1500 Days is a blog about my journey to early retirement in 1500 days, or approximately 4 years. I am not giving financial advice, but sharing with you various ways I save money to enable retirement in my early 40s.
Every Friday, I publish an update on my training. This is Update #10.
The Nuclear Option
For most of the past 2 decades, my weight topped 170. I’m 5′, 11″, but have a skinny carcass, so this was unhealthy. Not good.
About 6 months ago, I took my blood pressure and it was about 130/80. This is hypertensive. Blood pressure rises with age and much of the damage the results from hypertension is cumulative. There have been a lot of strokes and heart attacks in my family. Really not good.
I vowed to lose weight and lose it I did. I’m close to the weight I was at in college. However, I’m still not at my goal.
I wanted to get to down to 150 pounds before the half-marathon. That weight would put my body fat below 15% and take some stress off of my knees for the long distance run. I’ve been stuck around 155, so I decided to push the Big Red Button. Yes, this is the nuclear option:
I’m not a cannibal; Soylent has nothing to do with eating people. That’s Soylent Green. Soylent is a liquid meal. It doesn’t taste that great (humans probably taste better), but Soylent allows me to:
Count calories precisely: Each bottle is 400 calories.
Reset my relationship with food: My girls are in Girls Scouts and our life was recently invaded by Girl Scout cookies. They. Were. Everywhere. Mrs. 1500 is the cookie manager, so our home served as a distribution point. Cookies were in the kitchen and dining room. They were in my office. They filled our garage:
I dreamt of Samoas. Thin Mints called my name. Their siren song never ceased.
I may have eaten some. I may have eaten a lot. Sugar is addictive. Soylent is NOT addictive. Drink nothing but Soylent for a week and an oyster cracker tastes heavenly.
3. Save time:
Cooking: No need to spend 20 minutes making a delicious omelet when you can just drink a bottle of stuff that tastes like pancake batter. Mmmmmm, omelets. Not that I’m missing food or anything right now.
Bathroom: Sorry, but I need to go here. Not literally. Well, maybe… Number #2’s take about 3 seconds when you’re drinking Soylent. Depending on your perspective, this is either a good or bad thing. I miss my reading time.
The first two reasons are why I’m drinking Soylent. By precisely controlling what I eat (short-term goal) and eliminating my desire for sugar and related garbage (long-term goal), I hope to knock off a couple more pounds before the race.
This week, my schedule was a little screwy and I didn’t get a chance to get my long run in. I’ll do my 11-miler later today. This will be my longest run before the race.
This Week In Running
Longest run: 6 miles
This Year In Running
Miles per run: 3.94
Miles: 137.94 (goal is > 150)
Days until half marathon: 15
2018 Activity (walking included)
Total steps: 1,179,826
Total miles: 5556.87
Weight, Heart, Beer
Weight: 155.5 (goal is < 150)
Low resting heart rate for the week: 62 (goal is < 60)
Beers consumed this week: 2
Beers consumed this year: 45
Beer ratio: 3.07:1 (3.07 miles ran per beer). Goal is > 3:1
She’s 25 and currently resides in New York City. When she becomes financially independent, she hopes to start a YouTube channel that chronicles her world travels and stuffing her face with delicious food (her words, not mine). In other words, she wants to start a channel like Strictly Dumpling. No, she’s not kidding!
In trying to give back to the PF community, she created a 20,000+ word 3 week course on financial independence and personal finance. It’s free here with the spreadsheet that she used to trim her expenses one category at a time.
Take it away Olivia!
In mid-December of 2017, I was moving all the stuff out of my apartment with my boyfriend (FireBear) in an effort to save money. I was only outside for about 20 cumulative minutes, but it was so cold that my face and hands hurt, and I was getting a pounding headache. Not the best choice of event to save money at the time. I complained a ton and was in a pretty bad mood.
We drove past a homeless person in Midtown, and I was overcome with a sense of sadness. If I was having such a terrible time with just 20 minutes of being outside, this guy must have absolutely had no choice to be panhandling for money. I fished $20 out of my pocket, rolled down the window to hand him the money, and wished him a Merry Christmas. That scene has stayed with me ever since.
Because I don’t think I helped him. Not really. This quote has stuck with me ever since that night:
You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.
I wish I could’ve helped him more; worked with him to get him a better resume, maybe given him mock interviews, found him a job somewhere, or just even driven him to a homeless shelter. But I know that’s somewhat wishful thinking. I know poverty and homelessness can’t be solved just like that.
But at the same time, I didn’t want to just give money anymore. I wanted to give my time to better someone’s life in the long term. Because if I can help one person permanently each year, I’d make a big difference. And if even one percent of the population starts to think like that, it would change the world.
New Year’s Eve Magic
A few weeks later I was at a friend’s apartment for a New Year’s celebration.
New Year’s Eve is a time where you want to change your life and make it better. Do better for the world. About an hour before the clock struck midnight, I was talking with a friend who had worked in the non-profit world for nearly a decade, and I asked her if there were any skills-based volunteering groups.
Let’s call her Joyce.
I wanted to give something back, but I wanted it to be skill-based because I had heard most non-profits use volunteers for simple tasks. I felt it would be more optimal and efficient to use volunteers for their specialized skills. Joyce told me to check out Catchafire*.
It’s a website that matches you based on skill. All projects are conducted remotely. There are a lot of phone consultations for organizations who are trying to start something new and different long-term projects.
If you’re looking to give back full-time in a non-profit, I’d argue that you should be selfish first and give to yourself first. Make sure your student loans and other debt are paid off, and that you have enough to sustain yourself. Because you won’t be helping anyone if you’re not in great financial shape first. If you’re in your 20s and 30s and hustle hard, you should be able to retire in less than a decade. Once you’re FIRE, you can volunteer full-time should you wish.
Why Skills Based Matching is So Important
Do you really want the one programmer who volunteers with a soup kitchen to be serving food? I’d want that one person to fix my website, automate my tasks, etc.
What about the media expert? I’d want that person to use their connections so that my soup kitchen could get more food and exposure. Perhaps a corporation would see it on the news and:
offer more jobs to people who frequent there
donate clothing, bedding, and toys
The more skilled you get, and the rarer your skill, the more impact you can make donating your time instead of money.
If you’re a doctor, donating a few hours to a free clinic each week for those who can’t afford a co-pay or deductible is worth more than any dollar amount you could donate. If you’re a lawyer, practicing pro-bono for low-income households is the same concept. If you’re any kind of professional or contractor, all the above apply. Your skills are worth more than your dollars in some cases.
Has Skill Based Volunteering (SBV) Been Done Before?
After hearing about the ACA website debacle, where devs and programmers from the big 4 in tech volunteered their time for free to fix the Obamacare website, I thought that the best way to volunteer should be based on skills if you really want to make a scalable difference. That’s the kind of difference that will last if you move on to a different project.
Talking to Joyce, it did seem there was a desperate need for coders, spreadsheet’ers, and operational consultants to come into non-profits. That’s not all though! Maybe a non-profit needs:
an artist to help create flyers and posters
an SEO-guru so people will find their website and donate more money
a blogger or writer to chronicle their journey so people can understand what they’re doing
a charmer to get corporations to partner and donate to the organization
I’m sure whomever you are, you have an incredible skill and you can use it to help someone. Sometimes, giving away your skilled time is better than donating a few bucks here and there.
There are tons of skilled needs for non-profits, and it might also be a good way for some people to get into freelance work. You can offer your skills for free and when you produce results, corporate clients might come knocking at your door.
Helping others will make you feel better than this puppy and its giant wad of cash!
Donate Your Skills Even Before You FIRE
For those of us who aren’t FIRE yet, it’s a good way to give back while still saving towards freedom. If you have giant student loans, it might be a better idea to give away your skilled labor rather than donating money towards charity.
I’m volunteering at a local library to teach standardized testing, something that will have a long-term impact.
If you’re a big blogger like Carl, just lending a non-profit credibility by tweeting about it and featuring the charity on your blog might be a great way to give the non-profit exposure and give back :). See? Sometimes, free things are better. I’m sure CatchaFire will get a small traffic bump from this post.
Or maybe Carl can become a team leader at Habitat for Humanity? All his carpentry and building skills have me quite amazed.
Not everything has to be a monetary donation. Sometimes the skills you bring to the table are more valuable than dollars.
I’d encourage you to check out Catchafire or simply google “skills-based volunteering” if you are looking for a way to give back or look around your community for non-profits that need your amazing skills. I’m quite sure you have some :).
*I do not work for CatchaFire or have any relationship with them. I just think it’s a cool website and skills-based volunteering is an awesome concept.
Have you ever felt like checking out of society? Last week, I had a bad experience that made me want to move to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Here’s the story:
My daughters are in Girl Scouts and it’s cookie season. I volunteered to help manage a booth and was assigned to a Walmart in a poorer part of town. It was a sad scene.
At one point during the evening, a guy in his 30s stopped at the booth to buy some cookies. Then, he asked for change in a confusing manner. I later learned that he was pulling a scam called short-changing and had succeeded in stealing $20. What kind of asshole scams children? I felt terrible for not catching it.
Watch out for the Unablogger!
Humans do far worse things to each other, but encountering a lowlife in person made me want to move to a cabin in the middle of 1000 acres and check out. Humans can suck sometimes. Readers have been telling me that I look like the Unabomber, so I already have the look. Maybe I can be the Unablogger? I’ll move out to a remote cabin and send vitriolic blog posts to the world. Oh wait, I already do the latter!
The Claw Machine
And then there was the Claw Machine Guy.
My shift lasted about 90 minutes and when I got there, I noticed that there was an older guy playing the claw machine. I thought it was strange for a 50-year-old guy to be pumping dollars into this waste of money, but didn’t think much more about it. But then I noticed he kept playing. And kept playing.
He fed dollars into the machine for 45 minutes. Finally, he was gone. “About time!” I thought. A moment later, he appeared at the cookie booth asking for change. And then he was back at the machine. He played for at least an hour. When he finally left, I took a look at the machine to see what he was trying to win:
He spent at least $50 trying to win some junk that he could have purchased in the store for less than $5.
There was more thing I noticed; suffering. Lots of folks at Walmart looked like they were struggling financially or otherwise. The appearance of many told me that they were living a rough life. Some had dirty clothes. Many had physical disabilities. One woman had bruises on her face. I saw two cars that had broken down in the parking lot.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision, especially as we get older. We hang around with people similar to ourselves who help reinforce our biases. We get stuck in our ways. We lose perspective. I’m certainly guilty.
In my world, many of my friends are in this community. We don’t lack money. Most of us are in good health. We won the Geographic Lottery by being born in a good place and have made a good life for ourselves. Our struggles are few.
Standing in front of that Walmart, I had this thought:
I’ve had a good life as an adult. What can I do to help?
You’re probably thinking:
Don’t sell them $4 boxes of cookies Big Dummy!
OK, besides that. Here is what I came up with:
Blog!: Can I help people with my writing? Probably not. While I occasionally get a nice email from a reader stating that I helped them turn things around, I’m not going to delude myself. My impact as a writer is minimal. And most of the people I’ve helped are much farther ahead. The poor aren’t reading this blog.
Donate money: My giving has been limited to infrequent gifts of $50 to friends and family raising money for a cause. I’m not ready to give away big money yet like Physician on FIRE or Mr. Money Mustache. Here is why:
Children: I’d like to see my kids off first. If I choose to pay for their college, it will come out of my portfolio. I also want to be prepared for expenses like braces and health care. Once the children are out of the house, my position will have more certainty.
Investing: I’m not quite done investing yet. I want to keep money on hand for potential investments like real estate or small business.
Donate time: This is something I can do, but what’s the best way? I could surely volunteer to deliver meals or file papers and wouldn’t mind doing that, but I have a valuable skill (software development) that earned me a six-figure income. I also enjoyed the work. I’m most valuable to an organization as a software developer. And I think I found a way to do just that. More in tomorrow’s post.
My Anger Was Wrong
I’ve thought a lot about the scammer that night at the cookie booth. I was right to be upset, but not right to cling to my anger. I need to be less emotional. I need to put stuff like this in perspective and be objective. You can let a bad experience fester and consume you or you can let it be a lesson. We have the power to choose our feelings and our response to a situation.
Humans can suck sometimes, but deep down, most are good.
I’m not going to get all preachy and say things like, ‘it’s our duty to give back’ even if that’s what I plan on doing. It’s a personal choice, but giving back sounds more rewarding than becoming the Unablogger.
Do you volunteer time or money? How?
If not, do you plan to?
Do you need a software developer to code something up for your cause?
Also, do you want to buy some cookies? Just kidding. Maybe…
Every Friday, I publish an update on my training. This is Update #9.
My training wasn’t at the point where I hoped it would be, so I did the unthinkable. Yes, it’s true:
I cut out beer. And by beer, I mean all alcohol.
Desperate times times call for desperate measures.
Yes. I’m totally dating myself here. Sorry Millennials.
My last alcoholic beverage was in February on 2/25.
Amazing things started to happen after I stopped:
My weight dropped to a new low: 155.0
My resting heart rate did too: 61
I ran a record length: 9 miles
The benefits weren’t just physical. I also:
figured out how to create energy from a sustained fusion reaction
convinced the North Koreans to give up their atomic weapons program
OK, so I made the last three up. I can dream though, can’t I? Ha, who am I kidding? I can’t even get my children to stop fighting for longer than 5 minutes. But I digress.
Not drinking has felt pretty good. My consumption was mostly confined to weekends, so it’s nice to get on the scale Monday morning and not see a couple pounds of beer bloat.
I plan to stay mostly dry until the half-marathon. I’ll make exceptions for a meeting next week and a party we’re hosting on the 17th.
The Hair Situation Deteriorates
In a poor decision, I announced in Running Update #2 that I wouldn’t cut my hair until after the race. I don’t like hair. It just gets in the way, so I usually shave it off. This is how I usually look:
Note the Stegosaurus.
The situation is deteriorating rapidly. My hair has a mind of its own.When it gets long, it goes nuts. I’m forced to wear hats 24/7 to hide the chaos. Here is what I look like now:
Mrs. 1500 hates it. She announced this tonight:
We’re bringing the clippers to Portland so we can shave your head as soon as the race is over!
My children give me strange looks and keep their distance in public. Babies cry and small animals run away. I’m sure I’ll be chosen for the “random” security screening at the airport.
Someone suggested that I give hair conditioner a try. I’ll do that soon.
I Can Do This!
Confession: Yes, I’m coming to Portland for a half-marathon, but I never actually thought I would run it. I knew I would finish, but I just assumed that I’d spend most of the race walking or limping while moaning/whining/crying pathetically.
I’m not an athlete in any way, shape or form. I’m clumsy and uncoordinated. I’ve never had cardiovascular endurance. And as a kid, my legs weren’t right and I had to wear Forrest Gump-like braces for a couple years. I hated those f***ing things. My mother told me that I’d have knee issues my whole life. After a couple years, the braces came off, but knee issues never materialized (except a torn meniscus but that’s unrelated). Woot!
Anyway, running has always been challenging. A year ago, I couldn’t run a mile. My first run longer than 3 miles took place late last year. And this week, I ran my longest yet, 9 miles. And something wonderful happened on that 9-mile day.
When I do my weekly long run, I’ve been very conservative. And by conservative, I mean slow. I do 11-minute miles. And tonight, most of my run was no different. However, at mile 7, I was feeling great. This was very strange because I usually feel the opposite of great while running. I decided to turn it up for the last 2 miles and finished them each in under 10 minutes. And I still felt like I had lots of gas in the tank.
It felt amazing. It felt like a breakthrough. For the first time since Mr. WoW suggested a half-marathon back in December, I feel like I can do this. And the feeling is incredible.
This Week In Running
Longest run: 9
This Year In Running
Miles per run: 3.91
Miles: 128.94 (goal is > 150)
Days until half marathon: 22
2018 Activity (walking included)
Total steps: 1,065,709
Total miles: 505.19
Weight, Heart, Beer
Weight: 155.0 (goal is < 150)
Low resting heart rate for the week: 61 (goal is < 60)
Beers consumed this week: 0
Beers consumed this year: 43
Beer ratio: 3:1 (3 miles ran per beer). Goal is > 3:1
This week, I take a slight detour to tell you about one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s called Meet the Frugalwoods.
I first learned of the Frugalwoods back in 2014, almost four years ago (since the Frugalwoods are no longer anonymous, I’ll occasionally refer to them by their first names, Liz and Nate). Liz had left a comment on one my posts. I had never heard of her blog, so I clicked over to take a look. The post that I came across was about refinishing kitchen cabinets and I was blown away. The post was well written, informative and had great photography. I knew that Frugalwoods were going to be big.
Liz and Nate have come a long way since. The Frugalwoods blog is a smashing success and they have departed the city for Vermont. And this week, Liz’s book, Meet the Frugalwoods launches. This post is about that book. Or it will be eventually.
And if you want the short story, the book is great. Go get it now. If you want the long story, read on.
After discovering the Frugalwoods blog, Liz and I occasionally chatted over email. We collaborated on posts and submitted a talk for a conference. We didn’t end up speaking at the conference, but I got to meet Liz and Nate anyway. Before we met, I was just a little worried…
My favorite kind of writing is when the author’s personality shines through. With some writers, you feel like you’ve been friends with them just by reading their words. This was the case with Liz and I had definitely built her up in my mind’s eye. Her writing is thoughtful, warm and gracious. Would she be the same person when I met her?
It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. I felt comfortable with Liz and Nate from the start, an accomplishment for a deep introvert like myself.
After that first conference, we all continued to chat occasionally. Liz and I collaborated once in a while and Nate helped me design a bookcase.
The culmination of our friendship may have taken place last August. On a road trip, my family stopped off in Vermont to visit the Frugalwoods homestead:
And maybe the culmination of the visit was using my amateur plumbing skills to fix two of the toilets*! Just kidding. Maybe…
When we weren’t fixing toilets, we were enjoying conversation, fine microbrews and the Vermont countryside (wait, is any part of Vermont not country?). Before arriving, I had built up an image of the Frugalwood’s bucolic existence. It was every bit as great as I expected. The Frugalwoods have made a fantastic life for themselves.
The Book Is The Journey
You already know that the Frugalwoods story has a happy ending. The joy of this book is the journey. The story starts when Liz and Nate were finishing college and still dating and ends in Vermont. I don’t want to give too much away, but one of my favorite passages from the book is where Liz describes a 4th of July parade:
I bought a shortcake from the library’s strawberry shortcake fund-raiser and settled in on the lawn with friends to watch the parade. Stella was soon swooped into the arms of one of our neighbors and I chatted with another mom I’d recently met. With a siren blast from our volunteer fire department’s truck, the parade was underway. All the kids in town led the parade riding bikes they’d decked that morning with ribbons, stickers, and balloons. There was also a contingent wearing what I assume were last year’s very patriotic Halloween costumes: an Abe Lincoln, a Lady Liberty, and a dinosaur wearing an American flag hat. Our local state rep and his wife drove in their truck and waved. The parade was all of five minutes long, but the cheers were riotous. Afterward, the kids recollected the candy they’d thrown to the parade spectators (aka their parents and the other adults in town). Stella and I met up with Nate, who’d completed his tent-setting-up duty and was getting ready to chicken haul, which as it turned out meant toting chickens from the outdoor roaster inside to the kitchen for the luncheon. We’d lived in Vermont for barely two months and we already knew more people and had a more gratifying community life than we’d ever had in the city.
If that doesn’t paint the best-ever Norman Rockwell picture in your mind, nothing will.
Humor: A dimension that I hadn’t noticed much before is Liz’s sense of humor. Some parts of the book had me laughing like a nutter (the proposal scene!). The people sitting next to me on the plane probably thought I was a little crazy.
Baring it all: Liz doesn’t hold back. In parts of the book, she lays her vulnerabilities and insecurities out for the world to see. I appreciated the honesty.
Education: The book largely focuses on the Frugalwoods story, but Liz also weaves financial education into the mix. It’s not the primary focus, but I’m glad she included it. The book is a wonderful starting point for those just beginning to invest.
Inspiration: The greatest joy I get from blogging is when someone tells me that I inspired them. If you can read this book and not be inspired, you don’t have a heartbeat. Liz has already changed many lives with her blog. This book is going to change a lot more.
I’m sorry Millionaire Next Door, but this is going to be my default gift for college graduates now. And I bet that in a year when I Google “top 10 financial books,” I’ll see Meet the Frugalwoods in the results. But maybe I’m not thinking big enough? Is this book really about finances? It is and it isn’t.
The undercurrent of Meet the Frugalwoods is frugality, but it’s really an example of how to properly live life. And that’s what makes it so good.
No one needs another book that explains compound interest or index funds. There are enough of those already. What makes Meet the Frugalwoods so special is that it’s a story of two people getting their life together that happens to teach a money lesson too.
I hope you read it and enjoy it as much as I did.
And Liz, know how happy Mindy and I are for your success. Also, please see the asterisk below; it’s very important.
Every Friday, I publish an update on my training. This is Update #8.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
In Running Update #2, I mentioned that I’m not going to cut my hair until after the race on 3/31. This was a bad idea. I don’t like having hair. It’s just one more thing to complicate my life. With the rare exception of this race, as soon as my hair gets long enough that I have to brush it, I cut it all off. It is starting to get out of control now:
Left: 1/16. Right: 3/1
I’m so used to not having hair that I sometimes do stupid things. Earlier this week, I went to a school activity first thing in the morning. Because I’m so used to not brushing my hair, I forgot to do it (I take showers at night, so my hair is wild and crazy in the morning until I tame it). When I got home, I glanced in the mirror and my hair looked 10x worse than the picture on the right. Scary, I know. I’m surprised the school didn’t call the cops.
Another morning, I lumbered out of bed and greeted my young daughter:
Me: Hi D, how are you?
D <with a look of revulsion>: *groans*
Me: What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?
D: It’s your hair dad. You look creepy. I’m going to start calling you Mr. Creeper.
The good news is that despite the advanced length of my hair, I haven’t found a need for hair conditioner. I remain steadfast in my belief that hair conditioner is a giant scam.
In worse news, I finally registered for the half-marathon. I was kinda hoping that I’d get hit by a pickup truck or attacked by a pack of dogs on one of my runs so I’d have an excuse not to do the half. Despite darting into traffic and routing myself past a home of angry Dobermans (and really, are they ever not angry?), I remain in perfect health. It looks like I’ll have to run, long hair and all. Sigh…
PEEPS ON COURSE! And you know the race organizers are serious because they put it in pink and in all caps!
I LOVE PEEPS!
And you know I’m serious because I put it in huge letters and centered it all fancy.
Anyway, here is the image I have brewing in my mind’s eye:
I’m at mile 11 with only 2 to go. However, I’m broken and battered. My legs hurt. I’m sweating. I’m cold. Bad words fly from my mouth. Just when I think I can’t go another yard, what do I see? Peeps. Yes, Peeps. It’s at this point that I know I will make it. I grab like 38 of them and stuff them down my throat. Peeps are to me what spinach is to Popeye. I blow past fellow race participants Mr. WoW and JD. I cross the finish line with fists in the air and the crowd goes nuts!
My imagination got the best of me. Here is what will actually happen:
…I grab like 38 Peeps and stuff them down my throat. Three minutes later, my stomach protests the decision. Another minute later, I’m on the side of the course, huddled over. Seconds later, my stomach revolts and expells the Peeps, a liter of orange Gatorade and the box of Samoas I had for breakfast. Mr. WoW and JD laugh at my demise. The cops haul me off for public indecency.
You know when you’re about to do something stupid, but you do it anyway? It’s every day for me. So yes, I am going to stuff myself full of Peeps while I run.
This Week In Running
Longest run: 6
This Year In Running
Miles per run: 3.68
Miles: 110.44 (goal is > 150)
Days until half marathon: 29
2018 Activity (walking included)
Total steps: 950,609
Total miles: 449.88
Weight, Heart, Beer
Weight: 157.0 (goal is < 150)
Low resting heart rate for the week: 63 (goal is < 60)
Beers consumed this week: 6
Beers consumed this year: 43
Beer ratio: 2.57 : 1 (2.57 miles ran per beer). Goal is > 3 : 1
It’s been a long time since I ranted at y’all! I suppose it’s because financial independence has resulted in a kinder, gentler and better adjusted version of myself.
Who am I kidding? I still have plenty of vitriol! Brace yourselves!
Observation #1: I was out shoveling snow a couple weeks ago when a neighbor stopped by. He must have felt bad for me because he said I could use his snowblower.
Observation #2: At least 1/4 of my neighbors start their cars minutes before they leave to warm them up. I’ve even seen some of them doing this in the summer to cool off their car with air conditioning.
Observation #3: My daughter has a schoolmate that lives almost across the street from the school. Her parents drive her to school:
These observations make me sad. If I used a snowblower, I’d be depriving my body of a workout. I’d also have another mechanical contrivance to maintain. My neighbors waste fuel and risk having their cars stolen just because they won’t tolerate sitting in a cold (or hot) car for a couple of minutes. The parents that drive their child 500 feet to school are missing out on great walking and bonding time.
When I see my fellow humans striving for temporary comfort, I worry too. When I extrapolate this behavior, I always arrive at the same place; the movie Wall-E. In the film, humans have trashed the earth, so they have moved to a spaceship. Everyone has generous proportions because they ride around on a flying chair with a screen in front of them:
Is this the future of humankind? I hope not!
When I see people who can’t be bothered with even a minor inconvenience, I wonder if they would choose to ride around in a chair all day too?
The Incredible Power Of Discomfort
My life is wonderful and I owe much of it to discomfort:
Doing well in classes like organic chemistry, cell biology and calculus wasn’t easy, but I got into a top PharmD program as a result.
When I decided that I’d hate being a pharmacist, I dropped out and studied software development. That wasn’t easy either, but I got a great job as a result.
Software development is no walk in the park. However, it paid well and I enjoyed the intellectual challenge.
Effective workouts are painful. Running multiple miles or lifting heavy weights isn’t fun. But now, my blood pressure is lower and my knees no longer hurt.
If my goal was comfort, I would have done none of the above. Comfort isn’t rewarding, but hard work is:
I felt awesome when I received all As in the most failed class on campus (Organic Chemistry 331).
I was on top of the world when I graduated Magna Cum Laude in Biology and Chemistry.
Getting code to finally work right is incredibly fulfilling.
I feel great after a workout. I feel even better when I’ve done it outside when the temperatures are in the teens:
Short-Term Discomfort Equals Long-Term Success
Why dismiss the easy path?
I don’t have time to walk!
This way is more convenient!
Who has done anything special sitting on a couch? Great things happen only outside of your comfort zone.
On the left, what comfort looks like. On the right, reality.
And if you’re still not convinced, let me put it another way; there are two comforts that you should absolutely try to achieve. These are both long-term and you should never stop pursuing them:
Short-term comforts and convenience (driving everywhere, excessive leisure, fast food, dismissing all manual labor) are often contrary to these long-term goals.
Comfort is easy, but it isn’t natural:
Comfort is driving up to the top of the mountain instead of hiking it.
Comfort is eating crappy, processed food because it tastes good instead of vegetables.
Comfort is 6 hours of TV per day.
Comfort is paying someone to mow your lawn, wash your car and clean your home.
Comfort is less than 4,000 steps a day.
Comfort leads to a big gut, heart disease and an unsatisfying life.
Maximal comfort equals minimal living.
Greece Chautauqua: Almost Sold Out!
The FI Chautauqua takes place for only 2 weeks this year and I’m incredibly honored to be a part of it. As of this morning, week 2 is now sold out and week 1 only has a couple of spots left. If you’re at all interested in going, get your ticket now or consider joining the wait list for the 2019 edition.
Back in 2008 when the stock market was crashing, I was terrified. I remember checking my investment accounts multiple times per day. I had trouble sleeping. I was filled with dread. Eventually, I just stopped looking.
For about 4 years, I didn’t log into any of my accounts. I didn’t even think about them. When I logged back in years later, I was pleasantly surprised to see that markets were recovering. The world was returning to normal.
A couple weeks ago, we had a market correction (a drop of 10%). If you read the media, you’d have thought that the end of the world was upon us. It wasn’t. More on that after we get to the answers from last week.
Oof… using my time wisely is something I am constantly struggling with, tweaking, improving, reverting and trying yet again to optimize. I think one of my best hacks is to get outside. If I go for a walk/run or decide to do an activity with our family (sledding or snowshoeing, biking or swimming in the summer, etc), I tend to be good about not checking technology. But overall, I am constantly working through time optimization in a tech-filled world.
Reader Danny the Pizza Guy has a good tip:
I was notoriously bad with social media as it was affecting me at work. To solve this I went a bit extreme and purposely changed my password to something complex that I would not remember. This lasted about a year until, ultimately, I changed the password back. It worked for me as it became habit forming to not sign in all the time. Now I only check it about once every other week.
I stopped on the “news” thing about 6 months ago and have never felt better about not knowing what ariel winter was up to. Oh, and the comment sections! Don’t get me started. We don’t look at hardly any of that on our days off but are guilty of checking the ebay sales as we list and downsize our significant pile o’ crap-ola.
Of Chaos And Corrections
I was running outside a couple weeks ago on a beautiful day. When I got home, Mrs 1500 said:
The markets are down 1400 points!
My first reaction was to smile:
Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to buy the market when it’s on sale! Great!
And then I freaked out:
Wait, what caused it? Did a war break out somewhere? Did someone important get indicted?
Mrs. 1500 assured me that we weren’t at war with North Korea and that nothing else was going on. My smile returned.
It took me a while to get my mind in the right place. What it all comes down to is this:
The long-term trajectory of the market is up. Be optimistic. It doesn’t matter what happens in the short term as long as you can hold on to optimism no matter what’s currently happening.
Of course, this isn’t easy. The time to plan for what you’ll do when markets correct is when all is good. This is the same reason why I believe in prenuptial agreements. The time to plan for the demise of a marriage isn’t when it’s actually happening, but when both parties are happy. Note: My suggestion of a prenuptial agreement many years ago was met with strong resistance:
What we saw a couple weeks ago was just a little market gyration. If (when?) there’s a war or the president is sacked, you’ll see a downturn that will make what happened earlier this month seem like nothing. It’s OK though; stay the course. Know that after the chaos, everything will return to normal. Populations will continue to grow and productivity will continue to increase. These conditions will drive the markets up. Nothing to see here.
And, if you’re worried about having to sell stocks right after a big crash, just keep a little cash around to ride out the rough times.
How About You?
Did you freak out? If so, did you make any irrational moves?
If you didn’t lose your cool, how did you train your brain?
One more thing: I’m on the Choose FI podcast again, this time discussing the upcoming Chautauqua in Greece. Check it out here!
Bob from Tawcan is guest posting today. Before I turn the blog over to him, I must tell a funny story.
I’m a prankster now and always have been. I started young and never stopped. One of my favorite pranks was from my childhood.
Growing up, almost everyone had the same cable service which came with a common settop box and remote control. One day, I figured out that any remote could work any box. This discovery led to an incredible amount of mischief.
There was a townhouse development near us where it was easy to see into peoples’ living rooms from the outdoor common areas. My friends and I would grab our remotes, peek in family rooms and change the channels though the window. There was a certain station that played risque movies, so our pranking usually revolved around that:
A PBS documentary would suddenly change to Flesh Gordon
The History Channel would change to Bikini Car Wash
A sappy romantic movie would change to Busty Cops
And if the TV was already tuned to a naughty movie (this was frequently the case), I’d change it to The Weather Channel
The reactions were the best part. Some people would check under their butts to make sure they weren’t sitting on the remote. Others would get up and slap the settop box. I think one guy thought his TV was possessed. Ahhh, the good old days…
Now, I’m grown and more mature so I abstain from this juvenile behavior. Ha, who am I kidding?!???
The real issue is that everyone has different remotes, so this prank doesn’t work anymore. However, if it did, instead of changing channels, I’d probably just turn the TV off.
It makes me sad when I walk around at night and see the glow of the TV in most homes. There is so much to do and watching loads of TV every day is a poor way to fill precious hours.
Bob takes it to the extreme. The dude doesn’t even own a TV. Instead, he spends his time painting, cooking and taking great pictures. Regarding the last one, I’ve included some of Bob’s wonderful photos in this post. Take it away Bob!
If you ever step into our house and walk around, you will immediately notice something out of place. Something strange, something unfamiliar, something very different than other typical homes. We have no televisions. You won’t find a TV in the middle of our living/family room serving as the focal point of the room. You also will not find a TV in our master bedroom or anywhere else in the house for that matter.
You see, my wife and I have been living without a television for the past 7 years. And that means we have no subscriptions to cable, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, or other online streaming services.
To understand why we live without a TV, we need to go back in time…
*cue the going back in time music*
When I moved out of my parents’ place to go to university in 2001, I lived in a dorm room for a couple of years. I kept my dorm room simple, so a television was not an item I owned. Besides, the dorm room was so tiny, a CRT television would have meant I couldn’t fit a bed in the room (the younger folks reading this are probably wondering what the heck a CRT TV is)
Later in my university studies, I shared apartments with different roommates. Somehow, one of the roommates would own a TV and he or she would sign up for basic cable, so we all could watch television throughout the day. Whenever I returned to the apartment, the television was often left on so there was some background noise. This was the norm, and everyone was OK with it.
My wife (I’ll refer to her as Mrs. T) came to Canada from Denmark in 2009 as an exchange student. She lived on the university campus with 3 other roommates. It made no sense for her to purchase a TV, given she was returning to Denmark after 6 months. As it turned out, one of her roommates had a TV for the apartment, so there was no need or reason for her to purchase a TV.
When we started dating in 2009 and moved in together in 2011, neither of us owned a TV. Mutually, we agreed that we didn’t need one. We also didn’t want to spend a few hundred-dollar on a TV set when we could use that money elsewhere, like investing in stocks to generate passive income for us.
When our internet provider Shaw (who happens to be a cable provider too) calls occasionally for promotional offers, I would have some awkward conversations like this one below:
“Hi Bob, It’s Joe from Shaw. I see that you have internet subscription with us. I have an EXCELLENT promotional deal that I’d like to offer to you tonight.”
“Umm OK, what is it?”
“We’re offering our valued customers a great deal. For $25 extra per month, you can get 200+ channels including HD channels. We will even give you the HD box free of charge. Would you be interested in signing up?”
“Umm, we don’t have a TV.” *Brief silence*
“Yeah, we don’t have a TV at home, so I am not interested.”
“Sorry? Did you say you don’t have a TV?”
“Yes, no TV.”
“Oh… umm OK, well would you be interested in signing up for the package anyway? TV is very cheap nowadays.”
“No thanks, we have no plan to get a TV anytime soon.” *Another brief silence*
“Umm ok, so you don’t have a TV and don’t plan to get a TV anytime soon. Is there anything I could help you tonight?”
Joe probably hung up the phone and started telling his coworkers that he just talked to someone from the stone age that still live in a hole or something! Ha!
I used to have this kind of conversation about every other month. I kid you not!!!
Nowadays, when I see Shaw calling me, I would just ignore the call, unless our 12-month internet deal is about to expire… but that’s a story for later.
Mr. 1500 note: I totally see where Bob was going there!
Having no cable and no TV’s at home also makes TV programming related conversations at work very awkward because I have no idea what my co-workers are talking about. The other day a bunch co-worker were talking about toddlers and kids friendly educational TV shows. The only showed I recognized was Paw Patrol. And when co-workers started talking about Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Big Bang Theory, or Grey’s Anatomy, I usually sit there and scratch my head, not comprehending what they were talking about at all. When people say that they just bought a 65-inch OLED TV and it has all the latest TV technologies, I usually have no idea what they are talking about. I might as well pull out the Elon Musk’s Boring Flamethrower and start torching things to kill time while my coworkers talked all things TV related… (Mr. 1500 wanted me to throw in the flamethrower reference!).
Mr. 1500 note: There is always room for a flamethrower reference in a post!
Lessons Learned being television free for 7 years
7 years and counting, we have no desire and no plans to ever own a television. Being TV-free, cable-free, and online-streaming-service free for the last 7 years has taught me many lessons.
1. We watch shows by choice
Don’t get me wrong, we still watch TV shows here and there. We do so by visiting channel company’s website (i.e. CBC, CTV, NBC, Food Network, etc) and streaming shows on our computer. Some of the shows we like watching are Master Chef, Amazing Race, and the Great British/Canadian/Danish Bake-Offs. The key difference with us watching TV shows on our computer and watching shows on TV is that we watch these shows by choice. We would set an hour on a specific date each week to watch one of these shows. Once the show is over, we resume our regular evening routines. We don’t binge-watch or continue watching another show just because it is on.
By consciously deciding whether to watch a show or not, we have learned to be more efficient with our time in front of the screen. Watching a TV show on a weeknight becomes a real treat for us and is something that we look forward to each week.
2. Less desire to buy things
Having no TVs at home means we are not being bombarded with different commercials. This has resulted in having less desire to buy things, like the greatest and latest gadgets, different types of makeup, household products, cars, junk foods, sports drinks, etc. We simply don’t get sucked into consumerism via TV commercials. Simply put, we don’t buy things for the sake of buying.
Another benefit of having no TV’s at home is that our kids are not constantly asking for the latest trendy toys because they are not being exposed to toy commercials every 20 seconds. As parents, Mrs. T and I have no idea what the coolest or most popular toys are today. This has made fulfilling Christmas and birthday wishes so much easier.
3. Not worried about news
Having no TV at home and not checking the news on a regular basis means we are not keeping up-to-date with current events. The less we know about what is going on in the world, the less worried we are. We are not stressed out whether the Bank of Canada will increase the interest rate next month or not, we are not worried about the stock market, we are not worried about our investments, we are not constantly thinking about the possible North Korea nuclear attack, etc. If the news is big, we will find out about it somehow, either through people talking about it at work, seeing discussions on Twitter, or seeing multiple people posting about it on Facebook.
4. Better personal connections
Having no TV’s at home means there is no such thing as TV dinners. When we have meals at home, all of us sit at the table and eat together. We enjoy our food and each other’s company. Being able to sit down together over meals is a good lesson to teach to our kids. We are teaching them the important lesson of being present. We also don’t let the kids leave the table until everyone is done eating, as we feel this is a valuable lesson in patience and connectedness (togetherness).
In the evening, once the kids are in bed sleeping, Mrs. T and I can sit on the couch, have a cup of tea (or hot chocolate with whipping cream, yum!), and talk. We talk about our days, we talk about how we feel, we talk about our future, and sometimes we just talk. I believe being able to spend quality time together each night and connect with each other has made our relationship stronger.
5. It’s OK not to watch sports
I used to follow sports teams very closely in my 20’s. Today, however, I don’t follow sports teams that closely anymore. I learned that it is totally OK to not watch games on a regular basis. I can keep up with how my favorite teams are doing by watching highlights on the internet and listening to sports radio channels during my daily commute. There is no shame in not following sports closely. I don’t feel less manly because I don’t watch NFL games every Sunday, or because I don’t watch every Vancouver Canucks game. I can still have educated sports discussions with people, it’s just that I might not be able to provide in-depth, down to the second analysis of how a specific play was developed. We still watch those special sporting events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics. We don’t feel that we are missing out at all.
I am still a sports fan at heart, it’s just that I no longer watch games on a regular basis.
No TV simplified my life!
After 7 years of TV-free, cable-free, and online-streaming-service free, I don’t feel like I am missing anything in my life. Even if someone were to give me a free TV today, I can say with conviction that I will not accept it. I really have no desire to own a TV.
Having said all of that, I think whether to have a TV, cable subscription, or a streaming services subscription (or not) is totally a personal decision. There is no right or wrong. It is a personal choice. This is similar to why it is called personal finance… because it is personal! Having no TV has simplified my life and I am happier without one at home. But that does not mean this is the right choice for everyone. How to decide what’s the right choice for you? Make a decision that will ultimately make you happier in the long run.
Thanks Bob for the great post! Visit Bob over at Tawcan!