Wallet and Key Chain Audit

I was at a meeting the other day. I plunked my keys down on the table, and eyes of the guy I was meeting with widened. “Woah, are those are all your keys?” he asked, pointing to the jumbled mass of keys. “Yeah.” I responded, trying to laugh off my mess of keys. He then went on the explain how the extra weight of all my keys could hurt the ignition switch on my car. I had no idea, and apparently there may be some truth to the story.

Regardless of whether the extra keys could hurt my car’s ignition switch, he was absolutely right. I had too many keys. It had gotten to the point where I don’t even know what most of them were for. I of course have keys for my house and rentals, but beyond that I had all sorts of random keys that I had accumulated over the years. Some were probably for my parent’s houses. Some were from old jobs, some were probably old apartments I lived at, one was a key for a little lock I used for my gym bag, and I had several duplicates. I had close to a dozen keys in total. I only use the house key regularly, but it’s nice to have the keys for my rentals on hand because you never know when you need to stop by for a repair or turnover.

So this weekend I added streamlining my key chain to the ole “to-do” list. I stopped by the hardware store and picked up a couple colored plastic key covers. I then color coded the 3 keys I actually use, and ditched the rest. I saved the duplicates and labeled them, and now the duplicates and the rest of the old discarded keys sit on a shelf in the unlikely event that I ever stumble across a lock that I need to open.

I’m sure my car’s ignition will thank me, but I was surprised at how nice it felt to discard these extra keys. While the reduction of bulk and weight in my pocket is noticeable, the mental effect is what I appreciated the most. If you are like me, you use your keys at least twice a day, and fumbling through a mess of unorganized keys all the time adds mental stress and aggravation. That compounded over time probably would lead to a nervous breakdown. Fumbling through dozens of keys all the time is just one more piece of bullshit you have to contend with.

This was a surprisingly cathartic experience and one I recommend going through if you haven’t in a while. I’m a believer in spending money on things you use every day (in my case, shoes, a watch, a belt, my laptop, etc.). This project in particular hardly cost anything, but here I would consider it a small investment in time.

I went through a similar routine with my wallet years ago. I switched from the George Costanza wallet to a “minimalist” wallet, specifically a Big Skinny Bi-fold, and ditched all the superfluous receipts, cards, etc that build up in your wallet if you aren’t careful. I went from a dozen+ cards down to 6. I don’t miss all the extra stuff. It drags on your body, and it drags on your mind.

It is a microcosm of minimalism. I am not a minimalist, but I’d say I’m a frugalist, and in a way frugality can be seen as a form of financial minimalism. You buy less stuff so you have less things to burden yourself with. I have tried to consolidate and streamline. I use a Kindle rather than buying books, I have minimized my wardrobe to a couple “uniforms”, I’ve automated my finances and sworn off superfluous spending. I’ve also tried to say “No” and do a better job guarding my time.

The goal here is peace. The hope is that financial peace will bring mental peace, but your finances are only one part of the equation and simplicity is the true path to peace. They say enlightenment is being in a state of wanting nothing. No wonder so few ever see the light. Still, I try to keep my investing simple and I am trying to keep my life relatively simple. Of course, it’s an uphill battle and part of becoming an adult is about taking on more responsibility. Managing more chaos.

As I continue battle my way upstream I am trying to find the patterns. I am trying to figure out ways to let things go. To consolidate. I see my parents and all the stuff they have accumulated, and it’s almost painful to watch. But in many ways I am struck from the same mold. I guess the idea is to not become too attached. To be willing to purge. There are infinite ways to optimize and organize. In truth I’m not a naturally organized person. I trend towards chaos. But I’m trying. One set of keys at a time.

Frustrating Experiences with Windows 10

I upgraded my laptop recently. My last laptop was a souped up Lenovo, and it was a great computer, but after 3 years of daily use it was starting to get slow. I ended up buying a refurbished laptop from Lenovo’s Outlet. Originally I was going to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,200 for a brand new Lenovo P50 Thinkpad. Since I use it for business I felt justified in upgrading it, but $2,200 is a lot of coin for a laptop. I ended up picking up this refurbished model for closer to $1,200. It was a great deal and I’m happy with the laptop itself.

Unfortunately, one of the compromises in this purchase was that the computer shipped with Windows 10. My previous computer came with Windows 7, which was a pretty no-nonsense operating system. It wasn’t perfect, but it was reasonably stable and stayed out of the way. I skipped Windows 8 entirely, which looked to be a total disaster, and I disabled my old computer from “upgrading” from Windows 7 to Windows 10. I actually had to install a program to prevent my computer from upgrading, as Microsoft pushed Windows 10 so hard that it would automatically update your computer if you weren’t careful. This eventually resulted in a lawsuit that didn’t cost the company nearly enough money.

However, when I learned that Windows was phasing out Windows 7 and would stop supporting it in a couple years, I decided to try out Windows 10.

The problem with Windows 10 is that it appears to be catering to the tablet / smart phone crowd. Programs are now “apps”, and a bunch of bloatware garbage comes pre-installed on the computer. Some of this is Lenovo’s fault, but I think most of the stuff is Windows 10. They pepper you with notifications, add animated graphics in the start menu, encourage you to import contacts and share things, pre-install shit like “One Drive” and “Xbox” on to your computer, want you to sync up various accounts, etc. And then there is Cortana, a bullshit Siri like program that gets in your way and apparently tracks all your data. No thanks.

So I spent several hours figuring out how to get rid of most of this crap, some of which involved editing the registry of the computer and using the command prompt to uninstall otherwise uninstallable programs. After I did this I found that Windows 10 behaved similarly to Windows 7, and it let me use the basic programs I need to run my business (Microsoft office, email, photo editing software, etc.). Life goes on.

The problem is that Microsoft keeps “updating” Windows 10. I’m sure some of these fixes are improving the software. Making it faster, more stable, and fixing security issues. The problem is that with each passing update they re-install all the apps I uninstalled and re-activate Cortana. So I have to figure out how to remove all this stuff again, and it gets increasingly more difficult to do this as Microsoft tries harder to hide the ball.

As I type this article Microsoft is installing it’s “Creator’s Update”. I have no idea what that even means, but I am sure once the install is over I’ll have to go back and clean house again.

I just need a computer that runs basic programs for my business. I suppose if I really wanted to be a rebel I could buy a Mac (expensive), or install Linux (probably more hassle then it is worth to get it to work with my assistant’s computer and the rest of the world, especially given that I am not particularly savvy with computers). So I’ll stick with my Windows machine and use it to write passive aggressive blog posts about my angst with Windows 10.

An operating system should stay out of the way. It should allow you to run programs, store files, and search for things. It should not be the main event. I don’t want to be cajoled by Cortana or bombarded with a bunch of stupid notifications about things I don’t care about.

Also, computers should be getting faster and faster. In some ways they are, but it seems that the software gets more complicated in lockstep with the rise in technology, so the net effect is that computers are still comparatively slow. An extra 25% horsepower is great, but if it comes with an extra 25% in dead weight it doesn’t really do anything for you. The net result is that my Windows 10 machine is slower to boot up then my Windows 7 machine was. How’s that for progress?

I guess Microsoft is trying to turn your computer into a cell phone. A never ending circus of updates and notifications, designed to appeal to our dopamine addicted brains and keep us distracted. That way they can shill more software on you, preferably in the form of monthly recurring software as a service (SAAS). It makes sense, as I am sure it creates job security for the developers at Microsoft and profits for the shareholders, but it irks me to no end.

All I can say is that I don’t regret uninstalling email and social media applications from my phone. And I don’t regret uninstalling Cortana and all the other distracting garbage that comes with Windows 10. Keep on fighting the good fight.

First Quarter 2017 Update

Time flies, and here we are, already a couple weeks into the second quarter of 2017. This blog has seen little action this year, but that’s OK as it only means my attentions have been elsewhere.

I figured I would use this as an opportunity to write a little update.

Real Estate

Well, next to my day job, I’d say our new real estate acquisition has sucked up the most time in 2017. We ended up buying an ambitious rental property. Rather than an inexpensive bread and butter rental, we went high end and secured a piece of waterfront property. We found a deal “I couldn’t refuse” and the rest was history. Truth be told we expect to live in this house permanently at some point, but in the meantime we have to rent it. While I would not me opposed to placing a quality annual tenant, I’d prefer to leave the place fully furnished and do a vacation rental.

So January and February was a whirlwind of construction related activity. All free time was spent at the house fixing it up. March saw a couple vactioners, and we have a week in April rented, but not a whole lot of interest beyond that. I have redoubled our marketing efforts and will get someone in here one way or the other. The good news is that the house is beautiful and we have a wonderful product. It’s only a matter of getting it in front of the right potential tenants.

Suffice it to say that this has been a major project and a good reason why I haven’t blogged much in 2017.

Affiliate Websites

2016 ended strong for my affiliate marketing business and 2017 was off to a great start. I pulled in $4,000 for December, an all time high. January was real solid with close to $3k, in revenue, and it looked like my business was going to stay round $2,500 a month vs. the $2k/month the business averaged last year.

This was awesome, but then Amazon announced a change to their fee structure. The result is my commissions have been cut by about 40%. It sucks, but there is not much you can do. It underscores the problems with an affiliate business. The company you are being an affiliate for can cut your commissions or the program entirely.

The site still made the better part of $2k in March. I won’t complain. Adversity is part of the game. I enjoy the website and will continue to work on it, and continue to pay my writers to create more articles. But I want to try and diversify my sources of revenue.

Law Firm

2016 ended with me grossing a little less money for my law firm than I did in 2015 ($10k), but oddly enough my tax liability was about 10k less this year. So I made about the same amount of money. I won’t complain. 2016 was a tough year for my law firm in part because I had trouble finding good help. My latest paralegal has been with me for over 9 months now, and generally speaking she is doing a good job.

This is important because 2017 has started off with a flood of new cases. I have been raking in legal fees and only in the first couple weeks of April have things quieted down for a minute. That’s actually a good thing because between all the legal work and the new house I have been run ragged.

So I have been trying to catch my breath. And of course there are still plenty of cases to work on, even when the phone is not ringing off the hook.

Plus I have a couple trials coming up this summer. It looks like I will be trying at least 2 cases. I’ve done some small trials, contested hearings, etc. But these cases will be full day (or possibly 2 day) trials, which will be a big step for me.

I used to be nervous about the idea of having a trial, but after playing lawyer for 4 years I’m finally ready to do the dance. I think I am on the right side of both my cases, and have seen enough of this to get an idea as to what needs to be done. The execution will be stressful and difficult, but trial lawyers occasionally need to go to trial, so I am also excited about reaching this point in my career.

Personal

There are a couple comments I want to make on my personal / private life. First of all I have continued with largely abstaining from alcohol. I average about a drink or so a week. This is down from maybe 20 drinks a week. I feel better and think not drinking has helped my mood and mental health greatly.

I am continuing to read for pleasure in my spare time. I just finished Lonesome Dove last night, and I’m going to go ahead and say that this is the best piece of fiction I have read in a long while, and will probably be my favorite book of 2017. What an incredibly well written story. This raises the bar for fiction.

Although I have stopped drinking I have been enjoying a good number of cigars. Anywhere from 1-3 a week. Usually I have one or two over the weekend, but occasionally I’ll get a chance to leave the office early or otherwise enjoy one during the week. I like to read a book while smoking cigars. It’s just a nice way to relax, be outside, and spend some time. And I especially like to do this in Florida when the weather is still cool. I smoke cigars in the summer, and enjoy the heat, but it almost seems like a crime to not do this when the air is cool and the sun is shining. If I’m really lucky I get to do this at the beach.

Investing

I have continued to live frugally and invest most of my money. A big chunk went into this new house, but I have also invested thousands (tens of thousands?) into securities. My little portfolio recently cracked the 100k mark, and I am sitting on excess cash. I know there has been uncertainty in the market for a long time now, but I have to think that the shoe will drop and we will see some sort of correction in the not-so-distant future. For that reason I want to keep some cash on hand, but realize timing the market is a fools errand, and I continue to dollar cost average my way into the market and contribute to my retirement accounts and brokerage account through automated contributions.

Given the relatively high prices of real estate in my market, and the amount of work expended on my new rental house, I don’t think I’ll be buying any real estate for the time being, but I watch the market casually and won’t rule out the possibility of another acquisition. Especially if the price is right. But at this point I want to amass a large (to me) portfolio of securities.

Final Thoughts

OK – that is it for now. I have some ideas for some posts I want to write, and possibly a little free time coming up, so while this blog has been slow I don’t intend to abandon it completely.

A Couple Weeks Without Internet at Home

A lot has been going on as 2016 has turned over to 2017. The biggest news is the purchase of a new house. It is a fixer-upper, and a lot of fixing has occurred since closing at the end of the year. That has been taking up most of my disposable time.

But another interesting thing happened. One of my Christmas gifts to my significant other is that I was going to pay for the internet. She was tired of having to negotiate with the cable company, so I told her to cancel the service and I’d set it up and pay the bill. I thought it would be relatively seamless, but it was a process that included 2 weeks of no internet at the house.

In a way I was looking forward to the downtime. The internet is great, but it’s also a huge time suck. I know I waste a lot of time trolling blogs, forums, and YouTube. Plus there is the ever present work email to drive me nuts and waste time. I figured that cutting the cord would equate to more reading and writing. I also thought I would leave the house earlier since I wouldn’t spend time in the morning screwing around on the internet.

I was sort of right. I did have a few productive evenings working on articles for my affiliate website, and work product for my law firm. It wasn’t the renaissance I would have hoped for, but I did a fair amount of both reading and writing.

Oddly enough I got to the office at the same time (or later) than I usually would. Instead of browsing the web I read magazines over coffee. I guess people still found ways to waste time before the internet. Go figure.

It was an interesting little experiment, but I’m glad to have the internet back. I do enjoy a number of blogs, and my online business suffered a microscopic amount. Being able to answer work emails after hours means I won’t spend as much time at the office chipping away at email. Presumably that means I’ll be more productive. Who knows.

Still, if I had to do this again I would. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Life goes on without internet at home. It’s a necessary evil for work, a great resource for the disciplined and intellectually curious, but mostly a waste of time.

December 2016 Update

It has been well over a month since my last post. Ouch. It sounds like someone has fallen off the wagon. Truth be told, while I haven’t contributed to this blog as much as I would like, I’ve been plenty busy with my other businesses. Interesting things have been happening, and 2016 is racing towards a close. That means the blog will be turning 1 year old soon, and I need to do some reflection on the year and this blog itself. Largely I consider the blog a big success in terms of it’s ability to motivate me and chronicle some of my financial musings. Anyhow, I’ll keep that for another post. Lets talk turkey, and see what has been taking up my time since I obviously haven’t been writing for this website:

Real Estate Investing

Perhaps the biggest piece of news is that I am closing on a house at the end of the month. I started to write about it here, but quickly realized that this transaction merits a post of its own (or several). We close at the end of the month so I’ll publish something when that happens and re-cap the entire transaction.

I will say it’s a pretty sweet house. I’m excited.

My current tenant in my condo is doing great. She is renewing her lease for another year which is excellent. I bumped the rent up by 2.5% to account for higher property taxes and inflation. This is a great tenant so I did not want to raise the rent much. As my first annual tenant, I am very happy with our arrangement.

Law Firm

My law practice had a choppy start to 2016. I struggled to replace my part time assistant who left for full time employment. I hired and then fired someone, and then searched for a good month for a new paralegal. During that month+ search I handled all of my own paralegal work (a good 20 hour a week job for someone). The person I ended up hiring was basically totally inexperienced with the kind of law I do, and it required ground up training.

This assistant has worked out, and she has come a long way since I hired her. However, she still has a long way to go. There is no replacement for experience. Still, I am thankful for my paralegal. She is doing a great job, and has taken a lot off my plate. I am slowly training her on more nuanced areas. Any frustrations I have say more about me then about her.

I had my accountant do the books after the 3rd quarter. I knew business was down slightly from last year, and sure enough the books revealed I was down about 7%. I attribute that to a few things:

  1. More competition outside of the office;
  2. More competition inside the office;
  3. Me getting more selective with cases;
  4. Me slacking on marketing.

To be honest I was OK with the slight decline in business. I was dealing with staffing issues, and I felt better about the cases I was working on. Despite the struggles with the business, I was growing more comfortable with the practice of law. Over this past year I have grown more comfortable with what I am doing. I feel better about civil litigation. I feel like things are starting to click a little more, and I’m beginning to have some fun. Sure, it’s still stressful, and there are cases and clients that raise my blood pressure, but I feel better, and am optimistic about the future.

It has me thinking differently about financial independence. It’s probably the subject for another post, but I am starting to think I may be able to develop this into a lifestyle business that I’ll really enjoy. I think not drinking as much has been helpful with my attitude. Having decent staff helps too.

Also, business has been strong over this past quarter. Historically December is a slow month. Things are finally starting to slow down, but I’ve taken on great cases in November and December. It feels like I am finishing the year strong. I’ll be curious to see the year end numbers, and I’m ready to march into 2017.

Affiliate Marketing Business

My affiliate website has been on a roller coaster ride over this past quarter. Traffic was going up, then going down, then back up, then the election marked a couple of the least profitable weeks I have had in a long long time. Now traffic is roaring and the site is having a fantastic December. December has always been a strong month, as I’m essentially in retail and this is the best time of the year to be in retail. I’m averaging $100/day on Amazon this month, which is a benchmark I have wanted to reach for years now.

Of course things will die off after Christmas, but after a year of stagnation (despite pouring thousands of dollars into the site in the form of buying free-lance content), I think the tide has finally changed. I expect traffic to continue to remain strong, although historically it does drop off after the holidays. Google finally released another Penguin update in October, and the site immediately responded favorably to that update.

Needless to say but I’d love to see my affiliate site live up to its potential. I have put a ton time into it, and have really developed it into a quality resource. I’ve gotten a ton of great feedback from people this year, and it feels like I’m gaining ground. I have also put a lot of my free time into the affiliate site. I partially blame that for the lack of updates here (although lets be real, it’s all on me).

Final Thoughts

OK – I think that is enough for now. I have been reading a lot, and thinking a lot, and working a lot on these other projects. I’d like to crystallize some of these thoughts into blog posts that are more than just updates of my little businesses. I’d like to push to make the content here more ambitious and valuable. As always I am in flux. No one is perfect, and I’m a flawed person for sure. But I generally feel pretty positive about things now, and look forward to pushing forward. I enjoy writing for this site, and feel that although the website hasn’t gained much traction this whole website has been hugely cathartic for me. The goal setting alone has been invaluable. I definitely want to devote more time to it.

How Does the Middle Class Get Ahead?

I am not going to get all political on this blog, but like many Americans I have been watching the 2016 Presidential debates, and it seems that one of the recurring topics is the economy. Both candidates have plans to grow the economy, but Hillary Clinton keeps talking about how we need to help the middle class grow and “get ahead”. As I sit here and watch that I cant help but ask myself, “How the hell do they plan on doing that?” I ask that question about both sides, but in the context of this article I’m going to discuss how I personally would suggest someone in the middle or lower class try to get ahead.

This may be painful and somewhat naive of me, but I do think it is possible to get ahead, and I don’t necessarily think that social programs or providing free educations for everyone to do this. That said, as a white male born in American, the son of an educated family with an above average income, I realize that I came into this world with a silver spoon in hand, and some might argue my mouth. I’ve one the genetic lottery, and won the parental lottery. While I haven’t “made it” yet, I also have the benefit of some hindsight at this point as well. Those caveats aside here is what I might suggest to try and get ahead.

Do the Opposite of What Most People Do

We have been programmed to buy things we don’t need. To wantonly consume. The idea is we want something bigger, something shinier, something better than our peers. Many are focused on the pursuit of the mere trappings of wealth, and not real wealth itself. They want the big house and the shiny car. Or at least they think they do. There is an argument that this is how we are wired as animals.

My advice would be to do the opposite. If TV tells you to buy, don’t buy. Better yet, don’t watch TV. If everyone thinks it is cool to drink, don’t drink. Avoid crowds and lines. That’s a ticket straight to the lowest common denominator.

Earn more than you spend, and save money. Easier said than done for many people, but for many this is ultimately a choice.

Add Good Habits, Subtract Bad Habits

I have been experimenting with habits. So far some have stuck (cut back on my drinking drastically, read daily). Some haven’t (exercise in the morning, write daily for this blog). That’s OK. As long as I am adding good habits and working on subtracting had habits I think in the long term that will help me get ahead.

Typical habits to add could include more exercise, reading, meditation, or spending time outside. Habits to subtract could be less tv, less social media, less drinking, etc.

Set Goals in Writing

People always talk about the importance of goals. I never really set goals in writing. In the start of 2016, when I started this blog, I decided to write down some goals. That has been helpful. I think I have thought about them more consciously throughout the year. I think when I look back on these goals at the end of 2016 / start of 2017, I’ll be able to say I met some of these.

It has been a helpful practice and I would suggest doing this. A blog is a great format to do this, but you don’t need a blog. You could write them on a word file, or a piece of loose leaf paper, or even a forum. Just keep them somewhere you can revisit them.

Pay Yourself First

Charlie Munger suggests this. I think it’s a great idea. Make sure you pay yourself. At first I was literally paying myself by investing in mutual funds, paying down debt, etc. I think this is great.

But now that I have been doing this for a while and have my finances on auto-pilot, I have been trying to set aside at least half an hour a day to work on a project for myself. Lately that has been my affiliate Website, or working on buying real estate. Ideally I want to invest my time in something that scales or compounds. Rather than work an extra hour for the man or something. Not that making more money can’t compound. I’d like to try to grow my more “passive” income, rather than my “time for money” income, although lets be honest – I want to grow both.

Still, positive passive cashflow equals freedom. There is nothing as satisfying as cashing a rent check, or watching an affiliate commission hit my bank account. Dividends are great too. Pay yourself first. It has been addicting to watch these numbers slowly grow.

Develop Resilience

Life is a battle. Most days in my line of work it feels like me against the universe. Everyone and every thing is pulling me in different directions. Trying to distract me. Trying to stand in my way. Trying to keep me from getting things done. It’s the most brutal sport. You have to roll with the punches. You can’t take it personally. You can’t allow yourself to be defined by your failures either. I

refuse to do that. I choose to be defined by my success. I think resilience is important. Everyone gets their cage rattled. It’s how you respond that defines you.

Develop Soft Skills

Develop skills like being able to communicate effectively. Read a lot. Write. Try to sell something. Practice the art of persuasion. Lead people. These aren’t the kinds of skills they will teach you at school, but these are critical for both the day to day transactions of life, and for generating value where others cannot. If you can’t negotiate let alone communicate effectively with people, how do you really expect to get ahead in life? I suppose you can be some sort of idiot savant, but most of these people come off as assholes anyways. Emotional intelligence can go a long way.

Final Thoughts

When I think about the average middle class American the word “over-extended” comes to mind. Their finances are over extended. Their waistlines are over extended. Their attention span is over extended. Yes the flailing middle class is like some sort of mystery. Find a foothold and then build some momentum. Stay hungry and lean. Only dead fish swim with the current.

And a lot of what I am talking about here is the same stuff I am talking about throughout the entire blog. If you want to see the middle class get ahead, follow what I am doing. I literally am the middle class getting ahead. My parents were successful, but it’s not like I grew up in the Taj Mahal. I wasn’t loaned $15 million dollars like Donald Trump. I started out $125k in the hole 4 years ago and now I’m well into the black. I still have a long way to go, but this shit works.

On Fulfillment

Continuing in the trend of answering questions posed on the MMM Forums on this blog. The following question was asked: http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/how-did-you-come-to-feel-satiated-with-less/

Basically, the question is “How do you feel satisfied with less?”. Whether that is money, possessions, food, or verbal praise. For purposes of this discussion I’ll mostly stick with money and personal possessions.

I think a lot of this stems from your psychology and perhaps upbringing. I am sure there are other factors like social factors. Mental illness could cloud this as well. Some people are obsessive compulsive. Others have addictions to drugs, sex, or power.

But if the question is how does a normal person get along with less stuff? Then I think it is likely the same answer as how does someone stay in shape, or avoid certain self destructive habits. It’s about discipline. But more importantly, it’s about wanting. People do things because they want to. Every day we make choices whether we are conscious of them or not. It may be as simple as picking out what color shirt you are going to wear, or it could be a complicated decision like buying a piece of real estate, getting married, going to school, etc.

The choices we make all go back to our wants.

No one buys a Big Mac, fries, and a 32 ounce soda for lunch because they need one. They want one. They make that decision. Same with cheating on their spouse, or skipping the gym, or giving the guy that cut you off on the way to work the middle finger. These are all choices.

So how doe we become satisfied with less stuff? We want less stuff because we want something else more. Maybe that is simplicity, peace, freedom, financial security. It’s like wanting 6-pack abs more than another slice of leftover birthday cake in the office fridge.

In fact I think approaching this entire subject from a position of scarcity is the wrong way to go. Instead, I think it should be a focus on what you are really trying to do. What you really want. In the context of this question it is reaching financial independence by saving money and not frittering it away on useless crap. So it’s not about getting used to wanting less stuff, it’s about getting used to wanting more independence. It’s a re-allocation.

And it’s not necessarily a zero sum game. I think part of this is about having a healthy respect for money, and that it can be used as a tool to better your life by purchasing goods, services, and experiences. But it can also provide lasting security if you save and invest enough of it.

I’m not a shrink so if this is something you struggle with I can’t provide mental health advice. Certainly I’ve spent a lot of time trying to analyze myself and my own whacky situation. I think it all boils down to priorities. In that you may find peace.

I’m as guilty as the next person of wanting to buy things. For example, I have been ogling a Rolex watch for years now. Recently the temptation to buy one was really strong. I was checking them out daily. But over time that has slipped and faded away. I realized that I cant justify the $6,000-8,000 expense for a watch right now. I want a Rolex, but at the end of the day, there are other things that I want more right now. I want to invest that money. At some point, I’ll have enough money to where if I still want the Rolex I can buy it, but it makes no sense for me to spend that kind of money now. So it’s not about getting used to less. It’s about getting your priorities together and figuring out what you want more.

October Update

Time has flown and this blog has gathered some dust. I have been working on some other projects namely my affiliate site. My freelance writers haven’t been producing many articles, so I’ve stepped up to the plate. It has been fun to churn out the content. I mostly write product reviews, and it feels good to hit publish, knowing that each article is planting a seed that will result in more income. The Google gods have been fickle to my affiliate website. They always have, but in the past few months I saw traffic climb, only to plummet after a new algorithm update. In the past couple weeks traffic appears to have been coming back. Knock on wood. I won’t hold my breath, but I have invested so much time and energy into that site. It’s really a labor of love. It would be great to see it gain more traction and really take off.

I have also been spending a lot of time looking at real estate. I have been trying to study the market, and I even made an offer the other week. The offer was rejected without a counter, so it’s back to the MLS to hunt for more deals. I have been giving real estate a great deal of thought now that I have a little capital to invest. I was originally trying to buy based on pure cash flow, but I’m not sure that will work well. At any rate, I just need to buy something. You don’t learn anything sitting on the sidelines. I’ve been making a few moves and plan on making more.

So stuff has been going on, and I have a few draft posts that need to be polished up, but I wanted to put in an update.

I have been spending a lot of time with Personal Capital and reviewing my income and spending to date. I have found this to be helpful. So helpful, that I created a second account for my law firm’s accounts. This way I can get some more “on the fly” metrics and build some historical data. I think tracking expenses and income has been interesting and important as I try to get my personal financial life together, but I have foolishly not applied that to my law firm’s financials. Instead, I have been flying by the seat of my pants. I sent all my books to my bookkeeper this past week, so I should get some sort of idea from them, but Personal Capital seems like a great way to monitor things in real time and identify leaks in my business.

I have used Mint for almost 2 years now, and Personal Capital for about a year (for my personal accounts). Both programs are good, but for whatever reason I have been gravitating towards Personal Capital.

The stock market has been acting strangely. I am guessing the uncertainty with the election has something to do with it, but for whatever reason we appear to be treading water. I don’t know enough about this to make an educated comment so I’ll just leave it at that. I sense some hesitation in the local real estate market, but not enough to make it a buyers market. I am still investing monthly in my IRAs and brokerage account, and am slowly accumulating cash.

Things have been going OK with my law firm. I am right at my 4 year anniversary. Hard to believe this time next year I’ll have been practicing law for 5 years. I feel like monetarily I have done as well as I wanted to with my firm this year. I have been paying myself a relatively small salary, and chucking ~$1,000/month into a SEP IRA. I’m paying the bills, but it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot left over. But I just made my last quarterly tax payment of the year, and a big insurance payment, so any cash I earn from here on out should be mostly gravy – unless I make more money and have to pay the IRS.

Things all seem to be more or less on auto pilot in my law practice. I have a few thorny cases, but most seem relatively routine. Each week I show up at the office, and legal problems somehow find their way to me, and I manage to get paid to solve some of them. There is an insane amount of stimulus between email, the phone, my employee, people in the office, and all the other things I do (networking related). Plus there is the actual practice of law. It’s a crush of stuff. I feel like most of my day is spent running around in circles. I have been working on the weekends to try to stay on top of things and get ready for the week.

Beyond that, I am still going strong with my limited drinking. I have been averaging a drink a week. I feel OK. The biggest impact has been on my wallet, although I think I look a little better. The changes, if any, have been subtle.

Things are beginning to cool off here a little in South Florida. It has gone from “hot as hell” to simply “hot”. Over the next few weeks lets hope it gets to “cool”. That would be a nice change of pace.

Is it Mostly About the Money, or Philosophy and Environment?

I am a member of the MrMoneyMustache Forums. I don’t post much, and try not to read it too much. It’s something of a guilty pleasure. The threads with people asking for legal advice always get me going, but I guess that’s to be expected.

I used to be big into forums back in the day. They still have their place, but I found them to be a gigantic time suck, plus I don’t care for the anonymity, group think, and status “hierarchy” of many forums. They can be a great place to find entertainment, ask questions, learn about a subject, or buy and sell things, but they can also be one big pissing match. These days I prefer blogs because the people that maintain blogs typically put more thought and care into their work product, and there is a greater measure of accountability. So I try not to screw around on forums too much. But I digress.

Whilst trolling the MMM Forums I found this interesting post.

Ultimately, the question here is, “Why practice frugality?” Is it solely means to financial independence, or is there some deeper philosophical or social reason for doing this?

MMM has stated that part of his philosophy is reducing impact on the environment. Others may choose to be frugal for reasons like practicing minimalism, stoicism, vegetarianism, or some other “ism” that I’m not attuned to. If I was handed $10 million tomorrow, would I still cook all my own food, mow my own lawn, drive a Honda, and agonize over every dollar spent?

It’s an interesting question and I thought I might hazard an answer here on the blog.

If I Won $10,000,000.00…

If I won $10M, the first thing I would do is take a break. I would not make any major financial decisions immediately. I am sure after 6 months or a year of reflection, especially in the cocoon of complete and utter financial freedom, my perspective will have changed.

But for arguments sake, I would probably buy a nice house on the water here in Florida. Thankfully, I’m in the part of the country that I like. You can do a lot worse than Southwest Florida.

Lets say I budget $2M or less. That will get you a pretty extravagant place. I wouldn’t need anything big, but would be paying a premium for the location. A nice waterfront lot here will set you back anywhere from $500k-1M+. Hell, maybe I’d build something if money was no option. I like the peace and serenity of the water. I think a property like that would provide value to me mentally.

I would also consider a summer house up north (which I would spend no where near $2M on), and then bank the difference. Say I spent a total of $3M on real estate. That would leave me with $7M. I’d invest the bulk of that $7M in a mix of stocks and bonds (index funds – similar to what I am currently doing) and live off the portfolio. Based on a 4% withdrawal rate that would leave me with around $300K a year gross, which is an absolute shit ton of money. I’d be set for life many times over.

I’d likely quick practicing law. Really it would make no sense financially. My investments would make as much or more money for me than practicing law. Plus practicing law is exchanging time for money. I would already have the money so I’d prefer to keep my time. But that doesn’t mean I would stop working.

I’d like to think I would do a lot of reading, writing, spending time outside, and working on some sort of business. Maybe I would be developing my online business further. Whatever I do, I think it is important to create things, versus to simply consume things. The world belongs to those who ship. I think if I were to turn totally to consumption, and not create something, then I would die a slow death. For me I would probably write. Maybe I would spend some time to do more video, a hobby I enjoyed when I had more free time. I would like to also build something physical. A physical product or develop a more physical skill.

I would probably also do some real estate investing. Maybe buy an apartment complex or some commercial real estate. I’d also like to do some slow travel. The kind of travel where you pack up and fly somewhere, race around to see as much as you can, high the highlights, and then fly home never really appealed to me. I’m doing it now because I run my own business and can’t take the time away. But if I was financially independent I’d take the time to really get to know a place.

I’d very likely spend more than the 20-30k a year I am currently spending. First of all my housing costs would be much higher. I’d probably eat more red meat and seafood than I am currently eating. I’d spend some dough on furniture to go into the house. I don’t think an Italian sports car, bottle service at “tha club”, and flashy jewelry would be on my horizon, but I’d probably buy that Rolex I have always wanted. I am sure there are a few other “nice things” that I wouldn’t turn down. Still, I wouldn’t piss money away.

Basically, this would be my like my current vision for financial independence, yet scaled up slightly on the real estate front. I’d have a nicer house, a place to stay when it gets hot as hell here in Florida, and maybe travel a little more exotically.

Why I Really Do This

My main goal is financial freedom. The ability to tell everyone to fuck right on off. Growing up I never cared for school. I am reasonably intelligent and was able to get buy without too much brown nosing or hard work in high school. In college, I more or less got my ass handed to me in pre-med. If I didn’t transfer to business school, my grades would have been an embarrassment, and I would have never gotten into a decent graduate school. In law school I straightened myself out a little, buckled down, and ground it out for 3 years. I walked away with a B average. But I never enjoyed any of that. I like learning things, but becoming a professional test taker was never my bag.

I never particularly enjoyed working for other people either, and was always relatively lazy in all my jobs. Self employment turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it motivated me in ways going to school or working for others never had. So my main goal in “practicing frugality” is to achieve independence and not have to answer anyone. I enjoy practicing law, but I can see that this is a hard field. Especially divorce law and civil litigation. It’s a grind and big game of Tetris. If you don’t stay on top of things the pieces will come flying down on your head. I have already seen people have nervous breakdowns and become alcoholics. This profession is high stress and high pressure. Self employment and the business of exchanging time for money is tough, and I don’t want to have to do that for 30+ years. If I reach financial independence and want to continue to practice law, then that’s great. But I want to be able to walk away if I want to, or be able to practice on my terms.

I also like frugality. It has simplified my life. It has shown me that there is another path to building wealth that doesn’t require that I make $500,000 a year. It has shown me a different way to view the world. I view the trappings of wealth much differently now than I did even a few years ago. I call it the “practice” of frugality, because I view it as a practice. I haven’t mastered this discipline. I work at it, and am tested by it every day. I have managed to embrace it over the past couple years, but I am still a material girl in a material world. I could always spend less money, I still like nice things, and I still have the desire to spend and consume. Thankfully I’ve been able to stick with saving more than I earn. I am saving now so I can have options later. I think it is especially important to save now because I have few needs as a single 31 year old man, and time is on my side. If I can continue to live like a student now, I can live like a king later.

Also, I readily acknowledge that I have an ego. I want the power that being financially independent brings. That is the ultimate rip cord. I am hot headed, impulsive, and insecure. I have to remind myself on a daily basis not to compare myself with others. To focus on the path head. We are all on the same road, just at different points in the journey. I need to put one foot in front of the other.

The environment, and being frugal for the sake of being frugal, aren’t primary motivators. I do care about the environment. I try not to waste things unnecessarily. But I’d be a liar if I said that is why I am doing what I am doing. I think that the practice of frugality has taught me lessons. And I hope that I don’t lose sight of those lessons as my net worth and income grow. While I readily acknowledge that I am not a frugal monk, and have material desires, I also don’t want to pursue money just for the sake of spending it.

Money can’t buy happiness. I just read Mike Tyson’s autobiography (excellent, but you have to have thick skin as 90% of the book is a drug and prostitute infused train wreck). That man squandered every last sent of his $300M in boxing earnings, and he was miserable throughout the entire process. Money is a tool. It can make life easier, or vastly difficult. You have to work on your mindset and your approach to money. I think it has to be holistic and genuine. Otherwise it slips through your fingers like it does for so many professional athletes, lottery winners, and most normal people caught up in the rat race.

I think of this like guys at the gym. Some guys just go to the gym so they can look better for girls. They focus on their chest, abs, and biceps. All they do are isolation exercises focusing on those 3 muscle groups. But the truth is, to truly develop yourself in the gym you have to work out your entire body. You have to do the core exercises: squats, deadlifts, and leg presses. If you ignore your legs and back, your two biggest muscle groups, you will never reap the true benefits of weight training. You will be underdeveloped. You may eventually get that six pack, but you will never become a fully developed athlete by just doing curls and crunches.

The same philosophy applies to money and wealth. Some people want to appear wealthy, so they buy a nice house, lease a foreign car, spend money on designer clothes, go on exotic vacations, and eat out all the time at trendy restaurants… and post it all on Instagram. They have the illusion of wealth. They have a nice “lifestyle” for as long as they can continue to earn a living to meet the payments on these things, but they have no real financial foundation. It’s an illusion propped up by debt and monthly payments. As Robert Platt Bell says, they have the “trappings of wealth” but no true wealth.

I am here to develop true wealth. That way I can create options for myself and my family. At the end of the day, to me the practice of frugality and the pursuit of financial independence is all about creating options. That is why I am doing what I am doing.

Weekend Update

It has been a few weeks since I last posted on this blog. The nice thing about having an audience of 3 random strangers from google a week, is that no one cares. Still, it has been too long since I last put pen to paper so here are some happenings.

The short answer is that business has been good with both my law firm and my main affiliate website, and my time has been spent there.

Law Firm Update

I have had the nagging feeling all year that my firm has been moving slow. That I haven’t had the case load or made the money this year that I had last year. I have managed to stay busy and pay the bills, but it felt like my bank account was getting slowly eroded and I had concerns about making the quarterly tax payment that I needed to make in September. Well, it turns out I hit a run of nice cases and have been drowning in work. Lots of good stuff to work on, and a healthy amount of stress to go with it.

By and large we have been able to process these new cases. There are always a couple “thorn in my side” cases that are a little strange or require some extra effort I’m not entirely familiar with. Doing things like hunting down witnesses who signed an out of state will 20 years ago, or dealing with difficult clients and lawyers on the other side of a dispute. That is part of the game. Thankfully I have also brought in some good “bread and butter” work. Routine cases that I know have a beginning middle and end. These kinds of cases are the lifeblood, and because I have them somewhat systematized, I can have my assistant help with a lot of the drudgery. These aren’t the most intellectually stimulating cases, but they pay the bills.

Regardless I am happy to see money flow into my bank account and promptly flow out to my landlord, process servers, the clerk of court, my employee, the IRS, Comcast, various software companies, legal research, etc. etc. etc… thankfully some of that money will flow towards me as well. I will live and die another day.

I am thankful because my new hire seems to be working out. She is actually handling things with surprising efficiency and low levels of drama. I am pleased to have hired a younger person this time around. There are a lot of positives compared with my former assistants. The only negative is that she lacks experience and I need to provide more guidance as I teach her how to do some things. But the pros outweigh the cons and it’s great to have my staffing issue resolved for the time being. That was a major hurdle for the first half of 2016.

Affiliate Site Update

I have been shoveling content (and $100 bills) into my main affiliate site all year. We have managed to post one article a week, which was something I previously was not able to do. I’d average maybe 1-2 posts a months previously depending on how ambitious I was feeling. Now we have had regular posts, and have sort of built up a following this way. But the somewhat odd thing is that blog traffic was in a slow decline from December 2016. Naturally, when you have a website centered around physical products like I do the holidays will be your best traffic and earning opportunities, but given the relatively massive amount of content I had been adding I found it a little disconcerting to see my numbers continue to slip.

Well I finally saw an inflection point, and traffic seems to be rising again. That’s always nice to see. Especially late in the summer when traffic is at a seasonal low. I am thinking that all those extra posts are finally gaining traction. Each “seed” is growing into a small plant and starting to bear some fruit. It was exciting to see week over week things build, and August ended up being a great month for the site in terms of traffic and earnings. Of course this week we seem to have hit a slump, so who the hell really knows. I’ll just keep my head down, the content coming in regularly, and hope for a nice holiday season. This formula *should* work in the long run. The Google gods are finicky at times, but when your formula is consistency and quality, I know that in the long term this will be a lucrative play.

Investing and Personal Finance

My student loans have been paid in full for a few months now, and I am continuing to slowly build my balance sheet by adding money to my various brokerage accounts (my Roth IRA, SEP IRA, and regular brokerage account). I am also accumulating a little cash as I am not sweeping all of my excess cashflow into a brokerage account. I may end put diverting these funds to a brokerage account, but I am also considering buying an income producing website, or perhaps a piece of real estate if a good enough deal comes along.

The problem with real estate is that my local market has gotten quite hot and nothing really resonates with me from a cashflow perspective, or I’m simply priced out. I’ll continue to save my shekels and keep an eye on things. I am not in a huge hurry. I just got out of debt and am finally adding a few dollar signs next to my name. While I want to make more investments in real estate, I’m not going to do it just for the hell of it – especially in a frothy market. The time to buy real estate was 3-5 years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t have the cash and was wallowing in debt. I need to crystalize my strategy and find the right deal.

Personal

It seems like I am posting more updates here and less actionable content. The truth is I have been burning the candle at both ends. I have a few ideas for blog posts and want to flesh them out further, but have been involved in other things.

I have been reading and watching a lot of sports programming. I am not a big football guy, but really enjoyed HBO’s Hardknocks series. I also watched Netflix’s series on the Arizona Cardinals and am currently reading Mike Tyson’s biography. The psychology around professional sports is fascinating. Although the players and teams have immense physical talent, the mental aspect plays an even bigger role. It’s quite cool to see that, and to see how closely the trainers work on the mental side. It goes to show that we are almost always our own worst enemies. The obstacles we face are mental. I see practicing law being no different from professional sports. It’s a battle either way. We are paid to perform and to make plays. We are warriors in our own ways. Law is the ultimate game and trial is combat. I think a lot can be learned from how professional sports teams train and prepare for their games.

One small example is to put mistakes behind you. If you fuck up a football play, you have to be able to move on to the next play. To put that mistake behind you. You can’t allow yourself to be defined by your failures. Well, you can, but it will only serve to haunt you and bring you down. Instead, you have to learn to be defined by your success. We must learn from mistakes, otherwise we will be destined to repeat them, but to succeed you cannot allow yourself to be defined by your mistakes. Your mistakes can’t become your identity. You have to change that framework and be able to move on, and define yourself by how you have succeeded. So often the volume of our success wildly outstrips our failures, yet it is those handful of failures that we really cling to. It’s OK to learn from mistakes, but don’t be paralyzed. It’s just cool to see that in the context of sports and how that can be applied to real life. There are a lot of little parallels like this that I see in these TV programs.