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.

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.

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.

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.

Mid Year Resolution – Limit Drinking

Writing down my goals and resolutions for 2016 has actually been an interesting exercise. People say it’s important to do this, so I figured I would give it a shot. So far I don’t regret the decision.

One of my goals was actually to only drink “3 beers a week”. Well, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking setting that goal because, (A) I don’t remember even setting it, and (B) I quickly got into the habit of drinking 2 beers a night 5 days a week. Throw in some hard liquor at least one night a week and the occasional bottle of wine, and I was pretty well rounded on the drinking front.

But that doesn’t surprise me because I’ve always been very well rounded on the drinking front. In high school I engaged in my fair share of binge drinking. Clandestine parties fueled by vacant houses, fake id’s, and high school theatrics. Since the legal drinking age is 21, it was fun and exciting to drink at 16. In college I drank massive quantities of liquor and beer. I was on my own in New Orleans, a city known for its good times, and I definitely had some great times. Although I became “of age” somewhere in the middle of college, the novelty of going out and drinking did not wear off. If anything, it intensified in my last semester. I was living with a group of German foreign exchange students. I became their unofficial ambassador and we took the city by storm. It was an epic time and one of my most memorable experiences in college. We had a blast, although I freely admit that was a time of unbridled debauchery.

In law school I got into the habit of pounding a fifth of cheap bourbon every 2 or 3 days as part of my “exam prep”. I would study from 7pm-midnight, and then drink bourbon on the rocks until 2AM. I’d wake up at 10am in time for my 11AM class. If I wasn’t rolling into class with a hangover something was wrong. In retrospect that was pretty sad, but law school was pretty sad. I was trying to jump through the hoops on the strength of my understanding that a law degree could create a better life for my future self. I was deeply confused about what I wanted to do or where I was going.

I didn’t feel like a man. School felt like an exercise in emasculation. I was reliant on the government as my education was funded by student loans, and I relied on my family. Also I didn’t care for most of the people I met at law school. When I got my internship at a big law firm, I realized I didn’t particularly care of the practice of law at a big law firm. Frankly that was a horrible realization. I hitched my wagon to the law school train because it seemed like the best opportunity at the time given my credentials and mindset. I had little confidence, I was depressed, and I self medicated.

As I settled into adult life and launched my career I found I was drinking less. Maybe one or 2 beers 3 nights a week during the week, and then I might get into it a little further on the weekends. I wasn’t going out to bars, since I met my significant other at this point, and I wasn’t binge drinking as often, but I still drank too much. And as this year wore on I found myself drinking more and more. This has been an exhausting year as I tried to get my staffing issues sorted out and my head on straight. I would get home at 7 or 8 and reflexively open the fridge and down a couple beers before I started to feel comfortably numb. Swimming in the mornings would provide some clarity, but that practice slowly slipped off the map. I also got fatter and fatter.

I went on a trip to visit a good friend in July. We both have a “thirst” and our trip included a fair amount of drinking (although honestly it could have been a lost worse). My buddy was telling me about how he had taken some time off from drinking and that he experienced some health benefits from it. His weight dropped, and his mind expanded. He felt better. That all makes sense. It doesn’t take a M.D. to realize that drinking can have ill effects, including weight gain, wear and tear on your liver, dehydration, poor sleep, and messing with your testosterone. Plus you are pretty useless once you are impaired. Even after a couple beers I have a hard time reading or writing anything. At that point we switch from producers to consumers.

Alcohol is also expensive, and it made up a significant portion of my grocery budget. A 12 pack of decent beers a week sets you back the better part of $20. If you go down the craft beer rabbit hole, a rabbit hole I have been known to explore quite thoroughly, you can easily blow tons of cash. Plus I have a penchant for quality bourbon, gin, vodka, rum, and tequila. I wasn’t blowing $50 a night at the bar, but I probably still spent $75-$100 a month on alcohol. That is about $1,000 a year. Even if you are making $100k a year, that’s still a full percentage point of your gross income going directly to alcohol. A decidedly un-frugal move for someone espousing the benefits of frugality, trying to reach Financial Independence, and saving at least 50% of his income. There are ways to mitigate this, cheap liquor and beer, but that’s just treating the symptoms and ignoring the root cause of a problem. The real solution is to cut back.

The trip made a big impression on me. Not only was it a tremendous trip, I remember what my buddy said about the drinking. I could feel the ill effects of all the extra drinking and restaurant food after the trip, so I decided to dial back the alcohol significantly. I have been averaging 1 beer a week for the past 6 weeks, and it has been good for me (surprise surprise). My face looks less puffy and I think I have lost some fat. I feel “OK” – probably better than if I was drinking, although I obviously enjoy drinking a great deal. I think I am sleeping better. Certainly I am spending a lot less money on alcohol. I actually haven’t spent any money on alcohol since I got back from my trip in July. I still have some beer left over in the fridge, plenty of liquor in the pantry, and at this pace it looks like I won’t need to buy anything for a while.

This isn’t the first time I have taken time away from the sauce. After college I took 9 months off to work before starting law school. In that period of time I moved back into my parent’s house, switched to a ketogenic diet, and hit the weights religiously. I got into the best shape of my life. I would still enjoy some drinks at happy hour on Fridays after work, but beyond that I kept a strict diet and cut out alcohol. I fell back into drinking once I returned school.

By some standards I would be considered an alcoholic. I have never felt that way because I always considered alcoholism to be an addiction to alcohol. I have met alcoholics, and they literally cannot stop drinking. Thankfully I have never had an addictive personality, and have managed to quit things cold turkey in the past. This sounds an awful lot like denial.

Anyhow, I am glad that I have cut back on the drinking. Now that I type all of this out I realize that it serves no real purpose and hurts your budget and health. I still appreciate the craft of creating and enjoying high quality beer and liquor, but I need to take a step back and dry out. I need to run this experiment longer.

My goal here is to limit myself to 1 drink a week. Maybe that is a beer with dinner on Friday or Saturday night, or a drink if I’m at a social event. If I get invited to a party, or have 3 beers one night or something I don’t want to feel like I fucked myself, but the general goal is one drink a week. Oddly enough that has worked out well. I don’t feel deprived of anything. It hasn’t been bad not drinking.

What I really want to avoid drinking in response to stress, and to avoid habitually drinking – especially during the week in response to stress. I most feel like having a drink after getting through a brutal Tuesday, or something along those lines. Being self employed generates a fair amount of stress, especially when you are self employed and handling divorces and litigation matters for a living. It’s like piling stress on top of stress. You have the swings of entrepreneurship, and the swings of trial law. Add my fragile personality into the mix and this has been a true exercise in self development. No wonder I want to reach financial independence so badly.

Stress is part of life and the grass is always greener. Those that work for themselves occasionally want the safety of a paycheck and freedom from managing overhead. Those that work for others occasionally want the freedom and autonomy of their own business. And our attitudes swing depending on what day it is. That’s life. I’d like to avoid drinking in response to stress and exhaustion, and so far have done a decent job. Oddly enough I haven’t felt a strong compulsion to drink on the weekends. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol this Friday or Saturday night, despite telling myself it is perfectly OK to have a beer if I wanted one. I haven’t wanted one.

At the end of the day the goal is to swap small bad habits with small good habits. Cutting out the 2 beers on a Tuesday night seems trivial on some respects, but these bad habits have a way of compounding like interest in a brokerage account. The goal is to become more productive, self-reliant, and happier. I need to take a hard look at myself and my habits if I really want to get there.

Burnout and Other News

It has been a few weeks since my last post, and the reason for that is I’ve been overwhelmed and exhausted at work. It’s odd how quickly that can happen in a small law firm. My assistant was out of town last week, and as the trip was approaching there was not a whole lot going on. But of course the second she leaves town all hell breaks loose, and I have new cases coming in, clients calling with “urgent” deliverables, and work that the assistant could have helped with piles up on my desk as I try to tread enough water to keep things moving.

She came back this week and the chaos has continued. Mediations, hearings, settlement conferences, and of course plenty of phone calls and meetings. Thankfully, a few decent sized retainers have materialized out of that chaos, so at least money is being made, but as Friday approached I found myself settling a case at 4:30 (a time sensitive debt collection matter). As I walked out of the office I realized that a few things on my list for the day did not get done, and I have a full plate ahead of me Monday – so I’ll be in over the weekend to get ready and back up to speed.

It’s a great problem to have too many clients and cases. Usually I am “slammed” or bored out of my mind at work. Rarely is there that perfect balance of work coming in – it just doesn’t pan out that way in a one man law firm. I’d rather have too much going on than not enough, especially since this seems like a slow year for me. So I’ll take on additional cases as they come in, with the idea of slowly digesting that work. But as I look back 2016 has been the most frustrating year of being in business for myself.

I have had major staffing problems this year and that has really fucked with my “work-life” balance. It has made for an exhausting and less profitable year. My long term assistant left, I hired a new gal that I had to fire after 2 months, and then I hired another new assistant, who is working out alright, but needs a lot of hand holding and training – time I haven’t been able to put in this week. It’s hard to find good help, especially good part time help, and hiring and firing (plus management) is not something I have a lot of experience with. There is definitely a lot of “learning” going on here as I struggle to flesh out this aspect of my law business, and I definitely want to get that handled. Especially because I can see how this impacts my bottom line and mental health. When you start a venture you expect each year to be better than the last, and so far that has been the case, but I can’t help but think that 2016 has been steps forward in some respect, but steps back in others.

Anyhow, I don’t mean to cry, although I realize this can come off as being pretty whiny. I just wanted to chronicle this aspect of my law firm. Recently I listened to an excellent episode of the Empire Flippers podcast about “the dip” and several dips in their business and how they handed them. It was a great episode, and this is a subject that doesn’t get discussed often enough. The dips are part of all businesses. We all are beset with challenges and obstacles. It’s how we respond and improve our direction and processes that defines us.

Other News

Besides losing my mind at work, a few notable things have happened. First of all, I have decided to cut back dramatically on the amount of alcohol I drink. I think I’ll save that for a stand alone article. So far I don’t notice a huge difference, but I think it’s a worthy goal for a number of reasons that I’ll dig into further later.

My affiliate website appears to be finally picking up speed again after months of gradual decline since the holidays. I have invested thousands of dollars into content this year, and have been posting on a schedule (once a week). I have been keeping to that schedule; something I wasn’t able to do previously before hiring freelance writers to help out. I also invested in some social media scheduling software, consistently re-posting articles from my long list of archives. Despite dumping lots of money into content, the stats just dipped lower and lower every week: from 110,000 pageviews a month down to 80k or so.

But things finally appear to be heading back in the right direction. Stats are slowly climbing, and so is profitability. I will pull in close to $2,000 for July, which would be tremendous. Typically summer is very slow for Amazon affiliate sites, with the holiday season bringing in big numbers, and those numbers sliding off dramatically as we head into the dog days of summer. To have a $2k month in the heat of summer like this is an excellent step in the right direction. The idea is to continue to grow the website, with each new article attracting new readers and turning a profit. That idea is finally starting to bear fruit.

Also, now that my student loans are paid off I have been funneling money into a brokerage account, and looking at investment real estate. I am looking closely at duplexes. The market is hot now, but rents are also up. Despite the high valuations some of these properties appear to actually cashflow OK when you run the numbers. We are starting to work with an agent and I am itching to make some offers. While I am not sitting on tons of cash, I have enough available to make a purchase, and now that I am not paying down student loan debt at the rate of $2,500 or so a month, my cash reserves and non-taxable brokerage account balances are growing. Buying more rental property is inevitable. It’s something myself and my partner want to do, so we are going to make it happen.

I had to go on a trip for work the other weekend and took my girlfriend along. On the way down we listened to the Rich Dad Poor Dad Cashflow Quadrant book in the car. I have listened to this a couple times now and it’s a great book. Same with the original Rich Dad Poor Dad. Give them a read if you haven’t already.

The Rich Dad Poor Dad concept is all about creating assets. An asset is defined as something that produces cashflow. We sometimes get sucked into the pipe dream that our primary residence is an “asset” or our small business is an “asset”. If you were to leave your small business for a year, and if the business could not survive without you, then that’s not an asset. That’s a job. And if your house doesn’t throw off cashflow every month, then it’s not an asset either. Housing is a cost, and running a small business is a job. There is nothing wrong with owning a house or having a job, but the goal is to ultimately reach financial freedom. The entire premise of the book is to acquire assets to reach financial freedom. That is exactly what I intend to do.

Closing Out

As I close out this rant I feel better. Blogging / journaling like this has been incredibly cathartic. I am going to relax for the rest of the day. Maybe do some yard work and go swimming. Read a few pages of the Rise of Endymion (which has been pretty good so far). I am going to have dinner with my girlfriend and her family tonight.

Tomorrow I’m going to sleep in a little, then have a leisurely morning before I hit the gym and then head into the office for a few hours to get ready for the week. The past 2 weeks have been brutal at work, but I look forward to closing the door on them, and starting fresh this Monday. There is much to be thankful for, and we can easily lose sight of that while in the trenches, swearing and sweating profusely as the proverbial sausage gets made.

State of the Union: July 2016 Update

Where to begin. I have a number of ideas for blog posts floating around my head, but haven’t found the time to put pen to paper. Given the multitude of things that have happened both personally and professionally over the past few weeks I have decided to do a little journal/blog update. Some of these ideas are topics that I plan on diving into further.

Personal

The biggest news for me personally, beyond recently paying off my student loans earlier in July, is that I went on a short vacation. I ended up staying with my good friend Andrew up in Montreal. Andrew has been bugging me to go up there for years now, and this summer we finally decided to make it happen. I am glad we made it happen because it was an excellent trip and I had an awesome time.

I am not a big traveler. Since starting my law firm in late 2012, I haven’t taken more than 2 business days off (last year I believe I took a Friday and Monday off). This time I did Thursday, Friday AND Monday. I know, holy shit, what a massive amount of time away from the office. In the past it has always felt very stressful to take the time away, and the ensuing shit-tornado of returning was always stressful. This trip I was taking the time off without an assistant to hold down the fort so I was really unsure of how things were gonna go.

Oddly enough this was the most relaxing trip I have gone on. Maybe it was due to the high volumes of exercise, food, and alcohol, or maybe I just got lucky with a short lull in my practice, but I flew home Monday night and got into the office around 10:30 Tuesday morning, and while there were a pile of voicemails to contend with I managed to work through everything quickly and even left the office a little early (around 5 or so?) that evening. Spectacular.

It was a great trip and it has me thinking about a number of things, including travel, and living in a city. Montreal is just a tremendous and beautiful city (at least in the summer) and it was so nice to be somewhere completely different for a few days. What amazed me most was the amount of young people. Here in S.W. Florida everyone is old and limping around, exercising poor situational awareness, and generally getting in the way. To be surrounded by so many young people and the hustle and bustle of a city made me feel as if I were in another world. Just an awesome trip.

Reflecting further on the student loan situation, I was never hit with a wave of euphoria. I don’t think anyone jumps for joy when a debt gets paid off. Instead, I just feel relief really. I am relieved to have that obligation behind me and I look forward to money piling up in my checking account and being diverted to assets, not paying off liabilities. I’m relieved to read a forum post about someone’s student loans and realize I am no longer in that situation. It’s great to own my degree “free and clear”.

Books

I have been reading quite a bit, shooting for my 2 books a month goal that I set for myself at the start of 2016. Over halfway through the year and I have done a good job keeping my nose in a book and have read some cool stuff.

The past few books have mostly been fiction, including 3/4s of Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion” series, a Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe book (awesome books), and some Charles Bukowski (not the best influence honestly, but always an interesting read).

After stalling out on Dan Simmons’ series after finishing Endymion, I decided to switch over to some non-fiction. I read Anthony Robbin’s “MONEY: Master the Game” book, which is the subject for a stand alone review (it was actually pretty good), and I am currently reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari. I am maybe a quarter of the way through it, but so far Sapiens is proving to be an interesting read. Evolutionary biology has always interested me, especially after reading The Selfish Gene in college. That book really helped provide some perspective and I think Sapiens is a novel that will have a similar effect.

Anyhow, books are being read so that’s good.

The Affiliate Site

My main affiliate site / money making blog is lumbering along. I have published weekly for all of 2016 and while traffic has slowly petered out since the holidays, the site seems to be gaining a regular audience and I have received feedback that people are enjoying the regular content and additional authors that I have brought to the site. In the past I wrote every single article, and probably averaged 1-2 posts a month. Now I post every week.

While I haven’t seen a huge payoff in traffic or earnings yet, I am laying the foundation and think that eventually the site will turn a corner and all of the excellent content I have added will pay good dividends. At the very least, it will sustain the site’s current earnings (around $1,500 a month gross in the off season) with a minimal amount of work on my part.

The Law Firm

The last time I blogged about my firm was in mid March. My assistant of 1.5 years (and my first employee ever) had just left the firm. I immediately hired a new paralegal. She was literally the first person that I could interview. She represented that she could do the job, had decades of experience, and seemed a little quirky, but in a fun way. So I hired her on the spot.

In retrospect that was a huge mistake. From the first day I knew that this lady was not my best hire. But I tried to make it work. After 2 months of trying I had to let her go, and I had no one lined up to replace her. This time around I patiently interviewed candidates for a couple months. I never found that elusive “perfect hire”, but did bring someone on board this past week. She is totally different from my previous 2 paralegals (who were much older), but I am hoping this one will stick.

Otherwise my law practice is chugging along, at least as much as it can chug along with me being my own paralegal. There is a lot of administrative and busy work in the practice of law (especially in litigation), and I was doing all of it. So I felt busy (extremely busy), but wasn’t terribly efficient. But I would rather be in that position than hire the wrong person again, so I slugged it out.

I have a couple cases that are bothering me (there are always a few), but I am trying to get smarter about case selection. Proper case selection has a huge impact on your practice and quality of life.

Investing

After reading Tony Robbins’ book I decided to liquidate some of my U.S. large cap index funds to establish a small position in bonds. Previously the only bond exposure I had was through my position in target funds, and was less than 5% of my portfolio. Plus I was over-weighted in U.S. large cap stocks. So I now have a small (~$2,500) position in Vanguard’s Total Bond Index Fund. My bond holdings are still under 10% of my portfolio, and I’d like to continue to bolster that in the future. I figure at the very least this will give me some ammo to use in the event of a major market turn, plus it should reduce volatility. I am not 100% sure what percentage of my portfolio I want to be in bonds, but somewhere between 10-20%.

This business with Brexit has been interesting, and like everyone else I’ll be very curious to see what happens in the next few weeks. I already have a good chunk of my small portfolio in international index funds, so I don’t know if I necessarily want to buy more, but will continue to contribute to those funds through dollar cost averaging. I’ll be watching the markets closely and may scoop up some additional stock if the markets take a big hit.

My investment in silver has done pretty well, and only appears to be doing better in the face of this market uncertainty. I think it’s a good idea to have some level of exposure to precious metals and I have increased this position slightly via Vanguard’s Precious Metals and Mining Fund.

My investment in Lending Club stock hasn’t tanked yet, but I am considering selling some of that off. If the U.S. markets take a huge dump I’ll hold off on liquidating for the time being.

This Blog

I have tried to post at least once a week, and have been pretty good about that (with the exception of last week while I was on vacation – didn’t have the time or brain cells available to write much). The blog sees virtually no traffic, but I am not surprised. I have done nothing to promote it, and most of the content isn’t terribly valuable or amazing. I haven’t done a particularly good job editing these posts either. Even if I were taking this more seriously, Google has a sandbox that takes months to get out of.

So there are a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day I am not disappointed because I am having fun and taking things at my own place. I have no real expectations beyond the goal of writing at least once a week. I have experience blogging and know how much work is involved to experience any level of success – a ton. This blog is unfocused, rambling, and self absorbed. I haven’t put in the effort and I don’t think I have created much value in the content for readers.

This has been more of a thought experiment, and the very act of writing has been cathartic and doing things like writing out goals, chronicling my progress, and forcing myself to form semi-coherent arguments about financial decisions has been valuable. I enjoy writing these posts, and I am treating this as more of a glorified journal than anything.

Final Thoughts

We are over the halfway mark through 2016. Time is flying. Generally I feel like I am heading in the right direction. Things aren’t perfect (they never are), but one thing I am trying to do a better job of is practicing gratitude. It’s very easy to look at what you don’t have, when the truth is if you are able to read this, then we are all incredibly blessed and fortunate for so many great things in life.

In pursuit of a debt free lifestyle and ultimately financial independence it is very easy to simply focus on the destination. If you only focus on the destination then I think the end result is hollow. You can’t just live for tomorrow, but must learn to appreciate what you have today. You have to be present, and you have to be thankful.

On that note I am going to go to the gym and head into the office to get some work done. Until next time.

Tax Time; Crossroads

Well, I finally got my year end books done and the taxes calculated for 2015. Well, my accountant got them calculated at least. This was my best year yet, by far. I knew that I had made more money this year, but it wasn’t clear what my bottom line was, and what the resulting liability would be.

Now I need to make a substantial year end payment, and also pay my first quarter 2016 quarterly estimated taxes in a month. All told it will be about $20k – not an easy pill to swallow when you consider that my entire liability last year was (far) less than 20k. Thankfully I have been sitting on my excess cash for this very reason.

But that is what it is like to make money apparently. This won’t be one of those blogs where I proudly state how I make a 6 figure income and pay nothing in taxes. Plenty of taxes being paid here. But I have done my best to trim the liability where I can.

Although January is often considered to be a month of reflection on a years past (and I did my fair share of that with my 2016 goals post) I feel as if 2015 has finally ended.

Lots have been going on over the past few weeks, and unfortunately this little blog has already faced my neglect. Despite the blog’s cute title, I find it hard to truly fire on all six cylinders. There appears to be an inevitable give and take, as I swap one habit for another. Case in point, I have turned my exercise around quite a bit swimming 3 times a week during the work week before morning. I have also joined a small group and have been going on group bicycle rides most Saturday mornings (averaging 20 miles or so a ride). On Sundays I have been pretty good about lifting weights. In contrast I haven’t been writing as much. I am not sure if it’s directly correlated or just my mood, but it is what it is.

Other things have been happening with my other businesses as well. I figure I would check in with a mini “state of the union”.

Law Firm

2016 has started off slow for my law practice. While January is usually slow, I felt like February wasn’t that amazing either. March is almost halfway through and while I have strung together a couple decent weeks, it feels like it’s mostly small cases that have me spinning my wheels. I expect things to pick up soon.

It’s probably good things have been on the slow side, as my part time assistant / paralegal left on Friday for full time work. She had been with me for 1.5 years, and was my first hire. While she had her issues, she helped me make a lot of money this past year. I learned a lot and while the experience left some things to be desired (for reasons I won’t write publicly about), in many ways this was a real success. I have new help starting Monday, and I just hope I made the right decision here. I went with my gut (and a background check). I think I have a good fit on my hands, but I won’t know for sure until the rubber meets the road.

An opportunity that I had to change practice areas has also seemed to come and go. Again, I won’t go into the details, but this was a side hustle of sorts with the potential to turn into something career-altering that I was working on for 9 the past months. It appears to have slowly petered out without a real concrete debriefing. I know it didn’t work, but am not 100% sure on the reason why. I think deep down I am relieved in a way as I enjoy the practice I have built, but am disappointed in other respects.

So was a pall of uncertainty that hung over me the past few days. It still lingers, and I realize that some weeks are better than others. In light of my 2015 income I wonder if I will be able to match what I made last year, let alone exceed it.

Rental Property

Big moves happened this month in my rental property. I had spent several months and thousands of dollars converting my semi-furnished rental into a fully furnished seasonal rental, to take advantage in the spike in rent we see here from the months of January through April. After jumping through many hoops, and nearly getting sued by my condo association, I finally took delivery of my seasonal tenants (and their fat seasonal rental check).

They were really nice people so I was sad to learn that they had to return home suddenly due to a medical emergency. Obviously my thoughts turned to how I was going to fill the vacancy, and the future of the rental in light of the difficulties I faced with the Condo Association. Oddly enough, someone contacted me the day after my tenants told me they needed to leave wanting to rent the unit for a year. This is a single person, professional, no kids and no pets.

It took some doing but I managed to get the new tenant in almost immediately. Things seem to be working out now (knock on wood), and I have the place booked up for a year with what appears to be a quality tenant. With just an ounce of luck 2016 will be a great year for my rental property.

Web Business

About 6 months ago I hired a couple freelance writers to help me with my web business (it’s a blog / affiliate marking site). The thought was that these guys would help me grow the business by creating content (an activity that probably took up 4-6 hours of my week), and I could spend more time working “on” the business rather than “in” the business. So far that has proven to be true, although I wish my traffic would grow a little faster (and my visitors would convert a little better).

The website was hit by the Penguin update years ago, and although the traffic has come back since then, it still feels like someone at Google has the hands on the brakes when it comes to my site. 2015 actually saw a doubling of revenue over 2014 for the site, despite traffic staying relatively flat year over year (this was thanks to some tweaking I did to the monetization). I am taking some steps to try and get that traffic to move upwards again (totally above-board white hat steps, by the way).

One of those steps is to hire more writers.

So I have hired a couple more writers and now articles are now pouring in faster than I can publish them. I am nervous that I have bit off more than I can chew with the new writers, and that I am maybe overpaying people. I am hoping this investment will pay off, but it is still too early to tell.

Crossroads

So that is the state of the union. I feel that I am at a crossroads in some respects. I’ll let you know when I have it all figured out.

I have thoughts for future posts floating around my brain, but need to take the time to put pen to paper. I did buy a new (used) bicycle and some bike tools. I have spent the past few weeks turning wrenches and fixing up all 3 of my bikes. I’d like to spend some time writing about that soon.

Anyhow, daylight savings time is upon me, and I need to go to bed. Tomorrow is a brand new start to a brand new workweek. My new paralegal starts her first day here at 10 A.M. Carpe diem.