Category Archives: Personal Growth

Self-Pity is the Enemy of Progress

Are you generally happy when you see others experience success? Or do you find yourself indulging in a round of self-pity, wondering why others achieve progress and reach their goals and you don’t?

Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the fence over the years. Though it is hard to admit, I spent much of my youth mired in pride which bordered on arrogance at times. I felt, unjustifiably, that hard work entitled me to success and getting what I wanted. Only in adulthood did I learn to practice humility and acceptance when things don’t go my way.

A funny thing happens when you learn to embrace humility; you realize that the universe does not revolve around you, that other people have intrinsic value, and sometimes things just don’t go your way. This lesson is not easy to learn, nor is it fun, but it is incredibly important.

When things don’t go your way, you have two choices. Accept the outcome, learn from it, and continue to persevere in the face of failure, or drown your sorrows in self-pity.

In my opinion, self-pity is always the wrong choice because it is the enemy of progress.

Please don’t misread my stance as insensitive. Rising above difficult circumstances is very challenging, especially emotionally. It almost always requires specific action. And as Einstein so eloquently stated, insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Related Reading:

If you're not where you want to be, the lesson is simple: stop the bitterness and self-pity and get to work on changing your circumstances. Nobody else is going to do it for you. You can take appropriate steps to improve yourself and get back on track when you accept responsibility for your circumstances.

You Choose Your Response

Last week, the story of how my wife and I paid off $18,000 of student loan debt in 54 days was featured on CNBC and Yahoo Finance. We received many kind messages from friends, family, co-workers, and bloggers who happened to see the article. I’m not one to enjoy being in the spotlight – in fact, it embarrasses me to a degree – but I was glad that our story was being shared with people who may be feeling stuck in debt. “It might help them,” I thought.

Friday evening, I made the mistake of reading the comments on one of the articles, and while I won’t give any of them space in this piece, suffice it to say that many of them were intensely negative.

This didn’t come as a surprise to me, as internet trolls are often the most egregious practitioners of self-pity. But it did lead me to think about how many of the people who whined and complained that their circumstances would never allow them to escape debt were casting self-fulfilling prophesies.

In comment after comment, I noticed that a majority of their authors seemingly felt victimized by their circumstances. And while many of them truly found themselves in tough financial situations, it appeared that few of them had actively accepted responsibility and ownership of the situation and formulated a game plan to do something.

Contrary to the prevailing theme of these comments, the truth is your circumstances have very little to do with whether or not you accomplish your goals – financial or otherwise. People who achieve their dreams take the energy that they could easily put into self-pity and instead channel it into action. They accept responsibility for enacting change, even when it is hard.

The moment you allow yourself to start the self-pity train in motion and allow yourself to believe that you are a victim, you’ve lost, in my experience. Bad things – job loss, massive debt, debilitating illness, and catastrophic loss – happen to people all the time.

Self-pity assumes, wrongly so, that you are somehow more special than others and should not have to experience hardship. This is demonstrably wrong.

Though you have little choice in whether they happen to you, you absolutely must believe that you DO have a choice in how you respond when adversity strikes!

How to Channel Self-Pity Into Action

For the sake of your health and happiness, it is crucial that you learn to accept that things won’t always go your way and. To take it one step further, you should be happy for others when they succeed.

Jealousy disguised as self-pity will get you nowhere. As William Penn said, “The jealous are troublesome to others but a torment to themselves.” Translation: allowing yourself to be jealous is like shooting yourself in the foot.

The truth is that one of the best ways to achieve success yourself is by emulating others who have accomplished what you want to achieve yourself. When I learned CNBC would be sharing our story, I had high hopes that many people would read it and copy our method to crush their student loan debt in a hurry.

Instead, many decided that our story was a lie, that it couldn’t be done, that my wife and I (two teachers) must have inherited money, that we must earn over $200,000 per year, and so on. Again, I’m not surprised or hurt by these comments. I stopped caring what strangers think of me long ago.

But I have to admit I am sad that so many of the commenters missed the point of our story entirely:

No matter what you circumstances may be, you and only you are responsible for taking action to change them and refusing to allow them to hold you back.

Want to lose weight but find that you keep eating junk food instead? Throw it out and don’t buy more.

Stuck in debt but find yourself living paycheck to paycheck? Do whatever it takes to earn more money and cut all unnecessary expenses.

Feel that you are underpaid in your current job? Prove that you deserve a raise or seek a new job and a higher salary.

Whining about your student loan debt while you drive around in a brand new car with a $500 per month payment? Stop it. And sell the car.

Final Word

If you’re not where you want to be, the lesson is simple: stop the bitterness and self-pity and get to work on changing your circumstances. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

Stop believing that you are a victim of your circumstances. Refuse to believe that you must continue to be stuck and unhappy. When you see others succeed, follow their path and channel motivation from their story.

And when you find yourself in difficult circumstances, don’t continue feeling bad for yourself for too long.

Remember: self-pity and progress cannot co-exist.

You CAN do it. I am rooting for you!

Readers: Is there an appropriate time for self-pity? Is my position too harsh?

self-pity | take action | change your circumstances

Why College Isn’t For Everyone

These words are difficult for me to write. But in this season of graduation parties and commencement ceremonies, they need to be written: College isn’t for everyone.

I am a public school teacher who holds both BA and MA degrees. My mother earned her Associates degree, and my father completed his GED. They encouraged me to pursue higher education because they wanted me to live the best life possible.

My wife and I are small business owners. We owe much of our success to the excellent educations we received. In fact, we wouldn’t be where we are today without those experiences.

Despite the obvious impact of education in my life, I still believe college isn’t for everyone.

College and career options have been on my mind, in local Chicago news, and in the national news thanks to New York and news of free college tuition. A recent student petition at Naperville North High School has shed light on the enormous pressure being placed upon students to do everything possible to improve their chances of getting into a good college.

As the petition points out, the problem is that not every student will follow the college pathway. Underneath the steady buzz of the message that college is the only path toward success, many students are left wondering how to fit in now and move forward after school.

Encouraging every high school student to go to college is incredibly irresponsible, yet it happens – and not just in communities like Naperville. What follows is similar to pushing a square peg into a round hole. Countless students finish high school, wander aimlessly into college because it is expected, take out thousands of dollars in student loans, and then drop out after three semesters.

Why does this happen?

College isn’t for everyone.

The "college or bust" mentality misleads students, disrespects skilled trades, and promotes a dangerous lie: college isn't for everyone.

The Obvious Problems

As recently as a few decades ago, most communities respected a student’s decision to join the work force right away after high school. Many students found their niche in jobs in manufacturing, local agriculture, and trade skills, paid their dues, and moved up the ranks within their companies over time.

In the past, these career pathways were considered both valid and highly respected. Today, many communities stigmatize these jobs and teach their children that they deserve “better.”

There are two clear cut problems with this mentality:

  1. If everyone were to go to college, communities would face a dire shortage of plumbers, welders, automotive repair specialists, roofers, builders, handymen, electricians, HVAC technicians, and many other important cornerstone jobs.
  2. Jobs that require college degrees are in no way “better” than those with less education requirements. In fact, many skilled trades which don’t require a college education offer greater earning potential.

At its core, this “college or bust” mentality is extremely damaging and out of touch with reality. It places undue pressure on kids to begin resume building and choosing a career path as early as middle school.

And worst of all, it encourages young people to chase empty prestige while missing an opportunity to identify their passion and purpose.

The Consequences

When students decide to attend college, they understandably focus on their future career enjoyment, earnings, and quality of life. Those visions rarely account for the potential reality that their future just may be a life of student loan debt and no degree.


For many students, college is potentially the most costly mistake they’ll make in their lifetimes. They will lose years of earning potential and reduce the power of compounding interest in their investment portfolios.

I have several friends who took out student loans to attend college, some for as many as six years, and never completed their degrees. Some of them are too lazy to finish up a class or two to complete their programs, while others floundered from major to major every semester before calling it quits.

Each one of them wasted several years of their young adult lives taking upon debt to receive educational training which provides limited or no economic benefits to them today. Their embarrassment and regret are noticeable.

A Degree is Not a Guarantee

In high school, I distinctly remember being told many times that earning a college degree was a guaranteed ticket to a successful future. This is still taught in most schools today. The sad truth is that while a college degree offers many opportunities for career and earnings advancement, nothing is guaranteed.

I have many friends who went to college for 4-5 years, earned their degree, and now are not even using it due to one reason or another. Some of them realized they had pigeon-holed themselves into careers they hated. Others had made errors in calculation. A few people unexpectedly found themselves in dying or down job markets.

The disillusionment and anger these friends experience is both understandable and noticeable. Many of them are no closer to finding a career they love than when they finished high school. They have nothing to show for their years of studying, other than a punched ticket to the 10 year student loan debt club.

The Solution

The stigma that college is the only way needs to change. It is time for communities, school districts, and parents to acknowledge and promote the obvious truth: college isn’t for everyone after all.

Many communities already understand this and are taking active steps to help every high school graduate be prepared for what lies beyond high school. I am fortunate to live and teach in a school district which seeks to serve all of its students by providing options and training to those who wish to join the work force upon graduation. Every day, I count it a blessing that my former students have not been led to believe that college is the only pathway to success.

If you are fortunate to have a teenager or young adult in your life, please take the opportunity to remind them that college isn’t for everyone. Your words may empower them to shed family and peer pressure and choose a path which better aligns with their goals and strengths.

Do you believe everyone should attend college?

It’s Time to Stop Mom Shaming

Last month, I received a question via email from a reader – we’ll call her Anna – asking whether her friend should consider leaving her job to become a stay at home mom. Immediately, it made me think less about financial matters and more about just how wide-spread mom shaming has become. Anna wrote:

Hey FinanceSuperhero!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether to keep working full time hours to kick debt to the curb or to stay home with little kids and resume working full time when they are older. Asking for a friend…… 😉


With Mother’s Day approaching (husbands, consider this your reminder to head out shopping for gifts now!), today is the perfect day to answer Anna’s question. Though this is a personal finance blog, my answer may surprise you.

As a disclaimer, though I may be considered an expert when it comes to financial matters and paying off debt, I’m far from being a knowledgeable pro when it comes to motherhood.

I’m not even a father yet, but I can see that being a mother is a true superhero effort.

My opinions which follow are rooted in my beliefs and values regarding family and money, but they may or may not align with your values.

Take them with a grain of salt.

This post is for any mother who has ever dealt with stay at home mom shaming. It is also for the moms out there who have been made to feel guilty for continuing their careers after having children.

This post is for the moms who haven’t had more than 10 minutes to themselves in weeks or months. It’s for the moms who somehow manage to put dinner on the table, keep their kids in clean clothing, help with homework, chauffeur kids to practices on opposite ends of the Earth, and keep a clean house.

And it is for the moms who transition from board room presentations, the classroom, or the hospital to becoming everything for their children every day without skipping a beat.

In Defense and Praise of the Stay at Home Mom

Seventy years ago, nobody questioned a mother’s decision to stay home with her children. Over the decades, the pendulum has swung the opposite direction, and in contrast, today there is practically a full-blown war between stay at home moms (SAHMs) and working moms to determine whose job is more difficult and more important.

Related: The toxic myth that working moms fail their kids is fueled by decades-old bad science

Recently, stay at home mom shaming seems to have reached new heights. I’ve spoken with dozens of SAHMs over the past several years, and most of them have heard variations of the following comments:

  • “It must be SO nice to stay home every day.”
  • “What on Earth do you do all day?”
  • “Do you miss real work?”
  • “I wish I could stay at home like you but we have bills to pay.”

Some of these questions may seem innocent at first glance, but they are all classic forms of stay at home mom shaming. They demean and belittle the selfless actions of the stay at home mom. They imply that stay at home moms are second-rate contributors to society.

It’s an absolutely ridiculous notion, and it needs to stop.

stay at home mom | mom shaming | working mom | motherhood

As a teacher, I can confidently say that kids are rare creatures who can simultaneously be awesome and awful; sometimes they are perfect, and other times even Mother Teresa herself would lack the patience to deal with them. My additional experience as an uncle confirms this.

In my opinion, the difficulty in committing to raise children full-time makes the choice to be  a stay at home mom one of the noblest choices a woman can make.

Working Moms Deserve Credit, Too

On the opposite end of the spectrum, working moms receive their undue share of shaming as well. Even though Anna’s email above is very short, it’s easy to detect a hint of its effects on her thought process.

It is unacceptable that working moms are made to feel like they don’t truly love their children because they work outside of the home. All too often working moms are subjected to an onslaught of comments:

  • “You shouldn’t have had kids if you can’t be their mother.”
  • “Do you feel bad that you don’t get quality time with your kids?”
  • “Aren’t you worried about how your kids will turn out being raised in day care?”
  • “It must be so nice to get out of the house and have some time to yourself!”

Yes, working mom shaming is just as prevalent as stay at home mom shaming. 

And the worst part about all mom shaming, regardless of its specific nature, is that its basic premise assumes a mother’s value is found in her financial or child-raising contributions to her family.

The truth is that a mother’s real value cannot be evaluated by her bank ledgers, credit scores, work evaluations, tallies of minutes and hours spent with her children, number of loads of laundry washed and folded, or the cleanliness of her home. It is so much more than that.

A mother’s true inherent value is rooted in love for her children. Whatever ancillary titles we choose to bestow – stay at home, working, and others – are secondary if not entirely insignificant.

What can we learn from all of this?

It’s time to stop all forms of mom shaming.

The Decision: Stay Home or Work?

In light of the truth that a mom’s value has no connection to whether she works or stays home to raise children, the answer to Anna’s question becomes much more simple. In my opinion, it largely becomes a matter that must be decided on principle and personal preference.

That said, I believe there are a number of universal truths which Anna’s friend should consider before deciding to embrace the stay at home mom life or keep working to pay off debt.

First, it is important to realize that as a mom, you can always go back to work and earn more money after your kids are grown and in school. But you can’t go back in time and regain special moments with your kids once they’re grown.

Second, while money is important, it is far from being everything. In fact, it isn’t even near the top of a well-crafted priority list.

Third, money will not buy or replace your children’s happiness. Children genuinely crave and need positive interaction and quality time with their parents more than they need anything else.

Related: Buying More Stuff Won’t Make You Happy

Fourth, the choice to stay home with children need not be entirely an economic one. Salary and the cost of child care are certainly critical factors to consider, but they aren’t the only factors. Multiple children tend to complicate these decisions even further, as staying home vs. sending multiple children to day care could be a wash, financially-speaking.

Making a Difficult Choice

Ultimately, the decision to work or stay home with children is a difficult choice that every mother must make at some point. There isn’t a definitive right or wrong answer.

However, what is abundantly clear is that the mom shaming – on all fronts – needs to stop. Though I cannot possibly understand the frustration, anger, exhaustion, and countless other struggles you go through, I do know this, moms:

Participation in The Mommy Wars isn’t helping you or your fellow moms.

Stop tearing each other down with hurtful questions, snarky comments, and judgmental glances.

Support each other. Build each other up. Be encouraging.

After all, your kids are watching.

To Anna’s friend, and all mothers out there:

No matter what path you choose, remember that your job/career or choice to leave them behind has absolutely nothing to do with your value or worth as a person and mother.

Sometimes a job is just a job. An income is just an income. And debt is just debt.

Your contributions to this world, your family, and especially your kids, are so much more than monetary in nature. In everything you do, you’re the true superheroes.

So boldly do what is best for you and your family and make no apologies for it.

Have a Happy Mother’s Day.

Readers, what thoughts do you have to add for Anna’s friend and all mothers who are deciding between working and staying home?

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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?

20 Budget-Friendly Whole30 Tips to Save Money

Starting Whole30 for the first or fiftieth time? It can be expensive! We'll show you 20 tips to eat Whole30 on a budget and save money at the same time!Do you ever feel frustrated by how expensive it is to eat a healthy diet? Are you waging a constant battle between your desires to eat well and also be frugal? My wife and I can sympathize. We have tried a number of different diets, and though each one was different, one thing seemed to remain consistent: eating healthy food and eliminating or reducing junk food was incredibly expensive! When we started the Whole30 program for the first time, I braced myself for a big hit to our budget. To my surprise, we were able to eat Whole30 and save money instead of spending more.

Whole30 is a powerful program capable of changing not only your relationship with food but also the relationship between food and money.Whether you’ve tried Whole30 many times or don’t even know what it is yet, I hope that the tips and tricks below will help you and your family try Whole30 without spending your whole paycheck on food.

What is Whole30?

If you are familiar with Whole30, please skip this section – otherwise, read on.

The Whole30 Program has been used by millions of people since 2009. Over the course of 30 days, participants eat only real food and follow only a few fairly common sense restrictions. The payoff? At the end of 30 days you’ll feel much better, and as you slowly reintegrate foods back into your diet, you can find your trigger foods. The Whole30 website describes the program well:

Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.

Participants may NOT eat any of the following items:

  • Added sugar of any kind, real or artificial (honey, agave, Stevia, etc.)
  • Alcohol of any kind, even if used for cooking
  • Grains of any kind
  • Legumes (includes peanut butter)
  • Dairy products of any kind
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites
  • Imitation baked goods, sweets, or junk foods, even if they are made with 100% approved Whole30 ingredients (i.e. you can’t make pancakes or pizza with approved ingredients)

There are notable exceptions:

  • Natural fruit juice is allowed
  • The following legumes are allowed – Green beans, sugar snap peas, and snow peas
  • Salt (technically, most salt contains sugar, but this is allowed)

If you’ve never experienced Whole30, I get it – it sounds like the worst idea of all time. But if you’re willing to push yourself and make big changes, you can completely change your relationship with food and make major improvements to your health. I’m by no means a doctor or an expert on Whole30 – so take what I have to say at face value and with a grain of salt – but I have seen the program have a great impact on dozens of friends. It worked well for me and my wife, and we still follow many of the guiding principles of the program.

Put simply: Whole30 works.

Frugal Whole30 Tips and Tricks

If you’re ready to eat Whole30 and commit to 30 days of change – great! I’m confident the experience will teach you a lot. My hope is that the following tips and tricks will help you to eat Whole30 while still maintaining frugal habits. They helped us avoid raising our food budget, so I’m confident they can work for you, too.

1. Stay Out of Restaurants

Confession time: I love eating out, so staying out of restaurants was impossible for me. I was able to find Whole30 approved options at a few places, namely Chipotle, but staying out of restaurants and cooking at home is your best bet. You’ll save money and enjoy better meals.

2. Plan Meals At Least One Week in Advance

This principle applies to anyone trying to save money on groceries, so it definitely applies to Whole30 participants – if you don’t have a plan, plan to fail.

Plan all of your meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – one week at a time. Make a chart similar to this one and list everything you will need on your shopping list.

3. Buy Diverse Ingredients

This is also a universal meal planning principle. Maintaining stock of diverse, Whole30-approved ingredients will help you in a pinch if, for example, a meal is ruined or you don’t make it out for your next shopping trip. You’ll avoid an unexpected run to Chipotle.

4. Buy Meat in Bulk

Likewise, buying meat in bulk is a majorly frugal way to eat Whole30 without destroying your budget. This is a great time to put your Costco membership to good use.

Eat Whole30 on a budget and save moneyYou can also shop locally when buying meat in bulk and save a ton of money through a free program called Zaycon Fresh.

Zaycon Fresh provides high-quality, farm fresh meat directly from local farmers to your table – and their prices typically beat even Aldi and Wal-Mart!

When you sign-up for FREE, Zaycon will leverage the buying power of several local families on your behalf and help you save money on food by purchasing items in bulk. They send you daily e-mail alerts on local sales events, and when you place your order, they take care of the rest. When your order is ready, you bring your receipt to a designated pick-up location near your home and collect your fresh, inexpensive meat without even leaving your car.

Zaycon Fresh is currently available in 1,200 communities nationwide, and you can sign-up for FREE to save money on food today.

5. Buy Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables are a life saver on Whole30. You can often find buy one, get one free sales on many frozen vegetables at your local grocer. Keep a healthy stock of green beans (technically a legume, but Whole30 approved), carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables that can be used in a variety of meals or eaten as a snack.

6. Freeze Nuts

Credit goes to my friend Mrs. Picky Pincher for this tip. If you freeze your Whole30-approved nuts, they will stay fresh for much longer. Nuts are expensive, so don’t waste them!

7. Shop at Aldi

I know it isn’t as cool or trendy as Whole Foods, but if you haven’t visited Aldi recently, you might be pleasantly surprised if you give it another chance. The growing grocer has expanded its offerings, including organic and Whole30-approved options, to help shoppers save money on food and live a healthier life.

Aldi is currently investing $1.6 billion to remodel 1,300 of its 1,600 stores by 2020. Low prices won’t be affected by these changes, the company insists.

8. Plate Portions For Your Family

Have you ever prepared enough food to last for two meals only to have hungry family members take seconds or thirds, leaving you with you no meal for the next day? Apparently I do this to my wife all the time.

You can stretch Whole30 meals further by plating meals yourself rather than allowing family members to serve themselves family style. Controlled portions will ensure that your kids don’t waste half of their dinner, and as a bonus, everyone will avoid overeating.

9. Eat Salads for Lunch

Eat Whole30 on a budget and save moneyI’m about as close to a carnivore as a person can get, but I started to look forward to my salad at lunch while on Whole30. If you add in a few pieces of grilled chicken, approved nuts, fruits, and even a few dates, you’ll have a satisfying and frugal lunch.

10. Carry a Water Bottle With You Everywhere

Did you know that people often confuse signs of thirst with signs of hunger? Especially while you are trying to eat Whole30, carry a water bottle everywhere. Staying hydrated will help you limit snacks between meals.

11. Eat Lots of Eggs

If you’re like me and don’t care for eggs, this won’t work for you. But my wife ate eggs nearly every day on Whole30. Per serving, eggs are one of the most economical breakfast foods, especially if you buy them in bulk.

12. Buy Whole Chickens

Buying a whole chicken is not as convenient as buying packaged chicken breasts or thighs, but it can save you a lot of money while you eat Whole30.

13. Cook with Olive Oil

Especially when you start to eat Whole30, your body will crave the fats you used to feed it. Olive oil is a healthy fat that also happens to be very budget friendly, so don’t be afraid to use it!

14. Use Spices to Achieve Bold Flavors

If you eat baked chicken, potatoes, and broccoli every day, you’re going to lose your mind. Experiment with new spices to add new twists to every day meals. A few changes here and there can help you create totally different meals to satisfy your food urges and keep you from running out to Chipotle.

Here are a few of our favorites:

15. Bake Your Own Plantain Chips

If you’re a fan of plantain chips, you probably know that they are often expensive at your local grocery store. We used plantain chips to add crunch to Mexican dishes like tacos and pork carnitas, but we didn’t make our own. Next time around we will follow this simple recipe (and omit the sugar).

16. Eat Larabars for Breakfast or Lunch

Not all Larabars are Whole30 approved – so be careful – but I grew to love having a Lemon Bar Larabar for breakfast or lunch most days. Amazon has great prices on Larabars, so set-up a price alert and wait for good deals.

Here is a helpful list of approved Larabars.

17. Don’t Buy Organic Everything

The Whole30 website suggests that organic is the best way to go while on the program, but I don’t believe it is worth blowing up your budget to buy everything organic. If the non-organic alternatives are significantly cheaper, take advantage of the opportunity as long as it doesn’t bother you.

18. Use a Crockpot

If you don’t have a Crockpot, getting one and using it is crucial to Whole30 survival. A Crockpot can make even inexpensive cuts of meat melt in your mouth like butter.

If you already have one, I recommend buying a second. We often used both of ours to cook multiple meals for the week on Sundays. I also highly recommend purchasing a model with a timer function – the few extra dollars are definitely worth it!

19. Use Clarified Ghee

If you’re missing dairy while you eat Whole30, ghee can help cure your urges. We used ghee available at Trader Joe’s a few times each week to help limit our cravings.

20. Chipotle is Your Last Resort

As I’ve hinted at above, Chipotle can be your life-saving line of defense if you’re in a pinch during Whole30. A salad bowl with pork carnitas is 100% Whole30-approved, delicious, and comes in under $10 – which is much less expensive than many other Whole30 options! Just be careful to avoid other meats, as they are cooked in oils which are not Whole30 compliant.

You CAN Eat Whole30 AND Stay on Budget!

Making a decision to take on the Whole30 Program doesn’t have to be a commitment to spend your whole paycheck on food. If you do it the right way, you can improve your health and save money on Whole30.

Whole30 is a powerful program capable of changing not only your relationship with food but also the relationship between food and money. Whether you’re about to try Whole30 for the first or fiftieth time,  I hope that the tips and tricks above will help you stay frugal at the same time. 

Have you tried the Whole30 Program? Did you enjoy it?

I’ve you’ve tried Whole30, did you spend more money on food? What tips and tricks helped you save money?

Starting Whole30 for the first or fiftieth time? It can be expensive! We'll show you 20 tips to eat Whole30 on a budget and save money at the same time!

Improve Your Health – Financially, Physically, and Mentally – With These 9 Tips

Financially-minded people – like me – spend a lot of investing in their finances, and with good reason; breaking away from the rat race requires daily diligence. But what use is good financial health if you lack good physical and mental health? Money is important, but it is only one piece of the pie. Even if you have one area under control, you can improve your health by taking steps to grow grow in all three areas.

Most financial experts attest to the value of also maintaining physical and mental health. You only live once and you deserve to be happy. Make new habits and improve your health - financially, physically, and mentally - by following these 9 tips to live your best life.Pete Adeney, better known as Mr. Money Mustache, swears by regular weight lifting and almost constant movement to maintain his physical health. Sam Dogen, the mastermind behind Financial Samurai, is a 5.0 rated tennis player. Even the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, though largely driven by data and logic, carefully monitors his rational self for any signs of irrationality. The three have different backgrounds and experiences, but they similarly demonstrate the importance of healthy balance – financially, physically, and mentally.

Improving your health doesn’t require an expensive gym, a psychiatrist, or an investment broker. These can be great places to start, but you can improve your health by taking conscious stops to cut bad habits, replace them with healthy practices, and make those changes a permanent part of a healthy lifestyle.


We all have to start somewhere; the key is to start now! These 9 tips will help you improve your health – financially, physically, and mentally – and live a happy life.

1. Drink lots of water

Did you know that the average human body is 65% water? Your body needs water, and drinking lots of it is the quickest way to improve your health.

I love coffee and an occasional soda, but nothing primes my mind, body, and soul like water. Dehydration occurs anytime you take in less water than you use, and performance suffers even due to mild-dehydration. On the flip side, proper hydration increases energy, aids in healthy weight loss, and reduces stress.

So pour yourself a glass and keep reading.

2. Start Running

Humans have been running since the beginning of creation. In a sense, we were born to run. Children instinctively know how to run and start running shortly after learning to walk. So why do people begin to see running as a chore as they age?

After a long day of teaching, showing houses, and writing, I look forward to running. It is the best medicine for clearing my mind, reducing stress, and thinking creatively. In fact, I have written many of the posts on this blog while out on a run.

All you need to get started with running is a decent pair of running shoes, headphones, and athletic shorts/shirts. Later, if you want to get fancy, you can use a FitBit or Garmin GPS watch to track statistics like mileage, heart rate, calories burned, and split times. I’ve used the Garmin 405 CX for five years and it still meets all of my needs; it has even survived -30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, monsoon-like rains, and a few unfortunate falls on icy trails.

3. Eat Healthy Food

You’ve heard all the complaints about healthy eating.

  • It’s too expensive to eat healthy food.
  • Healthy food is boring!
  • I can’t give up my (insert junk here). . .

Bad habits and good marketing have made sure that these ideas stick in our brains. Healthy food can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And if you know how to cook effectively and use basic spices, you can turn perform stove top miracles with only lean chicken, broccoli, and potatoes. Say goodbye to junk food cravings!

This year, my wife and I have completed one round of the Whole 30 diet. (Super fans have now thrown an apple through their computer screen, because Whole 30 isn’t a DIET. It’s a LIFESTYLE!) We ate chicken, lean beef, pork, potatoes, eggs, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. I use even learned to drink black coffee like an adult. We lost weight, improved our moods and concentration, and saved money by staying away from restaurants.

Recently, we started using Zaycon Fresh, a program that has made our healthy eating efforts even easier and cheaper. Zaycon partners with local farmers to provide high-quality, farm-fresh food at prices which beat your local grocers. Their online ordering system is easy to use, and your local economy benefits because you are shopping locally.

When a local sale begins, Zaycon will send you an e-mail with all the details – this week they sent deals on bacon straight to my heart inbox! Because they focus on a select number of meats and eliminate middle men, we’ve saved a lot of money and still managed to eat well.

If you are a blogger and would like to join the Zaycon Fresh referral program, it is easy! It only takes a few minutes to get started.

4. Automate Your Financial Life

Most of friends are always stressed out about money. If you’ve ever been surprised by forgotten bills, late payment notices, or overdraft fees, you need to automate your finances as much as possible. I automate any payments which can be automated, from utilities and savings to my mortgage payment and investing.

You only live once and you deserve to be happy. Make new habits and improve your health - financially, physically, and mentally - by following these 9 tips to live your best life.My favorite automated savings tool is Digit. It is so effective that my wife and I were able to use our Digit savings to pay for a trip to Las Vegas last fall. The secure mobile app links with your checking account and uses sophisticated algorithms to help you save money only when you can afford it by moving funds to an external savings account. You can pause savings and transfer money back to your checking account at any time with quick text commands. Digit is FREE to use, currently pays bonuses every 3 months, and ensures that you save money each month. And if you refer a friend who signs up, you’ll receive a $5 bonus when they complete their first transfer!

If you’re looking to finally start investing for your future, you can automate that, too! Betterment is a sophisticated platform designed specifically for busy  people who don’t have time to research individual stocks or mutual funds. Their advanced algorithms and Smart Rebalancing methods can help anyone develop a portfolio designed to meet their investment goals and minimize tax losses. You can open an IRA, taxable brokerage account, or even roller over an existing account and receive one month FREE if you deposit more than $10,000.

Perhaps you’ve already been saving and investing diligently for several years but have grown tired of managing and monitoring a variety of investments in your IRA, 401k, and taxable accounts. Personal Capital is a FREE tool that can help you monitor all of your investments in one place. If you need personalized guidance, they will even provide more affordable advice tailored to meet your personal goals.

Personal Capital is the only tool I trust to monitor all of my financial assets in one central location. Start your free account today!

5. Read Every Day

Did you know the average millionaire reads at least two non-fiction books per month? This statistic has remained my motivation to read daily and commit to my personal growth. At any given time, I have a stack of books on my nightstand, with topics ranging from leadership to entrepreneurship, money, running, and spiritual development. I know my ability to grow on my own is limited, but learning from others and emulating their success can lead to unlimited growth.

Daily reading stimulates healthy thought and ensures that you maintain an ability to look outside yourself. If you know the names of the last few people who were eliminated on reality TV but can’t name three ideas you’ve read and implemented this month, that needs to change if you want to improve your health.

6. Be Mindful During Mindless Activities

You probably spend several hours each week performing tedious, mindless tasks like laundry, dishes, yard work, and house cleaning. Are you using time to improve your health?

When I do laundry, dishes, and yard work, I often to podcasts. I used to dread these tasks but now find myself looking forward to them because I learn something new that I can apply to better myself.

My wife and I also have mastered efficient meal preparation. We prep for the entire week on Sunday afternoon after church. By working as a team and using Crock Pots for many meals, we are able to free up several hours during the work week. Our budget benefits as well because we aren’t making frequent runs out for fast meals out of convenience.

7. Adopt a Dog

There are countless dogs in your local community shelter just waiting to find their forever home and humans to love. My wife and I bought our two dogs because she is allergic to all but a few select breeds, otherwise we would have adopted dogs in need. Adoption is affordable and easy, and what you invest in vet bills and bags of dog food will be regained ten fold in improvements to your physical and mental health.

8. Practice Silence and Solitude

Silence and solitude seem counter-intuitive to people who aim for efficiency in everything, but they are crucial. The truth is that rest and relaxation help us to recharge.

Many people wear busyness as a badge of honor – you know the type I’m talking about. I find these people usually end up burned out and unhappy. A few of my close friends seem to be unable to rest unless they are on vacation. A planned getaway can be a great time to rest and see the world. But a staycation is often just what I need to recharge and avoid burnout – and it is financially smart.

I’ll be vulnerable for a moment – between teaching full time, my real estate business, and this blog, I appear to be the poster child for busyness. But I rarely feel stressed because I set boundaries to protect my mental and physical health; planned solitude keeps me revved up for whatever is next.

9. Limit TV Time

There is a strong correlation between success and low TV consumption, as countless studies show. Most of the time I am disciplined enough to limit TV time, and sometimes my subconscious lures me into watching three hours of Breaking Bad re-runs – yeah science!

Literally unplugging your TV is a simple way to improve your health. By making it a bit tougher to mindlessly run to Stars Hollow every time you feel stressed, you will begin to form better habits which help you to unwind, accomplish more, and keep moving. You can always plug in the TV later!


The best time to improve your health is NOW! You can put yourself on the path toward improving your physical, mental, and emotional health today if you’re willing to build even a single new habit. What are you waiting for?

And a friendly reminder – Don’t forget to check out two FREE and easy tools to improve your health fast, Digit and Zaycon Fresh

Achieve Success in Everything Through C.A.S.E.

I spend a lot of time thinking about success. It is one of the most fascinating topics we can encounter in life because everyone values and desires success to a certain degree. How we define success, respond to success, measure success, and seek to achieve success can vary significantly from person to person. However we choose to shape the model of success, one thing is clear: we all look to others in varying degrees as we shape our own success paradigms.

When I was a kid, I shot hoops in the driveway and envisioned what it would be like to be Michael Jordan. Though I wasn’t a Chicago Bulls fan, I was an MJ admirer. I watched his games, checked box scores, and read his interviews. I learned that Jordan often spent many hours practicing his skills outside on the family hoop, even if meant practicing in the dark and rain. This seemed like a smart idea to me, so I began began doing additional shooting drills in the dark and rain. That year, I became a starter on the school basketball team.

Around the same time, I began playing competitive chess and was drawn to Frank Brady’s Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy, which outlined the noteworthy, up-and-down life of the genius chess champion. I became enamored with the work ethic, drive, and determination exhibited by Fischer, and once again, I patterned some of my study habits after Fischer. I played over hundreds, if not thousands, of games of masters like Capablanca, Morphy, and Lasker, often taking detailed notes while being careful not to tip off my parents that I was still awake and studying into the early morning hours. Later that year, I won my division in the Michigan Amateur Chess Championship.

I had no idea at the time that my method of seeking success – emulation – was common. A kid acting on intuition doesn’t think about these things in this way. But over time, I found that my practice of following the paths of the greats was paying off handsomely.

Somewhere along the way growing up, I lost my way and stopped doing many of the things that had made me successful. I sought my own path, which was primarily built upon hard work. When others grew tired or decided to quit, I dug a little deeper and worked a little longer.

Sometimes it worked out, and sometimes it did not. Now, at the comparatively-ripe age of 30, experience has reminded me that there is a smarter way to achieve success in everything: C.A.S.E.

Goals can be elusive, but you can achieve success if you are in touch with your dreams and willing to emulate others using C.A.S.E.

Achieve Success and Build Momentum Using C.A.S.E. (Copy and Steal Everything)

In the last year, I have become increasingly interested in returning to my intuitive childhood roots and studying the lives and habits of all sorts of top performers like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and even Jordan and Fischer. In Outliers: The Story of Success author Malcolm Gladwell consistently attributes the success of top performers to what he calls the 10,000 Hour Rule. Through countless examples, he reasons that most successes can be attributed to practicing a skill the correct way over and over and over. Finding that “correct” way is best achieved by examining others’ habits and practices.

In other words, we should copy and steal everything if we want to put ourselves on the path toward success. If it is true that we are what we repeatedly do, then success can often be as simple as repeatedly doing what the top performers do enough times that it becomes who we are at our cores.

Am I advocating that we need to become a version of someone else before we can become the best version of ourselves? Not necessarily. But it might not be a bad path to getting there. Maybe the way to achieve brilliant success is not to blaze an entirely unique trail, but to spend some time on the trail blazed by others first. Consider this a sort of internship in success, if you will.

If you have goals and feel that you aren’t successful at this time, consider utilizing the C.A.S.E. method to jump start your progress. I recommend considering the following points before you start, as they will support your efforts to achieve success.

Craft Your Own Definition of Success

Following a blueprint to achieve success without actually pausing to consider what it is you wish to achieve is a major stumbling block for many ambitious people. They are heading completely in the wrong direction, but they’re just happy to be making excellent time! Be sure that you fully consider what success looks like to you before you take specific action.

If you don’t chart a path to achieve success as you see it, you will find yourself copying the life and values of another person. This approach has severe limitations, most notably that you are not exactly the same as others. The skills you possess will influence the path you take to achieve success.

For anyone who lacks understanding of his skills,  StrengthsFinder 2.0 remains my most treasured guide for discovering them. For mere pizza money, the book has had a profound impact on the direction of my life.

Copy and Steal From the Right People

Once you’ve defined your goal, it is important that you copy and steal from the right person. You must identify someone who has taken steps to achieve success in an area that is at least similar to your vision.

While you’re at it, do not limit yourself to emulating only one high achiever. We all stand to learn at least one piece of actionable knowledge from virtually any top performer.

Compare Yourself to the High Performers You Select

I’m a firm believer in the notion that comparison is the thief of joy, but I also believe this idea has its limitations. We can compare ourselves to others in a manner that brings us down, or we can identify strengths that we see in ourselves which are also manifested in the lives of others.

Before you identify a top performer to emulate, it is important that you first find common ground with that person. Fortunately, finding shared attributes with high performers is not highly difficult in most cases, but if overlapping strengths are not readily apparent to you, it may be time to look elsewhere.

For example, if you’re a writer who works best after a day’s worth of thought, movement, and exercise have taken the edge off, emulating a writer like Hemingway (who famously rose early to write each day) won’t likely work for you.

Don’t Rely on C.A.S.E. to Solve Everything

Personal growth guru Tony Robbins said, “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.” Actress Judy Garland reportedly said, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” The key to successful implementation of the C.A.S.E. method lies at the intersection of these two quotes – we should seek to emulate top performers who have achieved the success we desire while also remaining true to ourselves.

By starting with an understanding of your own values and what you hope to achieve, it is possible to copy others without becoming them. Surely copying others has its limitations, but human intuition cannot be entirely wrong. C.A.S.E. alone won’t solve all of your problems – whether they’re tied to your career, marriage, spending, or investments – but when utilized properly, it can jump start the pursuit of your dreams and help you to achieve success.

Readers, do you implement aspects of the C.A.S.E. method? If not, what is your primary method for seeking to achieve success?

The Fine Line Between Success and Failure

If you're about to quit the pursuit of a goal, don't stop now! Keep going and you can cross over the fine line between success and failure.Each new month brings change. As many turn the page toward a new month, this is often the time that goals, resolutions, and dreams are abandoned. This is prime time for rationalization and excuses. This is the time when many people just give up and return to their old habits.

The act of quitting is a puzzling phenomenon. Do quitters simply run out of steam? Did they set an unrealistic or unreachable goal at the outset? Did they choose a goal that they truly wanted to achieve?

Ultimately, we have a ready-made list of reasons for quitting before we even begin striving toward a new goal. Among the many standout excuses, the following are typical:

*Fear of possible failure

*Lack of noticeable progress


*Lack of support from loved ones and friends

*Goal does not align with true desires

*Too little time to devote toward the goal


*Reward does not appear to be worth the effort

*Inability to change current habits

If we are honest, most of us have probably fallen prey to most, if not all, of these excuses. When we give up, excuses provide comfort and relief, especially if others affirm and support those excuses. 

Yet at our cores, quitting is unsettling because it carries a weight of finality. When we quit, we close a door behind us. We eliminate the possibility of success, no matter how unlikely it may have appeared in the first place.

You Can Choose Your Side on the Fine Line Between Success and Failure

fine line between success and failure
Which miner will you be?

I often wonder, “What monumental achievements and advancements has civilization missed out on because someone decided to quit when they were unknowingly on the verge of a breakthrough?”

This is a tough question to answer. Perhaps it is best that we don’t have answers. But I can’t help wondering how many people have quit, like the man in the adjacent image, when they were on the cusp of success.

The fine line between success and failure varies greatly for each of us, but one element is a consistent factor in nearly all scenarios:


No, effort alone is not enough. I have put forth strong efforts and failed at times. I have also put forth minimal effort and still achieved moderate success, much to my surprise. But more often than not, effort has been a difference maker.

The relationship between quitting and effort is as straightforward as they come; the act of quitting is a conscious decision to cease all efforts. As Sophocles said, “Success is dependent on effort.”

Don’t Quit on Yourself and Your Goals

If you’re currently considering easing up on a goal or even abandoning it altogether, scroll back up and look at the second miner. A few more reps in the gym, one more phone call, or even a few more dollars saved could be all that remains; you may be walking away from a fine line between success and failure which is just waiting to topple. Don’t quit now!

If you’re afraid to fail, remember this: What we fear rarely, if ever, comes to pass; at the same time, it is better to try and fail than to quit.

If you’re afraid that failure is permanent, remember that your past mistakes do not define your future unless you allow them to do so. Even the miner who threw in the towel can turn things around with one step in the right direction.

If you’re afraid of the ridicule and embarrassment which my arise out of failure, remind yourself of the convictions which led you to begin the pursuit of the current goal. And do not forget that no actions, no matter how flawless they may appear to you, will make sense to everyone else.

And finally, if you’re afraid of ongoing struggle and how it may impact your happiness, remember that you always have the choice to embrace the struggles inherent in challenges as opportunities to grow. You may even realize that you feel most alive when you face and conquer obstacles without succumbing to the desire to quit.

Don’t retreat – ADVANCE!

In his famous 1933 inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded the world about the nature of fear:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Historians and students alike focus primarily upon the first half of this timeless quote. They say, “Just don’t be afraid and you’ll be able to keep going!”

I, on the other, believe the careful application of the latter words to be far more important. Fear all you want. Fear can’t defeat you. Fear will not cause you to fail. Only retreat can cause you to fail. So, advance, even if you feel like quitting.

This is the true way to cross over the fine line between success and failure.

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:

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?

Are You Destined to Follow in Your Parents’ Footsteps?

In life, we receive so much from our parents; overall looks, hair color, height, and a host of other genetically-driven predispositions are largely hereditary. Sometimes, we follow in our parents’ footsteps, and sometimes we do not. With some notable exceptions, we get what we get, and life keeps rolling on – for better or for worse.

Recently, I read an article in The AtlanticRich People Raise Rich Kids – which caused me to ponder the financial impact our parents have upon our life trajectory. The issues explored and conclusions drawn in the article are thought-provoking, to say the least.

If “Rich People Raise Rich Kids,” does that imply that the corollary, i.e. “Poor People Raise Poor Kids,” is often true?

We receive much from our parents: overall looks, hair color, etc. But are we destined to follow in our parents' footsteps in other ways? Of course, life experience shows us the impact our parents can play in financial futures. Plenty of people are born into money, but countless folks create their own wealth. Many of us will learn to manage money, for better or worse, in the same manner demonstrated by our parents. Others will seek their own path, if they bother to pay attention at all.

And all of this says nothing of the fact that our trajectories may change over time, though change can be hard to set into motion. The poor can become rich, and the rich can lose it all, sometimes in shocking fashion. This is America, after all. *Cues chants* USA! USA! USA!

The power and importance of environment is one point which I tend to agree with wholeheartedly from the aforementioned article. My life story bears out this truth every step of the way.

My Story

I grew up in a typical middle class home in West Michigan. My mom worked as a departmental secretary for a reputable regional bank, and my dad worked in manufacturing for one of the largest aerospace engineering companies in the country. Mom earned her Associates degree, while dad entered the work force after completing high school.

We lived in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom ranch home which was conveniently located within a few miles of everything: school, work, shopping, and my grandparents. Our family was solidly middle-class, though I had no idea or even any understanding of what that meant at the time.

My parents made the very best of the overall environment in which I was raised. When I was four, they sold our house and moved to the other side of town so I could attend the best schools in the area. I didn’t know at the time, but my mom often remarks today that this move was a financial sacrifice in may respects.

For reasons which I still do not fully understand, I was born with a sharp edge to achieve, and this desire only strengthened itself as I grew up. I didn’t want to just do something – I wanted to win, to be the best, to get a share of the spotlight. Of course, it didn’t work out every single time, but that internal motivation was sometimes a difference-maker.

Equally important, my internal motivation was complimented by external factors. My grandfather always pushed me toward the improbable and believed so much in me that I began to believe in myself.

My self-belief and confidence was shaken many times, but I survived and grew stronger because my parents were not of the helicopter variety. They allowed me to be independent, solve my own problems, and experience difficulty. I learned to bend without breaking.

My parents supported all of my far flung endeavors – competing in chess tournaments all across the country, basketball leagues and camps, and music lessons – and encouraged me to do my best. I was strong-willed and in hindsight demanded a lot. I was lucky to have good parents who provided opportunities.

The rest of the story is simple. I went to college, got a job, and moved out of state, like countless other people before and since. I am not special, and my life is not remarkable. My parents, extended family, and the environment they cultivated for me, on the other hand, are special and remarkable.

Foster a Great Environment For Your Kids

So how can today’s parents foster a positive environment for children and put them in a position to become successful? The following solutions offer a good starting point:

Get to know your children. A one-size-fits-all approach will never work. In the interest of transparency, I am not yet a parent, but my experience as a teacher illustrates the importance of knowing children as individuals. Spending time with them is the best way to get to know them.

Model a balanced, prioritized lifestyle. Kids are impressionable and form a surprisingly-high number of conclusions at young ages. As adults, they will remember how you spent your time and model their own priorities after yours in many ways, whether consciously or not.

Teach them how to save money. For most children today, spending will come easily and saving will not; our instant-gratification culture is to blame. If you show your kids how to save, they will experience a valuable lesson.

Allow your children to fail and encourage them to persevere when they do. They will learn important lessons as a result. They will become resilient, strong, and unafraid to fail, all of which are characteristics which will help them to succeed.

Related: How to Overcome the Fear of Failure

These practices are not perfect, but they will help you to create a growth-inspired environment for your children. They just may follow in or even exceed your footsteps as a result.

In what ways have you followed in your parents’ footsteps? What did they specifically do to help you in that regard? For parents – how are you helping your children to follow in your footsteps?