Category Archives: Personal Growth

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

Today is February 1. 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

*Impatience

*Lack of support from loved ones and friends

*Goal does not align with true desires

*Too little time to devote toward the goal

*Distractions

*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:

EFFORT.

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:

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?

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?

A True Parable of Patience

Over the past two weeks, I have taken my proverbial foot off of the accelerator a bit. This has been hard. For as long as I can remember, happiness has always been linked to progress in my mind. As you may imagine, I was naturally reluctant to ease up a bit out of fear. I thought, “Things are going really well right now? Will I remain this happy and content if I slow down?”

I realized some things in the midst of this self-imposed siesta:

  1. Progress is not necessarily halted when you take your foot off the gas; momentum has a way of keeping things moving.
  2. In times of relative stillness, we invite room for reflection. In this instance, it dawned on me that I have been very impatient with myself in a number of areas: growth of my real estate business, refinement of my writing process, and of course, overall growth of this blog. When I paused to slow down a bit, it became clear that I need to be patient with myself.

The Value of Patience

I’ve never been a patient person. Mrs. Superhero can attest to that. I have worked hard to become increasingly mindful of this tendency over the past few years, as impatience seems to be a genetic tendency within my family tree.

The notion that hard work solves problems fails to account for all of the other important variables inherent in life. Patience is a key to winning!When I was young, my uncle and Superhero Grandpa were avid boaters and fishermen. One foggy morning, they started out for an early morning to cast their lines in Lake Michigan. In their haste, they forgot to check the weather report. As they approached the big lake via the channel, it became clear that the present conditions were very poor. Turning around in the channel was impossible, so they did what had to be done — they pressed onward into the crashing waves in an attempt to turn around navigate back into calmer waters.

My uncle is an expert boater, but he knew the writing was on the wall: this wasn’t going to end well. Superhero Grandpa knew this, too, and in one swift, knee-jerk reaction that he would fortunately live to regret, he dove into the choppy water and began to swim to shore. In his impatience, he forgot to don a life vest.

Grandpa was able-bodied and very strong at this stage of his life, yet he has little match for the waves. He fought and fought, harder and harder, yet he realized that his efforts were wasteful. Moments later, my uncle also abandoned the boat and came to Grandpa’s rescue with a second life vest just as exhaustion was about to set in.

I think of this story often, but it is especially poignant when I am struggling to be patient. Like most people, I am a product of the drive-thru generation. I want it now, and I have been told that I deserve everything I could ever want. Fail once, and work harder and longer the next time and you’ll surely get what you seek, I’ve been told. If you work harder, you can speed up normal timelines and reach the finish line faster, says the world. These ideas stand in direct contrast to my Grandpa’s story, and personal experience paints a different picture, as well.

The notion that hard work solves problems fails to account for all of the other important variables inherent in a specific endeavor. For the single father working an extra job to rebuild emergency savings, hard work and hustle aren’t always the solution. Shifting money into a hot mutual fund or single stock may not be the answer for the middle-aged person grasping for an earlier retirement. And for myself, hard work as a realtor and blogger is only one piece of the pie. Shortcuts rarely work, a truth which underscores the importance of patience.

So each day I am going to remind myself to exercise patience. I am going to remind myself that is OK to let up on the gas, coast a bit, and ride the wave (How is THAT for a mixed metaphor?). I have already discovered that happiness and contentment may be found in moments of patience. I look forward to experiencing further lessons in patience in the days ahead.

The Benefits of Giving and Generosity

As the past few weeks and months have shown, the United States currently run rampant with problems. Racism, violence, misogyny, and bigotry are impossible to ignore, easy to diagnose, and difficult to cure. I believe these problems, though significant and important on their own, may be traced back to a larger problem: selfishness. And I believe there is a cure for selfishness: outrageous giving and generosity.

Undeniably, selfishness is woven deeply into the fabric of America. It may even be part of our human core, though the jury is still out on the nature of human genetics. Perhaps long-standing capitalism has sewn and grown its fair share of selfishness over several decades. It is what leads us to work harder and harder to amass more for ourselves. The problem is that many people have bought into the lie which trumpets “more for me equals less for you.”

No matter what financial hurdles we may face, growing in giving and generosity will always help us improve our financial outlooks.
U.S. Giving Adjusted for Inflation (Source: Philanthropy Round Table)

Yet, our internal selfishness is often no match for our hearts’ desires to show empathy toward others. This is evident in the small things, like holding doors for others, and the big things, like the collective $358 billion in charitable giving by Americans in 2014.

Call me an optimist, but I believe that selfishness and empathy can co-exist when applied in healthy doses. Most of us, myself included, tend to be naturally good at looking out for own best interests. Thinking outside ourselves requires deliberation and conscious effort; actually acting on behalf of others requires a steady dose of humility to boot.

Self-Benefits of Giving and Generosity

For the person of even average ambition, striking a balance between ambition and contentment is an ongoing challenge. I face this battle every day, and I lose more often than I win. I know that more prestige, money, and belongings will not provide the lasting happiness which I seek, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to attain it in this manner anyway. 

In The Legacy Journey, Dave Ramsey writes, “Giving is the antidote for selfishness. It’s the hallmark character quality of those who win with money.” I believe Ramsey is correct, as giving leads to humility and contentment. In the act of giving, the giver admits that she has enough, that the time or resources being given are needed more by someone else. It is empowering to realize this truth because it supports action. When we give to others and realize that we no longer miss what has been generously given, we are one step closer to contentment. With contentment comes the ability to manage finances with wisdom and restraint.

Contentment is not the only self-benefit of giving. In my experience, giving and generosity ultimately help us grow to be better receivers. As Arthur Miller wrote,

A closed hand cannot receive. The phrase has a Biblical ring, and a Biblical wisdom that applies profoundly to everyday human affairs. The man who will not share himself with his neighbors receives little friendship in return. . .

. . . To be sower of seeds, a man must open his hand. He must do this, clearly, before he can reap. And the process doesn’t stop there. To possess knowledge or wisdom, he must open his mind. If he wants to receive love, he must offer it – and to do this he will need an open heart.

Look around and you will see the truth of these five words shining everywhere. A closed hand cannot receive – partly because it is shut, and nothing can get in. But mostly because it has nothing to give.

While giving requires humility, receiving may require even more. I naturally prefer giving to others rather than receiving, but as I have reflected on the reasons why this is so, pride is the only answer.

Giving and generosity are good not only for mental health but also physical well-being. According to several studies, they also can lower blood pressure, improve self-esteem, decrease stress, and boost life expectancy.

Giving Benefits Others

It seems so obvious that giving generously to others directly benefits others, but this is often the last benefit we consider when choosing to give.

Giving to others goes far beyond financial benefits. Hope and faith in others have a more lasting impact, in many cases, even after the money has been spent. The emotions which result from acts of giving, for both the giver and the receiver, are valuable in ways which cannot be measured in isolation. The following video is a poignant reminder.

A Call to Give

During this fragile time, in which holiday spirit and cheer may fail to counterbalance a climate of fear and worry, humble yourself and demonstrate giving and generosity to your fellow man. Increase your annual holiday donations. Volunteer your time and talents to serve those who are less fortunate. Foster goodwill by paying for the coffee for the driver behind you in the Starbucks line. At our cores, we are not much different from one another. When you give, you better yourself, improve your financial management, and close the gaps which divide us all.


How do you give to others? How will you be generous this holiday season? How do you feel your giving and generosity benefit others?

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?

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?

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?

Should I Go to Grad School? Start by Asking the Right Questions

Today’s post – Should I Go to Grad School? – is contributed by Paul Andrews over at The Code to Riches, a website dedicated to making personal finance as interesting/funny as possible.

Should I go to grad school? The answer to this question may be more complex than you think, as it involves a number of factors.

Your 20’s are/will be littered with an insufferable amount of annoying questions that society will rain down upon you like a storm of toads.  “When are you going to settle down?”, “Why haven’t you found a nice guy/girl?”, “Why haven’t you proposed yet?”, “You’re going to take a year off and do WHAT?!”, “You really should do X because I know of someone who did that and apparently a singular anecdote is enough to constitute valid advice…” and the list goes on.  And of those societal pressures, there’s one that actually has some merit.  You will, at some point, ask yourself the question, “Should I go to grad school?”

After all, you’ve heard all about the statistics about how much more money you’ll make.  You’re still a relatively young grasshopper, and should be able to reap the benefits for another 30 years during your career.  And you’re not ashamed to admit that you’d feel like a cool ass muthuh fuckin’ baller with a J.D., MBA, or PhD at the end of your name.  But with the tons of different degrees you can get at the literally THOUSANDS of schools around this country, how exactly do you go about answering, “Should I go to grad school?”

That’s where I come in, my darlings.

Today is all about giving you a solid framework so you know exactly how to evaluate your options when it comes to grad school.  By the end of this epic anthology article you will be able to answer

  • What degrees make sense financially?
  • Is now a good time for me to pursue another degree?
  • Will this degree help give me what I want out of life?

The Basic Framework

via GIPHY

Let’s figure this out…

In light of the fact that I’m a personal finance blogger, I’m going to make this framework very similar to any other investment that I would make.  Here are the three things we need to make sure that our educational investment is sound?

  • What resources are being put in? – You need to be 110% aware of ALL the resources you’re putting into getting your degree. Like you should obsess over this more than a troop of 16 year-old girls obsessing over pumpkin-spiced anything’s, more than the gym-douchebag who’s more focused on looking at himself than actually working out, more than Quagmire about… well, I think you get the point.
  • What resources will be put out? – What exactly will you get out of your degree? Will you attend Yale and become part of the Skull and Bones Society?  Will you attend your local state school in order to not dive into an Olympic-sized swimming pool of debt?
  • Soft Factors – We can all sit here and pretend like this shit doesn’t matter, but I don’t write for robots; I write for peeps. Will job you get with your degree make you happy? Will you be fulfilled by the track your degree sets you on? Will it allow you to jettison all over the world and be a veritable mac-daddy?  Will it give you the “wow” factors from others you’ve so desperately craved ever since your parents didn’t attend your 6th grade graduation…

Should I go to grad school? The answer to this question may be more complex than you think, as it involves a number of factors.

Sorry, that was a little harsh.

Passive-aggressive comments aside, these are the overarching themes we’ll be using to evaluate whether you should move on in your academic life…

Resources Put In

Half of the profitability of any investment is made when you buy.  Or in our case, apply for loans or write a check to the university.  But there is lot more that goes into obtaining a graduate degree than just “money”:

  • TIME – This bad boy is first because it is, without a doubt, the most important resource you will put into your degree. Before attending grad school, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I really willing to give up 1-4 years of my life to do this?” Bear in mind, these are not just some random years out of your life.  These are the years when you can run up and down Las Vegas Blvd half-naked and have it almost be acceptable.  The years that you can sleep around, drink, travel, get terrible tattoos in terrible places, and submit yourself to general debauchery and generally have it written off as “youthful exuberance”.  Are you willing to give up a solid chunk of that time for grad school?
    1. Remember, you’re not only giving up those years of fun while you toil away at papers/labs/case studies, but you’re also giving up a TON of salary while you’re in school. That $50,000 you give up per year while in law school? That counts as $150,000 that you DON’T have.
    2. If you’re answer is anything but an over-enthusiastic YES, then you have no right cutting out some of the best years of your life because mom/dad/family/friends/society says you HAVE to go grad school.  Fuck the haters, y’all.
  • TUITION – This one is pretty obvious. You have to know how much the tuition is going to be for each year that you’re going to be attending.  If you don’t know how much tuition is going to increase, look at the last five years of tuition.  Take the average percent increase, and forecast that into the future.  This could easily be $5,000-$20,000, so it’s an important number to know.
  • LIVING EXPENSES – Again, somewhat obvious, as you’re going to have to know how much it costs to live wherever your school is. And most schools will post an estimate of how much it costs to live in their given city.  My suggestion is to do your own research.  Why? Because the school’s website’s job is to convince you to apply.  But if you’re going to be dropping a few extra thousand a year just to live/eat somewhere, that’s information that you need to be specific, not just an estimate.
  • UNFORESEEN EXPENSES – There are TONS of expenses that you might not even see coming while you’re in grad school, but here are a few that come to mind:
    1. Engagement/wedding – This is a tough one, because most marriages occur around the same age as when most people are in grad school. Guys, what if you need to buy a ring while in grad school?  Money can dry up real quick when it comes to getting married.
    2. Pregnancy – I think the only thing scarier than dropping $60k on business school, or law school, is dropping that amount for a year or two and not finishing… might be worth keeping your promiscuity on the DL while in grad school…
    3. Failing a class – What if you fail a class and need to retake it? What if you don’t pass the bar, or your qualifying exams while doing a PhD? This needs to be budgeted/planned for, just in case.
    4. Tech failure – Drop your phone? Computer gets stolen? Get rear-ended by a stupid, albeit cute and charming, driver? Have you budgeted for these unforeseen instances?  If you didn’t, you’ll wish you did when they hit you out of nowhere like your 5th grade bully.

via GIPHY

It might start to feel like this…

Ok, so now we have some idea as to what’s going to go into your degree.  Obviously, it’s going to take a little bit more than your blood, sweat, and tears.  But that’s the not fun part.  Let’s look at what’s going to happen once you graduate…

 

For the other half of the article, head on over to TheCodeToRiches !