Category Archives: Lifestyle

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?

A Life of Excess is a Life of Weakness

I spent half of last week in the city which is the poster child for a life of excess: Las Vegas, Nevada. This was my first trip to Sin City, as it is called, and my wife and I had a good time.

We didn’t gamble (gasp!) or stay up all night (blasphemy!). We enjoyed our kind of vacation, which means we spent a very un-FinanceSuperhero-like amount of money on meals and shows. We had fun and paid for the trip with cash. It was relaxing.

However, if you’ve been reading articles on this site for a while, you know that every moment for me is a cerebral experience which leads to critical thought and analysis.

It is human nature to believe and act as if a life of excess will make us happy. In reality, living a life of excess often leads to exactly the opposite.

Over the course of three days and nights, I took in the sights, sounds, and smells around me and learned a lot about the world. I reclined on a plush, poolside chaise lounge and observed other resort guests joyfully playing black jack at one of several swim-up bars. In the afternoon, I marveled at other vacationers’ massive 50 ounce margaritas as they passed us on the street. And at dinner, I enjoyed the festive atmosphere as patrons dined on creations by chefs Gordon Ramsey, Bobby Flay, and others.

In the midst of this vacation, in which I was supposed to be enjoying time off from work and letting loose, I couldn’t help but notice a prominent trend: Excess did not make me as happy as I thought it would, and by all indications, it didn’t make other people happy, either.

While laying by the pool, I didn’t feel any happier than normal. In fact, by the third day of vacation, I began to resent rest and relaxation. After enjoying a couple over-sized pina coladas myself, the novelty lost its allure. And by the time we sat down for breakfast on our last day of vacation, there was little discernible difference between the food I was supposed to be savoring and a ho-hum bowl of Cheerios.

Others did not appear immune to the effects of excess. The enthusiasm and smiles from the same group of folks cavorting at the swim-up bar had strangely vanished just a few days later. Sunday morning in Las Vegas showcased a palpable difference in energy and happiness, and it wasn’t just because half of the guests on the strip were hungover from a night of partying into the wee hours of the morning.

Near the end of the trip, I grasped the reality of the situation:

It is human nature to believe and act as if a life of excess will make us happy. In reality, living a life of excess often leads to exactly the opposite.

This trip wasn’t the first time I experienced this phenomenon, and I’m sure you’ve experienced it for yourself, too. If we’re honest with ourselves, we feel the effects of “the letdown” following the excess of holidays, birthdays, and even weekends. It hits us after our favorite team wins a championship, our children get married, and we get that big promotion. It’s that nagging voice in our heads which asks, “OK, what’s next?”

So why exactly does a life of excess, or even fleeting moments of indulgence, fail to satiate our desires and make us happy? Why does dry-aged steak begin to taste like ground round after only a few days? Why can’t we seem to reach a lasting state of fulfillment?

Our outlook on happiness is all wrong.

The Roots of Excess

For centuries, man kind has toiled away to develop a laundry list of modern conveniences which are supposed to simplify life, make living easier, and increase happiness. Yet in many ways, we are more miserable than ever before.  These modern “conveniences” have relegated many of us to the role of consumer, while life experience and plenty of research show that producers are happier.

We have raised the bar to unsustainable levels. In doing so, we have removed the elements of competition, growth, progress, and striving for something new. This leaves few avenues by which we can seek fulfillment, so we look to food, entertainment, or perhaps the bottle. And we’re befuddled when these pursuits don’t provide lasting happiness.

Happiness brought on by a life of excess is only temporary. We might be happy for a short time after moving into that new house with two bathrooms for everyone or buying that new watch on Amazon, but that happiness will fade.

On face value alone, things are things and experiences are experiences. Most are neither intrinsically good nor bad. Strangely, excess has a way of transforming neutral things into bad things. It transforms what may otherwise be good things into weakness.

When you buy a five ton, gas-guzzling SUV in order to drive your two kids to school and back on paved roads, your excess is weakness. When you swing through a drive-through for a burger and fries when you have ingredients for a far more delicious meal at home, your excess is weakness. When you go on a shopping binge at Lularoe online, your excess is weakness.

I’m not advocating for stoicism or minimalism in this space. I am calling for moderation.

The Benefits of Moderation

Ditching a life of excess and adopting a life of moderation is not easy. The desire to keep up with the Joneses, the fear of missing out, and common insecurities trick us into believing that excess is the key to happiness.  Our minds may realize otherwise, but our hearts are deceiving.

By choosing to embrace moderation rather than a life of excess, we can enjoy the following benefits:

*The ability to enjoy experiences at face value
*The adoption of realistic expectations
*Greater fulfillment and gratitude for what you already possess
*Increased likelihood that you will give and help others. An excess mindset prompts most people to horde wealth like a pack rat. Moderation, on the other hand, encourages people to exercise all of the benefits of money, including helping others. After all, if you’re not generous with a dime out of a dollar, how will you be generous when your net worth reaches one million dollars?

Next steps

If you find yourself clinging to hope that reaching “the next step” is going to bring you happiness, reflect and consider whether you are currently living a life of excess. If you continue to search for happiness and fulfillment in all the wrong places, you will continue to be unhappy and unfulfilled.

Roll up your sleeves, get to work, and fulfill a purpose. It is in these moments that I often find fulfillment and happiness, and I believe it will work for you. Ditch a few of life’s excesses, get out of your comfort zone, and experience all that life has to offer.


How do you measure happiness? Is your vision of happiness tied to excess? What makes you most happy?

Self-Control and the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

Today’s piece, “Self-Control and the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment,” is a guest post written by Ryan, the creator of Frugal Familia. Ryan’s site is dedicated to bringing families closer together while also teaching positive financial behaviors. Frugal Familia attempts to confront the shortcomings of personal finance in our educational system by shifting the responsibility to the family and by making concepts both easy and fun to learn!

Follow Frugral Familia on Twitter.

There are two types of people in this world: those who practice self-control and those who seek instant gratification. Which type of person are you?

Self-Control and the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

In my younger years I would have failed the marshmallow test miserably. I was all about the got to have it right now mentality. Fast forward to today and my mentality has changed dramatically. Now, I say bring on the marshmallow test, the Portillo’s chocolate cake test, or any other test for that matter! You may be wondering what has brought about such a change, and the answer is actually very simple. I’ve taught myself the importance of self-control and delayed gratification.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was a study conducted by Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford University in 1960’s. In these studies, a child was offered a choice of being able to eat a single marshmallow now, or if they were able to wait fifteen minutes, they would then receive two marshmallows. Some of the children were able to resist the temptation while others were not. The researchers continued to follow up with the children for the next several decades. The results found that those children who were able to wait the fifteen minutes for the additional reward tended to have better life outcomes. Here are a few of the unexpected correlations.

  • higher rates of educational attainment
  • higher SAT scores
  • lower body mass index
  • lower divorce rates
  • lower rates of drug/alcohol addiction
  • better social skills

The marshmallow test over the years has become synonymous with temptation and willpower. This, however, gives way to an entirely different discussion:

Can self-control and delayed gratification be learned, or are they genetic? 

One of the oldest arguments in history is the nature versus nurture debate. To address this concern, there was a follow up study done at the University of Rochester in which the marshmallow test was duplicated, this time with a twist. Before offering the children the marshmallow, the children were split into two groups.

The first group was exposed to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the researcher gave the children a small box of crayons and promised to bring a bigger one, but never did. Then the researcher gave the children a small sticker and promised to bring better stickers, but never did.

The second group had very reliable experiences. They were promised better crayons and got them. They were told about the better stickers and they received them.

And the results…

In this study, it was found that the second group of children waited an average of four times longer than the first group. This shows that the child’s ability to delay gratification and display self-control was not genetically predisposed but rather a result of their individual experiences and environments. I do believe this assumption holds water. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I myself have also been able to learn these critical abilities over time.

Self-control
Frugal Familia says, “Bring on the Portillo’s chocolate cake challenge!” (Credit: ChooseChicago.com)

Self-Control and Delayed Gratification In Our Everyday Lives

As Madonna so keenly observed in 1984, we live in a material world. Life is constantly tempting us to indulge in our guilty pleasures which are so readily available. It is up to us as strong minded individuals to resist those urges and exhibit delayed self-control and gratification behavior.

We can choose to have something now, or we can choose to have something bigger and better at a later time. We can have a single minion today, or we can build an army of minions in the future. Every day we are faced with multiple decisions which test our ability to either receive instant gratification or delay gratification. Here are just a few examples;

If you delay the gratification of relaxing and watching television, then you will be more productive.

If you delay the gratification of ending your workout sooner, then you will be stronger.

If you delay the gratification of eating dessert or unhealthy foods, then you will be healthier.

If you delay the gratification of making an expensive purchase, then you will be wealthier.

Delaying gratification improves our willpower and ultimately helps us reach our long-term goals faster. For some people this behavior comes easier than for others; however, fear not – these are behaviors that anyone can learn.

Techniques To Improve Delaying Gratification

With consistent effort and practice, anyone can implement the following techniques to improve self-control and and embrace delayed gratification.

Avoidance

If you cannot resist temptation avoid it! As the age old proverb says, out of sight, out of mind. If you like to spend money shopping, don’t go to the mall. If you tend to crave fast foods, bring your lunch to work.

Distraction

The children who were able to resist temptation in the marshmallow experiment distracted themselves from eating the marshmallow by singing, playing with their fingers, closing their eyes and other techniques. If you are unable to avoid a particular situation, then it helps to find a distraction. One way of doing so is by focusing on another pleasure which is not currently available. The more you can take your focus away from the temptation, the better.

Visualization

Visualize the end goal. If you’re saving for a down payment on a home, print out a picture and keep it somewhere to serve as a constant reminder. If you find yourself tempted by dessert, visualize those calories going straight to your hips.

Conclusion

I’m sure most have heard the saying “good things come to those who wait.” Yet it seems so very few of us actually heed this advice. I imagine that with a little hard work and by employing some of the techniques above that anyone can develop better self-control and delayed gratification.

It’s important that we constantly remind ourselves that every decision in life comes with a trade-off. Every time we seek immediate pleasure we are stealing from our future selves, robbing ourselves blind of our future happiness, health, and wealth. I don’t steal from others, so why the heck would I steal from myself?

When we get down to it, there are two types of people in this world. There are those who seek instant gratification and those who are willing to resist their impulses in order to obtain greater pleasure in the future. Which type of person are you?


Do you think you would pass the marshmallow test? Do you naturally practice self-control or seek instant gratification?