Category Archives: Lifestyle

Buying More Stuff Won’t Make You Happy

Do more. Work harder. Jump higher. Go faster. Phrases like these illustrate just how obsessed with increase our culture has become. Holiday spending, Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and overall consumption in general prove that we are a culture primarily focused on material possessions. If you’ve bought into the hype and spend your time and money striving to accumulate more and more, you need to know the truth: Buying more stuff won’t make you happy.

I’ll be the first to admit that happiness is one of the greatest mysterious of life. It comes and goes seemingly as it pleases, often without any obvious reason. And when it inevitably goes, human nature leads me to medicate the pain with stuff. But I’ll also be quick to admit that my human nature has led me down the wrong path many times in life, so it probably shouldn’t be trusted.

In a culture obsessed with increase, everyone wants more and thinks it will make them happier. But the truth is buying more stuff won't make you happy. Real happiness and contentment is deeper and lasting. When it comes down to it, each of us has a choice to make: will we live a life focused on accumulating more possessions with the goal of increasing our happiness, or will we learn to find authentic happiness in other places?

Take a moment and think back on some of the birthday gifts you desperately wanted as a kid. I’m talking about the gifts that you truly thought would change your life forever, like a new bike, video game system, or special toy.

Do you still have that item today? I didn’t think so.

Logically, it follows that your happiness wasn’t really dependent on that one special thing after all.

So why do we buy more and more even though stuff won’t us happy?

The short answer: we’re looking for the quick fix of adrenaline that buying things provides.

The long answer: we don’t understand the true nature of what makes us happy.

When you buy that new car, trendy pair of imported shoes, or new house, it is often for the wrong reasons: making a statement, impressing others, trying to fill an emotional void, or suppressing other feelings.

On the other hand, if you’ve planned ahead, spent within your budget and means, and truly value the items you’ve purchased, then that is a wise purchase. The difference lies in self-understanding and developing an accurate picture of what you value most.

Why Buying More Stuff Won’t Make You Happy

The bottom line is that more often than not buying more stuff won’t make you happy. Check out the following reasons to see for yourself why this is true.

More stuff leads to more responsibility

Sometimes my wife and I like to walk our dogs along a trail near some of the largest homes in our neighborhood. It usually leads to a discussion about what it must be like to live in such a large home.

Not everyone will share our viewpoint, but it is undeniable that living in a larger home and having more possessions leads to more responsibility. Psychology shows us that people thrive when their responsibilities provide them with purpose in life, but the opposite is true when too many responsibilities make people overwhelmed.

Buying more stuff can lead to debt

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so happy to be drowning in so much credit card and student loan debt! At least I’ve got this sweet pair of Jimmy Choos!”?

No? I haven’t either.

The truth is that many people buy stuff they can’t afford to buy and end up deep in debt. Once the adrenaline rush of that new purchases feds, stress and regret move in quickly.

I like to think that it’s not a coincidence that debt and regret rhyme so nicely.

You are not your possessions

My wife and I watch Friends re-runs now and then, and one of my favorite show moments involves a conversation between Monica and Roger, a psychiatrist. After a long conversation, Roger leaves Monica and Ross, who are sitting at the table eating cookies.

“Mon, um, easy on those cookies, okay? Remember they’ re just food. They’re not love,” Roger says.

We laugh, but the same can be said of the stuff we buy. Remember, they’re just things.

They’re not happiness.

And they certainly don’t define you in any way.

Your stuff won’t make you happy because happiness is deeper.

Your stuff is costly

While a lot of items we buy are expensive, that’s not what I mean by the heading above. Your stuff is truly costing you in more ways than you realize.

For example, if you bought a boat and financed the purchase, the cost goes beyond just the principle and interest payments you make each month. Your time spent earning money to make the payments, missed opportunities to do other things because you have a boat that needs to be used every weekend, and lost time and money to maintenance and repairs are additional costs.

Stuff ties us down

The above example of the boat also illustrates another way stuff won’t make you happy: it leads to obligations and limitations on your life.

I’ve watched friends and family buy campers, motor homes, recreational vehicles, bigger houses, new cars, and yes, boats, only to see the initial euphoria replaced by the sinking feeling of a boat anchor firmly resting at the bottom of a lake.

Put simply, if you buy the wrong stuff, your still will have you.

Emotions change

It is true even for the most-stoic of people – emotions change.

All. The. Time.

This is precisely why it is dangerous to allow your emotions to be dependent on the presence of physical items. Every time the initial rush of a new purchase wears off, you’ll be desperate to replace that feeling.

Too many possessions are not healthy

When you have too many possessions, you cannot possibly use them all. Even if you’re not a hoarder, keeping too many things around starts to affect their utilitarian value.

Many experts recommend getting rid of one or two items for every new item purchased. My wife and I follow this guideline when buying new clothing. We also clean out our closets a few times each year and purge clothes that we haven’t worn in over a year. This decision has made both laundry and planning our clothing choices much easier.

Focusing on possessions leads us to miss out on what is most important

At the end your life, do you think you’ll rest in your final moments and recall the experiences you had with your favorite possessions? Or will you cling to your loved ones, recall special memories with them, and cherish your relationships?

Personally, I don’t fear death, but I do fear reaching the finish line of life and realizing that I lived by the wrong values and priorities. Living a life that worships stuff is a sure-fire way to one day end up old, tired, and full of regret.

If you take away one thing from this article, it should be this: stuff won’t make you happy. 

Please don’t wait until your deathbed to discover that this is true.

What choice will you make?

When it comes down to it, each of us has a choice to make: will we live a life focused on accumulating more possessions with the goal of increasing our happiness, or will we learn to find authentic happiness in other places?

In a culture obsessed with increase, everyone wants more and thinks it will make them happier. But the truth is buying more stuff won't make you happy. Real happiness and contentment is deeper and lasting. When it comes down to it, each of us has a choice to make: will we live a life focused on accumulating more possessions with the goal of increasing our happiness, or will we learn to find authentic happiness in other places?

The Ultimate List of 123 Free Activities For a No-Spend Weekend

When it comes to saving money, the best trick in the book has always been to spend as little money as possible. Better yet, spending absolutely no money for a short period of time can help you keep some serious cash in you wallet. The only problem? This can be boring unless you know how to use free activities to your advantage.

Our goal is that the list below will help you to crush boredom once and for all and always have a list of free activities ready to reference. If you’re serious about saving money and still having fun, pin this post now so you can refer back to it whenever you’re looking for great, new no-spend things to do.

You want to have fun with your family, but it can be expensive! These 123 free activities will help you have many awesome no-spend weekends!

123 Free Activities to Save Money and Still Have Fun

In this post, we’re compiling the ultimate list of no-spend activities to help you save tons of money and still have fun at the same time. Most of the items on this list will appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. The majority of our suggestions are great for families with kids young or old as well as teens, college students, and young professionals. See for yourself, and enjoy the Ultimate List of Free Activities!

  1. Take a Walk Around Your Neighborhood
  2. Redecorate/re-arrange Your Family Room
  3. Ride Bikes
  4. Visit a Museum
  5. Listen to New Music on Pandora
  6. Read a Book (Fun fact: the average millionaire reads at least two non-fiction books each month!)
  7. Binge Watch a Favorite Show on Netflix (You technically already pay for it!)
  8. Attend a Free Concert
  9. Bake Simple Desserts
  10. Play Video Games
  11. Watch a Classic Movie
  12. Go for a Hike
  13. Prepare Meals for the Week Ahead
  14. Go to the Beach
  15. Deep Clean a Room in Your House
  16. Check out New Shows on Hulu (You can get a FREE 30-day trial here!)
  17. Play at the Park
  18. Learn a New Card Game
  19. Go Window Shopping (Just leave your cash and cards at home!)
  20. Go for a Run/Jog
  21. Write a Short Story
  22. Call an Old Friend
  23. Clean Out Your Closet
  24. Take Online Surveys
  25. Look Through Photo Albums
  26. Play a Board Game
  27. Have a Garage Sale
  28. Draw or Color
  29. Visit a Forest Preserve
  30. Reorganize Your Pantry
  31. Have a Backyard Campout
  32. Go to the Library
  33. Read About a New Career
  34. Take a Free Class Online
  35. Play With Your Kids
  36. Walk Your Dog
  37. Invite Friends Over
  38. Start a Simple DIY Project
  39. Clean Your Refrigerator
  40. Go on a Picnic
  41. Build a Fire
  42. Enjoy Some Silence!
  43. Check Out Trending Videos on YouTube
  44. Do Yard Work
  45. Have an Indoor Campout
  46. Build a Fort With Your Kids
  47. Watch TV (You can get a FREE, no obligation trial for SlingTV and watch over 20 channels if you use this link – and you can cancel any time!)
  48. Clean Behind Large Appliances
  49. Organize Important Papers and Records
  50. Start a New Craft
  51. Call Your Parents
  52. Read a Magazine
  53. Browse Pinterest
  54. Make a To-Do List
  55. Plan a Vacation
  56. Organize Photos on Your Phone
  57. Touch Up Scratched and Scuffed Paint
  58. Clean Your Baseboards
  59. Look at Old Yearbooks
  60. Find New Blogs to Read
  61. Play a Musical Instrument
  62. Write a Poem
  63. Volunteer
  64. Search for Your Dream House on Zillow
  65. Clean the Basement
  66. Write a Letter to Your Future Self
  67. Play I Spy (This can be fun for adults, too!)
  68. Check Your Credit Score and Report
  69. Review Important Insurance Policies and Coverages
  70. Get a Mortgage Refinance Quote
  71. Build a Tower of Cards
  72. Play a Sport
  73. Build With Legos
  74. Watch Old Family Movies
  75. Look at Your Wedding Album
  76. Plan a Staycation
  77. Set-up an Automatic Savings Plan
  78. Organize Your Garage
  79. Research Your Family Tree (Use a free trial on Ancestry.com and cancel anytime!)
  80. Make a Vision Board
  81. Create a Family Budget
  82. Design a List of Long-Term and Short-Term Goals
  83. Take a Spiritual Gifts Test
  84. Make Up a New Recipe
  85. Prepare Freezer Meals
  86. Review Your Net Worth
  87. Host a Neighborhood Pot Luck
  88. Visit Open Houses
  89. Play Online Games
  90. Swap Out Pictures in Frames
  91. Organize Your Kitchen
  92. Clean Your Car
  93. Brainstorm Ideas to Start a Blog
  94. Research Grad School Programs
  95. Do Basic Strength Training
  96. Check out the Smithsonian Archives
  97. Play Dress Up With the Kids
  98. Make a Family Calendar Using Google Calendar
  99. Take Photos Using Instagram
  100. Play Charades
  101. Help a Friend in Need
  102. Play Two Truths and a Lie
  103. Make Homemade Playdough 
  104. Go Rollerblading
  105. Eat Free Samples at Costco or Sam’s Club
  106. Build a Marble Run Out of Cardboard
  107. Create an “I’m Bored Jar”
  108. Build an Obstacle Course
  109. Play Hide and Seek
  110. Make Slime (Here is a recipe that does not contain Borax)
  111. Play Games With SideWalk Chalk
  112. Cut Up Old T-shirts to Use as Cleaning Rags
  113. Clean Your Microwave Effortlessly (Just microwave 1/2 cup of vinegar for 1-2 minutes, let set for 2 minutes, and wipe clean)
  114. Sort Your Books and Sell Some
  115. Make Your Own Family Scavenger Hunt
  116. Build Your Own Musical Instruments
  117. Have a Wii Sports Family Tournament
  118. Have a Pillow Fight
  119. Build Your Own DIY Ball Maze Game (Using a cardboard box and toilet paper rolls)
  120. Hold a Family Olympics Competition
  121. Play Laundry Basket Skee-Ball
  122. Build a Maze
  123. Create Your Own Game


What are your go to free activities to save money? How do make a no-spend weekend fun?

The Easy Way to Become Rich

My uncle loves to tell the story of his friend from church. This man was unassuming – he worked a blue-collar job as a machinist in town and remained with that company throughout his entire working career until he retired in his sixties. His wife never worked – they felt it would be more valuable for her to remain home and raise their children. Last year, this old man passed away, and his wife followed just a few months later.  They had been married for more than 50 years and still lived in the tiny home which they had purchased shortly after getting married.   And nobody knew that they had discovered the easy way to become rich.

Is there really an easy way to become rich? The answer is shocking. See what two numbers you should be paying attention to if you want to become wealthy!The machinist and his wife were a model of frugality. They owned only one vehicle and preferred to drive well-maintained used cars. My uncle couldn’t recall a time in which the couple owned a vehicle newer than five years old. A true story-teller, my uncle saved the best for last in the tale of his friend, and what he told me was most-unexpected:

The elderly gentleman and his wife had amassed a nest egg worth over $1 million and willed half of their estate to the church.

You may know a similar couple. I know a few, too, and their secret is simpler than you may think.

THE SHOCKINGLY EASY WAY TO BECOME RICH SLOWLY

In The Millionaire Next Door, the late Thomas Stanley identified the common traits of PAWs, or Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth. My uncle’s friend was a PAW. He spent far less than he earned for several decades, avoided spending money on status symbols, and did not tie up his money in depreciating assets.

Some financial experts say that personal finance is 80 percent behavioral and 20 percent head knowledge. I believe that the simple approach of the machinist illustrates this principle very well. In fact, if we could interview the gentleman today, he would probably attribute his success to common sense, basic arithmetic, and compound interest.

I believe he would also talk about two very important numbers.

THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT NUMBERS TO WINNING WITH MONEY

As my uncle’s friend knew, the biggest elements contributing to financial success are not fees, return on investment, tax savings, or even time in the market. The most important factors are numbers: net income and net expenses.

The easy way to become rich is to increase the difference between these two numbers. Most financial experts call this “the gap.” How you do that is up to you. You can choose to increase your income by seeking a new job, asking for a raise, or starting a profitable side hustle. Or you can cut out wasteful expenses that do little to increase your happiness.

I will always remember the day that I read how simple it is to become wealthy. I calculated that I could retire after working only 22 years if I simply saved 40 percent of my net income. Even better, if I could save 75 percent of my net income I could retire in approximately 7 years. That short and sweet article from Mr. Money Mustache redefined my vision of what a reasonable retirement timetable looked like for me and my wife. Suddenly, working until 65 only seemed acceptable to me if it was by choice.

GROWING MY GAP

Our plan to grow our gap is constantly evolving. My wife and I do not yet have children, so our current plan is focused on growing our income as much as possible. We both are full-time public school music teachers. After school, my wife teaches piano, flute, and voice lessons in her private music studio. She built her business from the ground up. I am a realtor 24/7 and 365. Sometimes that means I work early hours before school, during my lunch break, in the few spare seconds that most teachers run to the restroom, and all other hours that my clients need me. Somewhere in between, I make time to write 2-3 articles per week on this site. My wife and I do all of this because we sincerely love helping other people grow and find solutions to their problems.

Maybe increasing your income is the best way for you to grow your gap. Maybe you’re wasting money buying things that you don’t really want to impress people you don’t even like. If you’re married, maybe you and your spouse aren’t on the same page financially speaking. In that case, a zero-based budget may be exactly what you need to turn the corner and begin saving more money.

GROW YOUR GAP

Is there really an easy way to become rich? The answer is shocking. See what two numbers you should be paying attention to if you want to become wealthy!By now, I hope you believe that the shockingly easy way to become rich isn’t so shocking after all. It is largely built upon common sense. The problem is that everything in today’s world flies in the face of common sense. We are constantly told to spend more, live for today, and seize the moment. This is one of the biggest lies marketers have ever gotten away with telling – they have softened our sensibilities and led us to believe that we’ll always find a way to make it all work as long as we can pay our minimum payments.

The only way to become wealthy and live the life you desperately desire is to drown out the noise, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. Imagine what life would be like if you had no debt? What if you had a paid-for home? What if you had six months of living expenses in the bank? What if you never needed to trade your time for money ever again?

Those are the questions that keep me motivated on the tough days.

What motivates you?

RECOMMENDED TOOLS TO MONITOR AND GROW YOUR GAP

Personal Capital is the best tool to keep track of all of your liabilities (debts) and assets in one central location. With a few clicks, you can monitor your net worth picture and also dive into specific performance of your investments. I check my account a few times each week using the Personal Capital app. You can sign up for FREE using this link!

Today’s technological advances have made investing easier than ever before. Betterment is better than your average robo-adviser. Whether you are a beginning investor or a seasoned do-it-yourself-investor, Betterment can help you achieve optimal returns based on your risk preferences. Through a combination of lower fees, smarter behavior, diversification, and automated rebalancing, Betterment can help your out earn the typical DIY investor by 2.9%. You can roll over an existing 401k or IRA or open a new IRA in minutes.

My favorite tool to grow the gap, Digit, isn’t an investing tool and it alone won’t make you rich. But its algorithms will transfer money from your checking account to a Digit savings account and ensure that you don’t have easy opportunities to waste money. You can pause savings and transfer money back to your checking account at any time. Sign up for free here.

And if you’re looking to increase your income, consider driving for Uber. My friend is a school band teacher and earns a good salary. He takes advantage of his spare evenings and weekends and drives for Uber. He meets interesting people and often earns over $500 per week. If you enjoy driving and want to tap into the unlimited earning potential of Uber, Uber.


Readers, is there really an easy way to become rich? Have you identified your current gap, or difference between net income and expenses? What is your plan to grow your gap?

How to Stop Fighting Over Money With Your Spouse

 

According to a Huffington Post article from 2014, a survey showed “that 70 percent of couples argued about money more than household chores, togetherness, sex, snoring and what’s for dinner.” Furthermore, survey records that the focus of 46% of all money fights was “frivolous purchases.” In my opinion, 54% of surveyed couples were not being entirely honest. And I bet 100% of couples would love to stop fighting over money with each other!

Even my wife and I find ourselves fighting over money more than anything else. Of the top five money arguments listed in the graphic below, we tend to argue most about our monthly budget allocations. In the grand scheme of things, we’re fortunate to be arguing about spending on things like dining out, clothing, and gifts to others. Though we mostly have our act together in this area, I’ll be honest – it still bugs me that these money fights pop up from time to time.

Research shows that over 70 percent of couples fight about money. This simple solution will help you stop fighting over money with your spouse or partner.
Graph credits to Huffington Post and Money.com

Mission: Stop Fighting Over Money With Your Spouse

I recently wrapped up another session of Financial Peace University at my church. I enjoyed engaging in financial discussions with others, despite the general unwillingness to do so in most people, and serving as a group leader satisfied my urge to help others while also helping me sharpen my own knowledge.

During our session on purchasing with last year’s group, a student in my group shared that she and her husband had previously been fighting over money repeatedly over the years. I braced myself for a plea for advice, but what she said next surprised me.

“We found a solution that has stopped most of our money fights.”

Chatter among the group instantly ceased. Each group member, including me, was eager to learn this couple’s secret.

Solution: The Thirty Day List

In the moments which followed, we learned a lot about this couple’s experiences. Throughout their marriage and subsequent ushering of two children into the world, this couple had fought about many purchases: vehicles, clothing, electronics, and even groceries. Matters were not made any easier when the couple encountered financial hardships. In order to stop fighting over money, purchases, this couple implemented a procedure that they called “The Thirty Day List.”

They outlined the rules as follows:

  1. When considering a purchase over $50, write the item and cost down on the list and date the entry.

  2. Provide a brief rationale regarding the item’s utility and importance.

  3. Revisit the rationale in 30 days. If it still sounds like a good idea at that time, purchase the item.

Naturally, many students (budget nerds) were in favor of this approach, while other students (free spirit spenders) were against the restriction associated with this process. However, as the couple explained how it worked for them, the tone of the room shifted toward acceptance of this uncommon procedure. Some people even expressed hope that use of The List could help them to stop fighting over money.

Why The List Works

Among the benefits of the list which were described that day include the following:

  • The List often prevents unnecessary purchases. Sometimes you don’t buy the item because you realize don’t really need it.
  • The List eliminates susceptibility to high-pressure sales techniques. When a smooth talking salesman is rolling out every tactic in his arsenal to get you to purchase that new refrigerator with built-in social media access, you don’t even have to feel bad saying “no” because you are acting on a matter of principle.
  • The List causes you to wait, and sometimes this nets you a better deal. Patience puts you in a position to negotiate a great price. This extra time also allows you to thoroughly research a product, weigh the pros and cons of the purchase, and make a careful evaluation.
  • Similarly, after waiting 30 days, you retain the willpower to reject a bad deal. What is a few more days? You are in control and have the power to walk away.

Why The List Works

Research shows that over 70 percent of couples fight about money. This simple solution will help you stop fighting over money with your spouse or partner.The Thirty Day List works in many situations because it leads to communication. When a couple collaborates to generate a unified position, a meeting of the minds and melding of ideas is often the result. However, this does not always happen quickly. Simply starting the conversation can often be the hardest part!

In such cases, a couple must take a step back and view the possible purchase from a wider perspective. By considering the purpose of the purchase from a variety of perspectives, the tone of communication shifts from one which is adversarial to one which is inclusive of both partners’ values.

Related Posts: See Values and Budgeting Part One and Values and Budgeting Part Two

Finally, the List provides accountability for larger purchases. It provides a framework and protocol which eliminates one partner from “going rogue.”

Downsides to The List

While the Thirty Day List may seem fail-proof in theory, it can be more difficult to implement in actual practice. After all, we live in a society in which it is easier and (often preferred) to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek permission in advance. Many people would agree that this is a terrible way to act within your marriage or other committed relationship, yet that doesn’t stop some people. If this is your preferred practice, the List won’t work well for you.

The List is also not a good idea when you find yourself in a housing search, especially in a seller’s market. Often times, you will need to be poised to make quick decisions. This shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as when you are in the midst of such a search, you know the rationale and utility for the purchase.

Make the List Work For You

Perhaps the best feature of the List is that it can be modified to fit your circumstances. A high school student with a part-time job and an annual income of $1,200 and a married couple with a combined annual income of $500,000 can successfully use the List to their respective advantages. The figures may need to be modified, but at the end of the day, the ideas remain the same whether zeros are added or removed.

If thirty days is too long for you, modify the procedure to fit your needs. You know yourself better than anyone, and using this knowledge is the best course of action when designing a List which will work for you to stop fighting over money and support wise purchases.

Further Recommended Reading: 

Money and Marriage: How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

Want To Be Rich? Maintain Great Relationships


Readers, do you have a procedure similar to The List in place to assist when making significant purchases? Do you and your spouse or partner routinely fight about purchases? How have you been able to stop fighting over money?

Count the Cost (In Remembrance of Grandma)

Every day is a transaction of sorts. We rise with the currency of time in our possession. How we utilize or spend that time varies greatly from person to person and day to day. When we make the choice to spend our time, we project the returns which may come our way –enjoyment, fun, accomplishment, or financial gain, to name a few. But do we always remember to count the cost?

With Grandma on Christmas Eve 2015

I have spent a great deal of time, somewhat ironically, thinking about this very subject over the past several weeks. Last Thursday, we said our final goodbyes to my grandmother. At 91 years old, she was the matriarchal head of the family. We will remember and miss her unwavering faith, sense of humor, unmatched skills in the kitchen, and wisdom which exceeded her years.

As I thought about what made Grandma special, it occurred to me that she rarely failed to examine all of the aspects of a situation or opportunity before moving forward. She was quick and decisive because she understood herself, knew her values, and could predict returns while also counting the cost.

Grandma married my Grandpa during the throes of WWII on October 1, 1942, while both were just teenagers. Their first apartment had few redeeming qualities, other than being “cheap.” But Grandma and Grandpa knew that their short-term sacrifices would pay great dividends in the future.

When my uncle was born one year later, Grandma and Grandpa kept their resolve. Grandpa worked as many hours as he could as a machinist at the local plant while also working side jobs delivering newspapers, butchering at the slaughterhouse, and painting with his father-in-law. Meanwhile, Grandma took care of everything at home, even as their family grew. At times, she worked, too.

At times, they sacrificed a great deal to get where they were going, but family always remained their top priority. If an opportunity arose and the cost was calculated to impact family priorities, it was promptly dismissed. Grandma in particular always maintained that Sundays were a day for God and family.

Because of her foresight and unwillingness to compromise that which she valued most, Grandma was able to achieve many goals in life without sacrificing that which mattered most to her.

As for you and me? We, too, need to learn to count the cost.

Considering a new job? Count the cost.

Evaluating options for college next fall? Count the cost.

Looking to start a business/side hustle, pick up a new hobby, or buy a new car?

Count the cost.

Every decision you make will have both an instant and an ongoing impact your time, life, and of course, money. Weigh your options carefully and evaluate the outcomes to the best of your ability. Do not sacrifice anything of supreme importance to achieve lesser goals. And once you decide to act, be sure to strive to begin, continue, and finish with the end in mind.

Each circumstance and opportunity we encounter throughout life is unique. However, while circumstances around you may change, that which you value and cherish most should remain mostly consistent over time. Your values will serve as the foundation upon which you ultimately evaluate possible returns and count the cost.

Like my Grandma and Grandpa, may you count it carefully.

Change is Hard

January is a month for hope and optimism. You wouldn’t know it based upon the doom and gloom floating around in the newspapers and social media this year, but most folks are as optimistic as ever during the first month of a new year. They know change is hard, but emotions fly high.

The distance between change and complacency is small - a single step in the right direction. Change is hard because complacency is easier. But you can win!Many people hit the gym and begin a new diet with dogged determination that they will finally lose that extra weight. Others pledge to finally start saving for their dream purchase or investing for their retirement. Some people pledge to reestablish their priorities with regard to work, family, friends, and leisure.

The month of January represents new beginnings. A clean slate. A chance to start afresh and anew.

It is an opportunity to implement changes big and small. Yet January also brings about a sobering reminder each and every year:

Change is hard.

Figuratively speaking, the distance between change and complacency is very short. The difference is a single step in the direction of our goals. But taking that single step is often challenging.

Change is hard, complacency is easier

The human search for homeostasis has led us to really enjoy our comforts. I know that is why I love dining out, even if at McDonald’s. It is why I love sports, TV, and movies. It is why men love their recliners. These things provide comfort.

In order to change, you and I have to exit that comfort zone. On purpose. Repeatedly. We have to force ourselves to live on the edge of discomfort. Sometimes we may have to face our fears.

To lose a few pounds, I need to stay away from the comforts of restaurants and overindulgence in dairy, fried foods, and beer, and increase my intake of lean protein, vegetables, and fruits.

If saving money is my goal, I need to take a long, hard look at my spending habits and trim away waste. Psychologically, this type of self-correction is very necessary yet incredibly difficult to achieve with honesty and integrity.

Improving the performance of my investments is a difficult change to enact. It reveals that simple human desire and motivation are not always enough if we seek complex change. Sometimes we can do everything right and still fall short of our goals. This leads us to fear failure and avoid change.

Even our goals change from time to time. For example, a few months ago on my 30th birthday, I set five primary investment goals for the next year:

INVESTMENT GOALS
1 – Max out both of our IRAs for 2016. $11,000 total investment.
2 – Invest a minimum of $2,000 with Fundrise.
3 – Grow my overall account value with Betterment.
4 – Increase our overall net worth by 50%.
5 – Set a target date for early retirement and formulate a plan to get there.

Related Post: The Fundrise eREIT: Accessible Real Estate Investing for the Average Investor

As I write, we are most likely to fail at goals 1 and 3. Instead, due to changing circumstances, we opted to invest funds earmarked to achieve these goals in finishing our basement. These circumstances even led us to make a surprising decision – we borrowed money to complete this project. Gasp, I know. But the extremely low interest rate combined with maintaining liquidity were just too significant to pass up.

Even the decision to change our investment goals and instead invest in our home was not an easy one. My wife and I went back and forth on it many times, even though we knew that completing the project would instantly increase the value of our home by an additional 40-50% beyond the initial investment.

We hemmed on and hawed over a decision that would increase our net worth? Yup.

Change is hard because the act of change admits that are wrong in the present. Sometimes this hefty dose of humility can be too much to accept.

Change is hard because it is an act of giving up something to gain something else. And we don’t know if we all we hope to gain will be better than that which we are giving up.

Change is hard because we are often left swimming upstream, fighting against the currents of life. Two or three steps forward followed by one step backward only feels like progress for so long to our instant-gratification-seeking hearts.

Change is hard because it requires renewed commitment on a daily basis. As my father-in-law often says, there is no glory in yesterday’s victory.

Change is hard because we do not always instantly see the fruits of our labor. This is why your local gym is full in January and half empty again by the end of February.

So how can you and I change?

Change Comes From Within

I’m reminded of a vivid training scene in Rocky III, in which an over-the-hill Apollo Creed is training Rocky Balboa for his rematch with Clubber Lang. Creed pummels Rocky with a steady stream of right hooks, and Rocky’s lifeless approach to improving his technique leads Creed to question, “What’s the matter with you?!”

Rocky responds, “Tomorrow. We’ll do it tomorrow.”

A fired up Creed denounces this attitude, stating repeatedly, “There is no tomorrow!”

Rocky continues to go through the motions in training until he hits the ultimate low point. Creed deserts him and states, “It’s over.” Rocky is really on the ropes this time.

When he needs it the most, Rocky’s wife, Adrian, provides a dose of wisdom.

“Apollo thinks you can do it. So do I. But you gotta wanna do it for the right reasons. . . Not for the people, not for the title, not for the money, or me – but for you.”

“And if I lose?”

“Then you lose. But at least you lose with no excuses. No fear. And I know you could live with that.”

I think I could live with that, too. Can you?


How are you striving to change in 2017? How will you sacrifice to make it happen?

How Much Hustle Is Too Much?

These days, it seems there is a widening gap in our country. No, I’m not talking about the gap between Hillary and Donald supporters, though that gap may continue to grow even as the country attempts to unite under a Trump presidency. The gap I am referring to is the gap between those who hustle and those who do not; those who work multiple jobs and those who barely work at all; those who apply some elbow grease and those who dally; those who apply themselves to the fullest and those who lead a lackadaisical life of leisure.

Let’s call them The Hustlers and The Spectators.

These two groups are what we might label diametrically opposed; one values pushing oneself to the limits in search of accomplishment, while the other seeks to avoid so at all costs.

I’ve found myself in both camps at distinct times in my life. While it’s worth noting that we all go through natural seasons in life, sometimes the life of a Hustler or Spectator is a conscious choice. We weigh the benefits of both paths and choose to reap what appears to be the most enticing rewards. Sometimes life decides for us.

For the sake of discussion, let us simply define a Hustler as one who engages in one or more of the following:

*Works more than 40 hours per week

*Holds more than one job

*Actively seeks side jobs and extra gigs to earn additional money

For the most part, I am surrounded by Hustlers. Teachers seem to be routinely bashed as glorified babysitters by those on the outside, but they are among the hardest-working and most-underpaid professionals. Most bloggers manage to squeeze out time to remain dedicated to their craft despite other full-time work, family demands, and the ever-present call to rest. And let us not forget the hardest workers of all, mothers, who are always on the clock.

This saturation of hustle all around me has provoked a great deal of thought over the past several weeks. It has led me to ask an important question:

How much hustle is too much?

When it comes to a side hustle, we weigh the benefits and choose the most rewarding path. But how much hustle is too much?

The Benefits of Extreme Hustle

Last week, from Thursday morning until Sunday evening, I found myself in either work mode or sleep mode. My time was used very efficiently: work at the day job, real estate showings, phone calls, scheduling, and a charity event. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t have time to devote to the blog.

Some may consider this use of time to be a bit extreme, but I see many benefits of this brand of extreme hustle:

*Less time to blow money on stupid things

*Increased opportunities for fulfillment

*The chance to make a difference for others

*Remain mentally sharp even as you age

The Downsides of Extreme Hustle

On the other hand, to be transparent, I was running on fumes by the time Sunday evening rolled around. All of the hustle and bustle had finally caught up with me. Fortunately, I have always been able to adapt and recover quickly after burning both ends of the candle. Others may not recover so quickly, leaving them susceptible to the downsides of extreme hustle:

*Too much stress

*Decreased happiness if your hustling does not align with your gifts and interests

*Less time for family, recreation, community engagement

The Answer

As with most questions related to personal finance, the answer is best decided by the person who matters most: you.

I believe everyone should have a side hustle these days, as the benefits outweigh the negatives. But exactly how much time should be devoted to that side hustle is a very personal matter.

Working too much can actually be bad. We all have our limits. It takes a sadistic person to torture himself with never-ending work. It should not be a point of pride to be too busy to do anything other than work, eat, shower, and sleep, in my opinion.

Four Signs You’re Doing Too Much

A) You forget things- a lot.

B) You have lost touch with most of your closest friends.

C) You have rearranged your personal schedule for work multiple times in the past month.

D) Your efficiency severely lags. If you find yourself frequently multi-tasking (which has been shown to be a myth), it might be time to re-evaluate your level of hustle.


Readers, how much hustle is too much? How do you evaluate your use of time?

Four Financial Lies People Actually Believe

During the past several months, I’ve noticed a consistent problem is being perpetuated among those who doubt the benefits and joys of common sense financial management. There is a prevailing sense among many people that their situation is somehow different, special, or daunting, and that these specific circumstances prevent them from paying off debt, building emergency savings, buying a home, or investing for retirement. For these people, whining and complaining drive the self-pity train toward mediocrity. They have bought the financial lies.

Most people are quick to give in to their own inner whining and accept the path of least resistance. I do it time to time, and so do you. WE have bought into financial lies!

Common Financial Lies

Over the years, I have heard a number of financial lies. As they are repeated over and over, louder and louder, many people buy into the myths. Then they join in and spread the nonsense themselves. In no particular order, here is a collection of common financial lies:

1. The little guy never gets ahead.

I often wonder who started this myth and why it continues to linger in the collective consciousness of the people. It is ironic that this statement is believed by so many, while countless underdog stories prove otherwise.

For example, consider the life of businessman Tom Gores. Born in Israel, Gores moved to the United States prior to turning five years old. He grew up playing playing football, basketball and baseball at Genesee High School in Genesee, Michigan. He stocked shelves at his father’s grocery story in nearby Flint, graduated high school in 1982, and attend Michigan State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Management.

A host of financial lies continue to spread and stop the average person from winning with money. Reject these typical financial lies immediately!
Photo credit to Carlos Osorio/AP/Detroit Free Press

Gores did not experience a privileged upbringing by any stretch of the imagination.

Today, Gores’ net worth is $3.3 billion. The founder of Platinum Equity and majority owner of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, Gores is a self-made man. His high school coaches credit his business successes to his competitiveness, perseverance, and decision-making. None of them expected the quiet-but-talented athlete from a town of 24,000 people to follow the path Gores has blazed, but the little guy did it.

2. I’ll always have debt of some kind. It is a necessary tool for most people.

People mean well, but they spread financial lies like wild fire! Are these common financial lies holding you back from becoming wealthy?My head nearly explodes every time I hear this or a similar variation. Yes, debt is a tool, and I do believe it can be used wisely in select situations. But to insinuate that it is necessary hints at a larger problem: Americans are drowning in consumer debt.

I will not sport a holier-than-thou position and claim that debt has not helped me. Debt has allowed me to earn two college degrees and buy a house. However, these experiences would have been unquestionably sweeter had debt not been part of the equation.

3. I’ll always have a car payment/car lease because I can’t afford a nice car without one.

This financial lie makes my blood boil. The truth is that moving up in vehicle is a process which need not involve debt nor take long if you are willing to be patient for a short time. Mathematically-speaking, a car payment is costly and a car lease is usually the worst method of operating a vehicle.

Related: The Finance Superhero Rules for Car Buying

Let’s suppose you currently own a $2,000 beater car. While it is likely to depreciate over the next 12-24 months, I am willing to bet the vehicle could be sold for $2,000 in 18 months with careful marketing. Let’s also suppose that you saved $250 per month for 18 months prior to selling the beater. Through this flipping method, you could afford a $6500 vehicle. Continue the plan for another 18 months and an $11,000 vehicle is in reach. One additional cycle could allow you to purchase a vehicle valued at $15,500.  In four and a half years, you’ve moved up in car from a 1993 Honda Civic to a 2013 Hyundai Elantra. And you did it without a single payment! Of course, saving more than $250 per month could significantly change the conversation.

4. I deserve to be paid more than my current salary.

I find this phrase (and similar offshoots) is most often uttered by millennials. Please allow me to apologize for the collective whining of my generation.

Most millennials really need a lifestyle and attitude adjustment, not a salary adjustment. While the millennial median income is admittedly low across the United States, that hasn’t stopped millennials from living far beyond their means.

Facebook envy and the fear of missing out is largely to blame. Pictures of new cars and new houses lead the average millennial, especially men, into foolish spending in order to maintain appearances.

I am not saying that millennials should not increase their earnings. However, I am saying that whining is not the way to achieve that increase. If you believe you are underpaid, demonstrate your worth. Gather statistics which prove your worth and present them to your supervisor at the appropriate time.


Readers, what financial lies do you most often hear? Why do you think they continue to spread?

Money and Marriage: How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

When it comes to money and marriage, a system of communication is vital. Money fights remain a leading cause of divorce, but there is hope! Read on and learn how to (and how NOT to) talk about money with your spouse.One year prior to marrying Mrs. Superhero, I became a gung-ho personal finance enthusiast. For the next several months, I ate, slept, and breathed money. I read financial books in my spare time and listened to podcasts during my two hour round trip daily commute. Just for fun, I began watching the now defunct Dave Ramsey Show on Fox Business and The Suze Orman show on MSNBC.

At the time, I had just started my first job teaching elementary school music. I lived with a roommate, drove a 2000 Ford Taurus with nearly 200,000 miles, and lived on a reasonably frugal budget for a bachelor. The soon-to-be Mrs. Superhero was completing her senior year and preparing for a similar career teaching music.

Call us old-fashioned, but we made it a priority to attend pre-marital counseling during our engagement. At our first meeting, the pastor who planned to officiate our ceremony asked us both to complete a brief questionnaire in order to develop a priority list for our sessions.

Not surprisingly, we both scored very highly in the area of personal finance. The soon-to-be Mrs. Superhero is a natural saver, and my near-obsession with personal finance had contributed to her gain of my new-found knowledge by osmosis. After asking us both if we had ever heard of Dave Ramsey or his book — we both had done so — the pastor informed us that we would be “fine.”

In reality, we weren’t going to be “fine.”

A storm was already brewing.

The First Money Talk

I will always remember our first family budget meeting. Shortly after our honeymoon, we sat down among stacks of moving boxes at the old oak dining room table in our rented townhouse. I was excited to do some intense number crunching, formulate projections, and dream about our future as husband and wife. To say I had preconceived notions about how this meeting was going to go would be an understatement.

We began the meeting by reviewing the state of our current emergency savings. Mrs. Superhero’s eyes lit up as we pored over the numbers; not because they were terribly high or impressive, but because she had worked and saved up $2,000 of our emergency fund during the past year, all while taking 19 credit hours, practicing flute and piano for hours and hours each day, and performing in the university orchestra and band. Never one to allow my agenda to be interrupted, I stated that we needed to boost our meager savings as soon as possible.

Next, we reviewed the budget I had put together the day before. I had pre-determined every single dollar of spending on paper and presented each category one-by-one in a very matter-of-fact manner. Mrs. Superhero listened intently, and when I had finished my review, I asked if she had “any questions.” Sensing the rhetorical nature of my question, Mrs. Superhero said “no.”

At this point, I’m sure I was feeling quite proud of myself for directing such an efficient meeting, so I moved to wrap-up the meeting and continue unpacking. Mrs. Superhero sheepishly agreed. Meeting closed.

In hindsight, I had no idea how to talk about money with my spouse. I could talk at her about money until I turned blue in the face, yet conversing with her hadn’t even entered my radar. There wasn’t much authentic communication happening.

Compounding Irritation

When it comes to money and marriage, a system of communication is vital. Read on and learn how to (and how NOT to) talk about money with your spouse.Prior to our marriage, I was genuinely excited about the merger of money and marriage. Call it naivete or wishful thinking, but I had no idea that it would be a challenge. A few months into our marriage, I thought things were going well. Mrs. Superhero had graduated in December and secured a long-term substitute teaching position for the spring. At our next budget meeting, I naturally came prepared with spreadsheets and figures illustrating how I had planned to utilize the coming increasing in our budgeted income. Though I deserved it, I was not prepared for what was about to happen next.

In no uncertain terms, Mrs. Superhero informed me that she had gone along with my “control of the budget” so far, but now she wanted a voice in the budget process. Immediately, I went on the defensive and argued that she had always had a voice in the process. As you can imagine, the conversation’s quality quickly eroded from this point.

How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

Thankfully, Mrs. Superhero and I have grown in our ability to talk about money. We understand each other better with each passing year, and our need to discuss our finances in detail has greatly diminished. We have a system to keep our money and marriage on track.

This system took time to develop. It required an understanding of our individual financial inclinations and values. Once we came to a collective understanding — that I enjoy and value sensible stewardship and planning ahead and Mrs. Superhero values financial security and balancing the priorities of the future with today’s needs — we were well on our way toward happiness.

Money and Marriage – The Wrong Way

Needless to say, however, I made several mistakes early on, and they were damaging to our money and marriage. I have done things “the wrong way,” and it was damaging and discouraging.

1. Overuse the words “I” and “you” when discussing money.

Speaking these words frequently when discussing money is a sure fire way to create a divisive conversation. You will cause your spouse to become standoffish or even adversarial when the topic of money arises.

For example, “You spent too much money at the grocery store” and “I need a newer car” are two phrases which I actually spoke during early budget meetings. The words “you” and “I” super-charged these conversations with negative emotions. They made my wife defensive about her shopping and concerned about future spending on a vehicle.

2. Keeping your financial lives separate.

I know this will be a sticking point for many readers, but it is imperative that you and your spouse join your accounts and view your assets and income collectively. Separating money is a sure fire way to create silly fights and senseless drama. It also serves to unreasonably highlight whether one spouse is the primary breadwinner. When you decided to marry and merge your lives, you pledged to be partners, not competitors.

I believe this idea also includes the mental separation of income by source. When the primary earner holds that fact over the other spouse’s head, a fight is sure to follow.

3. Hiding debt or assets from your spouse. 

Before you marry, it is time to let all of your financial skeletons out of the closet. If you have bad debts from years of betting on horse racing, it’s time to come clean. It’s also time to share that you inherited $150,000 from Aunt Rosie. This kind of behavior is common, and it’s toxic to your marriage; according to a CreditCard.com survey, approximately 6 million people have concealed financial accounts from their spouse. Be honest so you can work together to clean-up bad debts or wisely formulate a plan for large sums of money or other assets.

Thankfully, I never had odd debts (or assets, unfortunately!) to hide.

Money and Marriage – The Right Way

1. Identify your common ground for your vision of the future.

If you’ve never done this before, it is easy. Take out a sheet of paper and a pen, and begin listing how you envision your future at various stages in life. How many kids will you have? Where will you live? Will you travel frequently? Will you support your children through college? Will you both work full-time? For how long?

The answers to these questions will provide common ground for the goals which meet at the intersection of your marriage and money; they will help you answer the “why?” questions which may arrive as you plan your financial affairs.

2. Learn to speak your spouse’s financial language.

When I finally realized that Mrs. Superhero values future security and balancing the priorities of both today and tomorrow, I learned how to frame financial discussions in a manner which actually matters to her. Now that our discussions include these perspectives by default, we are making better decisions which align with our collective goals.

Perhaps your spouse is a numbers person. Maybe he or she responds better to be emotional appeal. It is your job to discover their financial language and communicate in a manner which is meaningful yet non-manipulative.

3. Honor each other’s wishes as your circumstances allow.

This can be a difficult step for many people, especially for Extreme Frugalites, but it is important to give and take for the sake of your spouse. I, for example, have no desire to add to my already-fine wardrobe of slacks, jeans, button down shirts, polos, and t-shirts. But Mrs. Superhero enjoys purchasing a few new clothing items each month. Similarly, I enjoy trying new and interesting imported and craft beer. Neither of these indulgences is significant enough to derail us from goals, so we have learned to appreciate the little things which make each other happy.

Final Words

While the advice in this piece is designed to promote harmony between marriage and money, in the end, I must be clear: our marriage is far more important than any financial concerns, goals, or dreams which may fill our minds and hearts. It is easy to lose sight of this priority in the heat of the moment, but over the long haul, Mrs. Superhero and I have been successful in our marriage and money because the latter ALWAYS takes the back seat to the former.


How do you ensure a healthy relationship between marriage and money? How often do you and your spouse talk about money? How do you stay on the same page with your plans, dreams, and goals?

Retire With Dignity – Reject the Normal Financial Outlook

Everything is relative when it comes to money and determining what is “normal.” At least that is what we have been conditioned to believe over time. The normal financial outlook is very different for blue collar workers and executives, plumbers and CEOs, and teachers and doctors. Unfortunately, a statistical average generated among such a wide variety of professions and incomes does little good in helping us learn what normal looks like today.

Income, of course, is only half the battle. On the flip side, expenses complicate the search for normal even further. Even two doctors with identical incomes and living in $450,000 homes in San Francisco, California and Arlington, Texas, respectively, may have wildly differing expense to income ratios due to property taxes and cost of living discrepancies.

So where does this leave the search? Is a “normal financial outlook” definable?

Is a "normal financial outlook" definable? Everything is relative when it comes to money, yet the desire to be normal could be sabotaging your efforts.

A Normal Financial Outlook is a Fallacy

The other day, I spoke with a friend about the manner in which “normal” people manage their finances. After citing problem after problem, we came to a realization: We won’t want to be normal. Normal is broke, greedy, overconfident, and unfulfilled. 

Following our conversation, I pondered the idea a bit more and came to a conclusion which I believe is tight enough to hold water: the average person’s desire to be normal is to be blame for his pessimistic financial outlook. Furthermore, normal is simply a self-defeating social construct which ultimately holds us back.

Consider the following connections:

*The desire to be normal drives us to take on a 72 month auto loan so we can drive the same car as our colleague; never mind the fact that the vehicle will be worth a fraction of its sticker value when the loan is paid off.

*The desire to be normal motivates us to take on the maximum pre-approved mortgage when looking for a home. It also causes us to spend at an unreasonable clip to furnish the home at high interest rates and rationalize it because “everyone else is doing it.” Many normal people will end up paying nearly twice the value of their home due to 30 years of interest accumulation (or more if they refinance to another 30 year mortgage after several years of paying on an initial 30 year mortgage).

*Because most normal people do not have any idea how much money they will need to live on in retirement, we adopt a normal mindset and rationalize that “it will all work out.”

*The desire to be normal leads us to go out with colleagues each day rather than brown bagging it for lunch. This kind of “normal” comes at a cost of over $100,000 over a working career.

These are only a few examples, but they drive home the truth that normal is bad.

Normal is the Worst

Statistically speaking, normal people are house poor, broke, in debt, and destined to slave away for 40-50 years only to retire in old age and poor health. And this is what most of us strive to become?

I have a different vision for my future. I don’t want it to be anything close to “normal.” As a result, I’m doing the sensible things now to ensure that my family’s future isn’t depressingly bleak.

First and foremost, I am consistently striving to challenge my everyday perception of “normal.” I know that if I surround myself with people and experiences which are “normal,” I will fight the desire to live abnormally. On the other hand, if I surround myself with people who share my view of what is “normal,” I am cultivating a healthier perception of the idea itself. This is vital.

Mrs. Superhero and I have intentionally taken steps to become good friends with others who share this mindset. For example, one couple we frequently spend time with also maintains an entertainment/dining budget. We have no qualms with being transparent about that among our families, which often leads to double dates at our home in lieu of expensive meals out. We look at as iron sharpening iron.

Secondly, Mrs. Superhero and I have worked at minimizing the frequency with which we experience luxury in our lives. We know that once we become accustomed to luxuries it can be very hard to give them up. Once luxuries become the norm, it can become very difficult to grow wealth and develop a favorable financial outlook; raising the bar in this manner is “normal,” but it minimizes satisfaction and happiness while permanently raising one’s bottom line required spending. We aim to make luxurious experiences the exception, not the norm.

Third, we are diligent in taking excellent care of the nice possessions which we have prioritized over the years. We have found that we appreciate these items for their true value, utility, and contribution to our overall happiness simply because we exhibit pride in maintaining what we have worked and sacrificed to gain. For example, I marvel at the fine condition of my 2008 Honda Accord while driving to work each day. Instead of dwelling on the fact that it is nearly nine years old now,  I choose to take pride in its fine condition.

I often think that if we were resigned to a normal financial outlook, we would be far less mindful about these sort of things. In rejecting this kind of thinking, we choose to believe that there is a better way to live. It is a path lined with hard work, sacrifice, and self-control, but we firmly believe it is the best path toward happiness both in the present and in the future.


How do you define “normal” when it comes to money? Do you have a normal financial outlook? In what ways do you reject being “normal” on your path toward happiness both in the present and in retirement?