The Pull of Complexity

I want my life to stay simple. But I’m often torn between the ideals of simplicity and the temptations of complex options. As our lives evolve and mature, we are constantly filled with new challenges, opportunities, and decision points. The natural movement of life is toward complexity. Ironically, it actually takes effort to maintain a simple life and a relaxed mindset. If we forget to pay attention, we will default life into a sea of unfulfilling commitments and an unproductive, busy, and stressful lifestyle.

complex-664440_1280We rarely cull our responsibilities. If left without consideration, we often pile more and more onto our already full plates. Our default is to accept new opportunities. We often add activities, relationships, projects, and extra-curiculars without an end goal in mind. We don’t even properly evaluate our current commitments before we add more. Without conscientiousness, we are pulled into a life of complexity. But we still have a choice. If we take the time, we can identify, evaluate, and eliminate- so we are left with only the simple things in life that truly bring us joy. We must actively seek the optimal path for ourselves and direct our life course to it. Continue reading

You’re Probably Living Above Your Means

It’s true. More often than not, we shaft our future selves by making unwise or non-optimal choices today. Do we all live above our means? What exactly is “living above your means?” Living above our means is more than simply running out of money before each month ends. Honestly living within our means involves incorporating all of our values, future goals, risk, and future cost/spending into our current level of consumption.

moneyIt is certainly possible to earn a little more than we spend but still be living significantly above our means. Living paycheck to paycheck, consumer debt, and lack of emergency savings are outward expressions of over-consumption. However, I’ll make the argument that the subtler signs like inadequate future planning, being under-insured and failing to financially prepare for post-working years are all ways we mortgage our future interest for current consumption. In addition, our desire for more stuff (& money) often causes us to work more hours and spend more time away from the people we care about than the return we actually get from additional consumption. Understanding and evaluating the full consideration of our current and future needs will allow for proper planning about how to integrate all of our living costs into our current financial decisions. Continue reading

The Large House Dilemma

This is one article (3 of 3) on choosing the right type of house. Specifically, we are looking at the trade-offs between efficiency, sustainability, and practicality (excluding affordability) when choosing a home.

What size house do you buy when you can afford almost any size? That is the question we are all trying to address. When following the American Dream the answer is always: “Bigger is Better”. But is that really true? Do large homes come with their share of trade-offs? It’s established that most people work backwards when it comes to buying a house. We typically begin with a budget and see how nice/big/small/well-located of a house we can afford and choose the best option. The question then becomes, what do we do when we can afford almost any size house? Even really large houses. Are they still practical? We have already explored how many square feet it takes to be happy and tiny houses, but we’ll spend a little bit of time addressing the costs and benefits of large houses.

dave ramsey houseOur lives are in a constant state of evolution. Our wants, needs, goals and expectations continue to change and evolve as we age and enter different stages of life. We have lived in a large variety of different sized homes over the years and they all have their share of pluses and minuses. Tiny homes and large homes seem to polarize individuals about what is really needed to be happy. This post will examine the excitement and challenges that large homes offer. Will we end up in a large home? I’m not really sure at this point, but I’m certainly learning more about the benefits and troubles of huge home living. Continue reading

The Tiny House Dilemma

This is one article (2 of 3) on choosing the right type of house. Specifically, we are looking at the trade-offs between efficiency, sustainability, and practicality (excluding affordability) when choosing a home.

What size house do you buy when you can afford almost any size? Is there a perfect home? Or do they all come with trade-offs? Most people work backwards when it comes to buying a house. They begin with a budget and see how nice/big/small/well-located of a house they can afford and choose the best option. But what happens when you have a nice income, an efficient spending plan, and live in an area where housing is extremely affordable relative to your other costs? We have already explored how many square feet it takes to be happy, but next we’ll look at the cost and benefits of tiny and huge houses.

elm-photo-slide-003_e9a51ac4-7f09-457f-9982-44fca367b51d_grandeWhen you take money out of the housing equation it brings about deeper fundamental issues. It forces us to ask, what is enough and what will actually make us happy? Do we need a large house? Is living in a small house actually desirable? Why not simply settle for something in the middle? The notion of Tiny House Living has been popularized over the last few years by minimalist authors, bloggers, financial personalities and television shows. But is a tiny house realistic when affordability is not an issue? What are the challenges of living small? And benefits as well?

Conceptually, I really enjoy the idea of having only what we need. It was quite refreshing to move into a relatively small place to force the paring down of essentials right after we got married. In fact, we have lived in a lot of different types and sizes of homes throughout the years. Living in inexpensive housing areas, we’ve lived in homes/condos ranging from 190 to 4500 square feet, and certainly interact with individuals on a weekly basis with homes within that range. But how do we decide what is right for us? Especially when our lives are constantly changing. While we enjoy watching shows and documentaries about tiny houses, for the purpose of discussion, tiny houses will be 200-850 square foot, single family homes. Our most recent move was from a 390 square foot studio to a 850 square foot single family home. With a family of four, we live comfortably but have certainly considered larger homes (but also much smaller condos overseas as well). Tiny might be a simple 1,200 sf single family ranch, a 700 sf condo, or even a basic 14 x 14 single room. You make your own definition, but we’ll spend some time thinking through the benefits and challenges of tiny and huge house living. By looking at the extremes, we can actually put greater context around the issues faced when deciding what type of dwelling to inhabit. Continue reading

Summer Break

It’s really nice outside. Quit reading this blog, hop on a bike, and do something active.

myrtleOur summer should be a lot of fun this year. We are about to head to the beach to see family! I’ll be taking (and maybe teaching) a few classes, doing lots of research, and spending as much time as possible outside. I’ve been writing a lot the last few months and I probably have about 150+ post drafts outlined. After publishing for about 120 straight weeks, it will be a bit of change to not post weekly, but I’ll continue to keep track of my thoughts and write plenty of content behind the scenes.

So, go outside, enjoy the long summer days and I’ll see you back in August! I might even have a new design for the blog.

Also, feel free to email me if you plan on making it through Georgia (or Athens) anytime this summer. I’m always up for a good chat, tasty food, and nice bike rides.

It All Boils Down To Self-Control

When you write frequently about lifestyle design and personal finance you get asked a lot of questions. What does it take to live a happy and healthy life? What does it take to be successful? What does it take to live a fulfilled life? How can my relationships be better? What is the one thing that will change my financial life? I could spend years talking through the details of what it takes to be successful in every area of life. In fact, given enough time, I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually write a post that details specific ways to address each inefficient area in our lives. However, we will all realize pretty quickly that a simple thread weaves through everything we experience in life. Self Control. It all boils down to self-control.

marshmellow testWe define self-control as the ability to control our own impulses, feelings, emotions and actions. Life is all about how good we are at defining our desires and the courses of action in following through with them. To make ourselves better people, we must actively develop our self-control. For the scope of this article, we’ll break it down into health, money, relationships, and success. Continue reading

The Slow Creep of Discontentment

I’ve always been a goal setter. Even from an early age I would put together a list of things I wanted or experiences to try. I really enjoy the art of self-examination in almost all facets of life. Gurus like to expound upon the necessitation of creating goals and striving for the impossible. But what happens when you reach the basic ones? Sure, you could rinse and repeat, but where does it actually get us? Does it make us happier? Does more achievement, stuff, or money bring us any closer to contentment? Or does the very nature of our marketing-consumer driven economy suggest that there is always something slightly better?

bali-254077_1280I see it happen in the mirror. My life is pretty awesome. I have a wonderful wife, beautiful and intelligent kids, a paid off home, a new car, a fancy education, and a nice job. We live in a safe and peaceful county and we have the ability to spend time with close friends and family- even travel the world if we’d like. On paper, most of us have it all. In fact, I would venture to stay that most SE readers are pretty well positioned too. But, despite all of our blessings, contentment can still be elusive. A fancier house, a better school, a bigger or a prettier something. Even a few more dollars on the balance sheet. No matter where we are, there always seems to be something slightly shinier, just a little out of reach. Discontentment (even among the well off) reigns. Continue reading

The Broke Millionaire Athlete in Us All

We’ve all read that crazy teaser of a story about the rich millionaire athlete that made a fortune only to blow it all and be completely broke a few years after they finish playing their tysonsport of choice. The Mike Tysons of the world who earn $300 Million just to end up bankrupt one year into “retirement”. There is something sadistic and intriguing about the unwise financial choices others make. It certainly becomes story-worthy when the numbers are in the millions.

However, as much as we prefer not to admit it, we all have a little broke millionaire athlete in us. In fact, we tend to make the same money mistakes without the media spotlight or the spectacular meltdowns of well known celebrities. So, why are we just like the millionaire athletes that go broke? Do we make the same money mistakes as the ultra rich? Continue reading

Finding Our Place In The Class Stratification

I’m not really sure what I want to be when I grow up. For that matter, I’m not really sure where I want to fit in socioeconomically. I also understand that, by simply having all choices available, I’m already predisposed to certain social alignments. I’m not a sociologist. In fact, I’ve never formally studied sociology. However, I’ve traveled enough to observe the perils and benefits of extreme class differentiation and, by no effort of my own, I’ve been exposed to the most astounding poverty and wealth imaginable.

classesIt is a strange proposition to step back and determine the way we want to define our family socially. Most likely, we simply take our cues from our parents and strive to meet their expectations. Our peer groups, school choices, career paths, and financial decisions are all heavily influenced by our home environment and exposures to unique experiences. It is funny, but most of my peers and family members would strive to be part of the “Middle Class.” But really, its more like the highest echelons of middle class or maybe even the suburban upper class. But certainly, at minimum, everyone is striving to be in the Global 1% Club. Where do you fit in? Did you choose your societal class? It is based on your family, your income, or your choices? Are you comfortable where you are? Continue reading

My Experiments: Adding 30Lbs of Muscle in One Year

I am extremely fascinated by how the human body works. I thoroughly enjoy self-experimentation and breaking misconceptions we have about our own predispositions. When I was growing up, I was always on the small side. I had a very late birthday and typically was one of the smallest people in the entire school. When I finished high school I weighed about 125Lbs at 5’9” or so. I remember specifically choosing my competitive sports based on the biological makeup of my body. I learned early on that tackle football was a no-go, but wrestling and running (Cross Country & Track) were sports that are competitive even for individuals on the lighter side of the high school scale.

gymWhen I began college I quickly embraced the delicious, all-you-can-eat buffets of my college’s dining hall. I had plenty of free time to workout and eat lots of tasty food. I quickly gained fifteen pounds my first semester and finished my first year at about 145. I actually grew a few inches in college so, despite adding several pounds, I still remained on the skinnier side. The next several years I stayed approximately the same weight. It would fluctuate by a few pounds here or there but I can certainly wear the exact same clothes I wore my freshmen year now.

I assumed I would pretty much always be a relatively small guy. My family actually has people of many different sizes, but the average would be approximately the American normal. I’m not sure what my “natural” weight is but over the last ten years I’ve found it difficult to really change my BMI. The lose weight vs gain weight debate is also interesting. The irony of both weight loss and weight gain is that many of the principles and mechanics are quite similar. Although we all have different basel metabolic rates, there are certainly basic equations that guide our consumption to mass ratio. I certainly learned quite a bit about losing weight while wrestling competitively, but I’ve always found it much harder for me to build and maintain muscle mass. Continue reading