorns to many vegetables and dill to pickles. You’ll want to leave at least an inch and a half of space at the top of the jar, if not more. Then, I add three tablespoons of salt to the water and stir it thoroughly, then add that salty water to the vegetables, covering them completely in the salty liquid. I’ll put a fermentation weight or two on top to keep the vegetables down in the brine, then put on the fermentation lid and the ring.

Then, I just let them sit on the countertop or in the cupboard for a few weeks. I usually taste the vegetables at about the two-week mark and then weekly after that until I’m happy with them.

As I noted earlier, this is a delicious way to prepare cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, radishes, and beets, among other things. For most of them, you don’t need to add any spices at all, though I like adding peppercorns and dill to pickles at least.

If you’d like to know more about making fermented pickled vegetables, this is a great guide.


Kimchi is a Korean condiment that is made up of a variety of shredded vegetables. I view it as being a “long lost cousin” of sauerkraut, because the two often remind me of each other. Kimchi has a particularly strong flavor, however, and that’s due to some of the more unusual ingredients.

The process for making kimchi is pretty similar to making sauerkraut, actually. You’ll need the things mentioned earlier (wide mouth quart jars, fermentation lids) as well as a blender, as the sauce in kimchi is made up of more than just water and salt. I like to make several jars of this at once, so what follows is a recipe for enough kimchi to fill quite a few jars.

Start with a head of cabbage, three large carrots, and a handful of green onions. Chop the cabbage head until it’s reduced to thin strips, then chop the carrots into long matchsticks. Add half a cup of salt to these vegetables in a big bowl and mix it thoroughly with your hands, then add enough cold water to cover all of the vegetables. Let this sit for an hour or two, then strain off the salty water and save it.

Meanwhile, chop off the green portion of the green onions (and save that green part), then dice them. Put the onions, half a cup of chili powder, 20 garlic cloves, four inches of peeled ginger root, a tablespoon of fish sauce, and four tablespoons of white miso paste in a blender and puree it. It’ll be a very thick paste – add water and re-blend it until it’s like a thin pancake batter or a milkshake.

Take the green parts of the onions, chop them into small pieces, then toss the cabbage-carrot mix, the green onion pieces, and the paste together in a very large bowl. Mix everything as thoroughly as you can; you can/should use your hands, but wear gloves!

Then, just start cramming this stuff into the jars, pressing it down as much as you can. Ideally, some of the thick liquid should move up to the top, covering the vegetables. If this doesn’t quite happen, add just a small bit of the saved salty water until the vegetables are thoroughly covered. I advise you to keep the top of the liquid about an inch and a half from the top of the jar. Put a fermenting lid and a ring on each jar and leave them out at room temperature for three days; they’ll probably start to bubble. When you start to notice bubbling, open each jar and press the vegetables down with a knife, releasing the bubbles. Do it again each day after that. After three days (at least two of which involve noticeable bubbling), put them in the fridge on top of a plate or a pan of some kind, because sometimes this stuff can bubble up and overflow the jar.

This stuff is delicious, but it has a very very distinct flavor that can be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. I’m in the love-it camp.

Here’s a more detailed version of the above recipe.

Final Thoughts

In all four of these cases, these recipes are far less expensive than buying the equivalent amount of that item in the store, and the homemade version is usually tastier because it’s fresher and you’ve selected the ingredients to match what you like.

However, these food items aren’t for everyone. I encourage you to try these things before making batches of them at home to make sure you’ll even like the end product. I really like all four of these things, but I know that even within my own family, some of these things are… not well liked.

If you find these kinds of foods and procedures interesting, I highly recommend the book The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz as a great reference. There are a number of good books on fermentation out there, but that was the one that really “set the hook” in terms of my own interest and discovery.

Good luck! Now, if I could just figure out how to keep a sourdough starter alive…

Read more by Trent Hamm

The post Four Fermented Foods I Love to Make at Home appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

Our Financial Reality and the Value of Financial Principles

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Over the last few months, I’ve seen a great deal of criticism of various financial and frugal bloggers who have achieved financial independence of some kind, arguing that their stories of being frugal and careful with their money and the strategies they share are somehow tainted because they earned a high income. Today, I wanted to address those ideas.

For starters, if someone has a good frugal idea, I don’t care if their annual income is $10,000 a year or $1,000,000 a year. A good idea is a good idea and I’ll happily use it. If someone making $450,000 a year suggests that it’s a good idea to cut your spending a little by re-evaluating all of your monthly bills one by one and deciding if you really need this streaming service or that gym membership, the idea isn’t suddenly a bad one because the person with a high income is suggesting it. It is a good idea because it’s a good idea – it works.

That being said, it is true that someone in a very, very different financial situation than my own is probably less likely to suggest a financial strategy that makes sense for me. If someone is making 10% of what I do, their financial reality is probably substantially different than mine and the financial decisions and cuts they make are going to not be applicable to my life. The same is true, of someone making ten times what I do – cutting my monthly budget for artisanal cheese delivery is not going to be something that has any real use for me.

However, the core principle behind all of those strategies, whether the person is making 10% of our income or 10 times our income, is the same. It’s still all about figuring out which expenses really aren’t all that important to me and which expenses are important to me. It’s just the threshold of “important enough to spend money on” is going to be different for each of us.

That being said, I feel like – and have always felt like – Sarah and I are in the ballpark of the average American family. We earn a little bit more than the average American household income, but if either Sarah or I were out of work, our income would be below that average. We have three kids, which are an enormous drain on our financial resources in terms of extra food costs, health care costs, household costs, space costs, educational costs, and so on.

I’ve really only felt that Sarah and I have had an exceptional household income for a couple of years during our adult lives, and that’s when I was simultaneously working at a full-time job with travel requirements while also launching a small business on the side and maintaining another one. I was practically killing myself during that period of our life and I soon decided it wasn’t worth it, so we made some lifestyle changes that severely cut our income. Trust me, working 100 hours a week every week without any breaks for years burns you out in almost every way.

While we might be earning somewhat more than some readers of The Simple Dollar, it’s not orders of magnitude more. At the same time, I know we earn less than some readers of The Simple Dollar. I feel like our financial situation is at least comparable to the vast majority of Americans.

Here’s the thing, though: Regardless of what specific financial tips I’m sharing, I really want to expose the principle underneath, the one that’s applicable to as many people as possible. For example, I recently wrote an article about our experience cutting the cord and eliminating cable television. While I talked a lot about the specific things we did during this process, I was even more interested in the principles behind it: Why did we cut the cable? What was the general process like? What did we consider when choosing which entertainment services to retain?

The reason is that, as I noted above, everyone’s lives are different. There isn’t someone out there exactly like me, and there isn’t someone out there exactly like you. We’re all going to have different interests, different considerations, different income levels, and so on. My parents, for example, are in a different situation with a different income level and they came to a different conclusion about cutting out cable.

What matters most when we share ideas for a better life are the principles, the broader rules that can be used to guide us to the best decision given the specifics of our lives. The only reason I tell my own stories at all is to try to give an example of those principles at work in the life of someone who, though they’re not exactly like you, is hopefully at least somewhat relatable.

So, what’s the take-home message here?

My belief is that personal finance articles are most useful when you can pull principles out of them that you can use in your own life. You can combine an awful lot of specific tips down to a few guiding principles, and those principles line up with the specifics of your own life to guide you to good financial results. They may guide different people with different lives to different conclusions.

At the same time, showing those principles at work in someone’s real life, even if it’s not my own, can be really useful. So, for me, I want to be shown the generally applicable principle, and then show me how it applies in someone’s real life. Even if it’s not my own, the example makes it clearer and more relatable.

The more specific an article gets with tips, the fewer the number of people that will get value out of those tips. While I like big lists of tips, I find that I discard most of them because they’re just not applicable to my life. Even worse, a lot of them are very timely, which means that in a few years, that article won’t be valuable. That’s why I don’t write big lists of tips all that often, and when I do, I’m usually trying to point at some underlying principles along the way.

When you’re reading a personal finance article written by me or anyone, including myself, look for the principles you can use in your life. How can I make better financial decisions in my life? How does this particular tool help me, and if it doesn’t, can I safely ignore it? How is this person applying those principles in their life, and does that make sense, and does that relate to how I might apply them in my own life?

Don’t get hung up on whether the other person’s life story is substantially different than yours. Instead, look for those core principles; almost everyone out there applies many of the same principles in their lives. I use a lot of strategies and principles that would work just fine if I were earning $10K a year or if I were earning $500K a year.

Remember, not everything will apply to you and your life. When you don’t feel like it applies, step back and try to see the bigger picture. It might fit better than you think.

Good luck!

Read more by Trent Hamm:

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Keeping up with the Joneses

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It’s always fun when disparate worlds of geekdom collide. Today, for instance, I learned that the term “keeping up with the Joneses” — a popular phrase in the realm of personal finance — actually originated in the funny pages.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

That’s right: “Keeping Up with the Joneses” started out as a newspaper comic strip. As a comics nerd, one who especially loves comic strips, this makes me happy. (Note: For some strips in this post, you can click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.)

Keeping Up with the Joneses (04 April 1913)

Arthur Mormand created “Keeping Up with the Joneses” in 1913. This comic strip (which was very typical for its time) parodied American domestic life, especially the increasing drive toward conspicuous consumption.

The term conspicuous consumption was itself relatively new in 1913. This concept was introduced by Thorstein Veblen, a Norwegian-American economist and sociologist, in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. (You can download this book for free from the new Get Rich Slowly file vault.) People at all levels of life, Veblen says, buy things “as an evidence of wealth”, to signal financial “prowess”. This is worth an entire article of its own. (I should re-read the book and write it up, shouldn’t I?)

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s brief history of the strip:

[“Keeping Up with the Joneses”] debuted on March 31, 1913 in The New York Globe. The strip is a domestic comedy following a family of social climbers, the McGinises: parents Aloysius and Clarice, their daughter Julie, and the family’s maid Bella Donna. Various strips feature the McGinis family attempting to match the lifestyle of their neighbors, the Joneses, who are often mentioned but never seen.

The strip was later picked up by Joseph Pulitzer’s The New York World, and was subsequently syndicated in many other papers by Associated Newspapers. The title and central conceit of a family struggling to “keep up” with the neighbors resonated with its audience, to the point that the phrase keeping up with the Joneses became a common catchphrase.

According to interviews with Mormand, “Keeping Up with the Joneses” was based on his own life. He and his wife lived for a time in Cedarhurst, New York, a relatively wealthy community on Long Island. Mormand claimed his family lived “far beyond our means in our endeavor to keep up with the well-to-do class”.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Eventually, Mormand and his family gave up. They moved to Manhattan. There, he used his experience as source material. Mormand claimed that he originally wanted to call the strip “Keeping Up with the Smiths” but it didn’t have the same ring to it as “Keeping Up with the Joneses”.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Some argue that the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” was already in use when Mormand started drawing his comic strip. This may (or may not) be true. Regardless, it was his work that made the phrase a part of the American vernacular.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

While “Keeping Up with the Joneses” never became as popular as, say, “Gasoline Alley” or “Bringing Up Father”, it did achieve some measure of success. At one point, more than 150 newspapers around the U.S. carried the strip. And, for a time, a few of the gags were adapted into short animated films like this one.

If, like me, you are both a money nerd and a comics nerd, you might enjoy browsing this public domain collection of “Keeping Up with the Joneses” strips from 1920. (Again, this is part of the new Get Rich Slowly file vault.)

Keeping Up with the Joneses (16 April 1938)

Mormand died in 1987, at the age of 101. He spent the latter part of his life working as a portrait painter in New York City, but his lasting contribution to American society was coining the term “keeping up with the Joneses”.

The post Keeping up with the Joneses appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

Why financial literacy fails (and what to do about it)

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April is Financial Literacy Month in the United States. This is a pure and noble thing. I think it’s great that there’s one month each year devoted to promoting smart money habits. That said, it has become increasingly apparent over the years that most financial literacy programs fail. They don’t work. And this isn’t just me speaking anecdotally.

In a 2014 paper from Management Science, three researchers conducted a “meta-analysis” of 201 prior studies regarding the efficacy of financial literacy. Their conclusion?

Interventions to improve financial literacy explain only 0.1% of the variance in financial behaviors studied, with weaker effects in low-income samples. Like other education, financial education decays over time; even large interventions with many hours of instruction have negligible effects on behavior 20 months or more from the time of intervention.

To put it in plain English, financial literacy education makes no discernible difference in behavior. People who take personal-finance classes manage their money no better (and no worse) than the general population.

We’re pumping tons of money and time into a fruitless endeavor. All of this push to promote financial literacy accomplishes nothing. Zero. Nada.

Why is that?

Why Financial Literacy Fails (and What to Do About It)

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I have some strong opinions on this subject. Today, let’s talk about why financial literacy fails (and what to do about it).

Note: This afternoon (April 24th) at 4 p.m. Pacific (7 p.m. Eastern), I’ll be part of a Facebook Live interview about this very subject. If you’re free at that time, you should join us!

Why Financial Literacy Fails

Financial literacy fails because it almost universally addresses only one part of the problem: math and mechanics. FinLit (as it’s sometimes called) focuses on facts and figures while largely ignoring behavior.

This is insane.

This is like promoting sex education that talks about penises and vaginas while never discussing what it’s like to be madly in love with somebody, so in love that your brain stops working. For sex education to be effective, it has to deal with real-world circumstances and behavior. It has to teach about psychology and emotions, not just body parts.

The same is true with financial literacy.

In fact, the same is true with actual literacy. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy says that working literacy has two components.

  • The operational piece of literacy focuses solely on knowledge. It involves word-level reading skills such as recognizing words.
  • The conceptual piece of literacy focuses on everyday tasks: “Literacy is the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

The first part of literacy is about mechanics. The second part is about practical application.

Modern financial literacy efforts spend nearly all of their time on the knowledge piece. I’ve reviewed maybe a dozen FinLit programs over the years. Most pay no more than lip service to behavior, to the conceptual piece of financial literacy.

Let me give you an example from my own life.

When I was in high school (w-a-y back in the mid-1980s), every senior in our district was required to pass a class in personal finance. It covered topics like compound interest, the Federal Reserve, how to write a check, and the dangers of credit cards.

I took that class. I aced every test. And five years later, I had the beginnings of a debt habit. I’d mastered the knowledge but not he behavior. The behavior was never taught.

From what I can tell, the kids from my high school grew up to be no different than the rest of Americans. We learned the basics of financial literacy, but it had no perceivable impact on the way we saved and spent and earned. We still made stupid mistakes. We still spent more than we earned. Why? Because facts and figurs are only one-half of financial literacy. (And I’d argue they aren’t even the most important half.)

The solution to financial literacy isn’t to feed people more facts and figures. It isn’t to teach them how bonds work or to explain the sheer awesomeness of a Roth IRA. If we want to boost financial literacy in the United States, what we really need to promote is behavioral education.

Behavioral Finance

Personal finance is simple. Fundamentally, you need to know only one thing: To build wealth, you must spend less than you earn. The end. That’s it. We can all go home now. Everything else simply builds on this.

Why, then, is it so hard for everyone to get ahead?

For some people, the problem is systemic. There’s no doubt that some people are trapped in a cycle of poverty, and they truly need outside help to overcome the obstacles they face.

But for most of us, the issue is internal: The problem is us. In other words, I am the reason that I can’t get ahead. And you are the reason that you can’t get ahead. It’s not a lack of knowledge about compounding and credit cards that holds us back, but a chain of bad behavior.

The math and mechanics of personal finance are easy. It’s the psychological side of money that’s hard.

One of the key tenets of this site is that money is more about mind than it is about math. That is, our financial success isn’t determined by how smart we are with numbers, but how well we’re able to control our emotions — our wants and desires.

There’s actually a branch of economics called behavioral finance devoted exclusively to this phenomenon, exploring the interplay between economic theory and psychological reality. There’s a new wave of folks who are exploring the gamification of personal finance; they’re trying to turn money management into a game. More and more, experts are seeing that our economic decisions aren’t based on logic, but on emotion and desire.

It’s time that financial literacy programs incorporated these new(-ish) approaches into their curriculum.

For years, I struggled with money. I knew the math, but I still couldn’t seem to defeat debt. It wasn’t until I started applying psychology to the situation that I was able to make changes. For instance, I used the debt snowball to pay down my debt in an illogical yet psychologically satisfying way. It worked. And I’ve learned that by having financial goals — such as travel — I’m much more inclined to save than if I have no goals at all.

Behavioral Literacy

The Money Boss ManifestoTo me, the answer to our country’s crazed consumerism and poor financial skills has nothing to do with traditional financial literacy. (Okay, maybe it has a little to do with traditional financial literacy.) Instead, I see two fundamental problems that need to be addressed.

  • First, we soak in a bath of the mass media. We’re constantly exposed to a barrage of programming in which we’re given subtle messages about what people do (or should) consume. We cannot help but be influenced by the power of marketing. (I’ve talked to many people who think they’re immune to marketing. I just shake my head and think, “You, my friend, are the most influenced of all.”)
  • Secondly, we don’t think about our spending. We spend on impulse. Or we spend to subconsciously keep up with our family and friends — to keep up with the Joneses. We spend to make ourselves feel better when we’re down and blue. We spend to show off. We spend on things we think we want instead of the things we actually use and do. We spend because spending is a habit.

Instead of teaching Americans about credit cards and rates of return, we need to be teaching them about behavioral finance. We need to be showing them how to break free from the marketing messages that are all around. We need to be showing them how to set (and achieve) personal goals, especially financial goals. We need to teach skills like conscious spending.

There’s a reason that my core message doesn’t start with math and mechanics. It starts by asking people to think about their goals and purpose. This is the piece of financial education that’s missing in our society. This is what financial literacy education ought to be teaching.

Note: For a clear demonstration of how I’d approach financial literacy if I were to design a program, check out my Money Boss Manifesto. It’s a free ebook that outlines the financial philosophy I’ve developed after nearly fifteen years of reading and writing about money.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes people wonder why we don’t spend more time on the nitty gritty of money around here. Why we don’t cover more topics like where to find the best credit cards or how to create a budget?

It’s because deep inside, I believe these things are secondary. I believe behavior is more important. Building a better budget isn’t going to change your attitude toward saving and spending; but changing you attitude toward saving and spending could very well lead you to building a better budget.

Ultimately, if we want Americans to be smarter with their money, we need to encourage them to consume less media — to avoid advertising — and we need to teach them to master the emotional side of personal finance. We need to show them how to change their behavior. We need to appeal to their self-interest. We need to help them find intrinsic motivation to save.

Each of us needs to dig deep inside to find what it is that’s important to us, what it is that brings us joy, and we need to prioritize that instead of all the other garbage.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon traditional financial literacy completely. But I think a constant push for more financial education is a waste of time if it’s only going to focus on mechanics, to stick to facts and figures. To truly be successful, financial education has to address the behavioral side of money because that is absolutely the biggest piece of the puzzle.

Reminder: This afternoon (April 24th) at 4 p.m. Pacific (7 p.m. Eastern), I’ll be part of a Facebook Live interview about this very subject. If you’re free at that time, you should join us!

The post Why financial literacy fails (and what to do about it) appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

How to ask for vacation days (Word-for-word email script)

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The holidays are coming up.

You send your boss an email asking to take a few days off for vacation. But what do they say?

“Sorry, we have too much going on. We’ll need you here.”

Today, I want to help you use your PTO vacation days without any pushback. You’ll even get something at the end of this post that can help you get an extra week or two of paid vacation using the same techniques my students use to get $43,000 raises.

But first, let’s look at how you can get your boss to say “Yes” when you ask for leave time. Starting with a word-for-word script you can use when requesting vacation time — even if it’s during a “busy time” for your company.

Script: A simple vacation request email

Subject: Vacation request (October 2nd through October 6th)

Hi Jack,

I’d like to request vacation time from Monday, October 2nd, through Friday, October 6th because I’ll be taking a family vacation over those days.

While I’m gone, I’ll be reachable by email but not phone. I’ll be making sure that we have coverage in the support queue while I’m gone, and I’ll also be distributing a playbook to my team so it’s clear who owns which issues.

Is this OK?



Now, what makes this so effective?

To answer that, let’s look at this email from your boss’s perspective.

What reasons might they have to decline your request to take vacation leave?

  • They’re worried a project you’re working on won’t get done while you’re gone
  • They don’t want your workload to wind up on their desk
  • They don’t want to run around reassigning your tasks to other people

Now let’s see how this email overcomes these objections and gets them to say “Yes” to your vacation leave request.

1. It opens with a friendly tone. Saying “I would like” is a much softer request than stating “I request” or “I’m taking this time off.”

2. The word “because” is strategically chosen as it increases compliance. Saying “because” and giving your boss a reason for the time off (no matter what the reason is) makes it more likely he or she will say yes.

3. Remember how your boss was worried your work wouldn’t get done? Well in that last section you ease that concern by showing him you’ve already thought about that. You’ve even gone the extra mile to ensure any projects you’re working on still get finished on time.

Finally, be sure to send vacation request emails weeks — even months — in advance. It’s far easier for your boss to say “Yes” when they have plenty of time to plan around your absence.

Bonus: Want more ways to build healthy habits? Check out my new Ultimate Guide to Habits.

To recap, here’s how to ask for vacation days:

  • Send a vacation request email weeks in advance.
  • Be friendly.
  • Be sure to use the word “because” when explaining your reasons.
  • Ease any concerns about finishing your projects on time.

The 80/20 Guide To Finding A Job You Love

When it comes to finding a dream job, most of us ask all the wrong questions. You could have the perfect resume, but if you’re submitting it through, you’re still competing with thousands of other people with outstanding resumes.

  • How can you shortcut the entire job hunt?
  • How can you find out what you love — and then find jobs that let you do just that?
  • And how do you get paid what you deserve?

I decided to go in-depth and share detailed strategies, mindsets, and stories about how to short-circuit the process that so many people waste time on. And like the rest of the material on IWT, it’s been tested, refined, and optimized before it ever saw the light of day.

Though this is premium material that I could charge for, I’m making it available to you free because I want you to start thinking about how to apply IWT principles to your search for a dream job. And I know you can find one — even in this economy — in the next few months. It’s eminently possible.

Now, get the full 46-minute video…I think you’ll enjoy it.

How to ask for vacation days (Word-for-word email script) is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

This blog is now a teenager: Thirteen years of Get Rich Slowly

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Thie middle of April is a Big Deal in my world.

The trees have nearly finished blossoming, which means my allergies will soon go away. We’re seeing more of the sun, which means the worst of my seasonal depression is behind me. Yesterday, on the 14th, Kim and I celebrated seven years as a couple. And today, on the 15th, Get Rich Slowly celebrates thirteen years of existence.

That’s right: This blog is now a teenager.

In the Beginning

When I started Get Rich Slowly, I had no idea what it was going to become. I had no grand plan or vision. I just wanted to write about money while accomplishing three goals.

  • My primary goal was to document my own journey as I dug out of debt and (I hoped) eventually learned how to build wealth.
  • My secondary aim was to help my family and friends get better with their money too. (Although, truthfully, in my entire social circle, I was probably the person with the worst personal finance skills.)
  • And, third on the list, I wanted to make a little extra money with the site. I figured if I could make a few hundred bucks with it, I could pay off my debt a little sooner.

On 26 April 2005 — a year before I started this blog — I published an article called “Get Rich Slowly!” for my personal site. Here’s what I wrote:

Today’s entry is long and boring. It’s all about the keys to wealth, prosperity, and happiness. Over the past few months, I’ve read over a dozen books on personal finance. Recurring themes have become evident.

These books have embarrassingly bad titles, seemingly designed to appeal to the get-rich-quick crowd: The Richest Man in Babylon, Your Money or Your Life, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, Wealth Without Risk, etc.

Some of the books out there — most of them? — really are as bad as their titles. Others, however, offer outstanding, practical advice. The best books seem to have the same goal in mind: not wealth, not riches, but financial independence.

According to Your Money or Your Life, which I consider the very best of the financial books I’ve read, “Financial independence is the experience of having enough — and then some”. More practically, financial independence occurs when your investment income meets or exceeds your monthly expenses. Financial independence is linked to psychological freedom.

How is financial independence achieved? Again, the best books all basically agree. (To some of you, this will be common sense, stuff you’ve known all your life. To others, like me, this kind of thinking is a sort of revelation.)

Here, then, is my personal summary of the collected wisdom found in these books.

“It’s nearly impossible to get rich quick without luck,” I concluded after summarizing all of these money books. “Getting rich quick is a sucker’s bet. There’s only a slim chance that you’ll have the sort of luck that’s required. You might as well play the lottery.”

Instead, I thought the underlying message of these books was simple: “It is possible to get rich slowly, however, with no risk, and with no luck. All that’s required is patience and discipline.”

Get Rich Slowly 1.0

That original “Get Rich Slowly” article at my personal site proved popular. It went the 2005 version of “viral”, being shared at sites like Boing Boing, Lifehacker, etc.

A year later, I was still searching for a way to earn money on the side to help me dig out of debt. I decided that maybe I could earn a few bucks by starting a site about saving and investing. I actually thought mine would be the first personal-finance blog on the Internet! (Ha — little did I know! There were already dozens — dozens! — of other money blogs out there.)

On April 15, 2006, I launched Get Rich Slowly. It was successful from the start. For whatever reason, the stuff I wrote resonated with readers. They shared the site with their friends and family.

Within weeks, I had several hundred readers. Within months, the audience had grown to several thousand. Within two years, more than 500,000 people per month were coming to the site. It was crazy. It was completely unexpected. I was shocked. And grateful.

Those early days of GRS were a hell of a lot of fun. I was figuring this money stuff out in real time, and writing about my successes (and, yes, my failures) as they happened. I did some stupid, stupid stuff — but as time went on, I got better at managing my money.

Needless to say, writing about smart money management every day — for 1000 days — produces a lot of articles! Certain articles stood out as particularly popular — I think because they were particularly helpful. Anyway, here are some highlights from the first three years of the site:

  • In praise of the debt snowball (28 Sep 2006) — When I started Get Rich Slowly, I had over $35,000 in consumer debt. I lived paycheck to paycheck on a salary of over $50,000 per year. Basically, I was your typical American consumer. To get out of debt, I used Dave Ramsey’s version of the debt snowball. A lot of folks want to complain that using this method is based on bad math, but so what? If math were the issue, I wouldn’t have been in debt — and neither would many other people. The debt snowball works, and that’s why I love it.
  • Are index funds the best investment? (24 Jan 2007) — At first, I was a bad investor. In fact, I was a gambler, not an investor. I took chances on random stocks in the hopes they’d shoot through the roof. Reading and writing about money quickly taught me that pros like Warren Buffett (and many more) actually endorse a simple investment strategy for average folks like you and me. For us, putting our savings into indexed mutual funds is the most reliable long-term investment.
  • Which online high-yield savings account and money market account is best? (21 Mar 2007, although this link is to a recent update) — As I started learning smart money habits, I realized it was dumb for me to leave my money in a big national bank that paid me no interest. But where should I save my money instead? To find out, I polled GRS readers. Whoa! Who knew this simple question would create such a huge response? Readers left over 1700 comments with suggestions about where to get the most bang for my buck.
  • Free at last! Saying good-bye to 20 years of debt (03 Dec 2007) — It took a lot of time and effort, but my new habits finally paid off. Three years after starting my quest, I wrote a check for the last of my consumer debt. From here, I could start building future wealth instead of repaying past folly.
  • A real millionaire next door (13 May 2008) — I used to live next door to an old guy named John. John was a retired shop teacher who had managed to build big wealth on a small salary. Now, in his 70s, he spent part of the year working on farms in New Zealand, part of the year on an Alaskan fishing boat, and part of the year puttering around his home in Portland. Later, I decided to interview him about what led to his financial success.
  • You can’t always get what you want (24 Nov 2008) — Notes from a conversation with my cousin: It’s okay to have something in your life that you hate. And it’s okay to have something you want. It’s natural. The problem is that once you get that thing, you’re just going to hate something else, you’re just going to want something more. It’s not want that’s the problem, but the habit of constantly satisfying wants.

So much happened in my life during these years, both good and bad. It seems odd to summarize that entire period in just a few articles, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. (If you want to read more, check out the archives.)

Get Rich Slowly 2.0

While the early, heady years of GRS were carefree and fun, running the site eventually became work. A lot of work. Plus, all sorts of stuff was going on behind the scenes in my personal life. My best friend committed suicide. I was unhappy in my marriage. I struggled with my weight. It was all too much.

In early 2009, I decided to listen to the offers from people who wanted to buy Get Rich Slowly. Shortly after the site’s third anniversary, I agreed to sell it.

When I sold, I became financially independent. (I was already on a path toward financial independence — or “FI,” as we say — but the sale helped me leap ahead several years.) My plan was simply to walk away and be done with writing about money. Turns out, I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

You see, I love the GRS community. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to continue answering emails, sharing reader questions and stories, and documenting what I was learning about money. Instead of walking away, I stuck around for another three years as editor and primary writer.

During that time, we brought in other writers to help me manage the workload. I was always amazed at how each new voice added another dimension to the site. And our content changed in yet another way because I was becoming much more philosophical about money at this time.

I’d always stressed the importance of psychology; but as my financial philosophy matured, I became even more convinced that smart money management was all about mindset, not math. The math is easy. It’s the emotional stuff that’s tough. Some of the best articles from this era of GRS really get to the heart of these issues, and I hope that what I learned will be helpful to others, too.

  • The razor’s edge: Lessons in true wealth (18 Jan 2009) — This is perhaps the most important article I ever wrote for Get Rich Slowly, although most people would never know it. In early 2009, my best friend took his own life. It had a profound impact on me. Here I wrote about what I learned from Sparky’s life — and his death.
  • How to negotiate your salary (06 May 2009) — I don’t think people spend enough time looking for ways to boost their income. There’s a reason I mention this over and over and over again. Learning how to negotiate your salary is one of the best ways to improve your financial well-being.
  • Understanding the federal budget and The truth about taxes (August 2009) — We cannot have informed discussions about taxes and government spending if we don’t have the baseline information. Because my own education on this subject was weak, and because I wanted GRS readers to be informed, I spent 12 hours researching a variety of tax topics. These two articles record my attempts to provide that baseline information. (I need to update these for 2019, don’t I?)
  • Action not words: The difference between talkers and doers (30 Aug 2010) — If there’s something you want to be or do, the best way to become that thing is to actually take steps toward it, to move in that direction. Don’t just talk about it, but do something. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just take a small step in the right direction every single day.
  • America’s love-hate relationship with wealth (14 Nov 2011) — While writing about money, I’ve noticed that people in general (and Americans in particular) have a complex love-hate relationship with wealth. People want to be rich — but they’re suspicious of those who already are. Why is that? How can we learn to be happy for the financial success of others?
  • A place of my own (16 Jan 2012) — The toughest blog post I’ve ever had to write: After months of hinting at things, I revealed that my wife and I were getting a divorce, and that I’d moved into an apartment of my own. This post explored some of the implications of that decision. (For the record: Kris and I continue to maintain our friendship.)

Eventually, after three years of lingering at GRS, I reached the point where I was willing to cut the cord. I gradually reduced my involvement until I was ready to walk away. I eased myself out of the site and into the life I’d been hoping to pursue.

The Quinstreet Years

I sold Get Rich Slowly in 2009 but stayed on as editor (and primary writer) for another three years. By mid-2012, it seemed that Quinstreet, the company that had acquired the site, was ready to run the site on its own. Plus, it felt like both the audience and I were both ready for me to leave.

So, I retired. Sort of.

Although I no longer had any active involvement in Get Rich Slowly, I still contributed articles from time to time. Plus, I wrote about money for other outlets.

In 2010, I published Your Money: The Missing Manual. (I’m proud of that book but it’s sorely in need of an update.) From 2011 to 2014, I wrote the “Your Money” column for Entrepreneur magazine. In 2014, I released the Get Rich Slowly course. In 2015, I started a new site called Money Boss (which is now a part of GRS). And so on.

Plus, of course, Kim and I embarked on our awesome 15-month tour of the U.S. by RV.

I’ll confess: I didn’t pay much attention to Get Rich Slowly after I moved on. I checked in now and then, but mostly I ignored it. Looking through the archives, here are some of the articles that stand out during the Quinstreet years:

  • How to handle people who undermine your success (06 Jan 2012, by April Dykman) — April Dykman was always one of my favorite staff writers here at GRS. I loved learning from her progress. Here she shared some thoughts on how to handle haters in your life. As you work toward a better financial future, you will encounter people who think your choices are foolish. April — and the commenters — have some tips for coping with the criticism.
  • The power of personal transformation: Change yourself, change the world (16 Jul 2012, by J.D. Roth) — In July 2012, I spoke at World Domination Summit. This is the written version of that speech, which was all about overcoming fear, finding focus, and taking action. I argued that by finding the courage to change what’s wrong in your own life, you’ll not only improve yourself, but improve the world around you. (This material has become the psychological core of my financial philosophy.)
  • Romanticizing poverty and learning financial independence (03 Jan 2013, by Kristin Wong) — Kristin Wong was another great GRS writer. In this piece, she talks about different perceptions of wealth and poverty — and how those perceptions influence our choices. Her articles always led to great discussions.
  • All you need to know about saving for retirement (15 May 2013, by Robert Brokamp) — Before I left GRS, I brokered a deal with the Motley Fool that brought regular contributions from the hilarious (and smart) Robert Brokamp. He contributed many terrific pieces over the years, but I particularly like this crash course in retirement savings. If you’re wondering where to start, start here.
  • You are the boss of you: How to find success with money and life (01 Aug 2013, by J.D. Roth) — I’ve always said that nobody cares more about your money than you do. But I’ve come to realize that nobody cares more about you than you do. The key to success — in every area of life — is to understand that you control your own destiny. If you want to be successful with money and life, you must act as your own boss.
  • How to track your spending (and why you should) (24 April 2014, by Holly Johnson) — Holly is another one of the great staff writers that GRS hosted during the Quinstreet years. (I’m excited because she’s promised to give me a guest post soon about some of her home improvement fiascos. Should be fun!) I like this article, in which she takes a friend to task for not tracking his spending. He and his wife make a lot of money but they’re constantly broke. Why? Because they have no idea where there money goes.
  • 29 Ways to build your emergency fund out of thin air (18 Jan 2016, by Donna Freedman) — Donna has contributed a lot of great articles to GRS over the years. (And I hope that at some point in the future, I’ll be able to afford to hire her to write here again.) I liked this piece, which provides tons of tips for boosting your saving rate. Saving more isn’t just for building an emergency fund; it’s also important for digging out of debt and, eventually, pursuing goals like homeownership and financial independence.

During the Quinstreet years, the GRS audience dwindled. This was in part due to the way they managed the site. They had good intentions (and lots of smart people behind the scenes), but they didn’t have the same passion for personal finance that I did. Plus, they tended to make decisions that favored short-term results instead of long-term growth. I can’t fault them for their choices — they did what was right for them — but I’m sad that the community eventually collapsed.

Not all of the collapse was due to blog management, though. Even if I hadn’t sold the site, it likely would have faded eventually, and for a number of reasons: the rise of social media, the “death of blogs”, and increased competition from awesome new sites on a variety of niche subjects.

Get Rich Slowly 3.0

In 2015, I “unretired” from blogging. I founded Money Boss, a site where I posted long, meaty articles about managing your money as if you were the CFO of your own life. I had fun. The site didn’t grow as quickly as GRS had nine years before, but after eighteen months, the site had acquired several thousand dedicated followers.

Then, in the spring of 2017, Quinstreet approached me. They asked me if I wanted to re-purchase Get Rich Slowly. Looking at the numbers, I realized it probably didn’t make much financial sense to do so — but I didn’t let that dissuade me. In October 2017, I bought Get Rich Slowly.

In the eighteen months since my return, I’ve published a lot of articles that I think are especially good. Here are some highlights:

  • What the rich do differently: Habits that foster wealth and success (18 Dec 2017) — I’m fascinated by the differences between rich people and poor people. Are the differences mostly a matter of class and economic mobility? Are people born to wealth and poverty and destined to remain there? Or are there observable differences in attitude and action that tend to lead people to specific levels of affluence? From my experience, it’s some of both.
  • Start where you are (04 Jan 2018) — My main message to family and friends who find themselves at forty or fifty and feel behind the curve is: Don’t panic. All is not lost. You’re not too late. This isn’t a contest. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
  • The plight of the poor: Thoughts on systemic poverty, fault, and responsibility (28 Feb 2018) — There are very real differences between the behaviors and attitudes of those who have money and those who don’t. If we want ourselves and others to be able to enjoy economic mobility, to escape poverty and dire circumstances, we have to have an understanding of the necessary mental shifts. The problem, of course, is that it’s one thing to understand intellectually that wealthy people and poor people have different mindsets, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to adopt more productive attitudes in your own life.
  • The forever fallacy (11 Jul 2018) — The forever fallacy is the mistaken belief that you will always have what you have today, that you’ll always be who you are today. The truth is that everything changes. You change. Your circumstances change. The people around you change. Nothing is forever. The challenge then is to balance this concept — everything changes — with living in the present. You must learn to enjoy today while simultaneously preparing for a variety of possible tomorrows.
  • The boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness (26 Oct 2018) — Last October, I spent a week exploring the relationship between cost and quality. Quality tends to come with a price. While there are ways to mitigate some of these higher costs — buy used, wait for sales, etc. — if you want to buy new quality items, you’re going to pay a premium. Because of this, quality is often something reserved for the rich. Like so many things in life, this is fundamentally unfair. But that’s how things are.
  • Why frugality is an important part of personal finance (31 Jan 2019) — Depriving yourself of certain “standard” choices now means you don’t have to lead a life of deprivation when you’re older. When you choose to spend less, you’re not just boosting your bottom line. You’re also gaining the time and freedom that would have been required to earn that money. Thrift isn’t deprivation. It’s wealth.
  • Saving regret — and how to avoid it (27 Feb 2019) — Very few people regret saving money. In fact, research shows that less than 2% of people would save less if they could re-do their earlier life. On the other hand, two-thirds of people wish they’d saved more when they were younger. Poorer people tend to regret not saving most of all. The bottom line: To avoid regrets when you’re older, save more now.

I won’t lie. While I’m glad to be back and I’ve enjoyed the past eighteen months, it’s also been tough. I have lots to say, but I’ve struggled to figure out exactly how to say it. Blogging has changed. Expectations are different. I am different than when I started this site.

I’m constantly wrestling with questions like: How often should I write? (Once a week? Three times a week? At random intervals?) Should I share only new stuff? Or should I republish updated material from the archives? In the olden days, I used to share tons of things from other sites. Should I continue to do that? Or should I focus on my own thoughts? How long should my articles be? (A few hundred words? Or…a few thousand?) What topics should I cover?

If you walk through the GRS archives, you can see how I’ve struggled to find a rhythm for Get Rich Slowly 3.0.

My publication pattern for the past year has been…well, irregular. There are some months where I write and publish a ton, both from myself and others. There are other months — like this one — during which I publish little. (Real Life has been distracting me lately. I have plenty I want to write about, but no time to do it.) And my articles are all over the place.

I’m not worried, though. I know I’ll figure things out. In the meantime, I’m having fun. I hope that you are having fun too. And, as always, if you have any suggestions and/or requests for things you’d like to see around here, please let me know. I want GRS to be a useful resource for you — for all of you.

The post This blog is now a teenager: Thirteen years of Get Rich Slowly appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

A Day In The Life of my Supposedly Frugal Stomach

sourced from:

Kicking Ass with Money is much like healthy eating and joyful living. It’s a series of daily habits that get you ahead, rather than a one-time heroic effort that fixes all your problems so you can go back to whatever you were doing before.

Because of this parallel, the subject of food is one of the nicest examples of Mustachian living, and one of the most powerful and efficient things to master.

Your eating choices will drastically affect your budget (especially if you are raising a family), but they also affect your health, energy levels, productivity, and happiness. The path to a great life goes directly across your dinner plate, so it is important to take this shit seriously and not mess around with your nutrition.

I’ve written about food several times before, sometimes with a focus on recipes or costs or general principles. But people often don’t believe me – they think I am either lying about my family’s grocery spending, eating a diet that is poor in nutritional value, or at least spending an inordinate amount of time on meal planning and preparation.

The truth is none of these things, although the actual story may still surprise you. So I thought that instead of issuing vague commandments like the preacher I am, I could share my functional and (somewhat) affordable eating style, even though it’s unusual and surely not for everyone.

So I’ll lay out a single day’s nutrition strategy, and why I think it is a good one. And then you can choose whether to ridicule it on Reddit, or adopt any tricks from it that you like for your own family. Are you ready? Then let’s take a trip into the MMM kitchen!

Alongside the Table Saw, the Cutting Board is also a favorite tool.

The first bit of crazy is that when I’m home, I eat almost the same thing every day. My son eats exactly the same thing every day* for now, and Mrs. MM runs her own show, perhaps with a bit more variety than either of us. This is a unique situation in our family that is different from most, and it adds extra complexity but fortunately not extra cost. You play with the cards you are dealt.

Most Important is your Eating Philosophy

For most people, food is just an automatic routine. They eat whatever seems tasty whenever they are hungry. People with stronger passions (sometimes known as Foodies), spend a large part of their day and mental energy seeking out perfect ingredients and flavors and meals. And for many, eating is an addiction – food calls to them (especially desserts and snacks), and they fight this addiction with varying degrees of success. People with a busy urban social life like New Yorkers get most of their food from restaurants, which throws both the nutrition content and the monthly cost into a randomizing hat.

The problem with all of these philosophies is that each is a huge gamble, with your life as the stakes. Because depending on your body chemistry and the foods you choose, you can end up anywhere on the health scale – I have met sweating car bound 25 year-old office workers who could barely stroll from the parking lot to the building, and also know a ripped 65 year-old carpenter who can still frame a three-story house by himself. The difference in the diets of these two men is as stark as the contrast in their physiques.

So my eating philosophy has always been that of the Engineer/Robot. Design each meal and each day’s food intake, according to my body’s current needs. Since my activity level changes drastically (yesterday’s mountain hike requires several times more calories than today’s work on this blog article), the food intake has to change accordingly. And since I don’t always get things exactly right, the mirror tells me when it’s time to make adjustments.

And finally, I’m a big fan of high standards and not fooling yourself. Stay lean and keep your body in condition to work hard. Learn to use the mirror, the measuring tape, and the scale as allies rather than generators of guilt and fear. If you’re not there yet, keep yourself moving in the right direction rather than being complacent. For example, if my abs get paved over with fat, I’ll adjust the variables below to go into fat loss mode until the problem is corrected. On the other hand, if I’m getting too skinny and trying to put on strength and weight, I’ll add the extra meals back in.

The Weird MMM Meal Plan


I have come to think of Breakfast as the time of Breaking the Fast.. but by now we all know that fasting is good for you, right?  So the design of your breakfast presents an interesting life-boosting opportunity: When you wake up, you’re already in a nice low-blood-sugar state, which means your body is beginning to think about burning fats as a source of energy (ketosis). This means that you can just prolong the fast by skipping breakfast and just enjoying some coffee or water, or take a softer approach and at least have a breakfast that is very low in sugar. So I do this:

  • Espresso Coffee with Whole milk and Coconut oil
  • A handful of mixed nuts
  • A few squares of dark chocolate (85%)

Subjectively, I find this breakfast is satisfying and delicious, but also keeps my body in low-sugar mode so I can begin a day of physical labor without hunger – and potentially work as long as I want, even skipping lunch and running on stored bodyfat if desired. (Note, I make the espresso with this cheap but good espresso machine and heat/fluff the milk and coconut oil together to get the result in that picture).

The end result is this nutrition profile:

note: all nutrient weights are in grams

At this point, you may be asking, “Wait, does Mustache really weigh and analyze his food?” – and the answer is “sorta.” While I endeavor to lead a relaxed, hippy lifestyle, the Engineer/Robot side is always in the background running the numbers. If you have at least a rough idea of the nutrition content of what you are eating, you will have a far easier time getting the results you want.

Mid Morning Snack

After breakfast, I usually bike downtown to a mixture of construction and weight training in the back “prisonyard” of the MMM-HQ Coworking space. After a few hours of this, I am ready for a bit more nutrition:

  • A giant salad
  • Plenty of water, or even the indulgence of a second cup of coffee

These big salads are a big part of my daily food expenditure and effort, but probably an even bigger part of my health. So they are definitely worth it. I make it easier by making salad in bulk every few days, and starting with a base of a pre-made $2.28 Kale Salad Kit from Sam’s/Costco. This provides a bunch of greens and saves much chopping. But I discard the crappy sugary dressing that comes with the kit and use my own olive oil-based dressing, also made in bulk from high quality ingredients also bought in bulk, (like 3 Liter Jugs of olive oil!)

I may throw in a protein bar (30g protein, $1.00) to this snack, depending on the intensity of the work.


After the midmorning snack, I am back out for quality time with the saws and ladders for a few more hours, which feels great on a relatively light load of food because the body is burning clean and lean. The low carbohydrate nature of everything I have eaten so far keeps the hunger level so low that I could even work right through and skip lunch if needed, or if I were trying to lose fat. But since I’m currently at roughly right fat level and not wanting to be any lighter than I am, I break at around 2PM for something like this:

I have been on a bit of a Tilapia binge in recent months, because they are almost too convenient and tasty and easy to prepare. So much so, that I jokingly refer to them as “marriage savers” – there is no need to fret over whose turn it is to prepare dinner, if something with such a good nutrition profile is always in the freezer and just 15 toaster oven minutes away from your tongue.

While the nutrition profile is good, they are still a bit of an expensive source of protein. $2.00 sounds like chump change, but the same protein can be had for under fifty cents from other sources like bean and rice combinations, eggs, or even whey protein supplements.

A cost difference of just $1.50 per person per meal, multiplied over a four-person family’s 372 meals per month makes a difference of $558 per month, or about $96,000 per decade after compounding.

Yes, that is a hundred grand, and this is just the difference between a semi-frugal $2.00 meal component and a fifty cent equivalent from, say, your crock pot.

Imagine, then, the effect that impulse grocery purchases like those little $7.49 packs of sushi would make, if you casually toss them in the cart on a regular basis? A decade of a family’s innocent-seeming Whole Foods indulgence could pay for a house outright, while leaving them no better nourished than wiser meal planning with bulk ingredients.

Put a crock pot and a Costco membership to good use, and just watch what happens to your bank account.

Now, I took that sushi picture on my own kitchen table, so we too are guilty of this indulgence. But we are long past financial independence, and even then it is a rare purchase. The overall lesson is just, again, to take this shit seriously – make sure you appreciate every food purchase above beans-and-rice level as a conscious luxury rather than just a habit. And if you are in debt, no sushi for you!


Another typical dinner – main dish is based on potatoes/veggies plus fancy sausages baked into a cheese-laden casserole.

Around 3:30pm in the afternoon, I’ll walk or bike home from “work”, so I can be there when my son returns home from school – one of the biggest rewards of early retirement. One of us parents will cook him a homemade pizza at this point (I pre-make the personal size shells and keep them in stacks in the freezer), so he can recharge with about 480 calories from a delicious meal that costs only about 50 cents to make.

Then us Adults will usually collaborate to make something like pulled-pork tacos:


On the side, we might add chopped fresh vegetables, more salad, or something more substantial as the appetites require. Like the filets, it’s not the cheapest possible way to get a meal, but at least it is reasonable. Also, we are omnivores, which is a more expensive and polluting way to get protein – but if you’re not badass enough to eat vegetarian you can at least make a substantial dent in your eco footprint by making beef your last choice of meats.

Adding it All Up

Although it took me quite a few hours to collect all this data on what I eat and add it up in a spreadsheet, the results have been quite interesting because I had never done it before. With just the stuff described above, I arrived at this point:


And the numbers were a bit surprising to me, in the following ways:

  • I am spending a lot more on food than I thought. If all three of us ate the way I do, our annual grocery bill would be $8600, not counting additional indulgences or food for parties. Since our real bill is closer to $6000, you can see that I am doing more than my share of the spending. Then again, I do weigh more than both Little MM and his mother combined , so perhaps this is fair.
  • My base calorie level is about right for my age and height for a moderately active person, but on active days I need closer to 4000 calories (if you look up a 185 pound male “athlete” for the baseline)
  • My base protein level is also about right for moderate activity, but on highly physical or weight training days I like to boost that to one gram per pound of bodyweight.
  • So while everything in this article is detailed and accurate so far, I tend to eat a variable amount of additional food to meet hunger needs, scaling it all up and down depending on what the mirror says. I use one or more of the following boosts.


  • Handfuls of Nuts (1 ounce worth, 160 calories)
  • Protein Smoothie (banana, peanut butter, plain yogurt, tiny bit of milk, ice, water, and vanilla protein mix – about 1000 calories and 40 grams protein)
  • 2-3 simple eggs cooked in olive oil with a bit of cheese: 500 calories, 20 grams of protein, 50 cents or so.
  • Avocado toast: 3 eggs, some shredded cheese, avocado, all on a piece of whole wheat toast with butter. A truly decadent weight gainer of a snack, although quite cheap. Leave out toast if you are not trying to maintain or gain weight. 1000 calories, plenty of nutrients about a buck.



*and while I won’t explain this in detail here, parents of children with his personality type will understand without question. It is something people do tend to grow out of as they get older and gain confidence with new experiences.