Shaving Off My Money Mustache

I’ve been reading, researching, and writing about personal finance for a little over ten years now.  But even before I started formally sharing my financial thoughts, I spent the earliest years of my life thinking through the implications and trade-offs of how I structured my financial and economic decisions. I’ve always had a knack for finding (and utilizing for my advantage) market inefficiencies. I enjoyed saving, accumulating, and investing even early in my middle school years. I’ve certainly noticed my life and consumption have continually evolved over the last thirty years.

I started this crazy process of learning as much as I could about personal finance somewhere around 2000. I spent several years plowing through every single personal finance book at our local library and followed the research and pop-press through my entire doctoral program in financial planning. Although I read Your Money or Your Life and all of Jacob’s ERE stuff, it wasn’t until Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) came along that the movement in my brain had a coherent structure. MMM is a master at putting a ‘why’ behind the choices it takes to peruse an optimal life and efficient spending. I’ve even had Pete, the Mr. Money Mustache himself, sit with me and discuss many of the topics on this blog. Continue reading Shaving Off My Money Mustache

Selling Out To The Suburbs

I can’t believe it. We actually did it. We just bought a house in the suburbs. And, after a few more weeks of renovations, we will be moving in full time. We’ll be moving to the land of SUVs, non-walkable, car-centric, single family wastefulness that embodies urban sprawl. We even bought a new (to us) 2nd car to support our new life of excess to accompany a home with more bedrooms than we have people. This may seem normal to you, but if you’ve read my work about efficiency, lifestyle design, and riding a bike, you understand that this (on the surface) appears like a complete lifestyle paradigm shift. And in many ways it is. But, ironically, in some ways it will actually be more in line with the priorities we espouse for this stage of life.

Living the City Life Dream?
I love our old little house but I’m not sure we were really living the city life dream. At first glance our current home met the correct efficiency metrics- in-town, small, efficient, walkable (ish), paid-for. Just a few blocks from some really great trails, parks, and restaurants. Less than a mile to an incredible downtown and less than two from my office and entertainment. However, just beneath the surface were a few missing components to an ideal in-town experience. We live off a nice little street but the traffic moves quickly and almost all of our neighbors are elderly or college students. The elementary school we were zoned for is one of the weakest 5% in the state. Although we can walk around, many of our friends (and other areas we spend lots of time) are actually just out of walking/biking distance. While our home was awesome before we had kids, it has changed a bit with the two newest editions. Part of the changes are really a function of the evolution of our life over the last five years. Five years ago schools didn’t matter, going out downtown was an exciting activity, work was twice as close, and we were the college students next door. The biggest takeaway for us is that our needs in a home change as our lives evolve. (picture is the new house in the burbs’) Continue reading Selling Out To The Suburbs

Turning My Hobby Into My Job

When I was a kid I told people I wanted to be an architect. I think it was mainly because I played with lots of Legos and people told me I should build or design stuff for a living. As I approached the end of high school, I leaned more toward engineering and medicine mostly just following in the footsteps of my family. At some point after my first year in college, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I stepped back to get a generalized degree in business. After graduation, I spent a little time overseas working and traveling eventually settling into grad school learning about economics.

Ifinancen high school I remember thinking economics was the most boring subject on Earth. I equated it with graphs, charts, and equilibriums that had little bearing on my day to day life. When it came to graduate school I couldn’t decide between an MBA program or Law school. Looking back, I think I was really just buying time to figure out what I wanted to do in life. Ironically, I chose to go with economics based primarily on the fact that they offered the best assistantship and stipend. It wasn’t until I really studied microeconomics and behavioral economics that I realized that learning how incentives work and how decisions are made is extremely valuable. Continue reading Turning My Hobby Into My Job

Taking the Next Step Forward

My life has changed a lot since I started writing here, pretending to be a simple economist. I’ve started school, finished school, traveled a bit, started a new job, had two kids, bought a house, paid it off, moved around town, and moved into a new career. I’ve read a lot, learned a little, and live a life that often feels completely different than the simple one that I started this journey down. I’m pretty happy with where life sits right now. Its a neat place. There are a few little things I’d like to wrap up and finish, but I’m moving into a season where the biggest life decisions (what to ‘do’, where to live, how many kids to have, who to marry) cede themselves to refining decisions and spending time with the people most important in my life.

walker-1208261_1280I’ve done a lot less reflection recently and its starting to get the better of me. I’ve been in consumption mode and my life is changing because of it. The biggest change has been a movement in career. Although I am now doing what I love, I’m still in learning mode and I’m faced with new challenges and demands daily. I was good enough at my old job that most days I could just get my work done without a lot of new thinking or mental stress. When I finish most days at my current job, I’m often running low on mental energy. In fact, the other day I even struggled with a basic conversation about explaining the benefits of a simple life because I haven’t spent the time to mentally organize my thoughts given the new season of life I’ve entered. I haven’t spent the time to have the conversations with my family and wife about what our next big goals are and the steps to get there. I’m entering a new stage of life and I need to decide what’s next. Continue reading Taking the Next Step Forward

I Don’t Want to Read the Book

“I don’t want to read the book, just tell me what to do.” I’m an avid reader. I spend a large majority of my day reading for work, research, or pleasure. I almost always enjoy reading the book. If you are like me, you probably enjoy reading too. I’m a bit unique in the fact that I almost exclusively read non-fiction. But I enjoy a detailed and carefully informed argument about a topic. Most non-fiction books are just that. Especially the business, lifestyle design, personal finance, or self-help variety. To some extent, long form essays or blogs are similar as well. I actually enjoy reading the details and gaining context to understanding the ‘why’ behind a set of recommendations or suggested actions. Especially when it comes to life change.

old booksBut most people are not like me. Most people do not enjoy reading like I do. Well, maybe they enjoy reading their Facebook feed, but any long-form non-fiction is akin to pulling teeth. Trying to get someone else to read a 1,000 word blog post or even a short essay about a topic of interest can be surprisingly hard with some individuals. Most people don’t want to read the book. Continue reading I Don’t Want to Read the Book

Reducing The Need For Willpower

There was a bowl of chocolate covered almonds sitting out in the kitchen. Throughout the day, every time I would go to grab a drink, grab a snack, or get something for anyone in the household, the little bowl of treats called my name. I really like dark chocolate covered almonds (or nuts of any kind). On a normal day, I don’t really eat any sweets. If I do, it’s typically a small nibble after dinner. In fact, we try not to keep many unhealthy things in our household because I know my willpower is weak when I’m hungry and ready-to-eat treats are around.

choco nutsI think everyone has some type of change they would like to make in their life. Throughout the years we often think in terms of resolutions or goals. While I still participate in the practice of thinking through areas of self-improvement, I’ve come to the conclusion that systems work a lot better than willpower. In fact, most people concentrate on the goals they would like to meet and the mental power it takes to ‘deny oneself’. However, I think we rely too much on our own will power when we would actually be better served by putting ourselves in a position to succeed in making needed changes. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was easy to make significant changes in our life? What if it was easier to eat healthier, work out more, have more time and waste less money. Too often, our lives are simply designed to fail. We spend more time dreaming about the results of our resolutions, but spend entirely too little time on the systems that make our goals succeed. We need better systems in place to reduce the need for willpower. Continue reading Reducing The Need For Willpower

Delaying The Big Decisions

Certain seasons of life are filled with big decisions. There are inflection points in life which determine the trajectory of our future. Choosing a career, a spouse, where to live, and to have children (and how many) are all huge decision points that radically affect our life and lifestyle. The pressure to make the right decision can be tough as we move through different seasons of life. One way to make the process more palatable is to simply slow down the process. If I am not comfortable moving forward, I must take additional time, gather more information, and make one big decision at a time.

Our family is in the middle of one of the largest inflection points we’ll experience. Life has been pretty straightforward for the last five or six years. We’ve lived in our little college town, maintained the same jobs, and executed the plan of starting our family. While kids were a game changer, we mostly continued our life and just towed the kids along. Our lives are quickly becoming more kid-centric. I also started a long graduate program (PhD in Financial Planning and the study of Behavioral Economics) that added an additional four or five years of clarity to our plans. But now the mini-stage of life is coming to an end. We are having new discussions. We are trying to decided how many kids to have, to remain in the city center (vs. suburbia), considering possible career changes, deciding about school systems, family friendly homes, and who we need to become to be great parents. I feel like our big decision making pants have been on autopilot the last few years and it is all coming to a climax. Continue reading Delaying The Big Decisions

Slowing Down the Input Stream

Sometimes I feel like I have too much information coming into my life. I’m especially aware of information that is not helpful and does not meaningfully contribute to a fulfilled life. In the modern age we are constantly bombarded with news, options, advertisement, requests, and astutely crafted marketing plans. Often, it is simply too much.

streamI’m not a big fan of negativity. I certainly appreciate (but dislike) constructive criticism but still I struggle with negative things that impact my mindset- especially in areas where I have little actual control. I still spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter and I find myself reading about ‘news’ as a way to procrastinate when important things are on the line. I’m always striving for contentment and I’m pretty sure there is a relationship between the input steams that enter my life and the level of satisfaction I feel.

I need to be intentional about the stream of information that comes into my brain. I need to constantly monitor the positive ones and discourage the negative ones. I need to remove the unproductive ones and concentrate on the ones that bring actual fulfillment. I need to slow down my input stream.

It Begins Here
My cell phone and my internet connection. I’m pretty sure the bulk of my unproductive (and also my productive) inputs come from two simple sources: My cell phone and the Internet. I’m to the point where I rarely watch unplanned television and most of my friends are healthy inputs. When I make the time to read for fun it is often relaxing and productive. But, I do find myself guilty of many of the things productivity gurus restrict. I know I shouldn’t look at my cellphone right when I get up or check my email before I do important things- but I find myself doing them anyway. I know that I rarely workout after 7am but sometimes I still hit the snooze button and skip my morning workout. I know I need to spend more time doing “x” but I waste time doing this or that. Social media, deals, and news. These are my time wasters. When I’m feeling extra unproductive I can spend plenty of time reading about my favorite sports teams and fantasy football. Assessing my input streams really begins with understanding how to control my phone and the time I spend online. Continue reading Slowing Down the Input Stream

When We Don’t Follow Our Own Advice

We write a lot about optimizing life and living as simply and efficiently as possible. But do we actually live it out? Or better yet, have our lives evolved and changed to the point where things that were priorities years ago now have changed? That is the internal (and now external) debate that has been raging in my head the past few months. I’ve started to question many of the assumptions we’ve made to determine which aspects of our life are passing fads and which are grounded principles.

adviceI don’t really like giving advice. I’d rather tell stories about what works for us and give examples of how it is possible to live efficiently in one area or another. There is a point where I still encounter the mental challenge of trying to live out my own advice. I often find myself in circumstances where I can rationalize my way into almost any possible scenario. I find myself saying things like, I would never recommend this to a friend but our family is a little different. Or, we could probably make that work- it would be a stretch, but we could do it for a little while. So, when the dust settles, will we be able to live out what we actually think is best for our life? Continue reading When We Don’t Follow Our Own Advice

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 How Many Square Feet Do We Need to Be Happy?