The Best Books I’ve Read This Year (2014 Edition)

I spend quite a bit of time reading. Most of what I do for work, research, writing, and academia all involve massive amounts of reading. If you throw in my parenting and religious interests, I certainly spend a large portion of the average day reading content in various forms. I really enjoy reading plenty of other blogs and online sources, but when I really want to delve into a subject, I actually still prefer long form books. I tend to focus primarily on non-fiction, but I always enjoy throwing in a popular novel or two into the mix.

My methodology is pretty simple when it comes to finding new material. Anytime I hear about a new book, my first response is to find it on Amazon and send over the sample to my Kindle. I rarely have time to jump straight into a book when I first learn about it. So, samples are a great reminder tool, as well as a nice little addition to keep a running list of my current interests. I think most of the books I’ve read this year have been personal recommendations or ones I’ve seen recurring on blogs or other feeds that I follow.

I’ve discussed my all time favorite books in the past and also a handful of books that have changed my life. I’m always looking to add to my list, and books remain one of my favorite ways to learn. So, without further ado, here are five (or more) of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. I’ve also included some bonus ones at the end and some on my reading list. Do you have any books you think I should read next year? I’m always looking for things to add to my list.

vagabondingVagabonding – Ralf Potts
If there is a book I would recommend to anyone that is considering traveling overseas, it would surely be Potts’ classic. It is also a pretty good resource to encourage people to expand their horizons through a broader international perspective. I really wish I had been given this book when I was in my early teens. Although I already had a penchant for traveling, many of the logistical tips and overall insight would have been perspective changing on what to expect when traveling. The book talks about travel through the eyes of someone who wants to spend more than an hour or two at the tourist traps on a journey overseas. It also includes a lot of insight about the nature of things you can learn and experience when you travel with time and flexibility. I enjoyed the book so much, I actually ended up getting the audio book from Tim Ferris’ book club so I could share the audio with my wife. I could realistically add this to my favorite books of all time. Continue reading

Your Life is Designed to Be Expensive

Most people do not feel like they are living an excessive lifestyle. In fact, if you ask, people have a much greater awareness of areas where they contentiously hold back or make tough financial choices. It is also true that most people spend a lot more money than they wish and rarely meet their savings or investing goals. One of the problems we face in the western world, is that we have unconsciously designed our lives to be expensive. We fill our lives with lifestyle habits that elevate our monthly fixed costs. From mortgages, debt payments, insurance, utilities, basic food, childcare, communications, to transportation- we often set our expense expectations without ever spending a dollar of true discretionary money. For many families, our basic obligations are enough to consume the vast majority of our disposable income. When all of our money is already expensed, we rarely have any margin. And we certainly feel richer when we have plenty of that margin in our lives.

mcmansionWe don’t wonder out of an expensive lifestyle. But we can certainly wonder into one. To redesign our lifestyle, it takes a bit of reflection, introspection, and evaluation to motivate change. In addition, most Americans live in a perpetual time deficit so we resort to spending more to try and make up the lost time. We hire out anything we can and tend to spend excessively on the people we love- often to make up for the quality time we wish we could spend with them. Overall, we create a lifestyle that becomes very expensive to maintain. However, we do have a choice. We get to choose how we want to design our life. It starts with a few observations and small steps. Continue reading

The Reluctant Environmentalist

Why is it always cloudy over here? I asked my tour guide. It never seems to rain but it always looks overcast. She replied in a pleasantly accented english, “This is normal, you get used to it after a while.” It wasn’t until we left the city of Beijing that I saw the sun for the first time on our several week trip through China. Until that point, I never considered myself an environmentalist. In fact, for most of my life it was much more convenient to not even think twice about the environment in which I lived. Sure, I like clean spaces and I’ll pick up trash around the house to make it look better, but I was never searching to be a part of some greater environmental cause.

chinaSo, why am I still reluctant to ascribe to environmentalist perspectives? I think it is two-fold. First, it is about inconvenience. As painful as it sounds from a first world perspective, the environmentally friendly products are often portrayed to be less convenient or more expensive options. The second is about distractions and guilt. We only have limited amounts of cognition and willpower and we often tend to concentrate on only the most urgent things in our life. For busy people, spending a lot of time thinking about saving the environment is simply not a priority. It takes time to fully wrestle with the idea of ‘what is enough’? Where do we draw the line between waste and consumption? If I drive a car, is that too much? Air condition? Flying across the world in a plane? Recycling? An SUV?

For me, it all boils down to waste. There is some part of the minimalism, living simply, and the efficient living movement that aligns itself to a less environmentally impactful lifestyle. Continue reading

Why Our New Electric Car Is Cheaper Than A Cell Phone (in GA)

We just joined the electric car revolution. Well, maybe a puttering attempt for revolution. But nevertheless, we have joined the electric car bandwagon by purchasing a new Nissan Leaf to drive for the next few years. Due to an unusual set of incentives in place, the cost of owning an electric car (in GA) is probably cheaper than your current cell phone bill.

20141029_124030011_iOSIf you had asked me six months ago if I would ever drive a new car, let alone lease a new car, I would have told you that you are crazy. I have been a staunch supporter of buying reliable, efficient, used vehicles for years. Buying new is a pretty tough sell, but leasing new is generally faux pa in almost all frugallite circles. However, for every rule of thumb, there are always a few exceptions. And this case is no different. By fully utilizing all the current tax and non-profit institutional pricing incentives, we have leased a brand new 2015 fully electric Nissan Leaf for total price of $1,186 ($49/Month) with an estimated gas savings of at least $2,125 ($88/Month) over the course of the two year lease. Special current incentives also include no down payment options. Continue reading

The Price We Pay For Money

I’m at a crossroads. I’m at the point where I am trying to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life. The last few days reality has been knocking at the door. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it is the realization that our second baby is coming in a few weeks. Or maybe it is the fact that finishing my PhD is in sight and I’m starting the process for prospecting employment and casually interviewing different companies around town. Either way, for some reason, it has started to sink in that my life will look a lot different in the next two years and it is time to start planning for the change.

hard workI remember when I decided that I wanted to get married. Ms. SE and I had been dating for several years and I remember thinking that she might be the ‘the one’. While I wasn’t ready to get married, I knew that she would need plenty of time to prepare for the wedding and we would likely get married the summer after we both graduated. Counting backwards from our possible wedding plans, it didn’t take long for me to figure out I needed to start looking for a ring and begin the process. That is when it hit home. The reality of what was about to happen started well before the actual life changing event. And that is pretty close to where I sit today. Trying to plan the rest of my life. Continue reading

Practical Minimalism

What is minimalism? Is it counting the number of items you possess, owning a house with no decorations, or living in a tiny home? Not for me. Sure, those are options, but I prefer to think of minimalism in the broad sense of removing all the distractions, clutter, and non-important commitments in our lives so we can focus our attention on the things that truly matter. Practical Minimalism is the notion of understanding the elements of minimalism that can be usefully applied to reduce stress, develop physical/mental clarity, and fundamentally to makes our lives better.

backpackConceptually, minimalism is about having less of something. The first thought is often about our stuff, but realistically, a minimalistic lifestyle often exhibits itself by helping an individual remove the detrimental distractions to life. Removing stress, bad habits, debt, addictions, and clutter pave the way for clarity and focus in life. By removing negative things in our life we actually add to our overall satisfaction.

My forray into minimalism actually started with my stuff. I’ve had a tendency to collect things dating back to when I was a small child. The first time I backpacked in Europe the seed was planted. I lived in a large house throughout college and always kept my closets and storage areas packed with things. However, just by living out of a backpack for a short period, it finally clicked that having only the necessary can actually be freeing and mentally relaxing. The idea of practical minimalism slowly began to creep into other areas of my life. Continue reading

When The Financial Gurus Are Wrong (For You)

I enjoy the Gurus. I enjoy seeing popular media personalities talk about life, living the dream, and hearing their personal views on finance. I’ve read all of their books, listened to their shows, taught some of their classes, and enjoyed almost all of it. More often than not, the general advice they give is pretty good. Or at least, much better than the population of their followers. Most people would benefit from following the baby steps, getting out of debt, or riding a bike. But are all the gurus right for you?

suzeThe great part is everyone has their guru. In the financial community, it’s Buffett, Dave, Suze, C. Howard or even Mr. Money Mustache. They are all in the big game of trying to get financial information to us in entertaining and occasionally educational ways. They build audiences, platforms, and have followers that most small time authors or bloggers only dream about. And they are pretty good. But, are they good for you? Is it even possible for one person to give accurate advice for everyone in the world?

The trouble with gurus is that they have to ascribe a one size fits all approach. To really build a platform, one needs consistency and quotability. It is more important to have a uniform message than to try and navigate all the unique situations that arise in real life. Continue reading

The Future of Simple Economist

Money, Life, Friends, Food and Nola- That’s FinCon14. I spent some time last month attending a conference centered around financial writing, blogging, and financial media (#FinCon14). Conferences are typically pretty boring but this was one of the best. It was a pretty neat conference that had an interesting mix of fresh faces and fascinating people I’ve only mildly interacted with online. It can be a little awkward when you meet an author for the first time. Especially when you have read a lot of their work and often many of the personal details they have shared about their story. However, I found the experience to be quite entertaining and I came away with a better understanding of the group of authors who write in the financial blogging space.

Back-to-the-FutureOne of the highlights was taking a few minutes to sit down with Phillip (PT Money) and Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) for a one-on-one brainstorming session for Simple Economist. It was a neat opportunity to speak frankly with two very successful bloggers, but also a great session to think and dream about the future of this blog. The simplest question was the hardest to answer: “What is the point of all your writing?” Or maybe it was: “Who are you writing to?”. I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks brainstorming about the future of this site. The great news is that we don’t need to have all the answers upfront to participate in the blogging ride. I’ve also learned you are always making “progress” if you are enjoying the process. Continue reading

Our Journey To Debt Free

The lights go down. The music starts. My heart begins to race as the anticipation builds. I’ve been waiting for this concert for 12 years. The best selling solo artist of all time and he is back in action. Ah, to celebrate the progress we’ve made. You see, every time we pay concertoff $5,000 of our debt we take a little date night. And over the weekend we took our big date. It was awesome. Finally, the whole process of paying off our debt is getting close to the end. Only two more to go. We are almost there. I can almost taste the finish line.

We started our married life with a few small student loans, some rarely used credit cards and then, after a few years, a little brick house. Once we combined our finances we just took the money we had saved up and paid off the student loans. I’ve never really been a fan of payments and I tend to avoid getting into long term contracts for consumable items if possible. I enjoy the flexibility and simplicity of keeping the income that we make without paying out that money to service debt. But do we really need to be debt free? Continue reading

Eating Nasty Food and Watching TV on Vacation

I spent last week traveling for work and vacation. For anyone that goes on the road frequently, one of the biggest challenges we face is maintaining the habits and routines that we create when we are at home. However, new adventures are also part of the fun when we travel somewhere. We get to mix things up, go different places, try new things, and hang out with different people.

fast food feastI love to eat. I’m always interested in trying new foods and eating different things when I travel. At home, we tend to eat healthy meals at the house and much less healthily when we occasionally go out. When we go out, I typically just order whatever I want and run a little more the next day if I eat too much. At home, I also rarely take the time to turn on the television and if it does come on it is often a single episode of one of our favorite shows on netflix or prime. I don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time vegging out watching sports center like I did years ago. However, vacation is different. I seem to throw all routine out the door and spend my time eating, drinking, and watching whatever comes my way. Continue reading