Depression and me

For much of the past two weeks, I’ve been wrestling with my mental health. I could sense a crisis coming, so I scheduled some time away. I didn’t want to have to be worrying about blog posts while I was worrying about everything else. Thus, my “summer vacation”.

Long-time readers are aware that I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life.

In sixth grade, I missed five weeks of school with what my father called “parrot fever”. (We had parrots, and he attributed my issues to a parrot allergy.) After our family physician could find nothing wrong with me, Dad took me to his therapist. Hushed conversations followed the appointment. The verdict: I was dealing with depression.

In junior high, I was briefly suicidal but made a deliberate decision to turn things around. In high school and college, the depression was always there, looming in the shadows. As a young adult, it mostly went away…but then it came back as I got older.

In 1999, when I was thirty, I experienced something new: anxiety. At one point, I thought I was having a heart attack. Nope. It was a panic attack. When the second panic attack came a few weeks later, I knew it wasn’t my heart. It was me stressing about life.

Interesting note: It was after the second panic attack that my doctor strongly encouraged me to start drinking red wine. For real. Before that, I was a teetotaler.

During my divorce in 2011-12, Kris asked me a favor. “Please see a counselor,” she said. I did, and it helped. My therapist gave me advice for coping with depression and anxiety, plus she diagnosed me with ADD. For a few years, I was able to manage my symptoms.

Last year, though, things got bad. March and April and May were a struggle. In June, I published an article here about my ongoing battle with depression. During the summer, my mental health improved, however, and I forgot about how hard the spring had been.

Tweet about Anthony Bourdain's suicide

A Sneaky Little, Sticky Bitch

In February of this year, my anxiety returned. The depression followed soon after. When my heart-attack scare in mid-March turned up no physical issues (other than high blood pressure), my doctor suggested that the problem was anxiety. She asked me to start seeing a therapist again. So, I did.

Since early May, I’ve been attending talk therapy once a week. We’re exploring why I feel so anxious, and how using alcohol to cope with anxiety is a “maladaptive behavior”. We’re exploring other ways to make things work.

The trouble? When I don’t drink in the afternoon, I get more anxious.

The frustrating thing is that the depression and anxiety lead me to act like a completely different person.

For instance, I love people. I love spending time with people. Social interaction energizes me. Right now, though? I hate it. I don’t want to deal with anyone in any capacity. I don’t want to spend time with friends. I don’t want to be in crowds. (I make an exception for Portland Timbers games.) I don’t even want to go to the grocery store.

Here are some ways this manifests itself:

  • Today, I had a lunch appointment with a colleague and friend. Karl is a great guy and I enjoy spending time with him. Normally. Today, though, all I could think about were the reasons I might be able to cancel.
  • Yesterday, I taped a TV interview with a local station. I wanted to cancel that too. Afterward, I ought to have driven out to the family box factory. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to spend time with my brother and cousin.
  • This Sunday evening, there’s another Portland Timbers game. Kim can’t go with me, so I need to find somebody else to join me. I have zero desire to do so. I may end up selling the tickets and skipping the game because of my anxiety.

My medical doctor has prescribed propranolol to simultaneously deal with my high blood pressure and my anxiety. While it seems to be helping the former, it’s not helping the latter. (According to wikipedia, it’s really only useful for performance anxiety.)

Meanwhile, the depression is even worse. If you look at the symptoms of depression, I’m exhibiting every single one. Some of my symptoms are severe.

  • Fatigue? Have it.
  • Insomnia? You bet.
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness? Oh boy.
  • Irritability? Yes, and it’s so not me. I’m not an irritable guy — but I am lately.
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable? Absolutely, and it’s SO FRUSTRATING. Nothing appeals to me. I’m numb.
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions? You have no idea. Everything is a chore.

The latter is especially difficult to deal with. When Karl asked where to meet for lunch today, I couldn’t decide. Why not? That’s so simple! Last night, Kim wanted me to make dinner. But I didn’t because I couldn’t decide what to fix. That’s ridiculous!

A Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

In fact, yesterday was miserable. It might have been the worst day of my entire life.

My head was a mess of negative thoughts and emotions, all of them swirling and swirling and swirling in a never-ending dark cloud of despair. I couldn’t focus on anything. I did tape the TV interview (the first segment went very well, but the second bordered on incoherent) but that’s the only productive thing I did all day.

On the drive home, I bought — and then consumed — a big bowl of clam chowder, a big bag of potato chips, and an entire package of chocolate chip cookies. Then I sat in the hot tub and played a videogame for five hours. (At least I didn’t drink alcohol!)

When Kim came home, she asked, “What’s for dinner?” I admitted that I hadn’t made dinner — but I didn’t tell her how messed up my head had been all day. (She knows I’m struggling but she doesn’t know how badly.) While she changed out of her scrubs, I fried some frozen potstickers.

Naturally, all of this makes me feel even more guilty and worthless and depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

I’m sure you can see how this would translate in an inability to get work done, both here at Get Rich Slowly and in my real life.

It’s a problem.

What’s the solution to the problem? I’m not sure. There must be one. But I don’t know what it is. Drink every afternoon? That’s what I’ve been doing, and it works. But, as my therapist says, it’s a maladaptive behavior. I think we all know where that road leads.

My therapist is patient. She keeps giving me homework assignments…and I keep avoiding them. Exercise! Meditate! Set goals! These all sound awesome. They’re all things I know I like to do. But they also sound like tremendous effort, so I don’t do them.

Bringing Gratitude

Instead of canceling my lunch appointment with Karl today, I went. I’m glad I did.

I’ve known Karl for almost a decade. He’s one of the most uplifting, supportive people I’ve ever met. I love that his work is centered on positivity. He runs a site called Bring Gratitude and he published a book by the same name. (Six months ago, he shared a guest article here at Get Rich Slowly about practicing gratitude with a daily journal.)

As we sat down for lunch, I told Karl point blank about the issues I’m going through.

“I can totally relate,” he said, and he shared some of his own past struggles.

“You know,” I said, “my therapist has been urging me to try meditation. But I don’t know how to start.”

Karl nodded. “I meditate. I meditated just this morning. But it can be tough to get going. You have so many thoughts racing through your head. Here’s one thing that might work, though. Give yourself one minute. Only a minute. For that minute, meditate on all of the things that you’re thankful for.”

“I like that idea,” I said. “I like it a lot. Normally, I’m a grateful guy. I’m a lucky man, and I know it. Usually. Lately, though, I’ve forgotten how awesome life is. Meditating on the things I’m grateful for would be a great way to remind me of what I’ve got.”

Thank You

On my drive home, I put Karl’s idea into practice. I took back roads. As I drove slowly through the countryside, I thought about all of the things that I’m thankful for.

  • I’m thankful for Kim. She’s a not just a wonderful partner in life, but she’s a wonderful person. She’s a good soul.
  • I’m thankful for my dog. Tahlequah is a handful (a pawful?), and I do get frustrated with her. But I’m also grateful to have such an enthusiastic hound dog in my life.
  • I’m thankful for my health. I haven’t taken care of myself much lately, but that’s on me. Generally speaking, my body is in fine shape. And with a little work, it could be in great shape once again.
  • I’m grateful for music. I don’t mention it much, but music brings great joy to my life. I love music of all sorts. Taylor Swift, yes, but also U2 and Mozart and Styx and ABBA and Public Enemy.
  • I’m thankful for Portland. I love the green of it. I love its quirky die-hard (sometimes absurd) liberalism. I love the food scene and the Timbers and the passion for books. Speaking of which…
  • I’m grateful for words. Books bring me joy. So does writing. I’ve managed to make a living from my words, and I hope to continue doing so in the future.
  • I’m grateful for life.

Here at home, I had a call with my business partner, Tom. We spent two hours talking about behind-the-scenes details here at Get Rich Slowly. We made plans for the future. But we also took a lot of time to talk about nothing.

It was awesome. It was just what I needed.

When I got off the call, the dog wanted to play. She looked up with puppy-dog eyes and made her little whine that means, “Dad, throw the ball for me.” We went outside into the sunshine and I threw the ball for her. Then, I got down on my knees and wrestled with her. She loves when I wrestle with her.

“I really do have a good life,” I thought after the dog and I were done chomping on each other. I went into the kitchen to put away the clean dishes. “I’m thankful for all of it.”

You know what? I’m thankful for Get Rich Slowly too. And for you, the readers. This site has been a huge blessing in my life — and I’m not one to talk much about blessings. I’ve put a lot into GRS, it’s true, but I’ve gotten so much more out of it. I’ve gotten so much from you folks.

So, thank you. I mean it. Thank you for reading. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for everything.

Few and Far Between

As Karl and I chatted at lunch today, I caught a Natalie Merchant song playing on the restaurant’s radio. At first I thought it was “Wonder”, but then I recognized it as “Few and Far Between”.

“How fitting,” I thought. Some of the lyrics:

“‘Til you make your peace with yesterday, you’ll never build a future. I swear by what I say: Whatever penance you do, decide what it’s worth to you, and then respect it. However long it will take to weather your mistakes? Why not accept it?”

So, that’s what has been going on in my life lately. It’s been a struggle. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. And I can see some money articles at the end of the keyboard. (Thank goodness, right?)

What’s been going on with you?

Back to basics: Find success by focusing on fundamentals

Some people, I suppose, do what’s “right” — and do it all of the time. It just comes naturally. They eat healthfully, exercise, keep the house clean, and never speak ill of others. They avoid debt, invest wisely, make productive use of their time, and never drink too much wine. I’m sure these perfect people exist. But I don’t know any.

The rest of us are fallible. We generally know what’s right, but we don’t always do it. We make mistakes. We choose short-term pleasure over long-term gain. We’re strong in some areas of life but weak in others. We have lofty goals, but we frequently fall short of achieving them.

Take me, for example.

I know what it takes to be and stay fit. I enjoy being fit. When I’m in good shape, I feel better both physically and mentally. But, for whatever reason, I find it difficult to remain fit for more than a couple of years.

Back to Fitness

In the past, my fitness has always faded as a result of too many videogames and too much cake. (Well, metaphorical cake. I used to eat tons of candy and cookies and salty snacks.) More recently, cake isn’t the issue. My nemesis is beer. I like beer, but beer isn’t kind to my belly.

As we start 2018, I’ve come to believe that it’s time for me to get “back to basics” with fitness. This year, I’m going to focus on some simple goals that I know will improve my fitness. Seriously: These goals are brain-dead dumb.

This year, I want to:

  • Stretch for fifteen minutes every day. Because I sit at a desk all day, I’m stiff and inflexible. A stretching routine will help me become more limber.
  • Eat at least three servings of plants. Like a couple of my friends, I rarely choose fruits and vegetables. I’ll eat them if they’re served to me, but I don’t pick them myself. I aim to change that.
  • Drink less alcohol. Kim and I both believe we drink too much. We don’t like what it’s doing to our bodies and minds. We’ve made a pact to cut our consumption.
  • Run for fun. I enjoy running (when I’m not fat). It’s an efficient and cheap mode of exercise. This year, I want to slowly return to running.

This isn’t rocket surgery. Like I said, I’m getting back to basics. I’m focusing on a few essentials that I know will lead to improved fitness. Once I’ve shown that I can do these things regularly, I can attempt to add some complexity. But until then, I’m doing what my high-school health teacher said I ought to do.

Sidenote
As motivation to continue running, I’ve signed up for a half marathon three months from now. I caught wind that my pals from 1500 Days to Freedom and Waffles on Wednesday were, for whatever reason, coming to Portland to run the Hop Hop Half.

I threw down the gauntlet:

Half marathon tweet

Not sure why I was being so cocky there. (Too much beer, maybe?) In any event, you folks are welcome to join us, if you’d like.

The Optimization Trap

I tend to over-complicate and over-think things. I make fitness more difficult than it has to be, for instance, or over-analyze the articles I write. I fall into the optimization trap instead of focusing on the big, important stuff that actually makes a difference. You know: the basics.

From my experience, a lot of people do this with money too. Instead of dedicating themselves to a few core ideas that will have maximum benefit, they create elaborate budgets or dedicate hours to projects with only a marginal benefit (clipping coupons, for example).

I’m not saying that optimization shouldn’t be on your financial to-do list. It should be. But it should be near the bottom of that list, not the top. Optimization is about taking what works and making it work better. You don’t optimize something that’s broken. If your budget is broken, you fix it by making big moves not tiny ones. Once you’ve made the big repairs, then you can concern yourself with optimal performance.

If you’re looking to turn your financial life around, don’t concern yourself with optimizing the small stuff. Do what I’m doing with fitness: Get back to basics.

Back to Basics

What does it mean to “get back to basics” with personal finance? It means focusing on the core skills and behaviors that are proven to lead to good results. Things like:

  • Craft a personal mission statement so that you’re clear on what it is you want out of life (and how you’re going to obtain it).
  • Prioritize big wins. Look for ways to cut costs on housing and transportation, not just food and fun. (Together, housing and transportation make up half the average American budget. If you could trim both by, say, twenty percent, you’d save a fortune!)
  • Make more money, whether that means working overtime, taking a second job, or starting a side hustle.
  • Build and maintain an emergency fund. (Or, if you already have an emergency fund, start an opportunity fund.)
  • Get out of debt. Technically, debt reduction isn’t a skill. It’s a side effect. If you do the things necessary to create a positive cash flow (spend less, earn more), you will get out of debt. But debt elimination is a key milestone, so I’ve included it here.
  • Track your spending so that you know where your money goes. Use this info to create some sort of simple budget (or spending plan) that works for you.

If instead of optimizing you were to dedicate your time to basic actions like these, your personal finances would prosper. You’d dig out of whatever hole you’re currently in and place yourself on the path to financial freedom.

Because these sorts of skills are so essential, and because it’s been a l-o-n-g time since I covered them, I’ve decided that this month’s theme at Get Rich Slowly is “Back to Basics”. All month long, I’ll cover essential topics like budgeting, building a career, and investing. I’ll teach you how to use credit cards without going broke, how to get out of debt, and how to take control of your life.

If there’s a topic you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments!

I bought Get Rich Slowly! (or: The return of J.D. Roth)

Why, hello there. My name is J.D. Roth, and I’m an accidental personal-finance expert. Eleven-and-a-half years ago today — on 15 April 2006 — I started a little website called Get Rich Slowly. This website.

I ran this blog as a one-man show for three years. Then, for a variety of reasons, I sold the site. I stayed around for another three years, acting as primary writer and editor-in-chief until the middle of 2012. Then I “retired”.

For the past 5+ years, I’ve been busy — just not here.

  • In 2010, I published Your Money: The Missing Manual, a compilation of everything I’d learned about money while writing this site.
  • From 2011 to 2014, I wrote the “Your Money” column for Entrepreneur magazine.
  • In 2013 and 2014, I wrote and published the year-long Get Rich Slowly course with my pal Chris Guillebeau.
  • In March 2015, my girlfriend and I left Portland, Oregon for what turned out to be a 15-month RV trip across the United States.
  • In October 2015, I launched a new personal-finance website: Money Boss, which is all about managing your household finances as if you were managing a business.
  • This year, Kim and I purchased a run-down 1948 “English bungalow” on an acre of land just south of Portland. We’ve spent the past few months fixing up the place. (And there’s still tons more to do!)

Meanwhile, I’ve continued to write for other outlets, speak at various events, and (as always) meet with readers from around the country — and the world.

Today, everything changes. Eleven-and-a-half years after starting Get Rich Slowly (and eight-and-a-half years after selling it), I’m pleased to announce: I’m back. I’ve re-purchased Get Rich Slowly, and am returning as the site’s owner, manager, and editor. Continue reading

Our new home: The good, the bad, and the ugly

I know it’s been quiet around Money Boss recently, but that’s because it’s been a busy three weeks in Real Life.

Kim and I spent the latter half of June packing the condo and prepping to move. Last Friday evening, we picked up the keys to our new place. We brought the animals over and spent the night. Then, on Saturday morning, we started a four-day marathon of shifting our household eight miles south.

Our new home

We’re still not completely unpacked — and probably won’t be for a couple of weeks — but we’ve made good progress. The kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living room are all functional (if somewhat cluttered). All of our remaining boxes are staged in the back office (which used to be a garage). The internet is now operational. Mail has begun to arrive. The cats and dog have already learned to love the place. So have we.

After only five nights in the new house, Kim and I do love it — warts and all. And make no mistake: This place has some warts. Continue reading

The Year of Opportunity

Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of tackling one thing at a time. When you have a long list of goals, it can be tempting to work on all of your objectives at once. This scattershot approach, however, tends be counterproductive. Over the past decade, I’ve learned that I can be much more productive — and happier! — when I exercise the power of focus, prioritizing one goal over all others.

One way this manifests itself in my life is through themed years or months. One month, I might make it a goal to get to the gym every day. Another, my aim might be to never eat alone, to have lunch with a friend or reader whenever possible. And sometimes, I stay focused on a particular goal for an entire year.

Starting next week, I’m going to take “theming” to a micro-level. Using the ideas of Mike Vardy (the Productivityist), I’m going to try using themed days to stay on task. Each week, I’ll have “administrative Monday”, “typing Tuesday”, “thoughtful Thursday”, and so on. I’m not certain getting this granular with theming will be useful for me, but I’m going to try it for a few months.

As a firm believer in being proactive, I’ve always chosen the themes for my years and months. That is, I decide what I’m going to do, and then I do it. I don’t let life decide what my weeks and months are about. At least, that’s been my approach until this year.

This year has been strange. This year, life has handed me opportunity after opportunity. I started January with a direction in mind, but I’ve had to make numerous course corrections as new circumstances arise. So far, 2017 has been the Year of Opportunity. It’s both exciting and scary.

Let me give you some examples. Continue reading

Saying Yes to Strangers in India

There I was, watching the Indian world go by. I was sitting on a small step beneath the famous Clock Tower in the middle of Jodhpur.

I’d forgotten to recharge the battery in my camera, so instead of having it up to my eye, capturing fractions of moments, I watched the scene like it was a movie playing out live right in front of me: wows wandering the square aimlessly, hawkers selling everything from bracelets to garlic, women sparkling with every step in their saris.

A man sat down next to me. I didn’t look at him. I’d read in several places that if you make eye contact with men here, they’ll think you’re interested in something other than eye contact. I kept watching the scene.

Then I heard him say “Are you lonely?”

I turned to him and quickly said “Nope.”

“Are you lone?” he asked again, with a slight turn of the word.

“No, not at all. I’m enjoying the view,” I answered.

I looked at him again and noticed large tufts of black hair growing out of both ears, which was enough to make me smile. Along with those tufts, I saw kindness in his eyes. “Are you with anyone?” The question again. “Where are you from?”

I relented. I said I was from the U.S.A., and that no, I was traveling alone. His eyes got a bit wider and the questions came faster.

“How long have you been in India? What do you do? Do you have a house in U.S.A.? Are you married? Do you have children? What was your salary? How much is that in rupees?”

I answered every question and ended up in an hour-long conversation with him. At some, point I noticed there was a woman sitting next to him who tried to listen intently, but clearly did not speak English. He finally introduced her as his wife.

Bhagwandas and Durga

“We come here every night,” he said. “Every night we come and we watch and we walk, and then we go home. Every night.”

I said that sounded lovely.

And then suddenly he declared “It would be my honor to have you to dinner at my house.”

I laughed and said thank you, but no. In my travels, I’ve learned to engage in conversation with strangers, but as a general rule I do not go home with them. We kept chatting and a few minutes later he again said, “It would be my honor to have you to dinner.” I looked at him. I looked at his wife.

“Did you ask your wife?” I responded.

“No. Please come.”

And for some reason in that moment, after again looking at his wife, I said yes. I said yes to dinner with perfect strangers sitting under the Clock Tower in Jodhpur, India.

Pretty much no one would have thought that was a good idea. “Single female traveler goes home with strangers and is never heard from again!” the headline would scream. But in my travels, I’ve also learned to say yes. Especially when my gut tells me to.

What followed was one of the most memorable evenings of the last fifteen months of travel, if not of my life. Bhagwandas Sharma and his wife, Durga, welcomed me, introduced me to his parents and their children, cooked for me, showed me every nook and cranny of their home.

Bhagwandas, showing the large barrels in which they store a year's worth of grain for 12 people.

Twelve people live there. They all dine together every night, though when there is a guest, the guest eats first and the family then eats later, meaning the guest — especially this time! — has a bit of an audience while eating. We all talked, laughed, and shared stories. I could not be more grateful for the experience, and now I have twelve new friends.

Durga Sharma making a delicious bread out of millet.

Was I daring fate by saying yes to this invitation? Maybe.

But as I’ve said before, I choose to believe in the inherent goodness of 99% of people on this planet. I’d rather find myself surprised by the exception to that rule than live my life in fear and trepidation of my fellow global citizens. For this, so far, and especially this week, I have been richly rewarded.

New member of the family

J.D.’s note: I’m drawn to this story because it highlights to values that are an important part of my philosophy. First, Tess chooses “to believe in the inherent goodness of people”. I do too. I think this approach to human interaction offers rich rewards. Second, Tess embraced the “power of yes”, which is the one concept that has had the biggest positive impact on my life during the past decade.

Why I Plan to Track My Spending During 2017

One of my goals for the coming year is to track all of my earning and spending. I’ve had a few folks ask me why I want to do this. “Aren’t you financially independent?” they ask. “If that’s the case, then why do you care what you spend?”

Simple.

Financial independence isn’t some magic place where you no longer have to worry about money. Reaching FI doesn’t give you a license to spend on whatever you want, consuming every luxury in the world. Financial independence only means you have enough saved (and invested) to support your current standard of living for the rest of your life — given some reasonable assumptions.

Using my roadmap to financial freedom, financial abundance is the state of never having to worry about money again. At this point, you’ve saved so much money you can do whatever you want without worrying about the financial consequences. I’m not there yet…and I probably never will be.

Here’s the thing about financial independence: You can lose it.

Say, for instance, you’ve amassed a net worth of about $1,500,000 (which happens to be close to the size my own nest egg) and you spend $36,000 per year (which is what I consider my typical spend rate). In this case, you have indeed achieve financial independence. With the parameters and assumptions we typically use here at Money Boss, a nest egg of $1.5 million ought to support annual spending of around $60,000.

But say you were to move from Omaha to someplace more expensive — someplace like San Francisco. And say that in addition to a jump in cost of living, you also experienced increased pressure to spend when you’re hanging out with your new friends. If you suddenly found your annual budget was $100,000 (or more!), that net worth of $1.5 million no longer puts you in the category of financial independence. You were FI in Nebraska, but you’re not FI in northern California.

Sure, you probably still have Financial Security with $100,000 in spending on $1.5 million of net worth. Your savings and investments will likely cover basic needs. But because you’ve changed your lifestyle, you’re no longer truly financially independent.

Now, I haven’t moved cross country to a more expensive city. I still live in Portland (which is plenty costly). I still walk most of the time. I’m still fairly frugal. But in the five years since I last logged my money moves, a lot of things have changed in my life.

  • I moved out of my cheap apartment and bought a condo. I paid for the place outright, but between utilities, maintenance, and HOA, it costs a lot to live here!
  • I swapped a low-rent neighborhood with lots of cheap places to shop and eat for a fancier area where restaurants are more expensive and all of the supermarkets feature boutique organic food.
  • I went from being a newly-divorced middle-aged man to dating somebody long-term. Expectations are different in a relationship than they are for single guys!
  • Kim and I got a puppy. And two kittens. These critters take money to maintain.

Plus, just like everyone, I have a tendency to give in to lifestyle inflation. If I’m not scrupulous, little luxuries turn into big ones.

Since returning from our cross-country RV trip, I’ve been tempted to spend more than in the recent past. Maybe it’s because we intentionally did not buy things on the road. I don’t know. Whatever the case, I’ve been updating my wardrobe, acquiring new gadgets, and rationalizing more books. In the grand scheme of things, I can afford this stuff. But that’s not really the point. I’m a little worried my lifestyle has grown too large.

If you put all of this together, you have a situation where I no longer know how much I’m spending, and that makes me uncomfortable. I say I spend roughly $36,000 per year, and that’s been true in the past, but what am I actually spending? That’s what I aim to discover.

To that end, I’m going to track my money in 2017. In fact, I’m going to start this project as soon as I figure out which tool to use. I want to get a current baseline before I start trying to make corrections.

My short-term challenge is to figure out how to track my spending. In the olden days, when the world was young, I used Quicken. Quicken isn’t perfect, but it’s familiar. I like its reporting features and I like that it forces me to manually enter data. That’s important because when I enter transactions by hand, I’m more aware of just where my money is going. (To me, tools that automatically record transactions aren’t helpful. They make it too easy to gloss over possible problems.)

I plan to give Mint and Personal Capital a try, but I suspect I’ll settle on something like Quicken. Or a customized spreadsheet.

Ultimately, I hope to accomplish two things with this project.

  • I want to get a clear idea of what I’m actually spending — even if it’s shocking. I can’t make adjustments if I don’t know what I need to adjust.
  • I want to encourage Money Boss readers to track their spending too, even if it’s only for a month (or three). I want you to find your problem spots so that you can correct them.

As soon as I publish this article, I’m going to get started. I’ll unearth my disused Mint and Personal Capital accounts. If I have to set up new ones, I’ll document the process. Plus, after all of these years, I’ll finally give YNAB a spin. I’ll use all of these tools during December. At the end of the month, I’ll write about my experience and share which tool I’ve chosen to manage my money during 2017.

If you have any suggestions for tools to try, I’d love to hear them!

Ecuador Chautauqua 2016: Mindfulness, Habits, and Financial Freedom

Kim and I have returned from nine days in Ecuador, where we laughed and learned — and played too much late-night Werewolf — with 24 other folks at the fourth annual chautauqua on money and happiness.

For those unfamiliar, every autumn a small group of like-minded people gathers in the Andes to talk about financial freedom and personal well-being. Sure, we spend time doing touristy things and enjoying the jungle, but mostly we sit around and share insights on how to be happy, wealthy, and wise. Although this might sound pretentious — Mr. Money Mustache calls it “crazy rich-person talk” — in practice it’s educational…and fun!

Each year, organizer Cheryl Reed invites three speakers to present their philosophies to the folks who’ve paid to attend the retreat. These speakers also meet one-on-one with as many attendees as possible, both formally and informally. And, of course, there’s tons of additional discussion outside the scheduled events. (In fact, it’s these free-form conversations at dinner and poolside that probably provide the most value.)

I’ve enjoyed that past chautauquas I’ve attended, but for my money this year was extra special. This was a great group of people that grew quite close by the end of the week.

I took detailed notes during the presentations from David Cain (who writes about becoming a better human at Raptitude) and Leo Babauta (who writes about mindfulness and minimalism at Zen Habits). Here’s what they had to say about being mindful and changing habits.

Quality of Mind is Quality of Life

In his talk, David Cain argued that it’s not only your circumstances that affect your well-being.

The best way to improve your quality of life is to improve your quality of mind,” Cain said at the start of his presentation. “The less aware you are of feelings, thoughts, and the present moment, the lower your quality of mind and quality of life. You’re more stressed, you’re reactive, you’re uneasy, you’re paranoid, you’re needy, and you’re envious.”

Ecuador 2016 - David Presents (photo by Ryan Smith)

Well-being is elusive because we tend to be preoccupied with improving our circumstances, with chasing future satisfaction. We’re never satisfied with what we have now. We defer expectations of ease and peace to some time in the future. It’s like we’re on a treadmill of dissatisfaction. Continue reading

Unintended consequences: The side effects of our financial choices

I just returned to Portland after a week in New York City, a week during which I spent five days packed with personal-finance meetings and events. (I’ll have plenty to say about those meetings and events in upcoming articles.)

While I was away, Kim was responsible for managing our tiny little household — one puppy and two kittens — all by herself. This proved challenging since she was also working twelve-hour days as a fill-in dental hygienist.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said when I got home. “This week taught me just how important quality of life is.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, because the animals were home alone all day, they needed a lot of attention every evening. Like three hours of attention. Especially the dog. On the days I worked across town, that meant I was getting home at 6:00 or 6:30 and having to entertain the animals until bedtime. It didn’t leave me time for anything else.”

“That sucks,” I said.

A Pile of Fur

“It was frustrating,” Kim said. “But one day I worked at the dental office just up the street. I walked to work. I had so much more free time. I had more free time in the morning, and I had more free time in the evening. The dog was still wild when I got home, but I got home at 4:30, which meant I had time to take her for a long walk before dinner. And I still had that done before the time I’d been getting home from the offices across town.”

“Sounds like you should try to get a job at the office up the street,” I said.

“I agree,” Kim said. “Even if they were to pay me less money, it’d be worth it for the increase in quality of life.”

Secondary Effects

Kim’s observation is nothing new, of course. For a long time, I’ve preached the importance of picking homes and jobs that match your lifestyle — and encouraged folks to live as close to work as possible. With few exceptions, a long commute is simply wasted time (and wasted money).

But her comments reminded me of a conversation I had during my week in New York. Somebody — and I can’t remember who because I didn’t take notes during this particular discussion — was describing the importance of what they called “secondary effects” and how people generally forget to factor them into their decisions. Continue reading

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Using Action and Momentum to Achieve Your Goals

Tyler K and Katie, sailingLast night I met long-time reader Tyler K for dinner at a local Portland restaurant. Tyler is a software engineer and a sailing nut. He’s also a man of strong (and vocal) opinions. As sometimes happens during these meetings, a casual conversation about something unrelated provided a flash of insight about personal finance.

Over Khao Soi and caramelized pork, we talked about goals and having direction in life. Tyler’s not a big fan of my mission statement concept — hey, nobody’s perfect! — and he thinks too many people have big dreams without taking action. I agree. A wise man once said, “Faith without works is dead.” So too, goals without acts are dead.

Action is the cornerstone of achievement. Consider:

  • Action creates luck.
  • Acton builds confidence.
  • Action destroys fear.
  • Action manufactures motivation.
  • Action is character.

That last point is so important. You aren’t what you think or say. You are what you do. If you never did anything, you wouldn’t be anybody. If you have goals but don’t work toward them, those goals don’t mean anything.

Tyler told me that he meets lots of people who dream about sailing around the world. “It’s almost a cliché,” he said. “Tons of people share this dream. They have a romantic notion of what it’d be like. But nobody ever does anything about it. They don’t take sailing lessons. They don’t save to buy a boat. They don’t do anything to make it happen. All they do is dream about it.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked.

“People are afraid. They make excuses,” Tyler said. “They’re not afraid of what might happen at sea — although maybe they should be — but afraid of what might happen at home. What would happen to their job? What would happen to their friends? You know, that kind of thing.”

“I think the same thing prevents a lot of folks from doing long-term RV trips,” I said.

“Exactly. But in reality, the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad. People imagine it’s terrible but it isn’t. What’s the worst that could happen? You’d probably end up back where you started. Maybe a little behind.” Continue reading