How rising mortgage rates affect home-buying power

Interest rates on home mortgages are rising rapidly across the United States, which seems to be slowing most housing markets. (Some, like the market here in Corvallis, have been less affected. Give it time.)

The average mortgage rate for a 30-year loan was about 3.0% at the start of the year; today, it’s at 6.245% — even for somebody with an excellent credit score over 800.

Current mortgage rates

Kim and I are fortunate that we bought our home in 2021 instead of waiting until 2022. Mortgage rates weren’t actually a factor during our deliberations last year; the historically low rates were simply an added bonus for buying when we did.

When we purchased our home last August, we took out a $480,000 mortgage at 2.625%. We didn’t hit the precise bottom of the mortgage market (that was early January 2021, when we might have had a loan for 2.5%), but we came close.

Here’s a chart from the Federal Reserve that shows mortgage rates from the past 2.5 years.

Recent mortgage rate trends

And here’s a chart that shows mortgage rates for the past 50+ years:

Historical mortgage rate trends

Mortgage rates have hovered at historic lows since the Great Recession of 2007-2009. And rates fell even further during the COVID pandemic. (These low rates are partly responsible for the blazing-hot housing market of the past two years.)

What do these rising mortgage rates mean to actual home buyers? Let’s use our situation as a representative example.

Rising Rates Decrease Buying Power

Last August, Kim and I closed on our home here in Corvallis. It’s a 1964 behemoth for which we paid $680,000. With a $200,000 down payment, we managed to get a 2.625% APR on a 30-year loan. We pay $1929.33 each month for principal and interest. (Our actual mortgage payment, including taxes and insurance, is $2528.43 per month.)

Today, that same loan would cost us 6.245%. If we wanted to buy this same house at the same price with the same down payment, our monthly payments for principal and interest would be $2956.04 — an increase of over $1000 per month compared to buying a year ago!

If we were shopping for homes today and wanted to keep our mortgage payment the same — $1929.33 per month — we’d have to lower our sights. Instead of taking out a $480,000 mortgage on a $680,000 home, we’d be looking at a $313,500 mortgage on a $513,500 home.

But wait! That’s not all! Home prices in our town have risen 10% during the past year, so that would further compromise our buying power. If we had waited until now to buy and wanted to keep our mortgage payment at $1929.33, we’d be shopping for homes that cost $467,000. Delaying a year would have decreased our buying power by $213,000 — over 30%.

While low mortgage rates didn’t spur us to move last year, they certainly gave us an incentive to act quickly. Conversely, if we had waited until this year, I’m not sure what we would have done. Knowing me and my aversion to onerous debt, I probably would have been reluctant to take out a mortgage. I would have tried to find a home to buy with cash, limiting my options even further.

When mortgage rates are at crazy lows like 2.625%, I don’t think twice about carrying a mortgage. It’s a no-brainer. I want a mortgage on my home every single time, and I never want to pay it off. A rate of 2.625% isn’t free money (and I don’t want to pretend that it is), but it’s pretty damn cheap. The gap between expected long-term stock returns (6.8%) and our mortgage rate (2.625%) is huge. There’s a lot of room there, a big margin for error.

On the other hand, there’s almost no gap between a rate of 6.245% and expected market returns of 6.8%. There’s no margin for error. I’m wary of borrowing money at this rate, especially such a large amount. I’d rather not have a mortgage with rates this high.

What Does the Future Hold?

I expect that rising interest rates will have their intended effect: They’ll cool the blazing-hot housing market. Will prices drop? Probably. But who knows? It’s clear, though, that a shift is coming.

I have a handful of friends who are real-estate agents. If you too have real-estate agent friends, then you know that they tend to be permabulls when it comes to their industry. They have an unflagging belief in the future of home prices. But even my real-estate friends believe some sort of shift has begun.

Here’s a long (and interesting) Facebook comment from one of my real-estate friends:

Thoughts on the shifting real-estate market

Last year, home prices were high, but those high prices were mitigated by super-low interest rates on home loans. Now you’ve got a double whammy: high prices and high rates. Today seems like an especially poor time to purchase a home. That’s not a good combo.

I feel sorry for folks who absolutely must move right now. They’re getting screwed.

from Get Rich Slowly

Scambaiters: Meet the modern-day heroes who scam scammers

Both my ex-wife (Kris) and my current girlfriend (Kim) tell me I get too worked up about things sometimes. “You over-react,” they both tell me. Maybe so. I prefer to think of myself as passionate.

One of the things I’m passionate about is scammers. I hate them. Scammers are evil, evil people who prey on the most vulnerable members of society. They take advantage of social constructs in order to manipulate people into parting with their hard-earned money.

No surprise then that one of my favorite sub-genres of YouTube videos is “scammers getting scammed”. Scambaiters are modern-day heroes. As much as I despise scammers, I think scambatiers deserve high praise.

Today, I’ve collected together several YouTube videos (representing a couple of hours of viewing) that document, in an entertaining fashion, how scambaiters uncover scams, help victims, and are now actively working with law-enforcement agencies in an attempt to thwart the bad guys.

Scamming the Scammers

First up, here’s a year-old YouTube video from Mark Rober in which he shows how he managed to use one of his famous glitterbombs to catch a phone scammer, who was then arrested.

Rober didn’t do this on his own. He collaborated with some well-known YouTubers who specifically work to thwart scammers. Here, for instance, is Jim Browning’s video about the above incident: Catching Money Mules.

And here’s the Scammer Payback channel working with Rober. I like this video quite a bit, actually. It provides a lot of info.

But wait! That’s not all! Here’s another Rober video from a couple of weeks ago in which he documents his year-long quest to infiltrate the scam call centers in India in order to disrupt their operations (and, he hopes, to shut some of them down).

And let’s wrap things up with Kitboga as he trolls a scammer into spending ten hours with him, eventually goading the crook into losing his temper in a nuclear-level meltdown. It’s a thing of beauty. (Note, however, that the video is nearly ninety minutes long.)

I have zero patience for scammers. Zero. I believe they deserve the harshest possible punishments. But, as Rober mentions in one video, it’s like playing whack-a-mole. You put one scammer out of business and five more rise to take his place.

In one of his sequels to Dune, Frank Herbert wrote: “Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy.”

Let’s extend this comparison. If time is money (or, more precisely, money is a manifestation of the time required to create it), if money represents “life energy”, as the authors of Your Money or Your Life put it, then depriving a person of her money is also only different from murder by a matter of degrees.

Further Reading

Want more info on scams and how to prevent them? Here are some intersting articles and useful resources I’ve found over the years:

Let me know if there are other videos or resources I should add to this list!

from Get Rich Slowly

I lost money in crypto so that you don’t have to!

One morning just over ten years ago, I had an interesting conversation at the Crossfit gym. I was “rolling out” — using a foam roller to break up tissue — with the usual group of guys, when one of my buddies brought up this new thing called Bitcoin.

“Bitcoin is digital money,” he said. “But it’s completely private and not tied to a government.”

“How does that work?” I asked. From the very first moment I heard about cryptocurrency, it didn’t seem to make any sense. My friend tried to explain. We all chatted about it for a few minutes, and then we lifted heavy weights and/or sweated extensively and/or both of the above.

When I got home, I googled Bitcoin. Nothing I read made any sense to me. I checked the price. My memory is that Bitcoin was selling for $7 or $8 at the time.

Over the past decade, I’ve been bombarded with info about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. I’ve made an effort to self-educate, to learn why people consider crypto valuable and why they think it’s the future of money. To this day, I still haven’t found an explainer that makes much sense to me.

This 21-minute video from Slidebean has been most effective at helping me understand the blockchain and cryptocurrency, but it still didn’t convince me that this stuff was valuable.

Despite all of this, I’ve found myself gradually being worn down over time. So many people endorse cryptocurrency, including people who seem to be savvy and smart. Kim’s brother, for instance, is a huge advocate of cryptocurrency. He and his wife have netted tens of thousands of dollars by dabbling in cryptocurrency. (They bought a new SUV with profits from one transaction.)

So, last fall, I succumbed to the mania.

Doubling Down on Dumb

After selling our home and buying a new one last year, I had a large chunk of change sitting in my checking account. I planned to put this money into index funds eventually, but was keeping it in cash while we were settling into our new home. I used the money to buy furniture and to repair the roof and so on.

On November 23rd of last year, I decided to conduct a little experiment. The best way for me to learn about cryptocurrency, I decided, was to actually buy some. So I did. I put $5000 each into five different “coins” — a $25,000 investment. I bought Ehtereum (ETH), Cosmos (ATOM), Enjin (ENJ), Cardano (ADA), and Solana (SOL). Don’t ask me why I chose these particular coins. I had reasons at the time, but I can no longer remember them.

Here are my transactions.

My crypto purchases in November

Astute readers will be asking, “If you bought $5000 chunks of each coin, then why did you have only about $4925 in each after the purchase.” I’ll tell you why: because transaction fees in the crypto world are outrageous. I used Coindesk as my “wallet” and trading platform, and they took a huge bite out of every transaction. This itself ought to be a red flag. (Or, at least, a yellow flag.)

After moving this money into crypto, I began to feel uneasy. This was in part due to the declining crypto market. You’re always going to feel uneasy when you’re losing money, right? But a bigger problem was that I knew I’d done something foolish.

One of my cardinal rules of investing (for myself) is to not invest in something that I don’t understand. I learned this rule from the writings of billionaire Warren Buffett (one of my personal financial heroes), who applies this to his own investment decisions. Buffett has famously missed the boat on some big companies — Google and Amazon, for instance — because he didn’t understand how their businesses worked, so he didn’t invest. He’s okay with that. He’d rather miss some winners than get sucked into losers. I like that philosophy, and I usually use it to guide my decisions. Usually.

This time, however, I watched as my cryptocurrency declined in value.

I was torn. Part of me wanted to sell, to get out from under the mental weight of this “investment”. But another part of me hated the idea.

By January, my $25,000 in cryptocurrency had declined in value to somewhere around $15,000. I didn’t want to sell at a $10,000 loss. So, I doubled down on dumb. On January 24th — after a big dip in the crypto market — I put another $5000 each into these same five coins. (I rationalized this as dollar-cost averaging.)

My crypto purchases in January

That’s right: Over the course of two months, I “invested” $50,000 into something I didn’t understand and didn’t believe in, something that I fundamentally viewed as a pyramid scheme. There’s no need to tell me how stupid I am. I already know.

An Escape Hatch

February and March were excruciating. Crypto prices remained mostly flat, but with a general downward trend. I was worried that a big crash would come and wipe out all of my money. Then, about the time my cousin Duane’s health began to worsen at the end of March, prices climbed for a week or two. I saw an opportunity. I sold everything.

My crypto sale

In the end, I moved $47,750.49 back into my checking account on March 31st. That’s not the $50,000 I started with, but close enough.

I believe that my crypto story is typical of most (although perhaps with larger amounts of money). I wasn’t investing. I was speculating. I saw people I know making tens of thousands of dollars on this new technology, and I wanted in on the action. So, despite not understanding how this all worked, I put money into the crypto market. I was gambling.

In retrospect, I got lucky. Yes, I lost $2249.51 in four months, but that’s far less than I might have lost.

What if I had been so caught up with caring for Duane that I paid no attention to my cryptocurrency? What if instead of selling at the end of March, I sold today? Great question. Let’s look at what my portfolio value would be as of this very moment (about 08:00 on 17 May 2022):

Current value of my crypto portfolio

If I had not sold, the value of my coins would be less than half what they were six weeks ago.

And look at this! Here’s what the value of my crypto portfolio would be today if I hadn’t made the January purchase and the March sale. Here’s what my original $25,000 “investment” would be worth if I’d simply bought and held.

Value of my original investment today

That’s a 68% drop. Holy cats!

Investing in What I Know

Now, I understand completely that I’m not taking a long view here. I’m “day trading”, as it were. This is something I would advise against in the stock market, and I’m sure there are people who advise against it in the world of crypto. For these folks, this is a long game. And maybe they’re right. Maybe prices will soar again. In fact, they probably will at some point. But the more I learn about cryptocurrency, the less I understand, and the more I’m grateful I got out when I did.

If this is the wave of the future, great. I’m glad some folks will make a lot of money on it. I’m not going to be one of those folks. After an ill-advised mis-adventure, I’ve returned to investing in what I know. On April 27th, I moved most of my remaining cash from the house sale ($154,130.55) into a total market index fund (which, coincidentally, has also lost value haha).

Moving money into the stock market

But here’s the thing. Paper losses in the stock market don’t bother me. I understand how the stock market works. I recognize that the stock market allows me to purchase tiny pieces of big businesses, businesses with actual storefronts and factories and datacenters, businesses with customers and sales and revenues. I have confidence that owning a broad-based index fund will allow me to share the long-term growth (and short-term losses) of the world’s business community as a whole. This makes sense to me.

But crypto? I still don’t understand it. And the more I learn about it, the more it seems like a massive pyramid scheme. After a brief foray into the world of crypto, I’ve decided to give it a pass. I’ll sit this one out.

But wait! What if I’d purchased Bitcoin 10+ years ago when I first heard about it? What if I’d, say, purchased 100 “coins” at $8 each, made an $800 investment? Well, this morning Bitcoin is trading at about $30,000 per coin. If I had 100 coins, they’d be worth $3,000,000. That’s a lot of money!

But this what-if scenario assumes that I would have held those hundred coins from the time I first heard about them until today. The odds of that having happened are almost zero. If I had purchased 100 coins at $8 each, I would have sold them long, long ago. I would have sold them before they reached $800. Or $80. I probably would have sold them once they reached $18.

Further Reading

You shouldn’t really take cryptocurrency advice from me because, as I’ve mentioned several times, I don’t understand how the hell it works or why it has value. It makes no sense to me. You should make your own decisions regarding crypto based on the advice of people smarter than I am.

One of those smart people is Nicholas Weaver, a senior staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and a a lecturer at the UC Berkeley computer science department. Here’s a long and interesting interview with Weaver from Current Affairs in which he says that all cryptocurrency should die in a fire. One quote:

So the stock market and the bond market are a positive-sum game. There are more winners than losers. Cryptocurrency starts with zero-sum. So it starts with a world where there can be no more winning than losing. We have systems like this. It’s called the horse track. It’s called the casino. Cryptocurrency investing is really provably gambling in an economic sense. And then there’s designs where those power bills have to get paid somewhere. So instead of zero-sum, it becomes deeply negative-sum.

Effectively, then, the economic analogies are gambling and a Ponzi scheme. Because the profits that are given to the early investors are literally taken from the later investors. This is why I call the space overall, a “self-assembled” Ponzi scheme. There’s been no intent to make a Ponzi scheme. But due to its nature, that is the only thing it can be.

And here is a recent episode of This American Life in which host Ira Glass explores the world of cryptocurrency and NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

Finally, from The New York Times (and therefor possibly behind a paywall for you) is the latecomer’s guide to crypto, which does its best to be an even-handed overview of the world of cryptocurrency.

If you know of articles or podcasts or YouTube videos that do a good job of explaining cryptocurrency, please leave them in the comments so that I can add them to this list.

from Get Rich Slowly

One thing leads to another

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and well wishes during the past two weeks. I appreciate them. We’ve been tying up loose ends related to Duane’s life and death, and we’re nearly finished with everything.

  • Duane’s memorial service is this Sunday. I’ve been collecting photos from family members, and have put together a slide show of memories. After the memorial service is over, the final loose end will be his financial accounts. We’re prepped to handle those, however, and are just waiting on the death certificate.
  • One of my rooms downstairs is filled with Duane’s collections of ancient coins and Magic: The Gathering cards. The coins are a mystery to me. I watched as he collected them over the years, but I never bothered to learn anything about them. Why would I? Now, I wish I’d paid attention. The cards, on the other hand, I can handle. There are many of them — my guess is a minimum of 168,000 cards and perhaps twice that number — and they’re largely unorganized, which means I have months of work ahead of me in order to sell them. But I understand the game and I understand collectibles, so this is all within my ken. It’s just a lot of work.
  • Kim and I have decided not to adopt any more of Duane’s fish. This was a difficult decision. Duane very much wanted me to take his fish, especially the nineteen Mbuna cichlids. And there’s a part of me that wants to have them. They’d be fun. It would honor his memory. But I also know that the fish would be a hassle, that they don’t fit with our long-term plans. So, if nobody else in the family wants them we’ll donate the fish to a pet store, then sell or donate the fish equipment.

Things have been complicated slightly because I got sick. Duane’s extended family was passing around a nasty cold for much of April, and I managed to catch it the day after he died. It laid me low for several days. (And now, at this very moment, Kim is home sick from work with the same cold.) Fortunately, it’s not COVID.

Things have also been complicated because my mother’s health issues have recently reached a sort of crisis.

More Adventures with Hospice

Last week, just days after my cousin Duane died, the memory director at Happy Acres contacted us. “We think you should consider placing your mother in hospice,” she said.

I was gobsmacked. Why?

Mom has been suffering from undiagnosed memory issues for over a decade, and she struggles with both anemia and diabetes. But these are all chronic conditions. She doesn’t have a terminal diagnosis. Why would she need hospice?

The past ten days have changed my mind.

Mom has lost fifteen pounds during the past month. She no longer shows much interest in food (except milkshakes). Her chronic digestion issues continue, as do her chronic urinary tract infections. Now, she’s losing the ability to walk. She’s begun to fall. Since the middle of April, she’s had four E.R. trips due to falling. She looks like she’s been in a brawl.

Mom after her falls

And, as of this week, Mom has begun experiencing incontinence. All this is to say that I’ve overcome my resistance to the idea that she should be in hospice. Maybe she should. It can’t hurt, and maybe it will help.

The doctors are still mystified as to exactly what’s going on with my mother. One huge barrier to diagnosis is that she is essentially non-verbal. If Mom has a strong emotion, she can communicate. When we were driving her home an appointment the other day, she croaked, “Burgerville.” She wanted a milkshake. If I show her photos or video of her cat (the cat that Kim and I have adopted), Mom brightens. “That’s my baby,” she says as she holds my phone.

Mostly, though, she says nothing.

She hardly responds to questions. Sometimes she’ll nod or shake her head or smile, but mostly she offers no reaction. (My sister-in-law took her to a doctor’s appointment last week. Steph says that Mom said nothing for the entire trip except one word when they got back in the car: “cashews”. She knew Steph had cashews in the car.)

Because Mom does not (cannot? will not?) tell us what she’s thinking or feeling or experiencing, all we and the doctors can do is act on what we observe. They’ve run tests to discover why she’s been vomiting blood for the past six months, but they’ve found nothing amiss. Same with the UTIs. Same with the memory issues.

“Look, I know this is frustrating,” her doctor told me during a one-hour video call in February. “And I wish we had some answers for you. Trust me when I say, however, that all of these tests are helpful. They may not tell us what’s wrong, but they allow us to rule out many possible problems.”

And so here we are today. Today, my brother and I signed the paperwork to admit Mom into hospice care. We don’t believe she’ll die anytime soon, but we also know that the assisted living facility isn’t equipped to send her to the emergency room six to eight times each month. It’s unreasonable to expect that.

With hospice, Mom will have a nurse visit two or three times each week. Whenever something happens that might otherwise send her to the E.R. — she vomits blood, she falls, etc. — a hospice nurse will be to her within half an hour to make sure everything is okay.

I’ll admit that there’s a part of me (a big part of me) that wants to move Mom in with me and Kim. We have the space. She could have the entire downstairs to herself, and she could be reunited with her beloved cat. Plus, I’ve just spent two months providing hospice care for my cousin, so I have a rough idea of what to expect.


I also recognize this remains a poor idea. It was a poor idea a decade ago. It was a poor idea last year. It’s a poor idea now. It’s a poor idea every time it occurs to me.

Mom needs professional care. Duane’s situation was different. He was a healthy young(-ish) man at the end of his life. Mom is an older woman whose health has been declining for more than a decade. The staff of the assisted living facility know her and care for her. They have training that I don’t. So, I’ll let go of the idea that she should live with us…for now.

So Much To Do

I don’t expect that Mom’s situation will require as much time and attention as Duane’s did. We’re paying $7000 per month for trained professionals to give her the best possible care. Still, I expect to devote one day each week to her.

Meanwhile, there’s so much that I want (or need) to get done in other corners of my world. My life has been on hold for almost three months now. I’m eager to resume it. There are a lot of big projects looming on the horizon:

  • I’m fat and want to get fit. I joined a local gym here in Corvallis in the middle of February. I exercised there four times before I began spending most of my time with Duane. I want to begin exercising again. In fact, I want my physical fitness to become my top priority for the remainder of the year.
  • Kim and I had intended to do a couple of landscaping projects this spring. One project — a side fence — is very important to her. Another — landscaping the front yard — is important to me. I’ve had no time to start on these (or other) chores, but I want to do so before the ground turns hard for the summer.
  • I have drastic plans for Get Rich Slowly. (Drastic but good.) I’ve written 5000+ words about my thought process but the short version is this: I hate what the modern internet has become. I loathe it. And I’m sad that Get Rich Slowly is some small part of that. I want to strip this site of most (all?) advertising, adopt a minimalist layout, and revert to something closer to the blogging style I used twenty years ago. If you want me to write exclusively about money, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re one of those who is happy to read any of my musings (financial or otherwise), you’ll be pleased. Again, I’d started moving this direction in January and February before getting derailed by Duane’s situation. I need to find/make time to resume this work.
  • I need to re-write the software for the family box factory. My father wrote the original programs in 1985 using an Atari ST computer. I re-wrote the programs in 1998 using Visual Basic on a Windows PC. Now, in 2022, it’s time to write a third iteration of our software, and that’s a project that will take a couple of months. (One challenge is that I’ll need to learn a new programming environment. I think I’m going to use Xojo, which will allow me to build cross-platform apps.)
  • I want to explore volunteering with hospice. Duane’s death changed me in some very profound ways. While I was caring for him, my depression and anxiety vanished completely. (They’ve resurfaced some in the past ten days.) The reasons for this are obvious: As everyone always says, one of the best ways to overcome anxiety and depression is to help other people. Plus, as difficult as it was to help Duane die, I found the experience so, so meaningful. Anyhow, I feel as if I might be able to do some good in this world by helping with hospice, and I want to explore how I can help.

During the past ten days at home, I’ve either been sick or been dealing with issues that require my immediate attention. I’ve had no time to dive into these deeper projects. Now, as things settle, I want to pursue them in the order listed above.

That means the first two things I’ll be working on are my fitness and our home. It might take a week or two to get these projects moving, but once I have some forward momentum I can then resume my work on this website. I’m eager to do so! I have a clear vision of what I want Get Rich Slowly to be, and I wish that I could simply snap my fingers to make it happen. In reality, I know it’ll be a slow, slow transition. The sooner I can get it started, the better.

from Get Rich Slowly

As good as it gets

It’s December 1972. I am three years old. My parents have to be away for the night. They drive me to stay with Dad’s brother and his family. It’s cold and it’s raining. We stand on a covered porch and knock. A big lady with a big smile opens the door to greet us.

“This is your Aunt Janice,” Mom tells me. “And this is your cousin Nicky.”

You are standing behind your mother. You are eight years old. This is the first time we meet. You’re not interested in a little kid like me, and I’m too timid to pay much attention to you.

Mom and Dad leave. Your mother reads to me: The Little Engine that Could, Curious George, Doctor Seuss. You sit nearby and listen. Before bed, I learn that you wear plastic pants like I do. You’re a big boy but you still wet the bed.

It’s a Sunday in autumn 1978. You are fourteen; I am nine. My family is visiting yours after church. You are curled up in a chair watching football on a black-and-white television. You have a magazine in your lap. I am watching you watching football. We don’t have a TV, and I don’t know anything about football.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“I’m watching the Pittsburgh Steelers,” you say. “They’re my favorite team.” You show me the magazine — an entire magazine only about football. It lists the teams and the players and the schedules for the entire season. You show me how you take notes in the magazine, writing down the scores of each game, writing notes about your favorite players.

I tell you that I like comic books. When the game is over, you take me upstairs to show me your comics. You don’t have many, and none of them are about superheroes, but when you offer me a Richie Rich, I take it home with me.

This is our first real interaction not as cousins, but as friends.

We see each other often at family gatherings during our childhoods. We are friendly, but the five years between us is a very real barrier at this point. Soon, that barrier will fall.

Nick's senior picture

It’s sometime during 1983. I’m riding in the car with Dad. He hands me the newspaper and tells me to turn to a specific page. It’s an article about you. You are nineteen. You have been convicted of a crime, a crime that I don’t understand. Dad explains it. You’ve hurt somebody very badly.

We don’t see you at family gatherings for a couple of years.

It’s summer 1986. You’re living down the road at grandpa’s house. Since grandma died, he’s been struggling and it’s helpful to have somebody living with him. You have the entire upstairs to yourself. At first, I’m nervous about visiting you. You are a criminal. I cannot let that go from my mind. Eventually, however, I let my guard down. I allow myself to move on.

You’ve begun working for Dad as the box factory’s first employee. When I help in the shop after school, you and I chat. We talk about music. We talk about books. (After you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, we talk a lot about Quality.) We talk about movies, especially your favorites like Being There and After Hours.

Now and then, I walk down the road to visit you. We sit upstairs and you play your records for me. You play Yes and Deep Purple and Queen. (You play me a lot of Queen.) You play Styx for me: The Grand Illusion. To you, it’s an okay album. To me, it’s a revelation. It becomes part of the soundtrack to my life.

It’s September 1991. I’ve graduated from college without a plan. I take a job selling insurance door to door. The job requires I live near Portland, so I move in with you. You’re renting a duplex in Canby.

Your home is a mess. It’s chaos. It’s a disaster area. There are dishes piled high in the sink. There are clothes piled high on the floor. There’s Stuff everywhere. But you have a spare bedroom for me, so I live there.

You work at the box factory. I sell insurance. In the evening, we chat and play games while watching MTV. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is in heavy rotation. We don’t know what to think of it.

I buy a Super Nintendo. I buy a Game Boy. I buy a Geo Storm. “You’re spending a lot of money,” you tell me. “It’s money you don’t have yet.” You warn me about going into debt, but I don’t listen.

It’s spring 1993. You’ve been watching me struggle with money. You lend me a copy of The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias. You show me how to use Quicken to track my money. You teach me about mutual funds.

I begin investing $150 each month in Invesco mutual funds. You are pleased. So am I. But this adventure ends when I decide that I’d rather have a new computer. I cash out my shares to buy a new Macintosh. You are disappointed in me.

It’s autumn 1994. You’ve purchased a house in Molalla. But because you’re a cheap bastard, it’s a cheap house. It’s 80 years old. Maybe more. It’s in rough condition. You don’t care. It’s yours.

On Sunday mornings, I drive out to watch football with you. I buy donuts and chocolate milk, which we consume in great quantities. We watch the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the afternoons, we watch the Seattle Seahawks. Some days we play computer games instead. We play Warlords and Warlords II. We play Darklands. We play Civilization.

We have become close friends.

We attend concerts together. We eat dinner together. We talk about music and movies and games and books. You are one of the only people in my life who is willing to engage in deep, philosophical conversations and I appreciate that.

It’s July 1995. Dad is dying. The cancer is dragging him under. He’s decided to leave 60% of the box factory to Mom, 10% to me, 10% to Jeff, and 10% to Tony. He’s also leaving 10% to you, his nephew. More importantly, he’s leaving you in charge of the business.

Since your father died five years ago, my father has stepped into that role for you. He truly sees you as a son.

During the final weeks of Dad’s life, you begin leading the business. You’re also active in helping him put his personal affairs in order. The day he dies, you’re the one who is responsible for getting his will notarized. You personally dig Dad’s grave at the church cemetery. It’s a monumental task but you see it as a debt you owe him.

(Twenty-seven years later, I deliberately seek to pay you the same respect. During the last two months of your life, I’m with you as much as possible. “I want to be your hands and feet,” I tell you, and I mean it.)

It’s summer 1996. You have embraced your homosexuality. You are living the Gay Life. You are partying and dating and going to the gym. You introduce me to some of your friends: Tom, David, Shad, Hector.

You sell your house and rent an apartment in Portland. You begin to travel. You’re interested in European history, so you tour Greece and Italy with Hector. You make another trip to see Italy with your friend Kathy. You tell me that I ought to travel too. I’m not interested in travel.

You’ve been a life-long stamp collector, but now your focus turns to ancient coins. Ancient coins give you a chance to combine two passions: collecting and history.

It’s summer 1999. One afternoon I come back from making sales calls and have a bunch of trading cards in my hand. “What are those?” you ask.

“They’re Magic cards,” I say. I explain that Magic: The Gathering is a game played with collectible cards. Each card bends the rules in some tiny way. Your aim is to use your pool of cards to build a deck that can defeat the deck your opponent builds. “I guess it’s a little like the card game War,” I say.

I teach you to play. Within a few months, you know more about the game than I do. Much more. You become obsessed with it. You buy boxes of cards. You play in tournaments. You’re not especially good, but you enjoy it. And you have moments of brilliance. In fact, at one tournament you actually defeat the number one player in the world. Mostly, though, your play is fair to middling.

During the next 20+ years, you build a vast collection of Magic cards. You have thousands of cards. Tens of thousands of cards. Hundreds of thousands of cards.

You also dive deep into ancient coins. You order bags of “uncleaned coins” from internet dealers, then meticulously soak and scrub them. When they’re clean, you get the joy of trying to determine which coins you’ve acquired. You buy books on coins. You read about coins. You try to share your passion with your family and friends, but nobody else is interested.

It’s July 2007. I’ve just returned from my first trip to Europe: two weeks in the U.K. with my wife and her family. I’m back at the box factory but struggling. I don’t want to be there. I want to be anywhere but the box factory.

You are angry. You are bawling me out. “You never should have gone on that trip,” you spit. “Your absence made it abundantly clear just how little work you do around here.”

You’re not wrong. For a while, I’ve done almost nothing at the box factory. My attention has been focused on this blog, on Get Rich Slowly. In fact, I’m now earning as much from the blog as I am from the box factory.

“You’re right,” I say. “So why don’t I quit?” It takes a few months for me to get the guts, but I do it. I leave the box factory to become a full-time writer.

It’s November 2008. You and I spend an afternoon cleaning the moss from Mom’s roof. While doing so, we have another one of our deep conversations. This one is about money. It’s about wants and needs. I turn this conversation into a blog post, and the ideas we discuss become a key part of my financial philosophy.

It’s September 2012. You and I take a three-week tour of Turkey. We make it up as we go along. It’s the first time we’ve traveled together, and we’re pleased to discuss that we’re perfect travel companions. There’s an easy flow to our adventures.

We enjoy strolling through Istanbul together, we enjoy taking the bus to Pamukkale, we enjoy the early hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia. But we’re also willing to give each other space. I spend one day at the hostel, writing and drinking beer. You spend a day exploring small villages in central Turkey. It’s a grand adventure that we both enjoy.

Nick endures a pitch from the Turkish carpet salesman

When we return from Turkey, we agree that we should travel together in Europe on a regular basis. But life gets in the way.

It’s Spring 2017. It’s been five years since our trip to Turkey. We’re ready travel together once more. After a year of talking and planning, you and I and Kim have plotted a month-long driving tour of Spain. Mostly, we’re going to make it up as we go along — just as we did before. We spend a Saturday evening finalizing details over a bottle of red wine. “I’ll start booking places next week,” I say.

But on Monday, you phone me. “J.D, don’t start booking yet,” you say. “This is the thing. I have cancer. I’ve been getting some tests and the results just came back. I have esophageal cancer, and I need to start treatment immediately. I can’t do the trip.”

My heart sinks — not for me, but for you. It’s the family curse. Grandma died of cancer. Your father died of cancer. My father died of cancer. Your brother died of cancer. All of us Roth males live in fear. We’re waiting for the day we learn that the curse has struck. And now it has struck you.

It’s Summer 2018. The doctors have been treating your cancer with immunotherapy. You and I grab the dog on a Wednesday morning and drive to the Oregon coast. You tell me all about your cancer, its survivability (bleak!), and the things you still want to do.

“I want to travel, J.D.,” you say. “You and I still have time to see the world.”

Your prognosis waxes and wanes. Some days it seems like you’ll live for years. Others, it seems like you have only weeks. Still, we manage to plan and execute a family trip to Europe in December. Your brother and three members of his family join us to explore Christmas markets in Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, and France. It’s a grand adventure.

After your brother’s family returns home, you and I travel together for a week. Against your protests, I pay for us to ride the Glacier Express across the Swiss Alps. It’s too expensive for your frugal nature. But you love it. You are in awe. “J.D.,” you tell me later, “I’m so glad you made me do that. It was one of the highlights of my life.”

All aboard the Glacier Express!

Birthday card for Nick's 55th

It’s May 2019. You and I are in the middle of a two-week tour of northwestern France. We’re making it up as we go along, as we like to do.

We spend a night on the island of Mont-Saint-Michel. You love it. We spend a night at Fontevraud Abbey, where we eat in the Michelin-star restaurant. You do not love the meal. The food is fancy but you are unimpressed. It’s too expensive. You cannot believe that I would spend money on this.

As we drive across France, our discussions are deep and weighty. You are weak and tired. Your mortality is heavy on your mind. Like me, you are filled with self-loathing — the crime you committed in your youth is always on your mind — so we talk at length about what makes a person and what makes a person bad. Does one mistake define a life? How can you forgive yourself for the wrongs you’ve done to others? Neither of us has any solutions, but it helps to talk about these things with someone you trust.

It’s COVID times. You make yourself scarce. You are immunocompromised, so you’re unwilling to take risks. You are angry at your brother and his family because they don’t take COVID seriously. You vent your frustrations to me. You love Bob but this is causing a real rift in your relationship.

You continue your treatments — chemotherapy and others. Often, these treatments leave you drained and exhausted. You cannot even bring yourself to play Everquest. (You’ve been playing Everquest for nearly twenty years. You have a regular group that you play with. The game is a big part of your life.)

“Make some videos for me,” you say. You tell me this again and again. So, I make some videos for you.

I record myself playing Heathstone. I record myself playing World of Warcraft. I record myself playing Civilization. When you don’t have the strength and focus to play games yourself, you watch me playing my games. I have no idea why you find this appealing, but you do. So, I continue to record videos for you.

It’s December 2021. You’ve grown much weaker. You are tired all of the time. It’s a struggle for you to walk. Still, you’re doing your best to live life as normal.

“I want to visit you and Kim in Corvallis,” you say. You drive down one Saturday and bring with you boxes of craft supplies. We spend hours building Christmas ornaments and decorations. In the evening, you introduce us to “The Great British Baking Show”.

The next Saturday, I drive up to Portland. You and I spend the day baking Christmas cookies. You’re weaker even than seven days ago, so you sit at the table and mix ingredients. I do all of the moving around.

baking Christmas cookies with Nick

“I think I’m going to leave my coins and cards to you,” you say. I’m uncomfortable with the conversation.

“Whatever you’d like,” I say. Over the years, you and I have continued to play Magic: The Gathering. You frequently play online. I play only when you and I attend “pre-release” tournaments. Maybe once each year, we’ll spend a Friday night with other nerds, playing Magic in local game stores. You remain a better player than me, but my skills are improving. I rarely lose anymore, but I don’t win much either. I earn a lot of draws.

It’s 11 February 2022. We’re packing your apartment. You’ve decided to move to Canby so that you can be closer to your brother and closer to the box factory. You and I are sifting through 21 years of Stuff. We’re creating a pile to donate. We’re stuffing boxes with clothes and mementos. Mostly, we’re packing your collections.

You have boxes and boxes of Magic cards. You have boxes and boxes of ancient coins. You have travel souvenirs. You have old computer games and manuals. You have children’s books. You have crafting supplies. You have far too much food for a single guy — and most of that food is long expired.

As we pack, we reminisce. We talk about the things we’ve done together. We talk about the things we want to do — the things we wanted to do. You show me your new fish. You’ve always loved aquariums. During the 1990s, you and I both set up aquariums at the same time, but we lost interest after a few months. Now, at the end of your life, you’ve decided you want to keep fish again. You enjoy telling me all about them.

It’s 26 February 2022. I’ve returned to help you pack. It’s slow going because you have no stamina. You find it difficult to make decisions. You are having trouble breathing. “Hector says I should go to the E.R. when I have trouble breathing,” you say, “but that seems excessive.”

After two hours, though, you’ve changed your mind. You ask me to drive you to the hospital, so I do. The pneumonia you had in January has returned. And the doctors tell you that the reason you’re having so much trouble breathing is that your left lung has collapsed.

It’s 04 March 2022. I’m at your apartment to help you finish packing. You are scheduled to move the next morning. The phone rings. It’s one of your doctors. You put him on speaker so that I can listen. You are seated on the sofa, your head bowed. As the doctor talks, you rock back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

The doctor tells you that a feeding tube is not an option. “I’m sorry,” he says. “We can’t take the risk. The procedure is likely to kill you.” The doctor is audibly uncomfortable, yet he spends twenty minutes talking you through what comes next.

“I know this hurts to hear,” he says, “but you only have a few months left. Maybe a few weeks. It’s hard to say.” In reality, your life will end in 53 days.

“At this point,” the doctor says, “you should make your life about you. You should eat what you want to eat. You should drink what you want to drink. You should go where you want to go. You should see the people you want to see.”

You rock back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. “Thank you,” you say. “I understand.” After the call has finished, you sit in silence for a minute for a few minutes. I watch from the kitchen.

“Well,” you say. “I guess we should finish packing.” So we do.

I spend the night at your apartment. This is the first of 29 nights I will spend with you during the final 53 days of your life. From here on out, either your brother or I — often both of us — will be with you nearly all of the time.

It’s 07 March 2022. Yesterday was your 58th birthday. Today, we are unpacking at your new apartment. In a strange twist of fate, it’s the other half of the duplex you and I rented together in 1991.

You’ve set up three aquariums in the apartment, including one devoted only to Mbuna cichlids from Lake Malawi. That tank is currently home to six 34-cent goldfish, but you and I will gradually purchase nineteen cichlids over the next few weeks.

Your brother and his wife come over to help us unpack the kitchen. You sit in your walker and sort the boxes. You hand food to us. Audrey handles the food you’re keeping, tucking it into cupboards. Bob boxes some food to take home. I box the rest for me and Kim.

After Bob and Audrey leave, you begin experiencing severe chest pains. I drive you to the emergency room. You and I spend the night in the E.R. while doctors perform a variety of tests. I show you the videos I’ve made of our trips to Turkey and France.

These videos take your mind off your situation. I promise that I’ll finish the video of our family trip to European Christmas markets, but I never get the chance to do so. You’re discharged at five and we head home.

It’s 13 March 2022. You and I drive around Portland to look at fish. Your aim is to have 25 cichlids in your 90-gallon tank, but we start with six.

In the afternoon, Bob and Hector come over. The three of us have planned an important conversation with you, and you can smell it from a mile away. “You’re taking away my keys, aren’t you?” you say. Yes, we are taking away your keys. Driving has become dangerous for you. But that’s not all.

Hector asks if you’ve considered hospice. You become defensive. You don’t want to do hospice because you’re afraid that means surrendering to the disease. You don’t want to surrender. You want to fight. You want to continue driving to the E.R. whenever you have a problem.

Bob and Hector and I know this isn’t a workable solution. We try to talk some sense into you. You are resistant. You and Hector bicker like an old married couple. In the end, though, you agree to meet with hospice to learn more about it. By the time I see you next, you have enrolled in a hospice program. It makes everything so much easier.

Over the next six weeks, we all come to appreciate the hospice nurses and volunteers. They’re amazing.

Also over the next six weeks, you have us watch hundreds of hours of the Aquarium Co-Op channel on YouTube. The channel plays almost constantly on the living room TV. Eventually, you have me drive you to purchase a new $300 TV so that you can hear and see the Aquarium Co-Op videos better.

At first, I’m annoyed by the constant fish videos. In time, however, I grow to love them. They’re comforting. And the host (Cory) is precisely the kind of YouTube personality I’d like to be — only he talks about fish and I’d like to talk about health and wealth. Bob and Hector and I may be the folks providing the bulk of your in-person care, but you demand Cory as a constant presence too.

It’s 17 March 2022. We’re driving to Portland so that you can visit your friend Kathy — and so that you can buy more fish. We’re talking about all of the loose ends in your life. I ask why it took you so long to complete your will. I ask why you haven’t designated beneficiaries on your investment accounts. I ask why you haven’t made a list of your logins and passwords.

“I’m in denial, J.D.” you say. I tell you that I get it.

The conversation turns to your new apartment and all of the boxes left to unpack. “It would really help if you took some of this stuff down to Corvallis,” you tell me. “I keep saying it’s okay to take some of the boxes of coins and Magic cards now before I die,” you say. “Why don’t you do it?”

I shrug. “I don’t know,” I say. “I guess I’m in denial too.”

You grab my right arm, causing me to veer slightly as I steer. “Thank you, J.D.,” you say. “Thank you. I get it too.”

It’s 22 March 2022. I’ve been away for three days taking care of Real Life in Corvallis. I’ve just returned to Canby. You are surly and sour. You are in pain. You are uncomfortable. You are finding it difficult to breathe. You are taking your frustrations out on everyone around you, even those that you love. Especially those that you love.

I can see that Bob is frustrated. “How do you feel about buying some new fish?” I suggest.

“I feel great about buying some new fish,” you say. I drive you around Portland for four hours. You’re too weak to exit the car, so I go into the pet stores and film their selection of cichlids. Then I return to the car so that you can see what each store has in stock. Eventually, we buy two fish.

We’re near Uwajimaya, the Asian grocery store, and you decide you want to try to go in. We get you out of the car, change oxygen canisters, then find a shopping cart for you to lean on. It takes fifteen minutes to walk from the snack aisle to the deli section. The journey exhausts you.

It’s precisely midnight between 23 March and 24 March 2022. You call from the other room: “Hello? Help!” I spring from the couch. Bob leaps from his recliner. We’re by your side in seconds.

“I can’t breathe,” you whisper. Your voice is plaintive, desperate. Bob wraps his arms around you and lifts you to a seated position. I pull the Pittsburgh Steelers blanket off you and then turn the oxygen dial to five, the highest it can go. You sit on the edge of the bed, gasping.

“I can’t breathe,” you say. Bob whispers to you, stroking your bony back. I go to the kitchen to see what drugs we have at our disposal. We gave you an ativan when you went to bed at ten. You’re supposed to go a minimum of four hours between doses but I don’t care. I get another one for you. I draw some morphine.

Nick's medication counter

“I can’t breathe,” you say as you take the drugs. Bob calls the hospice nurse. It’s Tori, which gives me a sense of relief. Tori is awesome. She asks for your symptoms. She asks what drugs you’ve had during the past 24 hours.

“He’s on his fentanyl patch, of course,” I say. “He’s had two ativan in the past two hours. He’s had eight doses of morphine in the past day, but he hasn’t had any since six in the evening. He refused a dose at eight and again at ten.”

You don’t want to take the morphine. It makes you tired. It makes you muddle-headed. It makes you feel like you’re losing. In the afternoon, you blew up at a different hospice nurse. “I thought you guys were supposed to make me comfortable,” you barked. “Well, I’m not fucking comfortable.” When she suggested you take more morphine, you protested. “I watched when we gave my brother more morphine and he slipped away. The same thing happened with J.D.’s dad.”

“I can’t breathe,” you say, and Tori promises to call the doctor in charge of your case. The wait is agonizing. You can’t breathe. You can’t breathe. You can’t breathe. Tori calls back a few minutes later and tells us to increase the morphine.

“Give him another dose now,” she says. “In an hour, give him a double dose. Going forward, that’s the new dosage.”

Soon, you can breathe. The ativan relieves your anxiety. The morphine relaxes you. Bob lays you back on the bed and covers you with your Pittsburgh Steelers blanket. He and I sit in your bedroom, silent. We watch as you breathe. When you fall asleep, he returns to the recliner and I return to the sofa. We struggle to fall back asleep.

It’s 27 March 2022. You’re feeling stronger. Not strong, but stronger. You tell me that you’d like to go to the Coast, so we do.

You had harbored a hope of seeing Europe once more before you died. COVID dashed those hopes. You moderated your dreams, telling me that instead you’d like to make it to Atlanta to visit the Georgia Aquarium. That’s another dream that will never come true.

You decided that you’d be content if you could simply see the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. Even that dream looked impossible for a few days. Now there’s a window of opportunity, so we seize it.

On the drive, we talk about music. I explain at length why I am such a fan of Taylor Swift and her music. “I hear what you’re saying,” you say, “but I just can’t get into her.” You’re a creature of habit. You like what you’ve always liked, and that mostly means classic rock.

As we drive, we take turns asking Siri to play songs on the car stereo. We steer clear of Taylor Swift and focus on the music you like. We listen to:

  • Kansas – Dust in the Wind
  • Mountain – Nantucket Sleighride
  • Grand Funk Railroad – I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)
  • Neil Young – Old Man
  • Trio – After the Gold Rush
  • The Decemberists – Crane Wife
  • Pearl Jam – Just Breathe
  • James – Sound
  • CSN – Southern Cross
  • Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
  • Deep Purple – Hush

When we reach the aquarium, you’re too exhausted to go in. I park in the sun so that you can be warm. You sleep in the car for an hour while I sit outside watching the Portland Timbers game on my phone. When you wake, you feel better. We get you in the wheelchair for the first time, and I push you around for 90 minutes so that we can look at the fishes.

Nick at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Afterward, you ask me to stop at the candy store. We spend $100 filling bags with salt-water taffy, almond roca, and chocolate-covered twinkies. I think it’s been a long day and that we should head home. You don’t want to go home. You want to see more of the coast.

I drive slowly along the shoreline. I drive through the touristy parts of town. I drive along the shoreline again. You’re not hungry, but you want to get fish and chips. We stop to look up the best fish and chips spot that’s open at 6 p.m. on a Sunday night. It’s located in a strip mall 45 minutes north.

The manager is friendly and accommodating. When you tell him you’re cold, he brings you a hot chocolate. You drink your cocoa with a bowl of clam chowder. I have one beer with some fish and chips. I give you one piece of fish. You think the food is delicious. As I’m wheeling you out the door, you make me stop and call over the manager. You tell him it’s the best fish and chips you’ve ever had.

On the drive home, you sleep. When we reach the apartment, you’re too weak to climb into bed on your own. I have to lift you. As I turn out the light, you whisper, “Thank you, J.D. Thank you for everything.” I sit on the couch and cry.

It’s early morning 29 March 2022. The past 24 hours have been rough. You cannot walk without assistance. Your cannot find the words you want. You cannot get enough air. You go to sleep early.

Then, for no apparent reason, you wake at 2:30 and you are almost completely your old self again. You walk to the kitchen and rummage through the fridge. You pour a glass of chocolate milk. You ask to watch a movie.

I choose Arrival. “It’s a beautiful film,” I tell you, forgetting that the beginning also features a death like the one you’re experiencing. As we watch, I try to explain some things because I know this is the only time you’ll ever see the film. (And, in fact, it may be the last film you ever watch.)

“This story is about memory,” I tell you. “And time. And how the two are interwoven. It’s sort of non-linear at times.” When the aliens appear and begin communicating with their circular “sentences”, I tell you this is the central metaphor of the film.

You are awake and engaged for the entire movie. You find it fascinating. You ask questions. I give you answers. When the movie is over, you want a bowl of ice cream. You get up unassisted, pull the vanilla ice cream from the freezer, then add some strawberry syrup to several scoops of the stuff. You wolf it down.

“What should we watch next?” you ask.

“Dude,” I groan. “I need some sleep. I need to drive home in a couple of hours.” So, we go back to sleep. But as I drift off, I’m filled with regret. What am I doing? Why am I sacrificing this precious time with you? Sure, I’m tired, but so what? All your life, you’ve said, “You can sleep when you’re dead.” Well, you soon will be dead — I can sleep then.

I look over to see if you’re awake, but you’re not. You’ve nodded off in your recliner. I’ll simply have to savor the three hours I just got to spend with the normal you. (This moment and this film also inspire me to start documenting these moments with you, and those moments become this blog post.)

It’s 31 March 2022. After 48 hours in Corvallis to rest and recuperate, I drive back to your apartment to relieve your brother. I’m hopeful that you’ll be just as awake and alert as you were two days ago. You’re not. In fact, things are grim.

You barely respond when I greet you. When I ask you questions, you gaze at me vacantly. When you do respond, it’s a guttural whisper or nonsensical steam of consciousness.

“What about the cigarette butt?” you ask as I clean the coffee table.

“What?” I say, looking around. “What cigarette butt?” Nobody in your life smokes.

“What about the cigarette butt?” you say, pointing to the coffee table. “The white one. What about it?”

Nothing you say over the next hour makes any sense. “Look at her eyes. She looks like a bug. Is the new girl in my medicine? The fish, the fish, the fish.” You have trouble completing thoughts. But even when you complete your thoughts, what you say is a sort of word salad. Sometimes I can puzzle out what you mean to say. Mostly, I can’t.

You become restless. You remove your oxygen tube and attempt to stand. I give you support. I walk you to the kitchen. You open the refrigerator. “Hold on,” I say. “I’ll get you a chair to sit in.” I let go of you for only a moment — for only enough time as it takes to lean over and grab a chair from the table — but in that moment, you collapse to the ground. I manage to slide partway under you in an attempt to break your fall.

“Wow,” you say. Yes, wow. Fortunately, neither of us is hurt. It takes several minutes, but you manage to crawl to your hands and knees, and from there I’m able to lift you to standing. This time, I don’t let go. We get you into the chair. You eat some seafood salad and some smoked salmon, then I help you stumble back to your recliner.

“I’m not qualified to do this,” I text Kim. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

You wake in the middle of the night to make lists. You make lists of things to do. You make lists of things to give away. You make lists of people to call. Because you’re a cheap bastard, you write your lists on the back of old envelopes or grocery bags.

You pick up a pillow from the floor and hold it to your ear. Then you hold it to your other ear.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Why is this so loud?” you ask. “Is it a bomb?”

It’s 03 April 2022. Nurse Diane shows you how to use adult diapers (or “briefs”, as she calls them). I expect you to be defeated by this. You aren’t. You’re surprisingly pragmatic about their use.

It’s 08 April 2022. I arrive back at your apartment after several days in Corvallis. You’re in much better shape than when I left you. You’re cheerful. You’re lucid. You’re engaged.

You ask to the go the tulip fields, so I pack your wheelchair and meds and oxygen tank, then we load into the car. There’s a large crowd at the flower farm despite being a cool Friday afternoon. Although you grew up maybe two miles from the tulip fields, you’ve never been here before.

I push you around from row to row. You admire the color. You point out your favorites. I point out mine. In the catalog, you note the bulbs I should plant for next spring. We suffer through a chilly rain shower, caught unprepared in the open. Then we admire the rainbow that follows. We can see both ends, but no pots of gold.

Nick at tulip fields

You’re hungry, so we drive to El Chilito, your favorite taco stand. It takes you twenty minutes to decide what to order: tacos dorados. When we take them home, you manage to eat one taco, but the rest of the tacos (and all of the chips) go to waste over the next several days. You have no appetite.

It’s 09 April 2022. After the hospice nurse visits, I tell you I’m going to go grab groceries real quick. Despite not having an appetite, you still dream of food. You are constantly having me add things to the shopping list: seafood salad, Greek yogurt, shrimp, apple juice, pretzels, black grapes (crisp, plump, juicy, and delicious).

I tell you I’ll be gone maybe thirty minutes, but you ask me to hold up. You want to go shopping with me. First, though, can I bring you the coupons from the mailbox? I do. It takes you thirty minutes to look through the flyers. There’s nothing that you want.

Then you decide you want to send flowers to your friend Kathy, who is also having medical problems. To do that, you need to know if she’s home, so you want to call Tom to learn Kathy’s status. You dial Johnny, your Everquest buddy, by mistake. You ask me if I can do something to make your phone less confusing. I try but it’s not the kind of phone I use, so I can’t understand the settings.

Three hours later — after several such digressions — we pack up and head to the grocery store. There, you’re immediately distracted by the Easter candy. You want malted milk chocolate eggs. We find them. Then it takes more than an hour to work through your short list of groceries. You’re fussy. You want to chat with the workers and customers. When the developmentally disabled fellow offers us help, you tell him you like his accent. He doesn’t have an accent. He has a speech impediment.

Later in the evening, you decide that it’s time to do a water change in the 90-gallon cichlid tank. Before we do the water change, you want to vacuum the gravel. You’re not happy with how I’m doing the job (it’s the first time I’ve ever done it), so you stand to do it yourself.

“You shouldn’t be standing,” I say. “And you should be wearing your oxygen tube.”

“If you’d do this right, I wouldn’t have to stand,” you tell me. I fume inside, but let it pass. This, I remind myself, is why I aborted my return to the family box factory: I couldn’t abide your need for perfection from everyone (except yourself). My anger passes quickly.

You sit back in the wheelchair, then bend over to pick up a book. Immediately, you bolt upright.

“Something’s wrong,” you say. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” I scramble to get the oxygen re-attached. I dash to the kitchen for the morphine. I grab my phone.

“Call Hector,” you tell me. I call hospice instead. “Goddamn it, J.D., call Hector,” you say. I bring your phone to you so that you can call Hector while I speak with the hospice nurse.

Hector tries to calm you through breathing exercises. Hospice has me administer lorazepam and haloperidol. They’ll relieve your anxiety and help you breathe — but not for fifteen minutes. You’re panicking. “Where are you, Hector?” you ask. “Why aren’t you here?”

“I’m home in Vancouver,” he says.

“You guys are useless,” you say. “Where’s Bob?”

“Your brother is at the coast,” I tell you. “He’s a couple of hours a way.” Bob and Audrey have spent the day with friends. They’ve just finished eating fish and chips at the same place you and I visited a couple of weeks ago.

“I’m surrounded by fools,” you say. “I can’t breathe!”

The oximeter says that you can breathe. Your oxygen saturation is fine. Your pulse, on the other hand, is bizarre. It’s 40. Or 220. Or 40. The reading is inconsistent, but it’s always one of those two. I try to take your blood pressure with the automatic cuff. I get nine consecutive errors. Some of these are because you’re agitated and won’t sit still. But why am I getting the others?

At last, I get a reading: 60/44. I write the number on my hand. I call hospice again. “He’s in A-fib. You’ve exhausted all your tools at home,” the nurse tells me. “Call 911.”

I call 911. I’ve never called 911 before. They send an ambulance. I’ve never been involved with an ambulance or paramedics before. They pull off your shirt and attend to you. They ask me questions. They verify your POLST. They load you up and drive you to the hospital. I follow a few minutes behind.

As I drive, I call your brother. He’s in Salem, on his way back from the coast. He’ll meet us at the hospital.

At the hospital, I am surprised to learn that they’re releasing you almost immediately. Bob arrives, and we chat with the doctor in the emergency room. He tells us you had an attack of atrial fibrillation with rapid ventricular response — A-fib with RVR. The paramedics shocked you with cardioversion to “reset” your heart. You can go home now.

We’re surprised but pleased. You spend less than twenty minutes total in the emergency room. I drive you home. You ask to listen to Queen. Siri makes some odd song choices. First, The Show Must Go On: “Does anybody know what we are living for?” Then, You’re My Best Friend: “Oooh, you make me live.” Finally, Who Wants to Live Forever. I wince at the playlist, but you don’t say anything.

It’s 10 April 2022. The hospice nurse is here to follow up after last night’s excitement. You’ve been drugged and out of it for the past twelve hours. You ask me to take you to the toilet.

“J.D.,” you whisper as I help you to the commode. “I’m afraid. I don’t think I’ll make it past today.”

After the nurse has gone you fall back asleep. You sleep for 33 of the 36 hours following your visit to the emergency room. At one point, you wake with a coughing fit. I’m by your side with morphine. You dutifully take it.

“How long?” you ask.

“How long what?” I say.

“How long is there left to live?” you ask.

“I don’t know,” I say, stroking your back. The answer to your question is: fifteen days. You have fifteen days left to live. But truly? When it’s all over, we’ll be able to look back and say that your weekend trip to the E.R. was the true beginning of the end. From here on out, you’re not so much living as you are dying.

It’s 11 April 2022. Hospice nurse Mary arrives. She’s your primary nurse, but I’ve never met her. She’s even more amazing than Tori. Even more amazing than Helen. She can tell that the mood in the house is gloomy. Our morale is dismal. You are defeated. You are waiting around to die.

Mary is having none of it. “I’m not supposed to say this sort of thing,” she confides, “but you are the one in charge. You are the one calling the shots. Who cares what the doctors tell you? If you want to fight, fight.”

“I do want to fight,” you mutter.

“Then we’re here to help you,” your brother says.

Mary’s visit lasts less than an hour, but has a profound effect. The morale in the house has gone from low to high. We have a plan. We’re going to fight.

A visit from hospice

This enthusiasm is short lived. You lapse into delirium. You are frustrated and angry. You sleep most of the time. Bob and I wheel you from room to room at your request, but you have no energy to do anything. You eat little. Lucid conversation becomes rare.

At one point, you and I attempt to watch As Good As It Gets. It’s been your favorite movie for decades. You think Jack Nicholson is hilarious in the film and you frequently quote Melvin Udall’s lines, such as:

Where did they teach you to talk like this? In some Panama City “sailor wanna hump-hump” bar? Or is it getaway day and your last shot at his whiskey? Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.

But you don’t have the energy and attention to watch the movie. You fall asleep after twenty minutes. When you wake an hour later, you’re confused. “What are we watching?” you ask. I don’t try to explain.

It’s 19 April 2022. You have returned from a weekend in “respite care”. You volunteered to stay in a hospice facility for a few nights so that Bob could celebrate Easter with his family and so that I could celebrate my ten-year anniversary with Kim.

Now, though, you are completely disoriented. You don’t know where you are. You don’t know why you’re medicated. You don’t know why you’re confined to bed. You repeatedly try to climb down, but you lack the strength to do so. You are agitated and hostile, accusing me and Bob of playing a joke on you.

It’s 20 April 2022. You remain agitated. You curse us. You demand that we get you out of bed. You demand that we take you to the kitchen, then to the living room, then outside to look at your flowers, then inside because it’s too cold, then outside again because you’ve forgotten we were outside just five minutes ago.

Bob attempts to get some work done, but it’s impossible. For ten hours, you are agitated and irritable. You are delirious. You try to bite Bob. You throw feeble punches at me. You are clearly frustrated, like a caged animal who does not understand its plight.

You have a few brief moments of lucidity throughout the day. In these, you tell us that you love us and appreciate us.

Nick telling Bob he loves him

Mostly, though, you are lost. “What happened?” you ask. “You have cancer,” we say. “I do?” you say. “Will I live?” you ask. Bob and I shake our heads.

Your agitation grows throughout the day. Again you accuse us of playing a cruel joke on us. You call Hector and berate him for pranking you. You call Kathy and do the same. Bob and I are at our wits’ end. We call hospice and they send out Nurse Margaret.

Nurse Margaret gets permission for us to administer phenobarbital, which we do at six in the evening. Within fifteen minutes, you have calmed. Soon you grow groggy. You fall asleep. You will never awaken again.

Hector and Bob comfort Nick

For the next several days, Bob and I sit by your bedside. We share childhood memories. He talks to me about his faith. I talk to him about my lack of faith. Bob plays hymns for you on YouTube. I play Taylor Swift. We watch the cichlids in your aquarium. Bob and I administer your care as best we can. We don’t really know what we’re doing but we love you and we do the best we can. The hospice nurses praise us but we’re not sure we deserve their kind words.

Hector drives down to see you nearly every day. He spends hours at your bedside. He cleans and grooms you. He adjusts your position to make you. more comfortable. He chatters at you. When Hector is there, Bob and I run errands. We shower. We eat. Other friends and family come to see you and to sit by your side.

When we’re bored, Bob and I begin doing the things we know will need to be done. We begin packing your stuff. We begin gathering account information and passwords. We begin cleaning the house. These actions no longer seem like a betrayal. They seem like acceptance.

I will come into your bedroom to find Bob asleep at your side, his hand in yours. Bob will come into the bedroom to find me asleep at your side, my hand in yours.

I sleep in a recliner next to your bed. Each morning, my back is sore but I don’t care. I want to be close enough to hear changes in your breathing. Some nights, Bob sleeps in an office chair next to your bed.

We await the inevitable.

22 April 2022, 01:09 a.m.

It’s 25 April 2022. Bob wakes me at five minutes before seven: “I think he’s going.”

Your vitals are weak and erratic. I wake your nieces and nephews, who have stayed the night with us. I administer your meds, which are due at seven anyhow. Your vitals stabilize. We breathe a sigh of relief.

The family spends the morning sitting around your bedside chatting, much as we have all week.

Nurse Mary comes at ten for your daily visit. The kids leave the room while she and Bob and I talk about your condition. We adjust your bed. We re-arrange the cushions. We take your vitals. Taylor Swift’s “Red” is playing in the background.

Mary removes your oxygen mask in order to clean your mouth. She and Bob lean in close. I am standing at the foot of your bed. Your oxygen saturation drops from 67 to 37 but your pulse stays steady at 105. The three of us focus on your mouth as Mary explains what she’s doing with the cotton swabs. She wipes with one swab. She wipes with a second. I glance down at the pulse oximeter. There are no numbers there. The pulse line is flat. I look at your chest. You are no longer breathing.

“He has no vitals,” I say.

Bob and Mary step back from your bed. “He’s gone,” says the nurse. And you are. You are gone. It is 10:15 on a Monday morning, and — just like that — you have left this world.

You were my cousin. You were five years older than me. You and I shared similar temperaments, similar interests, similar philosophies. We read similar books. We played the same games. We confided our deepest secrets with each other. We encouraged each other. We called each other out on our bullshit. You taught me much about life. I did my best to teach you. You were my cousin. You were my friend.

from Get Rich Slowly

Both at the same time

Howdy, folks. I don’t have any personal-finance news for you today because my life continues to be in one of two states.

  • I spend three or four nights at Duane’s house, helping to care for him. I buy him food. I prepare him food. I help him walk from room to room (because he cannot reliably do this himself anymore). I administer his drugs. I feed his fish. I take him on “field trips”. We watch the Aquarium Co-Op channel on YouTube. Or…
  • I spend three or four nights at my house, mostly sleeping but also rushing to get as many household chores and errands done as possible. I buy groceries. I (slowly) work to build a fence. I water plants. I walk the dog.

This has been my life for the past six weeks, and will continue to be my life until the inevitable conclusion of this adventure. While I’m not looking forward to The End, I will say that I’ve learned a ton from this process. I’ve grown even closer to Duane (at least when he’s not in a narcotics-induced fog) and I’ve surprised myself with my ability to provide hospice care. Who knew?

So, that’s the life update.

I do have occasional snatches of free time, usually as I’m falling asleep at night. But rather than use those to read and write about personal finance, I use them to mindlessly watch YouTube videos. Here are a few recent favorites.

First, from the vlogbrothers, here’s a nice little four-minute mediation about seeing both sides at the same time. Like the narrator here, aging has led me to see the world as shades of grey rather than black and white. Things can be both good and bad at the same time.

Second, during a text conversation yesterday with Piggy and Kitty from Bitches Get Riches, I was introduced to the TierZoo channel on YouTube. Apparently this has been popular for five years, but I’d never heard of it. It’s incredible. At first, you think it’s funny — because it is funny — but you gradually realize it’s both interesting and educational. Here’s TierZoo ranking the best cats, for instance.

Lastly, here’s an hilarious three-minute video that substitutes Elmo for Paul Atreides in Dune. I was lukewarm on the recent Dune adaptation the first time I saw it. The second time, I liked it better. Recently, I watched it on my iPad while wearing high-quality headphones. Holy cats! I enjoyed it so much more. In fact, I’ve come to think it’s a masterpiece. And so is this little gem…

That’s it. Just a quick check-in. I’ve done zero work on Get Rich Slowly (or anything else) for the past six weeks, and there’s no work likely to happen for the foreseeable future. As I say, it’s 100% caring for Duane and time reclaiming sleep and mental energy so that I can go back and do it again.

I hope you all are doing well!

p.s. Okay, one more thing. This time off has given me a chance to think about a lot of things. Duane and I used to have long, deep discussions about Quality, for instance, inspired by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. What I want for this site is a focus on Quality. I read this 1992 letter from producer Steve Albini to the band Nirvana and was impressed on how much Quality mattered to Albini. Well, it matters to me too, and I’ve been neglecting it for a while. Time to un-neglect it.

from Get Rich Slowly

Quality time

Monday, I drove north to help my cousin, Duane. We moved him out of his apartment last weekend and into a smaller place close to family. As a result, everything is in chaos. He’s living out of boxes. At this late stage, his cancer affects every aspect of his life, and that includes his ability to sustain prolonged physical activity — such as setting up a new home.

I spent Monday afternoon unpacking his kitchen, buying groceries, installing his internet and television, and so on. In the evening, Bob and Audrey came over (Duane’s brother and his sister-in-law). The four of us sat in the kitchen and sorted the boxes of food into three piles: Duane’s pantry, going home with Bob/Audrey, going home with J.D.

When we were done, Duane insisted that we enjoy some birthday cake. He turned 58 on Sunday, and some friends had brought him a fancy carrot cake from a 100-year-old Portland bakery. Duane couldn’t eat any cake himself (he can’t eat or drink much of anything anymore), but he wanted us to taste it.

After his brother left, Duane and I began preparing for bed. “Tomorrow,” I said, “we’ll replace the water in your fish tanks and get the last of the stuff from your apartment. Plus, anything else you want to do.”

Duane was sitting on the edge of his bed, half undressed. I could see that he was still in pain.

Duane had been in pain all day. He’s in pain constantly now, but this was a new pain. He woke on Monday with a dull ache in his chest, one that intensified throughout the day. His meds were no help. He’d upped the dosage on his oxycodone to no avail. He’d even tried some morphine, but that didn’t help either.

“Are you okay?” I asked. We ask that of him a lot lately, although it seems a little silly. Of course he’s not okay. He’s dying. What we actually mean, of course, is: “Is there anything you need right now?”

“No, I’m not okay.” Duane whispered. “I need you to drive me to the emergency room.” So I did.

We reached the hospital at 10:30. I thought we’d have to wait to be seen, but a nurse fetched us before I’d even wheeled Duane to the waiting area. Hospitals don’t mess around with chest pain.

“I’m not having a heart attack,” Duane told the nurse. “It’s my cancer. I don’t need an EKG.” But, of course, they ran an EKG anyhow. It’s protocol. Then, over the next several hours, they also took x-rays. They gave Duane a CT scan. They pumped him full of fluids. They drew blood. They did a urine analysis. And, most importantly, they hooked him up to a morphine drip.

The morphine drip slowly caused the pain to subside.

We had a bit of a scare at two in the morning, not long after the staff had started the morphine. Duane’s pulse leapt from 85 to 145 and his blood pressure dropped from 95/65 (which seems low to begin with) to 75/60. This state lasted about twenty minutes. We were both a bit panicky. The nurse calmed us down, though, and soon things returned to normal. (Or “normal”, I guess I should say.)

Despite the intermittent nurses and doctors and tests, mostly Duane and I spent the night alone in the room, chatting.

He lay in his bed. I sat on a folding metal chair. We talked about hospitals. We talked about computer games. We talked about travel. We talked about fish. We talked about death.

“I’m sorry you have to be here,” Duane said at one point. “I had hoped that you and I could have Quality Time together. I wanted us to play Diablo II. I’d hoped we could visit the Atlanta aquarium. I didn’t mean for us to be doing this.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “This is Quality Time. It might not be what you wanted, but it’s Quality Time.”

Duane thought about that for a moment. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “It’s Quality Time.”

“Here,” I said, pulling out my iPad. “Let me show you what I made for your birthday.” For the next hour, we watched videos of our trips to Turkey and to France. We reminisced about our travels and laughed at some of our misadventures. We enjoyed Quality Time.

At five o’clock, as Duane and I were both beginning to nod off to sleep, the doctor decided to discharge him. There’d been some debate about whether or not Duane should be admitted to the hospital again. He was just there last week with another bout of pneumonia. (Or, more precisely, the same bout of pneumonia he’d had in January but which apparently had not gone away.) Ultimately, the doctor felt there was no benefit to be had, so he sent Duane home.

“I guess we won’t be accomplishing all the things we’d planned for today,” Duane said. The first light of dawn was creeping into the sky. “That sucks. I’ve got to get my stuff out of that apartment.”

“We’ll get it done,” I said. “We have until the weekend. You and I both need to sleep now, but I’ll be back up here on Thursday. I’ll make it my priority to get the apartment finished for you. And if we have time, we can tackle other tasks on your list too.”

After dropping Duane at his new place, I drove 90 minutes home to Corvallis (which I ought not to have done given how tired I was) and then slept most of yesterday. I’ll use today to triage the stuff I need to get done here at home. Tomorrow, I’ll drive north again to spend more Quality Time with my cousin.

Here’s the thing. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. My Book of Regrets is packed with pages and I spend far too much time re-reading it, re-living the things I’ve done wrong. But I do not regret the choices I’ve made this year.

I began 2022 intending to get fit and to work hard on Get Rich Slowly. I’ve done neither of those things. I’m still fat. I’ve barely touched this site. But I’m not squandering my time on computer games and anime either. Instead, my energies have been directed to my mother and my cousin. I have zero regrets about this decision. In fact, few things have ever felt so right.

I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about this, actually, and I have a lot to say on the subject. I feel like this experience has imparted some clarity. (Clarity that expands upon my insights from November.) Eventually, I’ll probably write about some of what I’ve learned. But not now.

Now — and for the foreseeable future — I have one priority: While it’s still possible, I want to spend Quality Time with Duane.

from Get Rich Slowly

The seven habits of highly effective people

Because I’ve been driving back and forth from Corvallis to Portland so much lately to attend to my mother and cousin, I’ve had ample to time to listen to audiobooks. I find that I’m actually grateful for the opportunity to “read” in this fashion. (Like many folks, the past decade has destroyed my attention span and ability to read for long periods.)

[The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People book cover]

I’m currently reading Stephen R. Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (Five stars on Amazon in 5672 reviews!) I read the book once long, long ago — sometime during the mid-1990s. I’ve referred to it now and then as the years have gone by, but mostly I’ve forgotten its lessons.

Or so I thought.

In reality, it turns out that much of my personal philosophy is similar to the precepts Covey covers. It’s shocking, in fact, just how much of my personal and financial philosophies align with those presented in Seven Habits. I haven’t consciously or deliberately emulated his teachings, but I’ve wound up in the same place nonetheless.

For those unfamiliar, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are as follows:

  1. Be proactive. Take responsibility for your own life. Take the initiative and don’t simply accept what you’re given. (Here are my thoughts on becoming proactive.)
  2. Begin with the end in mind. Have a plan for your life. Know where you want to go — and why. Like me, Covey is a proponent of writing a personal mission statement.
  3. Put first things first. Sort out your priorities (which is much easier to do when you have an end in mind). Focus your attention on the things that are urgent and important. Covey’s “big rocks” metaphor comes from this section.
  4. Think win-win. When possible, seek mutually beneficial solutions to problems. Don’t be adversarial. Help others achieve their aims as you achieve yours.
  5. Seek first to undertand, then to be understood. Don’t be in a rush to be right. Listen to what others are saying. (Truly listen.) Practice empathy. I feel like this is a seldom-practiced skill in modern society, which is why I urge people to practice financial empathy.
  6. Synergize. Find ways to work with others in order to achieve mutual aims and accomplish things that you couldn’t do alone.
  7. Sharpen the saw. Make time for personal renewal. Keep your lifestyle balanced. Pursue self-improvement.

It’s also worth noting that apparently Covey is responsible for coining the terms “abundance mindset” and “scarcity mindset”. (That’s what Wikipedia says, anyhow. I’d need to do further research before I actually accepted this as a fact.) I too believe strongly that each of us should foster an abundance mindset, when possible.

While there’s much that’s the same between my philosophy and Covey’s, things aren’t completely identical.

Covey talks about dependence and independence, as I do, but he takes things to another level by discussing interdependence. I like this. Independence, Covey says, is superior to dependence. It’s better to be self-reliant than to depend on others to fulfill your needs. But, he says, it’s even better to work together to achieve common aims. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I agree with him, but I haven’t (yet) incorporated this belief as part of my life philosophy. Perhaps I will in the near future.

Covey goes down some rabbit holes that I don’t find particularly important. (I just listened to a half-hour segment on the values that make up our personal “centers”. Meh.) Plus, he continually praises human beings as different in “kind” from other animals as opposed to different “in degree”. I disagree with him 100%. (I believe that humans are just another animal, and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about us other than we’re currently the dominant species on the planet.)

Small quibbles aside, I’m finding The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to be a remarkable book precisely because its philosophy is so aligned with my own. When I read it at age 25, I dismissed it as self-help pap. I was wrong. Or, more precisely, I wasn’t ready to perceive its wisdom.

I’m not sure how my philosophy ended up so closely aligned with Covey’s. It’s very possible that reading this book 25+ years ago planted seeds in my subconscious that have grown over the years and now have produced fruit that resemble his. But it’s also possible that my beliefs are simply a by-produce of age and experience, that many people reach these same conclusions in time.

Anyhow, I’m eager to finish my work today at the family box factory. Once I run payroll and meet with our accountant, I’ll drive back to Corvallis. And when I do, I’ll listen to another 90 minutes of Seven Habits. I can’t wait!

from Get Rich Slowly

Ask the Readers: Resources for Writing a Will?

Last Friday, I drove from Corvallis to Portland to help my cousin, Duane. Duane has been living with throat cancer for several years now, but in recent months things have grown worse. It feels like he’s preparing for the end. And that means he’s packing up his apartment (where he’s lived for 21 years!) to move someplace smaller.

We spent all of Friday afternoon sorting through his office. This was a challenge because (like most Roths) Duane is messy (and a self-proclaimed hoarder). Duane and I packed boxes and boxes of collectible card games, ancient coins, books on Greek and Roman history, and outdated computer games.

While we packed, we talked. Duane is my cousin, yes, but he’s also my best friend. Because we’re family and friends, I feel like we share a deep connection. We can call out each other’s bullshit without hurting feelings. We can sing each other’s praises without becoming obsequious. Most of all, we can talk about nerdy stuff like Magic: The Gathering, The Great British Baking Show, the ignorance of history in supposedly “historical” television dramas, and so on.

At one point, I found a piece of paper buried on a bookshelf. “Can I have this?” I asked. “I want to publish it on Get Rich Slowly.”

“What is it?” Duane asked.

“It’s your net worth from 1993,” I said.

Duane laughed. “Go ahead,” he said, and I gleefully tucked the page in my pocket. I love it.

[notebok paper with Duane's handwritten net worth]

I love that his net worth lists assets like “Aquariums $100” and “Albums $100” (referring to his progrock record albums) and “Stamps $16,000”. Duane used to collect semi-official Canadian airmail stamps. Then he moved on to collecting ancient Green and Roman coins.

I also think it’s hilarious that Duane listed his $9 Texaco charge card as a liability. Nowadays, I wouldn’t bother with a a debt so small. Thirty years ago, though, Duane did.

Although our work was non-strenuous for me, it took its toll on Duane. He recently finished another round of chemotherapy and is in a lot of pain. It’s a struggle for him to walk up stairs, to lift even the lightest objects. At one point, he pulled off his shirt to show me how emaciated he’s become. (He can’t eat solid food, so it’s difficult for him to consume enough calories. Drinking calories gives him nausea.)

“I’m so skinny!” he said.

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Old,” he said. “I look like I’m 87, not 57.”

We began packing another box of ancient coins. “Hey,” Duane said. “If you get bored, I could use your help making a will.”

“You still haven’t done that?” I asked. Duane has been talking about making a will for months now. Maybe years.

“No,” he laughed. “I’ve been feeling better.” I knew exactly what he meant.

When Duane feels lousy, he’s motivated to plan for his impending demise. He thinks about writing a will. He thinks about finding a replacement for himself at the box factory. The problem is that once he begins to feel better again, he decides not to do anything. As a result, the family business still has no plan for accounting and bookkeeping once he’s gone. And, obviously, he still hasn’t written a will.

I shook my head. “Dude, you know that you should to write a will when you’re of sound mind and body. That’s exactly when you’re supposed to do it. You’re not supposed to wait until the very end.”

He laughed. “I know,” he said. “But I don’t like thinking about it.” Nobody does. Nobody does.

We didn’t get to the will last Friday, though. We got distracted talking about computer games. I left without helping him draft one. (I also left without a sketchpad and a houseplant he wanted to give me.)

“I really appreciate your help,” Duane said as I was prepping to leave. “It would have taken me weeks to do what you accomplished in a few hours. Thank you.”

“No problem,” I said. “And please, let me know if there’s anything else at all I can do. I know it might seem like you’re hassling me, but you’re not. I want to do this more than anything.” Earlier in the day, we’d talked about how much we appreciate each other and about our regrets. One of my deepest regrets is that I blew off my friend Sparky in the weeks leading up to his suicide in 2009. I didn’t know his death was imminent. This time, Duane’s demise seems clear, and I want to make the most of whatever time we have left.

Today, Duane sent me an e-mail. His follow-up appointment yesterday didn’t go well. His treatments aren’t working, and the doctor has nothing else to try. All that’s left is to mitigate the growth of the tumor. So, it’s very likely that I’ll be making lots more unplanned trips to Portland in the near future: to help Duane, to help the box factory, etc.

First, though, I want to help Duane draft a will. He doesn’t know where to start. Honestly, neither do I.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

I’ve written about estate planning several times in the past, although not in many years. And behind me here in my office, I have shelves of personal-finance books, including books on estate planning. Books like The Executor’s Guide to Settling a Loved One’s Estate or Trust and The AARP Crash Course in Estate Planning. (Most of my books are showing their age, however)

Meanwhile, I again need to put my 2022 plan for GRS on hold. I spent Monday and Tuesday this week diving into the long-awaited “de-design”. (I want to revert this site to a much more minimalist (almost “primitive”) look and feel. More on that later when I’m ready to reveal the new look.) I made some good progress, too. I’d hoped that by the end of this week, I’d have a design finished and ready to convert to a blog theme. Now I need to put this plan aside for more important things.

Fortunately, I find I’m not frustrated by any of this. I feel like I have the right attitude here, that I’m placing priorities where they ought to be placed. I’ll finish the GRS de-design at some point. For now, though, I’ll focus on family (and on the family business).

Before I wrap things up today, I have one request.

If you have any experience and/or recommendations regarding writing your own will, please drop me a line whether by email or in the comments below. I won’t get to this today — I need to tie up loose ends here at home so that I’m able to turn my attention outward — but I’ll probably start my research tomorrow. I’d love suggestions for books, software, and/or online resources for estate planning.

In return, I’ll do my best to collect these into a useful blog post here in the near future. Thanks!

from Get Rich Slowly

Using buy-in to create motivation

Life has been lumpy lately. I’ve been dealing with some heavy stuff in my personal life — Mom, my cousin Duane, etc. — and that’s left me feeling low. Combine that with my natural inclination toward depression, and you’ve got a recipe for a gloomy guy.

That said, I woke up feeling great today. And that energy carried through as I had my regular Zoom call with Diania Merriam, the organizer of the EconoMe Conference.

Diania and I started these calls for professional reasons, but after nearly two years they’ve evolved into something else. Now they’re mostly a chance for us to help each other with our respective mental health struggles. During today’s conversation, we had an interesting digression about personal finance.

[Screencap of J.D. and Diania on Zoom]

We were talking about how I need to get out of the house more. Because I work from home, I spend most of my time alone. It’s not good. Humans are social creatures, and that goes double for me. No wonder I feel shitty when I never leave the house!

Anyhow, Diania mentioned that she gets a lot of benefit from attending yoga regularly. And then she said something interesting.

“I’ve actually started cleaning the yoga studio,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, instead of paying $113 each month to be a member, I clean the yoga studio for two hours per week. In exchange, I get free membership. But you know the crazy thing? I find that I am much more motivated to attend classes because I’m cleaning the place than I did when I was paying money out of pocket. It gives me a sense of ownership. I look in the mirrors and think, ‘I cleaned that.’ I have a greater sense of buy-in.”

“That’s interesting,” I said. “Buy-in is so important. And it’s different for each person and each situation. I joined a gym last week. Kim and I have a sort of rudimentary home gym here in our basement, but in the four months we’ve lived in Corvallis, I’ve never used it. Kim has used it once. But now that I’m paying to belong to a place, I’ve been to the gym four times in the past week.”

“Do you worry that’s only because it’s new?” Diania asked. “Do you worry that you’re not going because of the money you’re spending, but simply because of the novelty?”

“I see your point,” I said. “But I’d like to believe it’s because of buy-in. I know that I enjoy exercising. And I know that a decade ago when I was paying $200 each month for Crossfit, I went to the gym four or five times a week. Because I was spending so much, I was motivated to go. I’m hoping that’s the situation here too.”

Diania and I talked about the problem with personal inertia. When we do things, it’s easy to keep doing those things — whether they’re harmful or helpful. We develop habits, we develop routines, and then we stick with them. The challenge then is to overcome what I’ll call “negative inertia” — being stuck in a rut — and replacing it with “positive inertia”.

Our conversation reminded me of my article about using barriers and pre-commitment to do the right things with your money. (Trivia: This is one of my favorite articles that I’ve ever written.) For me and many others, it’s vital to create barriers to bad behavior while simultaneously removing barriers to good behavior.

Here’s a funny/sad example.

I initially visited our local gym on November 11th. I took a tour, talked with the manager, and brought home two day passes for us to use. “I’ll be back tomorrow to join,” I told the manager as I left. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I got distracted by life. (Kim and I never even used our free day passes before they expired!)

Over the next few months, there were days that I very much wanted to go to the gym. I wanted to lift weights or to ride the stationary bike. I wasn’t able to do so, though, because I’d never completed the sign-up process. And the thought of completing the sign-up process was a psychological barrier. “I don’t want to mess with that,” I thought to myself several times. So, I never went to the gym.

Last Tuesday — nearly three months after touring the gym — I’d finally had enough. “This is a stupid barrier,” I thought to myself. “I need to remove it.” I stopped what I was doing, walked to the gym, and completed the sign-up process. Now, I’ve been to the gym four times (and will go a fifth later today) and Kim’s been twice. I removed the barrier and now I’m exercising.

But it’s not just removing the barrier. I’ve also created buy-in because I know I’m paying for my membership. This financial “investment” creates motivation to make use of the facility.

Now, I’m well aware that this isn’t always the case. Plenty of people sign up for gym memberships without ever using them. That’s because a financial buy-in isn’t always effective. There are other sorts of buy-in. For each change that you want to make, you have to figure out which type of buy-in will work for you.

In Diania’s case at the yoga studio, a buy-in of time was more effective than a monetary buy-in. “You know what, J.D.,” she said during our call this morning. “I’d be willing to bet that an investment of time and energy is almost always a more effective buy-in than a buy-in of money — especially for folks like you and me who have all the money we need.” I think she’s right.

Because Diania and I are fortunate that we don’t have to worry about money, a financial buy-in doesn’t always work. For us, time is generally more valuable than money. When we devote our hours and energy toward a cause, we feel more invested in it. But for somebody in different circumstances, the opposite might be true.

There are other forms of buy-in too. Sometimes we buy into things emotionally. Sometimes we do so intellectually. And so on. Each person and each circumstance is different, but the principle remains the same: buy-in matters. Buy-in creates motivation.

Diania and I briefly talked about the dark side of buying in: the sunk-cost fallacy. Sometimes we stick with things because of all that we’ve invested before. We base our decisions on the past rather than the future. We might, for instance, maintain an old friendship that has long since become destructive. Or we might hold on to a poor investment because of all the money we’ve put into it already. The process of buying in can encourage positive change, yes, but it can also lead us to cling to things we ought to let go.

As always, there are plenty of other changes I’d like to make in my life. Some of these are changes I’ve wanted to make for years. Why haven’t I made them then? Tough to say. But my conversation with Diania has helped me to understand that one tool I can use to foster these changes is to create some sort of buy-in.

from Get Rich Slowly

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