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

How Many Square Feet Do We Need to Be Happy?

We are having a debate. Or at least I am having a debate. I’m faced with internal dilemma of trying to figure out where I want to live in the coming months (and years). As a family, we are anticipating many different changes in the next few years, but most likely one will involve buying a new house in the town where we currently live. We really like the home we are in. In fact, we will probably keep it as a rental unit even after we buy a new one. Our house is modest in size for our area and the price per square foot of real estate is super inexpensive where we live. We can easily afford a lot of house, but what do we actually need? All the internal discussion boils down to the question: how many square feet do we need to be happy?

My History With Big Houses
houseIn Georgia, where I’ve spent the vast majority of my life, houses are really big. We have lots of space, a major home building industry, plenty of forestry products and sprawling urban and suburban business centers. I grew up in a family of six and my parents turned our 3/2 into a space with bedrooms for all by the time I finished high school. For several years I had a massive basement to spend the majority of my time. In college, I shared a 185sf dorm with a roommate, followed by a fraternity house with 35 other guys and finally a room in a large house to myself. After college I moved to Manila and lived in a small 200sf studio. Upon getting married, we stayed in a 1,200sf condo before moving into our own 390sf studio for several years. Finally, we moved into our current 850sf home of efficiently laid out urban space with our family of four. (Picture is of a move in ready house that just sold in our town for about 190k, 3,600sf, $829 Monthly payment) Continue reading

Your Life is Designed to Be Unhealthy

Do you currently feel healthy? Do you feel like it is difficult to remain healthy? Are unhealthy habits and temptations continually challenging your self control and motivation? Almost everyone I know wants to live a healthy life. We all want to eat well, exercise, sleep well, minimize stress, and have healthy relationships. But is it even realistic? You may know someone who seems to live a healthy life with ease. Without effort, they seem to eat well, workout at 5:00am and live stress-free. In comparison, we often contrast our ideal with the realities of working late, demanding children, rushed meal choices and relationship pressure. Is our life designed to be unhealthy?

unhealthyDesigning a healthy life happens when we understand, prioritize, and automate the important. We don’t accidentally become healthier. It doesn’t come naturally. In fact, society actually pushes us in the exact opposite direction. We have consistent pressure to complicate our lives. Do more. Make more. Spend more. Life moves health to the bottom of our priority list- often until we reach a crisis. If you have the right tool, the project is easy. However, without the right equipment (physical or mental), trying to make progress is an uphill battle. We never get traction. So, until we realize popular society (and the marketing power they exhibit) does not have our best interest in mind, we will be stuck with the mentally exhausting task of trying to live a healthy life. The solution is actually pretty simple. It involves a little planning; but all we really need to do is make healthy choices easier than unhealthy ones. That is when progress actually happens. Continue reading

How to Start a Financial Blog

Personal finance is just that- Personal. There are many different paths that lead to the end goal of true financial freedom. I’ve certainly learned a lot from countless other bloggers who have shared their struggles and victories learning firsthand how to effectively use our money wisely. Everyone has a personal finance story to tell.

cash flowHow do you start a blog? Why start? How do you make money from blogging? I’ve been asked repeatedly about the steps to creating a successful blog. I’ve also been asked about the unique aspects about writing in the space of personal finance. Although Simple Economist covers many different topics, the underlying principles are all based on helping individuals achieve efficiency in the decisions we make. Personal finance is certainly one of the areas where we have plenty of room to grow even after reading and studying the topic for years. Continue reading

(Early) Retirement Planning in One Picture

Can I retire when I’m 40? 50? Never? How much do I actually need to be saving? Retirement planning can get really complicated. In fact, it is often complicated enough that people tend to put it off or not do it at all. Is there a simple way to get an idea if we are on track? There are hundreds of complicated formulas that can be used to answer these questions. In actuality, it is pretty easy to get a quick idea of where you stand financially.

Financial planning has become a complex industry. Comprehensive planning takes into account plenty of different variables such as longevity, taxes, distributions, government programs and estate issues. Inevitably, when we try to predict the future we are required to make lots of different assumptions. However, sometimes it is nice to take a step back and look at the basics to see if we are really on track.

Retirment in One PictureThe Snapshot
So, what can you fit into a simple graphic that will give people the information they need to know if they are moving toward financial independence? A simple graph that illustrates the time it takes to reach financial independence based on your saving and spending rates. The chart above explains the amount of time it takes to retire (or become financially independent) at different savings rates. Simply find the amount you currently save and see how many years you need to work until you can retire. Or, find when you want to retire and see how many more years it will take of work to reach that goal. If you already have substantial savings, subtract out the number of years you can already cover with the amount you have saved.

Continue reading

10 Financial Assumptions That Need To Be Challenged

My goal is to challenge assumptions. If there is one persistent theme of Simple Economist, it would be that we need to challenge ourselves and constantly question the status quo. This post is certainly full of references that contain detailed explanations for many of the individual topics. The article will help bring together many different ways we need to challenge the financial assumptions that we are exposed to on a consistent basis.

debtI’m sure you have had it happen. I’m sure there has been a time where you cringed after hearing a comment, news report, or had a family member or friend make a statement based on a faulty assumption. The misinformed (or toxic way of thinking) that is used for rationalizing or marginalizing unwise choices can be tough to be around. I honestly think that is what drives me to write and publish my thoughts each week. I just see so much (often in myself) inefficiency, misinformation, and faulty assumption, that it motivates my need to organize my thoughts and put them down on paper. Do you ever question popular financial assumptions? Continue reading

Risk Management (Without Insurance)

Insurance is not the only way to manage risk. In the near future I will be an expert* on risk. In fact, I’m actively working on that goal now. My dissertation in Behavioral Economics and Financial Planning will be based entirely on an individual’s perceptions and measurement of risk. But what is risk? What does it actually mean? And what are the ways we can manage risk? Can we manage risk without insurance?

free climberRisk management can become a dirty word in financial circles. Although planning for and understanding risk is fundamentally necessary in all aspects of life, many individual’s interaction with sellers of insurance and risk management products are less than savory. Insurance, and especially life insurance, is seen as an entry point into the risk management industry and fraught with many inherent conflicts of interest. The underlying assumption for many individuals is that risk is managed with insurance. Sure, insurance plays an important role, but risk management is much more than simply insurance.

Risk is a broad subject. It can be thought about in terms of physical risk (safety, war, etc), financial risk, business risk, health risk, or even environmental risk. For the scope of this article, I’ll focus on personal risk, which we have some capacity to control. Continue reading

Real Food and Plant Based Diet

Nutrition makes me come alive. I enjoy it so much that I try my best to live a healthy lifestyle everyday. I’m passionate about helping others understand nutrition and implement  changes into their own lives as well. It’s one way that I can extend love to others. Giving them the information and tools to live a healthy life and feel good from the inside out. It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it! Once you decide, take action and start to experience the benefits, you will find that there is a motivation that will start to well up inside of you. Then it will come more naturally.

So, why am I telling you this? As a Registered Dietitian, I want to give the best nutrition advice I can. And I’ve come to the conclusion that nutrition is constantly changing and becoming more and more confusing for the average consumer. What is the best diet? I get asked that all the time. It’s hard to pick one, but it is difficult to beat the simplicity of eating real food and mostly plants. And I want to tell you why.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” -Hippocrates

Why a Plant Based Diet?
produceI know after reading those words, there is already some push back. I hear you. I like meat too. And dairy. And eggs. A plant based diet seems impossible to many of us. Especially living in America and constantly being bombarded with the idea that we deserve fried chicken, a nice filet, or the next triple patty burger. But, have you ever considered what you are actually putting into your body when you eat that kind of stuff? There is a lot of speculation, but I won’t get into that in this post. Our bodies run off of the food we eat. We need good, nutritious fuel to keep us going. When it all comes down to it, I have realized whole foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) are truly the building blocks of a healthy diet. As Michael Pollan said in The Defense of Food, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Continue reading

The Bliss Point of Personal Consumption

On a scale of 1 to 10, how good are you at extracting maximum satisfaction from each dollar you spend? How well do you perform when you measure yourself? If you were to spend $100, what would give you the most joy? Take a few moments to brainstorm: What in your monthly spending gives you the most joy? The least? What spending is mindless and what is mindful?

old cokeHave you ever had a drink that was too sweet? In the book Sugar, Salt, Fat, researchers discuss the exact amount of sugar it takes to make people crave sodas. Too little sugar and the individuals prefer sweeter; however, too much sugar makes people sick. There is a point where the joy of consumption is maximized- the Bliss Point. It’s a Goldilocks’ dilemma. What about alcohol? There is a point where alcohol makes you feel a buzz, but if you consume too much you are guaranteed to feel terrible. Money works in the same way. Consuming too little leaves us feeling deprived, yet consuming too much leaves us feeling gluttonous and overindulgent. The quicker you can examine yourself and determine your personal bliss point, the greater satisfaction you will be able to experience. Continue reading