A year-long spending moratorium

While walking the dog last weekend, Kim noted that I’ve been getting a lot of packages in the mail lately. “What’s up with that?” she asked.

I sighed.

“Remember how we shared that bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve?” I said. “Well, that got me buzzed enough that I sat down at my computer and ordered a bunch of used books. Mystery novels and manga. So, those are starting to filter in.” That’s right. I got drunk on New Year’s Eve (because I no longer drink regularly, I’ve become a lightweight) and ordered old John le Carré paperbacks and Lone Wolf and Cub compilations from ABE Books. I lead an exciting life, my friends.

“Don’t you have enough books?” Kim asked.

“Honestly, I do,” I said. “And I haven’t read half of them. I haven’t watched half of the movies I’ve purchased. I haven’t read half of my graphic novels.”

“You only wear about half of the clothes in your closet,” Kim added. We stopped to let the dog dig in the ditch. Tally was certain she smelled a rodent and was desperate to find it.

“Right,” I said. “I know I’m not the only one who does this, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I feel as if I ought to take a break from buying new stuff and just work through the books and movies and clothes I already own.”

“I feel as if you ought to do that too,” Kim said, laughing. Then Tahlequah saw a deer in the neighbor’s field, and our conversation was forgotten in the ensuing excitement. Bark bark bark! Deers are evil.

A Spending Moratorium

During the fifteen years I’ve been writing about personal finance, I’ve read a number of stories from folks who’ve elected to do a “buy nothing” year or a “no spend” year. Although I’ve always viewed these spending moratoriums with interest, I’ve never considered doing one of my own until now.

After my conversation with Kim, though, I’ve decided it would be a useful exercise. But what rules should I set for myself? How long should the spending moratorium last? What should it cover?

To answer these questions, I need to be clear on the purpose of this spending hiatus. My goal is to spend less money, yes, but more importantly I want to appreciate the things I already own. I want to use them. And I want to bring less Stuff into the house. Plus, I want to break the conditioning that makes me believe that I have to own everything that looks interesting.

Money is one part of the equation, but only one part. This project would be more about adjusting my psychology, my mindset.

In a way, I’m approaching this project as if I were going on a “money diet”.

As of today, I’m exactly two weeks from the end of my actual diet. Since July 28th, I’ve lost 28.5 pounds. I have a pound and a half to lose in the next fourteen days to meet my goal.

I’ve lost this weight through simple calorie counting. Nothing else. I track the calories I consume and the calories I burn. I try to maintain a gap between the two. This means that I need to be mindful about everything I put in my mouth. (I ate a 350 calorie donut as I started writing this article. It wasn’t worth it!)

I’m trying to think of this spending moratorium as something similar. Or at least as something that flexes the same mental muscles. It’ll require the same sort of discipline.

Because I’m already channeling a lot of willpower to maintain my calorie deficit, I’m going to delay the start of my spending moratorium until I’m finished with the diet. I don’t want to create unnecessary difficulties by focusing on two things at once.

My Spending Rules

Because my diet ends (or should end) on January 29th, I think February 1st makes a great date to start the spending moratorium in earnest. In reality, I’m already trying to adhere to it. But my official spending hiatus will run from 01 February 2021 to 31 January 2022.

So, the timeline is easy to pick. It’s more difficult to decide what kind of spending this project applies to.

I don’t have the same spending issues that a lot of other folks do. I’m not tempted to pick up fancy coffee. I hate malls. I don’t like shopping for clothes. I rarely want to eat out for breakfast or lunch. (Dining out for dinner is an issue, though.)

My trouble areas are media and tech. I like new gadgets. (I’m typing this on a brand-new M1 Macbook Air.) More than gadgets, I have this bizarre compulsion to own each and every book or song or movie that interests me whether I have immediate plans to consume the media or not. This is so dumb, yet it’s how I operate.

As a result, the rules for my personal spending moratorium might be different than the rules you’d set for yourself. Here are the guidelines I currently plan to adopt. (This might change by the time I start in February.)

  • No new technology. None. Not even for business. (I tend to rationalize tech purchases by telling myself they’re for the company — which they are — but that’s not really an excuse to upgrade things that still work just fine.)
  • No new comics, manga, or graphic novels. None. I sold my comic book collection a few years ago, but I still have plenty of comics material I can read when the mood strikes. There’s no need to buy more.
  • No new movies or TV shows. None. I already have something like 800 movies in my iTunes library, plus a few dozen TV series. Plus, we subscribe to Netflix and Disney+. There is zero need for me to buy new movies. (For films like Dune, which I’m eagerly awaiting, I’ll need to go to a theater or catch it on streaming or wait until the moratorium is over.)
  • No new books except for those specifically required for my work. I’ll allow myself to purchase a book if it’s needed to write an article or to do research. But I don’t want to stretch things here. I have to legit need it to get the project done. Otherwise, I have plenty of financial reference books. And I have scores of unread mystery novels and sci-fi books for leisure reading.
  • No new furniture, yard tools, or other household items. This area isn’t really a weakness for me, but I want to explicitly exclude these items from my spending. That said, there are two projects I’ll allow spending on this year. First, we need to fix the rot and/or foundation problem under the bathroom. Second, I’m okay spending a few hundred dollars to complete our “Japanese garden” area. (Most of that spending will be on gravel!) But nothing else.

As you can see, my spending moratorium targets my natural tendency toward acquisitiveness. It doesn’t address spending on experiences. That’s for two reasons.

First, I’m not spending much on experiences (vacations, restaurants) at the moment thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not even an option. If things change and experiential spending because tempting once more, I’ll revisit this.

Second, I don’t feel like I overspend on experiences even during normal times. (Yes, restaurants are an issue, but I’m aware of it and working on it.)

Even with these guidelines, there are some grey areas. Take fitness, for instance. Now that I’m nearing the end of my weight-loss journey, it’s time to get serious about exercise. I have a nice bicycle and I plan to ride it for aerobic activity. But I also want to build some muscle. I don’t want to join a gym. I’m tempted to purchase some free weights off of Craigslist. But would this violate my spending moratorium? Should I simply make do with the dumbbells and kettlebells I already own?

I don’t have an answer.

One solution might be to implement a rule where I’m required to consult Kim for any purchase like this. I could have a default “no” position on my problem areas, then for everything else I’d double-check with her in order to verify the worthiness of any given purchase. This seems sensible, but I haven’t decided what to do yet.

After years of talking about it, this is the year I’ll be letting go of my season tickets to the Portland Timbers. Kim thinks I should keep the tickets and simply sell them game by game. “You may end up regretting that you gave up your seats,” she says. “If you keep the tickets but sell them game by game, you always have the option of attending. And you get to keep the seats in case you change your mind.” We’ll see. For now, though, I plan to give them up.

My Spending Plan

Setting goals and intentions is a great start. Deciding to change is the first step to change. But deciding isn’t enough. For me to succeed, I know that I need to have a plan that ensures success.

With my current weight loss, it wasn’t enough to simply say, “I want to lose thirty pounds.” I had to devise a strategy to do so, a strategy that I knew I could follow. I stopped keeping treats in the house (except for fruit-based popsicles, which have been my one cheat these past six months). I stopped buying alcohol. When I felt myself wanting to overeat, I deliberately made myself sit in the hot tub for an hour or two. (Such a sacrifice, I know.)

These little changes of habit (and others) have been effective. I haven’t adhered to them without fail, but I’ve done so maybe 95% of the time. That’s enough to see great results.

Based on past experience, I know that I need to employ similar restrictions in order to succeed with my spending moratorium. As far as possible, I need to avoid temptation.

I spend when sad or stressed.

Here are some of the changes I intend to make:

  • Stop browsing shopping sites simply to kill time. I’m not sure why I do it, but about once per week I’ll find myself browsing Amazon or Apple or ABE Books for no other reason than to look at all of the things I don’t own yet. This is so, so dumb. It has to stop.
  • Stop reading blogs that highlight new stuff. Right now, I read MacRumors every single day. I browse a couple of comic book blogs. Every week, I check for new releases on the iTunes store. I subscribe to subreddits like /r/DidntKnowIWantedThat that. These habits need to be put on hold. They tempt me to spend.
  • Stop spending to self soothe. Like many others who have spending problems (whether present or in the past), I have a tendency to buy things in order to make myself feel better. [Reddit Meme. Which subreddit was that? Poverty finance?) I’m much better at this than I used to be, but I still do it sometimes. Because both the end of my diet and and springtime are approaching, I hope to switch to exercise as a source of self-soothing.
  • Start using a wish list. Even with these rules in place, I know there will be many, many times this year that I find things I want to buy. I’m going to keep a text-based wish list of these items (not a wish list on Amazon). When the project is over, I can review the list to see if I still truly want any of these things or whether they were passing fancies. (This would basically be a variation of the 30-day rule to control impulse spending.)

I’ll probably think of other strategies I could use to keep myself in check during this exercise. Plus, I’m hoping that you folks will chime in with tips and suggestions. Basically, I’m trying to follow my own advice: Build barriers between yourself an bad behavior while removing barriers between you and doing the right thing.

So, that’s my plan.

Starting February 1st, I’ll undertake a year-long spending moratorium intended to reduce my consumer habits. This is less about the financial benefits of such a project (although I welcome those) and more about the psychological benefits. I’m curious to see how it goes. If my current diet is any indication, things will be great for long stretches — but there will be days I’m sorely tempted to “cheat”.

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/spending-moratorium/

My 2020 in review: Steps in the right direction

Are you all ready for this? It’s one of my favorite days of the year! I just spent an hour entering data in Quicken, then another thirty minutes analyzing it. It’s time to run some numbers.

How well did I do with my financial goals last year? Was I able to cut back on dining out? (Hint: There was a global pandemic. What do you think?) Did my net worth rise or fall? Let’s take a look.

First, let’s review where I was at the end of 2019.

Quite simply, I was a mess. Objectively, my life was good, but subjectively it was a disaster. My mental health was in shambles. Depression and anxiety were crippling me and truly affecting my relationships with other people. I felt like I was in the middle of a prolonged car crash.

The good news is that, for the most part, 2020 was much better from a personal perspective. Yes, I understand that 2020 sucked for a lot of people. And it was the most tumultuous year our country has seen in a generation. But for me, personally, the year was mostly good. I’ll explain why this is in a bit, but first lets look at the Big Picture.

My Net Worth

Here’s my end-of-year net worth from each of the past three years. (These numbers do not include the value of my business or this website.)

  • At the end of 2018, my net worth was $1,334,227 — a 15.2% decrease from 2017.
  • At the end of 2019, my net worth was $1,437,543 — a 7.7% increase from 2018.
  • At the end of 2020, my net worth was $1,373,233 — a 4.5% decrease from 2019.

Now, on paper a decrease of net worth amounting to $64,310 might seem scary. Maybe it’s because I’m in a better mental space than last year, but it doesn’t bother me. This may also be due to the fact that I realize most of that drop comes from Zillow’s valuation of our home.

At the end of 2019, Zillow said our country cottage was worth $495,749. At the end of 2020, the home was valued at $437,127, which is a drop of $58,622.

Yes, I realize using Zillow to track our home value is…erratic. And it leads to fluctuations like this. Still, I feel like it’s a solid enough source for home values, and it gives me some sort of number to go on.

That’s one way of looking at it. But looked at another way, things are a little dicier. You see, I currently live off of my investments. Most of those investments are in retirement accounts, which I can’t touch (unless I want a tax penalty) for another eight years. At the start of 2019, my regular taxable investment accounts contained $269,264. Today, they have $197,117. That there could also be my drop in net worth.

One thing is certain, though. That $197,117 isn’t enough to get me to age 59-1/2 at my current level of spending. I need to spend less, earn more, or (preferably) both.

Now, let’s look at some of the numbers in greater detail.

I’m still tracking my money in Quicken 2007. I continue to try new money apps but none of them is as good as this clunky old program.

Having said that, I didn’t track my spending from May 12th to October 1st last year. I wasn’t spending anything, so I thought the process was pointless. (In retrospect, I wish I had continue to track the numbers because they would have made a good baseline.) Because of this break, I have no way to know exactly what I spent over the course of the entire year. But I do have complete numbers for the first quarter (mostly pre-COVID) and the last quarter.

Food Spending

A year ago, I declared that my financial goal for 2020 was to spend less on food. I’m pleased to report that I achieved this goal although I had some help from a global pandemic. The COVID crisis kept me (and most people) at home. Yes, we did eat out now and then, but it was rare. And it was outside, when possible.

Here’s my food spending from 2020.

  • From January to March, I spent $1700.91 on food (or about $566.97 per month). Of this, $1189.28 ($396.42 per month) was on groceries and $498 ($166 per month) was on dining out.
  • From October to December, I spent $1751.26 on food (or about $583.75 per month). Of this, $1427.81 ($475.94 per month) was on groceries and $323.45 (107.82 per month) was on dinging out.) I should also note that the bulk of this food spending was in December ($663.32 on groceries, $92.00 on our only restaurant meal, and $755.62 total).

So, yay! I met my goal! My monthly food spending dropped from $1053.28 in 2019 to $575.36 in 2020. If I had tracked the stats during the middle of the year, that number would be even lower.

To put things into perspective, here’s a tiny spreadsheet comparing my monthly food spending over the last four years. Numbers from 2019 are incomplete. And numbers from last year are for the first quarter and laster quarter combined. (Again, data is missing for the middle of the year.)

My food spending

That looks like some solid progress to me.

And you know what? I’m willing to bet that a big part of that drop in spending is because I drank less alcohol in 2020. Technically, I don’t want my alcohol spending to appear as “food”. I have a separate category for booze. In reality, I’m lazy and I rarely separate beer and wine purchases from other grocery purchases. So, I think some of that drop in food spending is because I was drinking less.

Let’s talk a little more about that.

Booze Spending

Perhaps the biggest win for me in 2020 — financially and otherwise — was my decreased dependence on alcohol.

I had two stints last year during which I was alcohol free: January 1st to mid-February, then Independence Day to Halloween. And since I “fell off the wagon” at the end of October, I’ve done fairly good about minimizing my alcohol intake. (I refuse to keep whiskey or wine in the house. If I’m truly craving a beer, I drive to the store to buy one. Or two. This policy has really helped me cut down on how much I consume.)

In 2019, I was spending roughly $200 each month on alcohol. In 2018, this was closer to $300 per month. Holy cats! In 2020, I spent zero on alcohol for half the year. During the six months I tracked my expenses last year, I spent a total of $227.07 on booze — $37.85 per month.

My marijuana expense was also down. Pot is cheaper than alcohol in the first place, but I was also trying to reduce my use of weed while I was trying to cut out alcohol. I spent maybe $20 a month on the stuff in 2020.

My current weight-loss status

As an added benefit, by cutting out alcohol I was better able to lose weight. I’m currently down more than 25 pounds since July. (I want to lose another five or ten pounds, then turn my attention to building strength once more.)

Best of all? My mental health improved! In September and October, after being alcohol-free for a few months, I was enjoying peak performance. I was happier and more productive than I have been in years. This benefit to reduced alcohol use is the best benefit of all and the one most likely to keep me away from the stuff.

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve resumed drinking some. I’ve had four beers in the past week, for instance (including New Year’s). For now, I’m okay with this. My mental and physical health seem great at this level of consumption. But there’s still a chance I’ll opt to give up the stuff completely for an extended period of time. (I have a sticky note on my work computer with a question that Tom asked me in October: “What’s the postive for you in using alcohol and pot?” Great question.)

Big Spending

The sorest spot in my budget over the past few years has been big expenses. In 2015, I spent $35,000 on an RV. In 2017, we sold the condo and bought this country cottage, then poured money into repairs and upgrades. In 2018, we spent more on remodeling.

Well, last year didn’t have any major home expenses but I did replace my Mini Cooper, at long last.

At the end of June, I spent $40,000 on a 2019 Mini Countryman SE All4. This seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, the purchase wasn’t the smartest move. The car is fine — it’s not great but it’s not bad — and I enjoy driving it. I especially like that most of my driving is now electric (and that I’m averaging 53 miles per gallon.) But I don’t drive often enough or value vehicles enough to justify having spent this much on a car.

I don’t want to say this was a dumb move…but I think it was probably a dumb move.

Time will tell.

Looking ahead, 2021 should have zero large expenses. I hope. We’ve performed all of the repairs and upgrades we need to do on the house. (I say that, yet I’m worried about the foundation settling.) I just bought a car. My health is good. We have no big trips planned. Our food spending seems to be under control. I have high hopes that 2021 will, at long last, be a year without major outlays. Fingers crossed!

Final Thoughts

Honestly, nothing else about my spending worries me. There were a couple of categories that saw increases last year — books and movies — but this doesn’t bother me. COVID has led me to read more and to watch more shows. These forms of entertainment are relatively inexpensive. All the same, I’ll keep an eye out to be sure my book and movie spending doesn’t become problematic.

Here are a couple of final thoughts after crunching the numbers.

  • My new electric hybrid is amazing when it comes to fuel costs. It has an electric range of roughly 16 miles. That doesn’t seem like much, but it coveres 90% of my driving. I’m getting 53 miles per gallon overall. I last put gas in the tank on November 8th and it’s still half full. (The downside is that it only gets about 23 mpg when using the combustion engine.) My fuel expense has dropped from $100/month to $20/month.
  • My spending on streaming services boomed at the end of 2020, but part of that is because I’m researching and writing a GRS article on the subject. Three TV-replacement services totals $200/month! But I only had those for one month. (And, in retrospect, I should have made them a business expense.)

The bottom line? Last year was pretty good for me. I’m certainly starting 2021 in a much better mental state than I started 2020. Things aren’t perfect but are they ever? I have a good life, an amazing partner in Kim, and I’m currently enjoying the work I’m doing here at Get Rich Slowly and at my newly-revived personal site.

Looking ahead, I don’t have any specific personal financial goals. I guess that I want to increase my income. To that end, I’ll continue channeling my renewed focus on this website.

2020 was a mixed bag for the business side of Get Rich Slowly. The initial expenses in re-acquiring the site have been paid, so my costs were a lot lower last year. That said, so was revenue. The site earned something like $72,000 (before expenses) in 2019. In 2020, that fell to about $30,000.

Some of my colleagues make big bucks from their blogs. I don’t. I’m okay with that, though, because I recognize that many of the decisions I make are deliberately reader-centric, which means I’m foregoing easy money. Still, it would be nice to boost revenue so that I could draw income from the work I do here. Let’s see what that looks like going forward…

Okay, it’s your turn. How was your 2020?

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/my-2020-in-review/

Start where you are

Ah, a brand new year.

Especially after the shitshow that was 2020, it’s good to have the sense that we can begin anew, that we can shed some of those habits and behaviors that have been holding us down while adopting new patterns that lead us to become better humans.

I actually enjoyed a fruitful second half to 2020. I lost 24 pounds. I (mostly) gave up alcohol. I recorded 61 videos. I made progress in my fight against depression and anxiety. And, most importantly, I resumed the habit of writing every day.

In 2021, I want to build on this momentum. I want to continue these habits while incorporating a few new ones, such as tracking my time, keeping a personal journal, and — once I reach my target weight — exercising regularly once more.

There’s one thing that often holds me back when I decide to make changes. It holds others back too. It’s the overwhelming feeling that there’s just so much to do — and that I’ve handicapped myself through poor choices in the past. I remember the physical feats I was capable of when doing Crossfit a decade ago, for instance, and I feel a sense of helplessness. I’m nowhere near as fit I was ten years ago. There’s no way I can do that stuff today.

But I have to remind myself: It’s not a competition. I ought not compare myself to others — or to my past self. My sole goal should be a better person tomorrow than I am today.

To do this, I must accept who I am, where I am. It sure would be nice if I were to start a fitness program in better shape than I currently am, but that’s only a dream. If I want to change, I have to accept reality. I need to start where I am.

And if you want to change — if you want to master your money, your health, your relationships, your career — you too must start where you are.

How to Start Where You Are

Start where you are quote by Arthur AsheClearly, this is easier said than done. It’s one thing for me to sit at my desk and type out pithy advice; it’s another to actually deal with the situation day-to-day in real life.

But here’s the thing: In order to get where I am, I had to start where I was. In order for other Get Rich Slowly readers to get where they are today, they had to start where they were.

When I say “start where you are”, I mean that you should accept that who you are and what you have today is, essentially, your starting hand. Don’t beat yourself up for past mistakes. Don’t blame others for getting you into this situation. These are the cards you’ve been dealt (even if you’ve dealt them to yourself), and it’s now up to you to play them as best you can.

How do you do this?

  • First and foremost, take care of yourself. Pause. Breathe. Prioritize your physical and mental health, even if that means spending a bit of time and money. Exercise. Eat right. If you need the help of a therapist, see a therapist. Money spent on self-care is never wasted.
  • Next, take stock of your situation. Figure out exactly where you are starting from. Set aside a Saturday morning to perform a “financial inventory”. Ideally, you’d take the time to begin tracking your money with a program like Quicken or YNAB or Personal Capital. At the very least, calculate your net worth and list all of your debts, bills, assets, and income. You need a snapshot of your current financial situation so you know what you’re working with.
  • Figure out where you want to go. It’s great to decide that you want to change, that you want to improve your financial life, for instance. But you’ll have greater success if your reason for change is specific, not nebulous. Craft a personal mission statement, and maybe use this to set up a series of smart goals to act as waypoints along the road to your destination.
  • If needed, restructure your life. We all suffer from “financial drift”. We become complacent and lose sight of our larger goals from time to time. When you press the reset button, when you start your financial journey, it’s the perfect time to make changes, large and small. Analyze all of your spending. Cut the crap you do not need. Consider changing jobs. Ask yourself if it might make sense to move to a cheaper home — or to a cheaper city or state.
  • Meanwhile, don’t compare yourself to others — not even in the abstract. On an individual level, comparing yourself to your friends and family is a bad idea because you’re pitting your internal worst against their external best. Of course this’ll make you feel like crap! Besides, it doesn’t matter where anybody else is; what matters is where you are relative to where you want to be. It’s also a bad idea to compare yourself to statistical norms. Sure, stats can be fun to look at — and I share them all the time here at GRS — but stats are soul-less, lifeless abstract numbers. Statistics don’t have cancer. Statistics don’t get divorces. Statistics don’t struggle with faulty financial blueprints. When you start where you are, worry about your own self — not anybody else.
  • Keep things simple. I know first-hand just how tempting it can be to over-complicate things when you want to make a change. I’m a master at this. But the thing is, when you make things too complex, you’re less likely to follow through on them. If your fitness program is “I’m going to walk around the block each day”, you’ll have a better shot at success than if you decide “I’ll bike for all of my errands”. One is simple and the other is not. This advice is especially true with money. Keep things simple at the start; you can always add complexity later.
  • Seek support. One of the best things you can do when starting out is find support for the journey ahead. This support can take many forms. You might find a mentor, for instance, somebody who’s been down the same path before you. Pick their brain. Find out what worked for them and what didn’t. You might put together a “personal board of directors”, trusted experts who can give you solid financial advice. Most of all, look for other people in a similar position to you. Band together so that you can start your journeys together.

I’d also add that when you’re making changes, you shouldn’t expect to get things right immediately. There’s a lot of trial and error. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll try certain methods that don’t quite work, then switch to others. That’s okay. Don’t get trapped by the need to make a perfect choice when starting out. It’s enough to make a good choice in the beginning. There’ll be time for perfection later.

There’s a lot more to getting out of debt, managing your money, and saving for retirement, obviously. That’s what the rest of Get Rich Slowly is all about! But these are the essential steps to getting started. You don’t start where your friends or co-workers started. You don’t start where you wish you were. You start where you are.

Do More of What Works

Change Your Life and Everyone In ItI’m currently reading Change Your Life and Everyone In It, a 1996 self-help book by Michelle Weiner-Davis. My therapist recommended it as a possible antidote to my depression and anxiety. The author offers a simple path to building a better life: Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

To some, this advice will sound stupid. To me, it’s a revelation. So simple! So obvious! So smart!

I’ve read similar advice before, of course. Tim Ferriss, for instance, has talked about the importance of playing to your strengths rather than working on your weaknesses. When you do more of what you’re good at, you naturally do less of what you’re bad at. You don’t have to deliberately avoid your trouble spots because the good crowds out the bad.

Take me, for example.

I like to write. I think I’m good at it. I also like to play videogames. Writing is productive but gaming is not. Some game play is fine; too much is a vice. Rather than try to play fewer games, which seems like deprivation, Ferriss would say that I should instead try to write more, which seems like abundance. If I spend more time writing, as a side effect I will have less time to play games. By honing a strength, I’ll be avoiding a weakness.

Or, as Weiner-Davis puts it, I’ll be doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t is an essential part of starting where you are. It’s tacit acceptance that, like everyone, you’re imperfect. You’re good at some things but suck at others.

Where I Started

I was in debt for seventeen years before I began my own quest for financial freedom. For many of those seventeen years, I was grasping at straws, trying to find quick fixes to fundamental problems. When I looked at my friends — at my wife, even — I felt ashamed that they were financially successful and I was not.

I wasn’t able to turn things around until I surrendered to the idea that I had to start where I was. I couldn’t magically will myself into smart financial habits. No amount of wishing was going to give me the same amount of savings that my wife had or the fancy house that my best friend had. It didn’t matter where anyone else was on their financial journey. I had to approach my money with what Zen Buddhists call a “beginner’s mind”.

So, in October 2004, I sat down one night to take stock of my situation. I put all of my financial information into Quicken. I entered my bills, my debts, and my income. For the past thirteen years, I’ve used Quicken (on and off) to keep tabs on where I am.

Next, I figured out where I wanted to go. I drew up this “spending plan” as a roadmap to my desired destination:

Gradually, I restructured my life to be more aligned with my mission. I made major cuts to my spending, which included giving up things I had previously valued such as computer games and comic books. I boosted my income by taking side gigs — and starting this blog.

I stopped comparing myself to my friends. I realized it didn’t matter what they had achieved. (I also realized that, in some cases, what appeared to be financial success was built on a house of cards. Some of my friends were just as poor with money as I was. They fueled their fancy lifestyles with debt!)

And, most importantly, sought support. I found people who actually were good with money and asked them for advice. I read books. I participated in online communities. I started Get Rich Slowly, which turned into a massive support group for myself and many others.

The Final Word

My girlfriend Kim has been fretting that at age 48 she doesn’t have enough saved for retirement. She hangs out with me and at early retirement gatherings and comes away feeling inadequate, like she doesn’t measure up to the rest of us.

Or there’s my friend Joel who desperately wants financial advice — but is afraid to ask for it. He’s embarrassed by his past decisions and his present circumstances. He’s afraid to look foolish.

Text exchange with Joel re: starting at 50

Text exchange with Joel re: starting at 50

Here’s my message to people like Kim and Joel: Start where you are. Don’t panic. All is not lost. You’re not too late. This isn’t a contest. Don’t fret about your past, and don’t worry about how others are doing. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

If you’re meticulous and methodical, it doesn’t matter when or where you start. It’s still possible to get rich slowly. I’m here to help — and so are other GRS readers. Join us.

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/start-where-you-are/

Myths and misconceptions about financial independence and early retirement

As the financial independence and early retirement movement (or FIRE movement, for short) has gained popularity, some myths and misconceptions have sprung up about what it entails. Too many people make assumptions about what the FIRE movement is and what it’s made of.

A lot of folks think the FIRE movement is cult-ish. Some think that financial independence and early retirement are only for rich white people. (Or, more specifically, for white men in the tech industry.) Others say that early retirement is only possible with a high income. Or you can only do this if you’re so frugal it hurts. And, of course, there are folks like Suze Orman who “hate hate hate” the FIRE movement because they believe you need millions in order to retire — early or otherwise.

I’ll be honest. Each objection and complaint about financial independence contains a grain of truth. But each objection and complaint misses the point in some important ways.

Today, let’s look at some of these myths and misconceptions about financial independence and early retirement, and explore why these myths and misconceptions are myths and misconceptions.

What IS financial independence?
Before we dive in, here are the basics of FIRE for those who are unfamiliar.

Financial independence and early retirement are two terms for the same concept: You’ve saved enough money that — in theory – you shouldn’t ever have to work for income again…unless you want to. We talk about “financial independence” because too many people want to argue over the definition of retirement.

Roughly speaking, you can consider yourself financially independent (and able to retire early) when your investments equal 25x your annual spending. There’s some nuance to this, but that’s a fine rule of thumb. So, if you spend $50,000 per year, you’ve achieved F.I. when you have $1.25 million in your investment accounts. If you spend $20,000 per year, you need $500,000 invested. If you spend $200,000 per year, you need $5,000,000.

Financial independence is achieved by creating a gap between your earning and spending. This gap — your saving rate — is the key to achieving all financial goals, especially early retirement. The larger your saving rate, the sooner you’ll build the life of your dreams.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s just math — plus hard work and patience.

While researching this article, I found a October 2018 survey of the FIRE movement produced by TD Ameritrade. The Harris Poll talked to 1503 Americans about their money and about early retirement, then TD Ameritrade interpreted the results. This is the only systematic survey about FIRE that I know of, and I’m going to refer to it throughout this article.

Financial Independence Isn’t Possible with Kids

The most common misconception about FIRE is that it’s not possible if you have children. When I explain the idea to people I meet, this is often the first thing they say: “Well, that works great if you’re single, but it just won’t work if you have a family.”

Parenthood is an expensive proposition. The USDA estimates that it costs roughly $250,000 to raise a child — and that does not include college. Obviously, this means that if you have children and want to retire early (or achieve other financial goals), you’ll need to earn more money. But children don’t make financial independence impossible.

In fact, from my experience, most folks in the world of FIRE have kids. It’s the norm rather than the exception. (This 2019 article from Marketwatch profiles several families pursuing financial independence, including Angela from Tread Lightly, Retire Early.)

Kids are only a barrier to your financial goals if you allow them to be. And the reality is that many people in the FIRE community take great pleasure in their children, especially in educating them about how money works. (Doug Nordman recently published a book called Raising Your Money-Savvy Family for Next Generation Financial Independence. That’s a mouthful, but the gist is FIRE can be a family pursuit.)

Financial Independence Requires Extreme Frugality

Probably the second-most common misconception is that financial independence requires extreme frugality. “I don’t want to live like a miser,” people tell me, and they dismiss the FIRE movement without fully understanding it.

While thrift is certainly a virtue, it is not a requirement for achieving financial independence. If you have a high income, it’s perfectly possible to retire early even while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle during your working years. (But a good salary is required for this to work.)

If your income is average — or less — then some degree of frugality is needed, no doubt. Again, financial independence is all about math. There are only two variables here: what you earn and what you spend. If you can’t adjust one variable to boost your saving rate, then you have to adjust the other. (Ideally, you’d adjust both.)

For the sake of completeness, I should point out that there’s actually a third variable involved. What you do with your savings is also important, so your return on investments is another factor. But these are the three fundamental variables of financial independence: what you earn, what you spend, and the rate of return you earn on the difference.

Believe it or not, the afore-mentioned FIRE survey found just one key difference between those are and those who aren’t on the path to financial independence: F.I. folks spend about 7% less of their income on housing — and put about 7% more of their income into saving and investments. (These numbers are more striking if you frame them differently. FIRE folks allocate 30% less of their budget to housing but set aside 78% more of their budget for investing.)

FIRE budget vs. regular budget

So, what’s the source of the misconception that financial independence requires hard-core thrift? I think it probably stems from the fact that two of the earliest proponents of the modern FIRE movement were Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme and Pete from Mr. Money Mustache, both of whom advocate extreme frugality as a path to wealth. They’re not wrong. But they’re not the only ones who are right.

Financial Independence Requires a High Income

The flip side of the “extreme frugality” myth is the belief that financial independence requires a six-figure salary.

There’s a reason this myth exists. Most folks in the FIRE movement do have high incomes. They’re doctors or software engineers or entrepreneurs. Or they work multiple jobs so that they can earn more. The TD Ameritrade survey makes this clear. While it is possible to pursue F.I. with a low income, it’s much easier to do so with more money.

FIRE survey income graph

There’s a reason for this. You reach FIRE by increasing the gap between your earning and spending. Thus, a high income absolutely accelerates the process.

That said, there are plenty of people who reach financial independence without making millions of dollars. This is only possible, though, if you keep your expenses low. Remember, this is all about math. You want to increase the difference between your income and expenses. If your income is low and you can’t (or won’t) increase it, then your only option is to cut expenses.

Also, I hope it’s obvious to you that if both of these beliefs exist — FIRE is only possible through extreme frugality and FIRE is only possible with a high income — then neither is likely accurate. Because that’s the truth.

In reality, financial independence is best achieved by finding balance, by doing whatever possible to both increase earnings while decreasing expenses. Ultimately, your aim is to increase the gap between the two, to increase your saving rate. How you choose to do this depends on your own strengths, goals, and circumstances

Let’s look at some actual data! According to the TD Ameritrade survey about financial independence, FIRE folks take both approaches: increasing income and reducing expenses. But one is a clear favorite.

income vs. expenses in the FIRE community

Of those surveyed, nearly twice as many people prefer to increase their saving rate by cutting expenses rather than increasing income. From my experience, this is largely due to the fact that it’s easier to cut costs than to boost earning power. If you were motivated, you could slash your non-housing expenses drastically in only a couple of weeks. But it takes time and planning to increase your income.

Financial Independence Is a Get-Rich-Quick Cult

My brain has grown numb from the people who call the FIRE movement a cult. It’s not a cult. There’s no leader. There’s no rulebook. There isn’t even collective agreement on many of the core concepts. (Seriously, you should see the arguments in the financial independence subreddit.)

The FIRE movement is a loose collection of like-minded folks who are all pursuing similar aims: They want to save enough that they can quit their day jobs and pursue more meaningful lives.

Now, it’s true that FIRE folks can exhibit cult-like qualities.

  • They’re enthusiastic about the subject, so they can be evangelical and want to share with the people they meet.
  • They use a lot of jargon, which is unfortunate.
  • They tend to lead unconventional lives, eschewing a lot of what most people consider “normal”. (I downsized from a fancy 1800-square-foot penthouse condo, for instance, to a quirky 1100-square foot “country cottage”.)
  • They tend to hang out with each other, both online and in the Real World.

It’s also true that the FIRE movement is indeed about getting rich quickly. (Or quick-ish, anyhow.) But this isn’t a bad thing.

Typically when we talk about get-rich-quick schemes, we mean shady enterprises that are somehow meant to trick people and/or build wealth by cutting corners. These schemes are scams. They offer promises that cannot possibly be fulfilled.

Financial independence isn’t a scam. It’s math. There’s nothing shady about it. It’s simply the process of putting existing tools to use in a highly-efficient manner so that you can make the numbers work in your favor.

Most folks save 5% to 10% of their income. Aggressive financial advisors urge their clients to save 20%. People in the FIRE movement have saving rates of 50% — or higher. There’s nothing scammy about saving more of your own money.

Financial Independence Is Only Possible Through Privilege and Luck

During the past year, a new myth has reared its ugly head. And it’s a myth that gets me riled up.

Some have begun to argue that financial independence and early retirement are only options for folks blessed by privilege or luck. (Better yet, both.) The point of these pieces — whether explicit or implied — is that preaching the power of personal responsibility is misguided, that we should instead focus on the Big Picture in order to improve economic opportunity for people.

I agree that privilege and luck do make it easier for some folks to achieve their financial goals than others. I, as a white man, have enjoyed benefits that other demographics have not. And systemic poverty is a real problem. Fundamentally, there are barriers that make it extremely difficult for certain people to succeed. I think it’s great that there are people out there who want to prioritize a fight for public policy that leads to increased wealth for more people.

Having said that, I also value personal responsibility. I’m not going to mince words here: Those who deny the power of self-determination are full of bullshit. No, agency isn’t going to be equally effective for every person. Some who take action will enjoy better results. Some people are starting from much better positions than others. And bad things will happen. They happen to everyone.

But I believe — strongly — that individual action is always the most effective way for any given individual to better her circumstances. In fact, “action beats inaction” is one of the fundamental tenets of my financial philosophy.

It’s so frustrating to to hear people argue that personal action doesn’t work. They’re wrong. And what they’re doing (without realizing it, I think) is giving people permission to do nothing about their circumstances instead of resolving to take responsibility.

Here’s the thing that really bugs me though. This is a false dichotomy. It’s not either-or. These aims aren’t mutually exclusive. You can pursue both systemic change and personal responsibility at the same time. That’s how I’ve tried to live my life, and that’s how many others in the FIRE movement live theirs. I believe that those who argue solely for policy change are just as misguided as those who argue solely for personal responsibility.

Privilege and luck play a hand in the FIRE movement, yes. But from my experience chatting with hundreds of early retirees over the past decade, more folks find financial independence through deliberate efforts to save more and spend less than through the whims of fate.

Some will dismiss my response here simply because I’m a white guy. Fortunately, the message of self-determination is prominent in all demographic groups. Because it’s important. For instance, check out The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires from Dennis Kimbro or A Latina’s Guide to Money by Eva Macias. Same message, different delivery vehicles.

Financial Independence Means Never Working Again

It’s a persistent myth that when somebody retires early, she’ll never work again. People think that once you achieve financial independence, you transition to an indolent life of luxury: beaches, martinis, pedicures, personal assistants. This simply isn’t so.

In nearly every case I know, folks who achieve FIRE maintain their existing lifestyle. In fact, that’s usually the goal. People on the path to financial independence generally make a deliberate decision to save enough to fund their current way of life. That’s the explicit aim. Only a handful of people want to live large after early retirement.

Plus, many of people do choose to work in early retirement, just as many choose to work after traditional retirement. The so-called Internet Retirement Police want to argue that “if you work, you aren’t retired”, but this is bullshit. This has never been the definition of retirement.

Work gives people purpose. It offers meaning. It lets them do good work that improves their community — and the world. And sure, work provides additional income. There’s nothing wrong with that. If anything, earning more in retirement is a smart risk-mitigation measure. But mostly, the jobs we take after reaching financial independence help us to fend off ennui.

I always use myself as an example when tackling this subject. I have enough saved that I don’t have to work again if I don’t want to. And, in fact, I took some time off for a couple of years to do nothing. But you know what? A life of leisure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It turns out that writing about money makes me happy. It brings me fulfillment and gives me a reason to get up every morning!

I’m reminded of the end of one of my favorite TV shows, The Good Place. (Spoiler alert!) Our main characters reach the quasi-heaven of the afterlife, where every wish is fulfilled and life is perfect. But they’re surprised to find that the existing population of The Good Place is anything but happy. The residents are numb. They’re bored. Why? Because having it all doesn’t mean anything without context.

FIRE folks are not Scrooge McDucks!

Financial Independence Is All About Greed

Another myth that bugs me is the belief that the FIRE movement is all about greed, that we’re a bunch of Scrooge McDucks looking to hoard our wealth for selfish purposes.

Sure, there are people who are in this only for themselves. They’re like Han Solo in Star Wars, who has no interest in defeating the Galactic Empire. “Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution,” he says. “I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.”

If that’s your aim, fine. I’m okay with that. Who am I to judge other people’s motivations? But I think it’s a mistake to ascribe this motive to everyone in the FIRE movement. (Or even to most people in the FIRE movement!) Those who learn about financial independence and stick with it often have higher aims.

Famously, Mr. Money Mustache, one of FIRE’s most prominent voices, makes no secret that his website is only secondarily about money. His goal is to get people to live lighter on the world. He wants to help the environment by reducing consumption. He wants people to be rich, happy, and to save the world.

Or there’s Vicki Robin, one of the modern FIRE movement’s earliest voices. When I wrote to ask about her initial inspiration, Vicki responded:

“I wanted the world to be a better place. More beautiful. More aligned with my highest sense of interrelatedness of life. I was also influenced by Thoreau and Emerson. I studied utopian communities as early as high school…Money itself was never of interest.”

Vicki’s vision is clearly evident in Your Money or Your Life, her 1992 book that inspired many folks in the FIRE movement to pursue this path.

And what about about Tanja Hester from Our Next Life? Tanja is all about using her position in early retirement as a force for good.

As you can probably tell, I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve had many discussions about the topic. In fact, I’ve begun developing a talk on this subject, which I presented for the first time in October 2019. And it’s a big reason that I recently ordered a copy of What We Owe to Each Other by T.M. Scanlon. (The other reason? “ELEANOR — FIND CHIDI”.)

For more on this subject, check out my article on what happens after you achieve financial independence.

Financial Independence is a Fad

Finally, there are a lot of people who believe the FIRE movement is a fad, and that its popularity will fade with time.

Some would put me in this camp. I’ve been very vocal that I do believe FIRE’s current popularity is a product of the past decade’s roaring economy. Times are good, so personal wealth has grown. People feel rich. They’re interested in topics like early retirement. But when I started Get Rich Slowly, things were bleaker. Frugality and thrift and getting out of debt were the popular topics.

The past 11-12 years have produced an extraordinary set of circumstances that have allowed many people to build wealth quickly — if they had the ability (and knowledge) to invest in either real estate or the stock market. As a result, there’s a bunch of people who find they’re able to retire early if they want, and that’s led to greater interest in the FIRE ideals.

In one talk recently, I claimed that we’ve reached “peak FIRE”. And I stand by that. But while I think we’re at (or near) peak popularity for this subject, I do not think financial independence is a fad. In fact, I know it’s not.

If you research the history of financial independence, you can see that this idea has been around for a long, long time. In 1758, Benjamin Franklin was espousing many of the core concepts we know and love today. But it wasn’t just Franklin. Throughout the 19th century (and into the 20th), many books promoted “pecuniary independence” as a path to financial fulfillment.

What we’ve seen lately — over the past eight years or so — is a rapid refinement of these concepts, a codification of the steps required to build wealth rapidly. It’s sort of how the the various elements that make up the theory of evolution had been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until Darwin published On the Origin of Species that the entire process was neatly packaged in one place.

The Bottom Line

Most of these myths about financial independence and early retirement stem from the same problem: assuming that the FIRE movement is homogenous, that there’s some unifying motive or method. There’s not. Financial independence isn’t simply one thing. Early retirement is different for everyone.

From my experience, the only thing that unites FIRE folks is math. This pursuit is only possible by creating a personal profit, a gap between what you earn and spend. That’s it. That’s the only commonality.

Before I close, I’d like to address one final myth. There are those who discover the idea of financial independence later in life. They don’t decide they want to retire early until their forties — or fifties. Too many times, people abandon the idea because they think they just can’t make it happen.

But according to the survey I’ve been citing this entire article, the average FIRE adherent starts his journey to financial independence at age 37 and plans to retire in twenty years. Only one-third of FIRE folks start before age 30. (In July, I met Beck Heptig who writes the blog Started at 50, which is all about this subject.)

There’s no question that starting early helps. It makes a huge difference. But you know what’s better than starting yesterday? Starting today. Don’t fret having waited so long. Start where you are.

If you’re intrigued by financial independence and early retirement but don’t know where to start, check out The Money Boss Manifesto, my free guide to achieving financial freedom. There are no sales pitches in this thing. It’s not an attempt to upsell you. (I don’t think I even ask you to sign up for my mailing list!) The Money Boss Manifesto is a legit free introduction to the framework of financial independence and early retirement.

If this subject interests you and you want to learn more, you should read it.

To wrap things up, I’d like to point out that my buddy Diania Merriam is hosting a free webinar about FIRE misconceptions, assumptions, and criticisms this Sunday (13 December 2020 — Taylor Swift’s 31st birthday!) at noon Eastern (or 9 a.m. Pacific). Diania is the founder of the EconoMe conference, and I’ve been helping her in a volunteer capacity lately. She’s awesome. If this topic is up your alley, you should absolutely check out the webinar!

Diania's webinar

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/fire-myths-misconceptions/

The GRS Holiday Gift Guide

Every year at about this time, I start getting questions by email and social media — and even in Real Life: “Do you have any personal-finance or money-related gift ideas?”

I know how tempting it can be to choose gifts that encourage smart financial choices. You look at the poor decisions your brother or sister have made, and you feel like you could help. If only they would read this one book that helped you so much!

I get it. I’ve felt the same way. After all, my financial turnaround is a direct result of reading two books that were gifted to me by friends: Your Money or Your Life and Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover.

That said, money gifts like these can be dangerous. They have the very real potential to create hard feelings and resentment rather than achieve the goal you’re after. Any time you offer unsolicited advice — especially in the form of a gift — you run the risk of making the recipient more resistant.

Now, having said that, there are times and situations where gifts with a financial theme make sense.

  • Do you have a niece who’s about to leave home and forge out on a life of her own? A money manual might indeed be a welcome gift.
  • Are there kids in your life whose parents don’t have personal finance figured out? A money-based board game could indeed impart lessons to the entire family.
  • Has your father been talking lately about needing to take retirement seriously? Well, he probably could profit from a meeting with a financial advisor.

After fifteen years of thinking about this subject, I’ve come up with a short list of financial gift ideas that might help to foster smart money moves without creating resentment. Let’s take a quick look at some potential personal-finance gifts that sometimes make sense — if the recipient is ready to hear the message.

Note that I’ve deliberately tried to steer clear of junk. There are tons of money-themed gifts out there that serve absolutely no purpose: money soap, money placemats, money t-shirts. These are all basically rubbish. The money gift ideas I’ve listed here are meant to be practical, to foster future wealth. They’re not novelties.

Books About Money

When it comes to actual money manuals, my default recommendation remains Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. My friend Michael sent me a copy of this book when I was at the lowest point of my financial life. (But he only did so because he could tell I was ready to read it.)

Your Money or Your Life introduced many concepts that nowadays we take for granted in the world of personal finance. It covers budgeting, mindful spending, financial independence, simple living, and your true hourly wage. And it conveys the info using real-life stories from real-life people. (The book can get a little New Age-y in parts, so keep that in mind.)

That’s my default recommendation. Based on the subject’s circumstances, though, I might suggest a different title. Here are some examples:

  • For young adults just starting out, I recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. Sethi’s book is filled with actionable advice applicable to kids just out of college (or high school). It covers topics such as salary negotiation, basic investing, and smart use of credit. This is an essential money manual for people in their early twenties — but it can be good for people in their thirties and forties too.
  • For parents with young children, consider The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. This book covers work, allowances, consumerism, charity, gratitude, and more. It’s a terrific guide to instilling financial wisdom in our youth.
  • For folks you suspect might be interested in investing and/or early retirement, I recommend The Simple Path to Wealth by J.L. Collins. This book is for people who have mastered the basics but who lack a clear vision for their future. It is not a good option for somebody who still struggles with the debt and/or budgeting, but it’s terrific for those ready to build real wealth.
  • Over the past year, I’ve become a fan of Wild Money by Luna Jaffe. This isn’t a book for left-brained engineering types. It’s aimed directly at right-brained artists who have been struggling to make sense of money. Before COVID hit, Kim and I were meeting monthly with Jaffe and working through her Wild Money methodology. Kim loved it. I did too. This book isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for some.

Just typing this list, I’m filled with trepidation. Giving gifts that attempt to teach an overt lesson is…well, risky. It’s not the best approach. Instead, I think it’s often better to come at things sideways. In the case of helping somebody get better with money, I might pass along a book that’s more subtle, something tangentially related to the subject, something that helps the recipient build skills and habits that will lead to money.

Books Obliquely Related to Money

For instance, I’m a huge fan of all of the following — and none of them come across as “preachy” (especially if you include a personalized note that explains how the book changed your life).

  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has helped millions of people achieve happier, more productive lives. When I first read this, I thought it was pop psychology at its worst. How wrong I was. The older I get, the more I realize this book is filled with solid advice. Mr. Money Mustache and I have had a couple of conversations about how the ideas in this book are important to building a mental framework that leads to financial success.
  • The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck is another massive bestseller that can lead to improved psychological and emotional stability. The first section on discipline is especially powerful. Peck says that we can achieve mental and spiritual health by using four tools to cope with the challenges we face: delayed gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balance. (When I pulled The Road Less Traveled from my bookshelf to write this blurb, I realized I’m in a place in my life where I ought to re-read it. That’s what I’ll do this afternoon.)
  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smart Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke. For a long time, I’ve argued that the best money books are often not about money at all. Thinking in Bets is an example of this. Duke says that there are exactly two things that determine how our lives turn out: The quality of our decisions and luck. She uses plenty of personal finance examples, but the book itself is about self-improvement. It’s not specifically about personal finance, yet the info here could have a profound impact on your financial future.
  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. When I first found this book a year ago, I re-read it four times in a single week. It’s that good. Duckworth’s thesis is that while talent and skill do matter, grit — the combination of passion, patience, and perseverance — matters more. Grit has fewer practical action steps than the other books on this list, but it’s a modern book in a modern style that might be more accessible to many people.

Another way to impart financial wisdom is through biographies. For example, I enjoyed The Snowball by Alice Schroeder, which is a thick and thorough look at the life of Warren Buffett. Schroeder shows how Buffett’s path to wealth started from a young age, when he’d go door to door selling chewing gum and soda pop to people in his neighborhood. This money “became the first few snowflakes in a snowball of money to come,” she writes. Then she chronicles the next seventy years as he becomes one of the richest men on Earth.

Consumer Reports
In the olden days — say, a decade ago — I would have been quick to recommend magazine subscriptions. At the time, there were several great personal-finance magazines that you could gift to somebody without looking overbearing. Today, magazines are dead (or dying).

Still, the venerable Consumer Reports is around, and I think it’s a great option. The monthly print edition is becoming less and less useful as it moves from text-rich, in-depth feature stories to shorter, breezier content. (Such a terrible editorial decision!) But it still has some value. Plus, a subscription comes with the annual buying guide, which I find useful.

For $60/year, you can gift the print+digital Consumer Reports combo. A digital-only subscription costs $40/year. A print-only subscription costs $30/year. Here’s the Consumer Reports subscription page.

Financial Games

As an avid game player, I would love to be able to recommend some board games or computer games that foster personal-finance skills. In the past, I’ve played some good ones. My cousin and I used to play Acquire and Stocks & Bonds, two 1960s-era “bookshelf” games from 3M Games. These used to be available from thrift stores for five bucks each, but now they’re rare collector’s items that go for $100 to $200 online!

While researching this article, however, I realized there’s currently a dearth of good money-related board games. That’s too bad.

I guess the traditional money game recommendation would be Monopoly. Monopoly is a fine game (as long it’s not corrupted by too many house rules), but I’m not sure it does a great job of teaching personal finance. Instead, I’d opt for Payday or — especially — The Game of Life. I’ve always thought that the Game of Life did a fine job teaching about the various costs (and windfalls) life has in store. If a parent were to play this with children and talk about the events, it could be pretty educational.

If you know of any good personal-finance board games (or video games), share them in the comments below.

While writing this section, I discovered Don’s Game Closet, a very very 2007-esque web store that’s a jackpot for board game geeks like me. If you like vintage board games, I highly recommend visiting this site. After I finish writing this story, I’m going to browse it.

Wallets, Purses, and Piggy Banks

Wallets, purses, and piggy banks are another source of money-related gift ideas.

In recent years, I’ve become a fan of minimalist wallets. I mean really minimalist. For the past decade, I’ve used wallets that only allow space for the basics: a driver license, insurance info, a couple of credit cards, and a bit of cash.

Right now, I use this minimalist wallet from Tom Bihn. There isn’t anything fancy about it (not at all!). It’s simply a small, lightweight wallet that carries the essentials.

I’ll be honest, though. Despite the fact that I know it’s an example of lifestyle inflation, I covet the metal wallets from Secrid.

The Cardprotector wallet (which holds 4-6 cards) is cool enough, but the Cardslide wallet looks even cooler. It’s the Cardprotector plus two add-ons that give you an elastic moneyband and a sliding compartment for cards or banknotes or maybe a key.

(True story: When Kim and I were in Venice last year, we waited out a rainstorm by browsing the Secrid store in St. Mark’s Square. If the storm had lasted any longer, I’d now own one of those wallets.)

I was going to offer some advice on cool purses for women, but you know what? I know nothing about them, so I’ll pass. However, if any Get Rich Slowly readers have any suggestions, I’ll gladly add them here.

Purses and wallets hold your money on the go, but what about protecting your treasures at home? Every family should have a high-quality security safe to protect their most important records and documents. There’s no need to spend a fortune on a good quality safe, but you do want to make sure it offers protection against fire and flooding.

In a recent Reader’s Digest article, security experts recommended this “catastrophe-proof” .94-cubic-foot security safe. Similar products are available at this price point (which is roughly $200).

If you’re not worried about fire or flooding, you could probably get away with a simple security safe, such as these Amazon Basics models:

For the kids in your life, you might consider the standard child-friendly security safe: the piggy bank. I’m partial to a traditional pink piggy bank, but while doing some Amazon shopping recently, I found two other options that seem cool.

The first is a handmade piggy bank cut from actual forest wood. They’re pretty darn cute! The second is this Lego pig coin bank that I just might have to order for myself…



* Money itself
* Money in other forms
* Stock
* 529 contribution or savings account contribution

* Bond or certificate of deposit.
* Savings bonds.


I’ve saved the best gift ideas for last. If you truly want to help somebody improve their financial situation and you know they’re receptive to it, books and games and wallets and silver coins aren’t the best option. If it were me presenting a gift like this, I’d choose something much more practical.

When I polled the GRS community on Facebook and Twitter about their choices for personal-finance gifts, a couple folks mentioned subscriptions to You Need a Budget. YNAB, as it’s more commonly known, is a well-regarded budgeting tool that adheres to a solid financial philosophy. I’m a fan. And YNAB allows you to purchase gift subscriptions. But a word of caution: There’s no way I’d purchase this for somebody unless I was certain they were going to follow through with using it. (To increase the likelihood that the recipient would actually use YNAB, I might consider pairing it with the excellent You Need a Budget book.)

Other folks suggested pre-paying for a session with a real-life financial planner. This is an amazing idea, and well-worth considering if you have somebody in your life who might profit from it. Yes, it’ll probably cost you a few hundred bucks. But paying for some sort of evaluation session with a fee-only planner could make a real difference in a loved one’s life. If I were to do this, I’d start by using the search tool from the Garrett Planning Network.

But you know what?

If I wanted to present a gift that would help somebody improve her financial life, I think my top choice would be some sort of personal- or career-development course. Gifting a course related to your recipient’s personal and/or professional interests is a great way to foster their enthusiasm for life while giving them skills they can use to further their career.

My girlfriend, for instance, is constantly taking classes. Sometimes these are related to her current career (she’s a dental hygienist), but sometimes they’re purely aspirational. Kim is currently taking a course an animal communication. (She thinks she might like to volunteer with an animal shelter in the future.) I’ve thought about offering to pay for a follow-up course once she’s finished.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to Be Rich offers a variety of courses and products that could help almost anyone master their money — and their life.
  • Many people could profit from learning a second language. Group language classes are inexpensive and fun. One-on-one tutoring sessions cost more, but they’re crazy effective. Either option would make a good gift.
  • Community colleges offer a variety of classes that teach skills that we wish we’d learned when we were younger: woodworking, computer programming, art, and more. Offering to pay for a class of your recipient’s choice could help them make the most of their free time.
  • And, of course, you could always pay for a few music lessons. Many people want to learn to play the piano or the guitar or the French horn — but they don’t know how to start. If you take the time to find a good instructor and arrange the first five or six lessons, that immediately removes the biggest barrier to learning.
  • Classes like these provide true value that will only compound with time. I think they’re terrific gift ideas.

    Final Thoughts

    When I decided I wanted to put together a round-up of financial gift ideas, I knew I needed to get out of my own head and seek advice from the Get Rich Slowly community. So, I asked the Facebook group and our followers on Twitter for their suggestions.

    I like this idea from @YeagerJim on Twitter:

    money gift idea on twitter

    What a great idea! If this would work with your kids, do it.

    As a final note, I’m a big fan of these money tree 3D cards. They are expensive (13 bucks a pop!) but they’re so fun (and so well-made). For real: I have several in my office waiting to be used in the future. The website says these are birthday cards, but there’s nothing birthday-specific about them that I’ve noticed.

    3d money tree card

    Okay, that’s it from me. Those are my money-themed gift ideas. Now, let’s turn it back to you. Have you given a financial-related gift before? Would you ever consider doing so? What gifts do you think are effective? Which ones should be avoided? Let us know in the comments below!

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/financial-gift-ideas/

A vision for the future of Get Rich Slowly

Well, it only took me three years, but I finally have a vision for what I want to do with Get Rich Slowly.

When I re-purchased this site in 2017, I did so without any real idea of what I’d do with it. I wanted it back for sentimental reasons. (And so that nobody else had control of this monster I created.) I didn’t really know what to do with the 5000+ articles in the archives.

You see, when I started Get Rich Slowly, it was clearly a forum for me to share my experiences as I dug myself out of debt. After I succeeded, I sort of lost my way. (Well, and a bunch of Real Life stuff made me lose my focus.) So, I sold it.

When I started writing at Money Boss in 2015, I had a clear vision for what I wanted to do with that site. I had a mission. That made it easy to decide what to write there and what not to write.

But when I bought back Get Rich Slowly? Well, I didn’t have a clear mission. I didn’t have a clear focus. I think that’s been pretty obvious, not just to me but to everyone.

Now, though, thanks to my recent deep dive into essentialism, I’m finally finding some focus for this blog. Essentialism helped me figure out what’s important in my personal life right now, but it’s also helped me get clear on what I want Get Rich Slowly to be.

I want Get Rich Slowly to be a definitive, unbiased resource about smart personal finance. I want to push my Money Boss philosophy while providing the best possible information about the world of money management.

But here’s the challenge: Despite Tom having whittled our archives from 5000+ articles to exactly 2500 articles, things here are still a mess. (A “clusterfork” as Eleanor Shellstrop would say on The Good Place.) The chaos behind the scenes is almost overwhelming.

Still, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, right? So, I’ve started taking bites.

conversation with TomOn Halloween, Tom sent me a spreadsheet listing every single article we have at Get Rich Slowly. Instead of writing new stuff — and I have an article I want to write about politics and personal finance! — I’ve been diligently working through this spreadsheet line by line, analyzing every one of our 2500 articles. As of this morning, I’ve processed 1537 of them.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this site audit:

  • We have a ton of good material in our archives. That’s awesome. I wrote some of it. Staff writers wrote some of it. Guest authors wrote some of it.
  • There’s also a lot of chaff in there. There are too many personal anecdotes that no longer serve a purpose. There are articles that made sense at the time (“oh no! the financial crisis of 2008!”), articles about now-dead money tools, and articles about concepts I no longer believe. This stuff needs to be winnowed out.
  • More problematic are the topics we’ve covered extensively. Do we really need fourteen different articles on how to build a budget? No. We need one article on how to build a budget, and it should be the best possible article we can create on the subject.

This site audit has also made clear our path forward. I now have a focus for my work here. For the foreseeable future (read: “years to come”), my job is to take our existing material and re-work it into fresh, new stuff. My job is take those fourteen articles on how to build a budget and to create that single, definitive resource on the subject. My job is to do this for all of the various topics in the world of personal finance.

As of this moment — and again, I’ve processed about 60% of our archives so far — I have identified 213 different concepts that currently have redundant articles. I’ve found 465 other articles worth keeping. And I’ve slotted over 600 posts for summary execution. (There are also some pieces in a sort of limbo.)

It’ll probably take me another week to finish this content audit. After I’m through, we can immediately turn our attention to content renovation. I can start tackling the years-long task of smushing everything together, of transforming Get Rich Slowly from its current chaotic state into a clean, orderly encyclopedia of personal-finance advice.

As I do that, Tom and I will be publishing these revised pieces as new articles. Because they will be new articles.

Anyhow, I just wanted to let you all know that I haven’t sunk into depression and I’m not ignoring the site. In fact, I’m doing more work on it now than I have since I re-purchased it. But that work is fundamental, structural work. I’m repairing the site’s foundation. It might be a little bit before you’re able to see any evidence of that work out here.

As a footnote, I should mention that we’ve had six months to sit with the site redesign now, and we recognize that some things need to be tweaked. I had a chance to watch my brother and cousin browse GRS a few weeks ago, and it was enlightening. I see that some things that are obvious to me aren’t obvious to others. So, we’ll be making some changes. (Eventually.) If you have feedback on the site design, please let us know. Now is the time to speak up.

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/a-vision-for-the-future-of-get-rich-slowly/

A list of personal-finance events, conferences, and retreats

Last week, my colleague Patrick from Cash Money Life pinged me on Facebook. “Hey, J.D. What are some of the other personal-finance conferences out there?” he asked. Patrick and I brainstormed a list of money events, and I realized that this might be useful for GRS readers.

(Well, this list might be useful eventually. Right now, during COVID, this list isn’t useful to anyone haha.)

Here’s a quick list of the various personal-finance events, conferences, and retreats that I’m aware of. If you know of others that should be on this list, please drop me a line. I’m happy to add them.

General Personal-Finance Events

At the moment, I’m aware of three general personal-finance events. The first (Fincon) is heavily skewed toward content creators and influencers, but there’s usually plenty of material for the average person.

  • Fincon Expo is the oldest and largest personal-finance conference. Philip Taylor started Fincon as a way for money bloggers to come together each year to share ideas. During the past decade, it’s grown substantially. I think roughly 3000 people attended in 2019. Each year, there’s more stuff for a general audience. Targeted at the financial media (especially “influencers”), but open to everyone. Founded 2011. (I have attended Fincon every year, and probably always will.)
  • Plutus Voices is a series of one-night workshops held around the U.S. While specifically created for folks involved with financial literacy, Plutus Voices is useful to anyone interested in money. Open to everyone. Founded 2018. (I was scheduled to host a Portland event in April but…well, COVID.)
  • EconoMe is a new conference designed to “explore a new American Dream”. Put together by Diania Merriam, EconoMe has roots in the financial independence movement, but also aims to increase financial literacy. It wants to reach both ends of the spectrum. Open to everyone. Founded 2020. (I am helping Diania recruit speakers and sponsors for the 2021 edition.)

In 2016 and 2017, Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to Be Rich produced his Forefront event, which was tangentially related to personal finance. I attended the first Forefront in NYC in 2016, and I thought it was great. If it returns (which it probably won’t), it’s worth checking out.

Also, Chris Guillebeau started World Domination Summit in 2011. While WDS is not a personal-finance event, it frequently features speakers and workshops related to personal finance. This conference is coming to an end, but past talks can be found online. (I was on the WDS planning team for the first few years, and have both presented from the main stage and held workshops.)

Money Events Targeting Women and People of Color

While general-purpose money conferences are great, there’s a real need to address the concerns of certain specific communities. Maybe these audiences feel excluded at general events. Maybe they have specialized needs or concerns. There’s a growing number of conferences and retreats targeting specific populations.

  • My friend Melanie Lockert runs Lola Retreat, a smaller event intended to help women learn and share how to “go after whatever their heart desires”. I’ve heard good things from previous attendees. (In the past, GRS has sponsored a Lola “scholarship”.) Women only. Targeted at people who want to build better financial futures. Founded 2017.
  • Statement Event is for women in the financial industry: “Our mission is get all the change-makers in one room so we can amplify the conversation around women and money.” Organized by Stefanie O’Connell and Emma Pattee, and filled with an all-start line-up of presenters. Women only. Targeted at financial influencers and service providers. Founded 2018 (I think).
  • Cents Positive is “a retreat for women to talk about money and financial independence”. Billed as a “safe space just for us” so that women can discuss money without feeling unwelcome. Women only. Explicitly not focused on influencers, but on individual financial journeys. Founded 2018.
  • Elevate Influencer bills itself as “the premier event for personal finance professionals and influencers who speak directly to individuals of color”. Started by Sandy Smith of Yes, I Am Cheap. Anyone can attend. Focused on helping content creators to address under-served communities. Founded 2019, although the community has been around much longer.

I’ve talked with several people who have attended these targeted money retreats, and all of the reviews have been positive. People especially seem to like the Lola Retreat and Elevate.

Events Targeting the FIRE Crowd

As most of you know, FIRE (financial independence and early retirement) has been the hot topic in the world of money for the past five years or so. While that heat seems to be subsiding, some of the best personal-finance events were created for folks interested in the subject.

  • The annual F.I. Chautauqua is the brain child of the sagacious J.L. Collins. It’s a week-long gathering in a luxury European resort for what Mr. Money Mustache once called “crazy rich-people talk”. This is the premier event for those serious about financial independence and early retirement. It’s targeted at folks who already have high net worths, although that’s not a requirement to attend. Open to everyone. Founded 2013. Moved to Europe in 2017. (I’ve attended J.L.’s chautauqua twice.)
  • There’s a second, splinter Ecuador Chautauqua run by Cheryl Reed of Above the Clouds Retreats. (I’m unclear as to why J.L. and Cheryl parted ways — and I don’t need to know.) This event tends to be less money-focused than its European cousin, delving into wellness and happiness. Targets folks who want to build a richer life, whatever that might mean to them. Open to everyone. Founded 2013. (I’ve attended Cheryl’s chautauqua twice. I think she should rename the event to prevent confusion.)
  • Camp Mustache is a weekend retreat for folks who subscribe to the ideology of Mr. Money Mustache. This is not organized or run by Mr. Money Mustache himself, although he does attend. Very egalitarian event, which I like. Tickets sell out in seconds. Open to everyone. Targeted at folks interested in financial independence. Founded 2014. (I’ve been once. I was going to attend this year, but…well, COVID.)
  • Camp FI started life as Camp Mustache Southeast but has since become its own thing. Unlike any of the other events listed here, there are multiple weekend Camp FI retreats around the country each year. Targeted at anyone curious about financial independence and early retirement. Open to everyone. Founded 2017. (I’ve attended six times.)

I should point out that the Financial Freedom Summit was scheduled to hold its inaugural event in May, but…well, COVID. Its future is unclear at this point. Intended to introduce general audiences to the concepts of financial independence and early retirement. (I had planned to attend.) Founded 2021?

I should also note that I’m aware of at least two other events that are in the top-secret planning stages. At least one of them ought to be big and aimed at a general audience. As I can share more, I’ll add new money conferences and retreats to this list.

Postscript: The amazing Emma Pattee had a direct hand in creating several of these events. (Emma is one of the most remarkable people I know — and she’s very tolerant of the fact that my dog is a jerk to her dog.) She played a direct role in founding Camp Mustache, Camp FI, Lola Retreat, and Statement. Emma tends to stay out of the limelight, but she’s had a profound positive impact on the personal-finance community. She deserves a medal.

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/personal-finance-conferences/

Essentialism: The mindful pursuit of quality

It’s been quiet around here for the past few months. Generally when things go dormant at Get Rich Slowly, that’s not a good sign. It usually means that I’ve sunk into the depths of depression, the pit of despair.

I’m pleased to report that in this case, that’s not the issue. In this case, the opposite has happened. Lately, life is grand. During the past three months, I’ve been diligently working to eliminate the net negatives from my life while also emphasizing those things that are essential. To that end, I’ve:

  • Recorded, edited, and published nearly 50 YouTube videos. These are rough, and I know it, but I’m learning from them — and having fun.
  • Given up alcohol. And recently, I’ve given up pot. I’m experimenting with complete sobriety for a while.
  • Lost nearly twenty pounds through simple, sensible eating (and calorie counting). This morning, I weighed in at 186.8, down 17.4 pounds since I started on July 28th.
  • Cleaned and organized nearly every space in my life, “editing” my belongings in an attempt to cut back to the essentials.
  • Worked hard in the yard. I’ve built a fence with one neighbor and am starting another fence with a second neighbor. Plus, I’ve continued our landscaping projects.
  • Begun reading again for pleasure. Yay!
  • And much, much more.

I’ve had a busy three months. And while, yes, I’ve had a few bouts of depression, they’ve been minor and brief. Mostly, I’ve been happy and productive.

Not much of that productivity has been directed at this website, and I’m okay with that. I know there’s plenty of personal finance inside me ready to be shared in due time.

Meanwhile, it’s been rewarding to devote so much time to essentials, to the core concerns of my life.


Essentialism by Greg McKeownI’m currently reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It’s a book about “the disciplined pursuit of less”. McKeown argues that instead of trying to get more things done, we’d be better served by getting the right things done. I find that he’s articulating some of the choices I’ve made over the past three months, that he’s expressing the reasons for my change.

“Almost everything is noise,” McKeown writes. “Very few things are essential.” He argues that we should live by design, not by default. We should aim to make one-time decisions that obviate the need for dozens (or thousands!) of future decisions. We should determine where our “highest point of contribution” is, then focus on that.

McKeown’s philosophy comprises three steps.

  1. Explore and evaluate. An essentialist, he says, exposes herself to new ideas. She’s curious. She explores the world and everything it has to offer. As she does, she evaluates the objects and opportunities that come her way, trying to identify those that are most aligned with her goals.
  2. Eliminate. It’s not enough to explore and evaluate, though. An essentialist also has to learn to say no. As he explores and evaluates, he has to reject anything that distracts him from his purpose. “It’s not enough to simply determine which activities and efforts don’t make the highest possible contribution,” McKeown says. “You sill have to actively eliminate those that do not. This step is tough for me.
  3. Execute. Finally, an essentialist must take action. He needs to develop a plan and follow through with it. From the book: “This is not a process you undertake once a year, once a month, or even once a week…It is a discipline you apply each every time you are faced with a decision.”

In other words, you must constantly and deliberately be exploring the world, then eliminate the noise, identify the handful of extraordinary opportunities, and pursue them with vigor.

This is, in essence, what I’ve been doing for the past three months, although I haven’t had a name for it until now. I like what McKeown calls it: essentialism. I’ve been moving toward essentialism. And it’s producing great results!

Taming Email

My pursuit of essentialism started with a change to the way I handle email.

For years now, email has been the bane of my existence. I hate it. I have several email accounts, each of which is flooded with people demanding my attention. It’s all so much “noise”, to use McKeown’s terminology.

In June, I began to use a new email service called Hey. At first, I was reluctant. (Honestly, I’m still getting used to it almost four months in! But I have no plans to go back.)

Hey does not allow you to import your old email from Gmail (or any other service). You’re forced to start from scratch. And the Hey methodology differs from any other email program I’ve ever seen. The net effect is that it forces you to focus on essentials. Hey is deliberately built to filter the noise and only show you important messages.

Since switching to Hey, email is much less overwhelming for me. I still fall behind sometimes, but now I’m able to catch up with maybe 30 minutes of work. And instead of my inboxes being buried in hundreds (or thousands) of messages, a bad day means I have dozens of messages that need attention. At this very moment, I have eleven messages to deal with. That hasn’t happened in fifteen years!

Email is but one piece of the puzzle.

A Digital Detox

I’ve also been re-assessing my relationship with digital devices. Like many folks in the modern world, I get a lot of “screen time” each week. Part of that is because I work online, sure, but it’s also because I play online. I look at Facebook. I browse Reddit. I play videogames on my iPad. And so on.

I have zero qualms with my connectivity if that connectivity is used toward creative, productive ends. If I’m writing a blog post, great. If I’m producing a YouTube video, fantastic. If I’m reading a news story, also good.

The issue comes when I fritter away hours playing Hearthstone or — worse — spend ninety minutes at bedtime mindlessly scrolling my Reddit feed. It’s when my screen time is “consumptive” that I feel like I’m wasting my life.

Plus, like many people, I’ve become increasingly concerned with the nature of social media. I don’t just mean the spread of misinformation and my friends’ continued insistence on using it as a political forum (although that’s part of it); I also mean the deliberate addictiveness of the stuff.

I’d already been contemplating reducing (or eliminating!) my social media consumption when I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix last month. The Social Dilemma was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I haven’t abandoned social media completely, but I’ve removed it from my mobile devices and only allow myself to view it on my desktop computer. This includes Reddit. (Especially Reddit.)

My current iPhone layout

Then I took things a step further. Our phones and tablets are tools — or ought to be. All too often, however, I’ve felt like my phone was using me. I was the tool. So, about ten days ago, I spent an entire afternoon weeding my phone and tablet of non-essential apps.

I currently have twenty apps on my iPhone (and about the same on my iPad). Previously, I had over 100. What’s more, I spent a lot of time and effort to change how my devices look and feel. I created a custom layout and introduced new icons for every app. I also removed app names. The result, as you can see in the image to the right, is a spare and minimalist tool.

(The apps, from left to right and top to bottom: Settings, Hello Weather, App Store, iTunes Store, Health, Happy Scale, Find My, Music, Audible, Calendar, YoutTube Creator Studio, YouTube, YouTube TV, Apple TV, HeyTell, Shazam, Safari, Hey, Camera, Messages. Apple’s unremovable apps are hidden in those blank, black spaces, so I can still receive phone calls. Facebook Messenger is there too since so many of my business colleagues use it.)

My goal is to be deliberate about my device use. When I go to pick up my phone, I want to have intention behind it. And I want to have to think about which app I’m choosing instead of doing things out of habit. This is remains a work in progress. I still find myself picking up the phone several times a day just to see what’s new. This minimalist layout prevents anything “new” from being there, but it’ll take a while for me to overcome my past conditioning.

Space and Time

Meanwhile, I’ve been gradually “re-modeling” my space and time.

I think this started because of my recent fascination with Japanese culture. I particularly like how the Japanese aesthetic seems to emphasize simple, clean, functional forms. It’s as if the society as a whole decided to strip away everything non-essential. All that remains are beautiful things in which form follows function. (I know this is just my personal — probably faulty — perception, but I’m okay with that right now. It’s serving a purpose.)

After watching a bunch of Japanese movies, I began to be frustrated with my own cluttered life. One day, for no reason whatsoever, I went through every inch of our living room, sorting and tidying and organizing as I went. (I chose the living room because it’s the space we use least, which means there’s far less stuff in it.)

When I finished the living room, I tackled the guest room. That led to re-organizing the bedroom. And that meant I need to clean my writing shed. I’ve cleaned my writing shed twice now, including a pass that I completed yesterday.

I’ve cleaned rooms and spaces before, but it’s always been perfunctory. I’ve done quick cleans that look fine on the surface but which fail to address underlying structural issues. As a result, problems (and clutter) returned. This time, I’m addressing those structural issues. I’m taking time to really think about how we use each room (and how I want to use them in the future), and to arrange things to reflect this usage.

Why do I have my dresser on one side of the bedroom, my closet on the other, and still more stuff in the spare room? Why not put all of my wardrobe together in one corner?

When organizing my writing shed, I pulled everything outside onto the porch. I emptied the shed. Then I asked myself how I really wanted to use the space. One by one, I brought my things back into the shed and placed them in their new homes. Some of my stuff wasn’t allowed to return. Some of it got purged. The result is a workspace that fosters creativity and productivity instead of hindering it. I like it. Very much.

I’ve been doing something similar with my use of time. More and more, I’m trying to do only the things that I want to do and/or feel called to do. That means that if I don’t feel called to write at Get Rich Slowly, I don’t write at Get Rich Slowly. If I don’t want to speak at a conference, I don’t speak at the conference. If I don’t feel like recording a daily video, I don’t.

Reclaiming my time in this way has been tough, though. Sometimes I feel guilty.

You see, as much as I want to believe that I don’t do things to please others, I really do. And that’s a trap. When I base the value of my work on comments, likes, shares, and Google Analytics, I’m seeking external validation. Well, fuck that. I’m over it. I’m 51. I have fewer days ahead of me than I do behind me. If I don’t start living and acting for myself today, when will I? That doesn’t mean I need to be a jerk — that’s not who I am — but I do need to speak up for myself.

Last November, I had a chat with my ex-wife. (Kris and I are still on friendly terms and communicate regularly.) “I don’t think you’re happy,” she said at the time, which was true. I was in the midst of my deep depressive funk. “It sounds like you’re doing too much of what other people want and not enough of what you want. What do you want?”

Well, I’m finally giving myself permission to think about what I want, and to structure my life and work around that.

Mindfulness and Quality

For me, two additional related pieces of this process are an increased focus on mindfulness and quality.

I’ve become much more mindful about everything I do. I’m forcing myself to be deliberate about my choices and my actions. I’m trying not to rush through chores and projects. I take my time. I pay attention to what I’m doing. I work slowly and methodically.

The result is increased quality in everything from building a fence with the neighbors to folding laundry to editing video. It takes longer to do these things now, but the final products are better. (Much better.) And you know what? I’m actually enjoying the experience more. Go figure.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, quality begets quality.

Obsessing over (and enjoying) the quality I’ve produced through increased mindfulness and attention has made me want to pursue quality for its own sake.

Embracing the Imperfections
Paradoxically, my pursuit of quality has also allowed me to start letting go of perfectionism. In the past, I’ve conflated the two, but quality and perfection are not the same. Again, this idea is rooted in the Japanese aesthetic for me.

According to Wikipedia, “wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection”. It’s the appreciation of beauty — of quality — despite (or perhaps because of) obvious flaws. It revels in asymmetry, simplicity, and roughness.

I love it.

My YouTube videos are an example of me putting this notion into practice. These are short clips on a single subject. They’re deliberately amateurish. They have rough edges. At the same time, however, I spend a lot of time thinking about them and editing them to get my message right. I know that they’re not perfect, but my hope is that they’re quality. (And that they’ll lead to increased quality in the future.)

Three months ago, I never would have released these videos. I would have needed them to be perfect. But three months ago, I hadn’t yet made even one video despite years of talking about wanting to do so. After embracing the imperfections, I’ve created nearly 50 of these in ten weeks.

I hope we can all agree that 50 imperfect pieces of work are much better than zero perfect pieces. Let’s sing the praises of perfect imperfection.

How does this new-found pursuit of mindfulness, quality, and essentialism relate to Get Rich Slowly (and elsewhere)? I’m not sure yet. I need more time to think on it, to discuss it with my business partner, Tom.

The One Thing I Can Control

Remember my Hamilton-inspired epiphany from late July? My realization that I am the one thing life I can control? Well, my past three months pursuing essentialism are a direct reaction to that flash of insight. I’ve begun exercising control over myself. And, by extension, control over my time and my immediate surroundings.

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will,” Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism. He’s right.

I’m fortunate. I have a clear sense of my purpose in life. I’ve had a grasp of this goal for nearly a decade now. Still, I’ve done a poor job executing on that purpose, on building a life that supports this priority. I’ve allowed my time, money, and energy to be misdirected. (Our 15-month RV trip was an exception to this, and I was so happy during that time! That should have been a clue.)

At long last, I am prioritizing my life.

I feel as if I’m doing to my life what I did to my office. I’m taking everything out, placing it on the porch, then making considered decisions about what to bring back inside — and where to put it. I’m evaluating my choices and habits. Why do I use pot and alcohol? What’s positive about it? Why do I waste time on Reddit? How can I improve my relationships with email and social media? What work do I want to be doing — and for whom?

I’m trying to identify and emphasize essentials.

“I like the new J.D.,” Kim said last night. “I hope this lasts.” So do I. And I think it will!

Often when I try to make changes to my life, they don’t stick. But that’s usually because I’ve made a sudden course correction or because I’ve adopted some sort of sweeping change without addressing underlying issues. This time, I’ve been methodical. It feels like these changes are coming from deep inside of me, and that they’re being made as an expression of this internal growth.

Plus, I can see that all of the various changes are part of a whole. They’re all linked. They’re philosophical and systematic, not just superficial.

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/essentialism/

Finding a millionaire money mentor

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

You’ve probably heard that saying before. It’s from motivational speaker Jim Rohn. He used it as a way to encourage people to learn and grow from others’ experiences, habits, attitudes, and so forth. He wanted folks to seek out and spend time with people of high quality.

Unfortunately for most people, this advice can be difficult (if not impossible) to implement.

That’s because we tend to group with like-minded people, which includes hanging out with friends with similar levels of success. Those who are unmotivated often spend time with others who are unmotivated. And those who are motivated by achievement tend to associate with others at a similar level.

When you resolve to improve yourself — to become smarter or fitter or wealthier — it can be tough to find new friends with a similar desire. It can be difficult to change the five people you spend the most time with.

Today, I want to talk about finding a money mentor.

Seeking a Money Mentor

Let’s say you’re a new business owner and you want to hang out with successful business people to learn their secrets. Do they want to hang with you? Probably not.

Even if you knew five successful business owners, it might be tough to get them to share their experience. That’s because — you guessed it — they’re probably hanging out with other successful business people.

Or let’s say you want to learn podcasting. What are the chances you’ll create a mastermind with Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, and three other high-flying audio experts? Your odds are slim. Honestly, your odds are zero. These folks are out there being friendly with each other in the stratosphere. They’re not likely to spend their time with a new podcaster who is just starting out.

Or say you want to date a lovely, fit, out-going, friendly, charismatic lady or man but you’re awkward, out of shape, disagreeable, and surly. You aren’t going to connect with a single person (pun intended) like this — much less five of them!

I even see this principle at work in the pickleball world. [J.D.’s note: John is a pickelball fanatic. When I had lunch with him in July, we had to schedule around his multiple pickelball matches that day haha.] New and inexperienced players want to play with much better players so they can get better. But the better players want to play with each other (for the challenge).

Unfortunately it’s the same way with money. And no one knows this better than me.

I was young when I first heard Jim Rohn’s adage about being the average of the people you spend the most time with. At the time, I was interested in growing my wealth. “I need to find some friends who know something about money!” I thought. “I need to find a money mentor — or five.”

I started paying attention to people in my life who fit that description.

  • First, I looked to my family but there was no one who made the cut. We were lower middle-class most of my life and generally lived paycheck to paycheck.
  • Next, I turned to my friends and saw a group just like me — a bunch of people who were clueless with money.
  • Finally, I considered work acquaintances. But again, I couldn’t find anyone I thought I could confide in who was good with money. Most of my co-workers had high salaries, but they didn’t know how to manage the money they earned.

Ultimately, I decided I’d dig deep into my “network” (which was razor thin to begin with). I wanted to make a list of people I knew even slightly who were wealthy and/or good with money.

I still remember everyone on that list to this day. Here it is:


That’s right: No one. My list was blank.

And how was I even supposed to know a wealthy person? I was a fresh-out-of-graduate-school executive who was fresh-out-of-small-town-Iowa a few years earlier. If it was possible to have a negative number of network connections, I was there. If it was possible to be greener than green, that was me.

Five Wealthy Friends

I had to create my own group of five wealthy “friends”. (I put that in quotes for a reason which will become clear in a moment.) Here’s where I found them.


My first wealthy “friends” were money manuals. I started to devour and apply almost any money-related book I could find. My “best friend” happened to be Thomas Stanley, who wrote The Millionaire Next Door. I read his book, applied what he said, and my wealth grew.

I found other friends in books, as well. I read everything I could from every type of author.

Of course, I had to plow through a lot of junk to mine the gold nuggets. Even as a newbie, I could tell what was trash (like “no money down” real estate books). In time, the good stuff stuck with me.


Remember magazines? They were like mini-books you could have mailed to your house each month. (Oh, the good old days. Ha!)

This was in the olden days before the internet, so magazines were my only option for money articles. I subscribed to three money magazines for many years: Money, Kiplinger’s, and Smart Money.

Again, there was lots of junk (e.g., each month there was another “Seven Great Stocks to Own Now” sort of article) but I navigated my way through the crap and kept some good stuff.

Other Money Novices

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, right?

Well, believe it or not, my wife and I started coaching people at our church early in our marriage. We didn’t know much, but we knew more than most. We did budget coaching: how to set up a budget, how to track spending, how to balance the budget, etc.

My wife and I actually got pretty good at this. We could take a family with minimal income and wild spending, then steer them to a balanced budget within two or three hours. Of course, there were hard choices for them to get to that point…

We saw some hideous spending practices, and we had multiple discussions with people trying to communicate Needs versus Wants versus Desires. (So many would try to justify Wants and Desires as Needs — like getting your nails done once a week was a Need. Yikes!)

Anyway, these people taught us…but in the opposite way of what we expected. They showed us what not to do with real life examples.


Over time, as our little bits of money knowledge accumulated, I developed a side hustle as a personal-finance writer.

You see the irony in this, right?

I held myself out as an expert — as did the magazines I wrote for. It works the same way with journalists these days. Perception is reality, right?

I did know more than most about money, and the publications I wrote for were more general interest versus hardcore money magazines, so it wasn’t like I was giving advice on complex tax subjects.

Despite my shortcomings, I happened to be a great marketer (which is what I did for a living) and a decent enough writer (my wife was a brutal editor and made my stuff better, though I fought her changes most of the time) to keep myself pretty busy.

The financial writing became a side hustle. We did this for a few years, using all the money we earned to pay off our mortgage. (In those days, the rates were 8% or so, which made paying off your mortgage much more of a no brainer than today.)

While I wrote, I also researched and started to develop my own philosophy of managing money. My money knowledge and financial habits grew and developed.

After several years, we had our home paid off. This led to a 20+ year run of no debt. So I guess we were better off than most.


Many years later, blogging became a thing. I started writing on the web in 2005.

This took my writing and money skills to a whole new level. Now people could comment on what I posted. They could (and did) ask me pointed questions about what I wrote.

This forced me to whittle down what I believed and what I didn’t. If I got off track even a bit, my readers let me know it.

This also set the stage for my current site, ESI Money. After so many years of refining my message, I was able to focus my writing on what really mattered and throw away much of the rest.

Of course, these days there are a gazillion blogs and many financial sites, and I read several of them. That’s how many people get their financial information. Unfortunately, a large portion of these are written by people with limited financial knowledge and experience.

Nowadays, anyone looking to grow in financial wisdom can hit the web as well as partake in any of the methods I employed. There’s a wealth of information out there if you have the time to sort the wheat from the chaff.

But doing so is still a far cry from having five actual friends who are experienced with money — people you can talk to, ask questions of, get responses from, etc. Reading about money isn’t the same as having a real-life money mentor.

Besides, people crave person-to-person mentorship in their lives. I know this because they tell me. I hear about it day in and day out.

Connecting with Millionaires

Several years ago, I started interviewing millionaires.

I didn’t do it because I wondered what they did to make themselves wealthy. By this time, I understood the keys to wealth.

Instead, I wanted to hear these millionaires tell their stories in their own words. And I wanted to share a new story at my website every week. My hope was that these wealthy men and women would re-iterate that the keys to wealth boil down to a few basic principles. And they did!

To this date, I’ve published 202 interviews with millionaires at my website.

J.D.’s Note
After I sold Get Rich Slowly (and before I bought it back), I wanted to create what I called “The Millionaire Project”. My idea was simple. I would travel the country to film interviews with wealthy people. I’d ask them how they made their money — and how they managed to keep it.

I never followed through on my project, obviously. So, I was excited when I learned that John had begun his own series of millionaire interviews. It’s not exactly what I had envisioned, but it’s close. (And honestly? In some ways, it’s better.)

Shortly after I started publishing these stories, the requests began coming in.

People wanted to connect with millionaires (me and others) for feedback on money issues. They had questions. They wanted advice. In essence, people were seeking to add a millionaire money mentor to the group of friends they spent time with.

Here are some typical comments I received:

  • “Can you give me your thoughts on this?”
  • “Can I get more specifics on how you invest in real estate/dividend stocks/etc.?”
  • “How can I find someone to review my financial situation? I don’t know anyone good with money. Will you do it?”
  • “Hi Millionaire 192, I loved reading your story. It’s inspiring and where I would love to end up eventually with my real estate investments. Would you be willing to talk over the phone about your real estate strategy? I’m happy to pay for your time.”
  • “I have read, and re-read your story and am very inspired. I wish I was friends with you so we could talk finances on a regular basis. lol.”

At the same time, millionaires were sending me notes wanting to “connect down”. Some of these folks were eager to “pay it forward”. They were willing to be one of the five wealthy friends that people need.

That’s when I knew I had to connect the two groups.

The Millionaire Money Mentors

Millionaire Money MentorsAfter months of thought and planning, I created the Millionaire Money Mentors program.

People kept telling me they had NO ONE in their lives that they could talk to regarding finances. Now they do. 😉

The Millionaire Money Mentors program is exactly what it sounds like: a way to connect with (and ask questions of) millionaires — and other members of this program. It’s an online community dedicated to wealth building.

Members currently have the ability to connect with over 60 millionaires. These money mentors are willing to share their experiences in how to earn more, save more, invest better, and save time doing the right (and avoiding the wrong) money moves.

I hope that you already have a group of wealthy people you can meet with to share your plans and ask for feedback. Even one such money mentor would be amazing!

But if you don’t have any wealthy friends, perhaps the Millionaire Money Mentors program is worth a try.

There are several additional benefits to membership in addition to the millionaire-to-member connection. There are expert Ask Me Anything sessions every other week (Sarah Fallaw — Thomas Stanley’s daughter — and Wes Moss are just two of our upcoming guests), a Millionaire Book Club, and more! (Not to mention we have a long list of potential future add-ons).

If you think you’re interested, I invite you to try it. There’s a 7-day money back guarantee so there’s really nothing to lose. Plus, membership is affordable (GRS readers have a special price for the next few days) and includes bonuses worth more than the annual cost. I tried to make joining as much of a no-brainer as possible from a value proposition standpoint.

And FYI, it’s not just me who loves the site. Here are some comments after our first full week of being open:

  • “The value of the site is amazing! I have learned so much. I only wish I had more time to read everything!”
  • “I believe the price of admission to this site is already undervalued! The value of the content more than covers the cost and then factor in the ability to ask questions.”
  • “Super excited for every one of these (AMA discussions). Thanks and great work putting together this list of incredible people. Well worth the price of admission.”

I hope you stop by and give us a try. But if not, I do suggest you find and connect with a money mentor in Real Life. I took the long and winding road to find my five money “friends” — and even that tough journey was very much worth the effort for me.

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/finding-a-millionaire-money-mentor/

How to prepare for a natural disaster

My world is on fire.

As you may have heard, much of Oregon is burning right now. Thanks to a “once in a lifetime” combination of weather and climate variables — a long, dry summer leading to high temps and low humidity, then a freak windstorm from the east — much of the state turned to tinder earlier this week. And then the tinder ignited.

At this very moment, our neighborhood is cloaked in smoke.

I am sitting in my writing shed looking out at a beige veil clinging to the trees and nearby homes. The scent of the smoke is intense. My eyes are burning. After everything else that’s happened this year, this feels like yet one more step toward apocalypse. So crazy!

Fortunately, Kim and I (and the pets) are relatively safe. We’re worried, sure, but not too worried. Our lizard brains make us want to flee. (“Fight or flight” and all that.) But our rational brains know that unless a new fire starts somewhere nearby, we should be safe.

Here’s a current map of the fire situation in our county. (Click the image to open a larger version in a new window.)

Map of the wildfires in our county

The areas in red are under mandatory evacuation orders. (And the red dots are areas that have burned, I think. They added the dots to the map this morning.) Residents of areas shaded in yellow need to be prepped to leave at a moment’s notice. And the areas in green are simply on alert.

See that town called Molalla? That’s where my mother and one of my brothers live. My mother’s assisted-living facility was evacuated to a city twenty miles away. My brother and his family voluntarily moved from their home to our family’s box factory. But even that doesn’t feel 100% safe. (The box factory is located just to the left of that cluster of red dots at the top tip of the yellow area around Molalla.)

Kim and I live near the “e” in Wilsonville. We’re more than twenty miles from the nearest active fire. We should be safe. But, as a I say, we’re worried. So, I spent much of yesterday prepping for possible evacuation.

Natural Disasters

We Oregonians don’t have a protocol for emergency evacuations. It’s not something that really crosses our minds.

While the Pacific Northwest does have volcanoes, eruptions are rare enough that we never think about them. And yes, earthquakes happen. Eventually we’ll have “the Big One” that devastates the region, but again there’s no way to predict that and it’s not something we build our lives around. (Well, many people have been adding earthquake reinforcement to their homes, but that’s about it.)

In the past fifty or sixty years, the Portland area has experienced four other natural disasters.

Now, in 2020, we’re experiencing the worst wildfires the state has ever seen. That’s roughly one disaster every ten or fifteen years, and it’s the first one during my 51 years on Earth that’s made me think about the need for evacuation preparedness.

Kim and I have been asking ourselves lots of questions.

If we were to evacuate, where would we go? What route would we take? What would we carry with us? How would we prep our home to increase the odds that it would survive potential fire?

Let me share what we’ve decided and what we’ve learned. (And please, share what you know about emergency preparedness, won’t you?)

Evacuation Preparedness

The first thing we did was brainstorm a list of things that were important to us. Without reference to experts, what is it that we would want to do and/or take with us, if we were to evacuate.

  • Our animals (and animal supplies).
  • Phones, computers, and charging cords.
  • Important documents from our fire safe.
  • A bag for each of us containing clothes and toiletries.
  • Sleeping bags and pillows.
  • Sentimental items. (We have no “valuable”.)
  • Create a video tour of the house for insurance purposes (be sure to highlight valuable items).
  • Move combustible items away from the house.

After creating our own list, we consulted the experts.

In this case, we looked at websites for communities in California. California copes with wildfires constantly. (And, in fact, Kim’s brother and his family recently had to help evacuate their town due to wildfires!) For no particular reason, I chose to follow the guidelines put out by Marin County, California. I figured they know what they’re talking about!

The FIRESafe MARIN website has a bunch of great resources dedicated to wildfire planning and preparedness. I particularly like their evacuation checklist. While this form is wildfire specific, it could be easily adapted for other uses, such as hurricane preparedness or earthquake preparedness.

The ready.gov website is an excellent resource for disaster preparedness. It contains lots of info about prepping for problems of all sorts. You should check it out.

Creating a Go Kit

FIRESafe MARIN and other groups recommend putting together an emergency supply kit well in advance of possible problems. Each person should have her own Go Kit, and each should be stored in a backpack. (In our case, I have several cheap backpacks that I’ve purchased while traveling abroad. These are perfect for Go Kits.)

What should you keep in a Go Kit? It depends where you live, of course, and what sorts of disasters your area is susceptible to. But generally speaking, you might want your kits to contain:

  • A bandana and/or an N95 mask or respirator.
  • A change of clothing.
  • A flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries.
  • Extra car keys and some cash.
  • A map marked with evacuation routes and a designated meeting point.
  • Prescription medications.
  • A basic first aid kit.
  • Photocopies of important documents.
  • Digital backup of important files.
  • Pet supplies.
  • Water bottle and snacks.
  • Spare chargers for your electronic equipment.

That seems like a lot of stuff, but it’s not. These things should fit easily into a small pack. Each Go Kit should be stores somewhere easy to access. Kim and I don’t have Go Kits yet, but we’ll create them soon. We intend to store them in the front coat closet.

Writing this article reminds me of one of the first posts I shared after re-purchasing Get Rich Slowly. Almost three years ago, I wrote about how to get what you deserve when filing an insurance claim. This info from a former insurance employee is very helpful (and interesting).

Final Thoughts

I spent much of yesterday prepping for possible evacuation. This isn’t so much out of panic as it is out of trying to take sensible precautions. I gathered things and put them in the living room so that we can be ready to leave, if needed. If authorities were to upgrade us from level one to level two status, I’d move this stuff to my car.

Also as a precaution, I moved stuff away from the house and thoroughly watered the entire yard. (Not sure that’d make much difference, but hey, it can’t hurt.) I created a video tour of the house that highlights anything we have of value. And so on. This took most of the afternoon.

This morning, I can see that the neighbors are doing something similar. We’re all trying to exercise caution, I think.

Kim and I will almost surely be fine. Although the smoke is thick here at the moment — it’s like a brownish fog, and it’s even clouding my view of the neighbor’s house! — there aren’t any fires super close to us. And barring mistakes or stupidity, there won’t be any threat to our home.

Still, it’s good for us to take precautionary measures, both now and for the future. And it’s probably smart for you to take some small steps today in case disaster strikes tomorrow.

from Get Rich Slowly https://www.getrichslowly.org/emergency-preparedness/

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