A memory came to me this morning while I was walking the dog, a memory of those days when I was fresh out of college and just beginning to work for my father at the box factory.
A salesman had come knocking on our door. This was strange since the box factory was (and still is) located in a rural area. But somehow this guy had found us and he was there to make his pitch: He was a salesman who trained salesmen. (And, presumably, saleswomen although this wasn't part of the spiel in 1992.)
Dad, amused, introduced this fellow to me. "This is J.D.," Dad said. "He's our salesman. Talk to him." So, this guy sat down with me in a back room of the shabby trailer house that served as company HQ. (This was the very trailer house I'd grown up in. And trust me when I say it was a pit, a sty. It was just as bad as you're imagining. Maybe worse.)
"How would you like to make more money?" the salesman who trained salesmen said to me. He was an older gentleman dressed in a brown corduroy suit.
"I'd love it," I said. Despite my father's nepotism in hiring me, I wasn't paid much: $16,500 per year and no commissions — about $35,500 in 2022 dollars.
"Let me show you what I can do for you," the salesman said, smiling. That's my over-riding memory of this conversation: the guy's permagrin. It never went away. Even when he was resting, he had that shit-eating grin on his face.
My mother died Monday night. She was 74.
Earlier this week, I began writing a memorial for her. I know I haven't talked much about Mom here at Get Rich Slowly, but she probably played the biggest role in molding me into the person I am today. After writing 2500 words, I realized I have a lot to process. And maybe Get Rich Slowly isn't the place to publish a tribute to her. I don't know.
This week I'm in Orlando for Fincon, the annual gathering of folks who work at the intersection of money and media. As a result, I haven't had time to do all of the things I normally do during a week. I haven't been reading or writing about money. Instead, I've done a lot of chatting with colleagues.
We've been coming together at Fincon since 2011. At first, we were nearly all strangers to each other. Today, many of these people are my closest friends — but they're friends I see in person only once or twice each year. I value every moment I get to spend with them.
On Tuesday, for instance, a group of us booked a private VIP tour through the Disney theme parks. We had a blast. I mean, look at this wretched hive of scum and villainy...
Chatting with other money nerds this week has given me additional clarity about the future direction of Get Rich Slowly — on the web, on YouTube, and in the email newsletter.
You see, most money bloggers (and podcasters and YouTube creators) are in it for the money. That's fine. I have no problem with that. But that's not me.
Yes, I would very much like to earn income from the work that I do, but I'm in the fortunate position that I don't need to earn that income today. I had a windfall from the site thirteen years ago, which allows me to pursue this as a passion project (at least for a time).
Instead, I can focus on making Get Rich Slowly meaningful to me and useful to you. I can ignore the financial side of things while I work to build a resource that helps people master their money — and their lives. While I might not earn anything from the site today (or next week or even next year), I have faith that if I provide value, then eventually I'll discover a way to make money in a way that doesn't compromise my values.
This article is difficult to write. It's an admission that I failed. And it's not like I failed once, but failed repeatedly over the course of several years. And it's not that I really failed failed, you know. It's that I failed myself. I failed to live up to my own expectations.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
I grew up Mormon. Among other things, this meant that nobody in my family consumed recreational drugs of any kind. Mormons have a strict prohibition against such indulgences. And, as most folks know, they even take their stricture against "strong drink" to mean that caffeine is forbidden.
So, my parents didn't drink alcohol or coffee. They didn't smoke cigarettes. They didn't do anything that led to altered states. Hell, my father even hated television because he considered it a "plug-in drug". For much of my childhood, we didn't have a TV. When we did have a TV, access was often restricted.
My parents left the Mormon church when I was a freshman in high school. We returned to the local Mennonite congregation in which my father was raised. Mennonites aren't quite so restrictive with mind-altering substance as Mormons are — they love their coffee! — but they're close.
In high school, I was never tempted by alcohol. I had friends who would drink, but it never appealed to me. Plus, it was against the rules.
Also in high school, I had friends who discovered marijuana. While I was ambivalent about booze, I was actively opposed to pot. I believed it was evil. Plus, it was illegal. As a rule follower, there was no way I would touch the stuff. And when I was with friends who did get stoned, I'd read them the riot act. (I once chewed out my best friend Sparky because he had the gall to get stoned while we were waiting in line to buy tickets for a Tears for Fears concert.)
Essentially, I started life as a Goody Two-Shoes. I refused to do anything illegal or immoral, and I condemned others for choosing anything that I wouldn't choose. I was a self-righteous young man who couldn't see that there's no single Right Answer to life.
Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and well wishes during the past two weeks. I appreciate them. We've been tying up loose ends related to Duane's life and death, and we're nearly finished with everything.
- Duane's memorial service is this Sunday. I've been collecting photos from family members, and have put together a slide show of memories. After the memorial service is over, the final loose end will be his financial accounts. We're prepped to handle those, however, and are just waiting on the death certificate.
- One of my rooms downstairs is filled with Duane's collections of ancient coins and Magic: The Gathering cards. The coins are a mystery to me. I watched as he collected them over the years, but I never bothered to learn anything about them. Why would I? Now, I wish I'd paid attention. The cards, on the other hand, I can handle. There are many of them — my guess is a minimum of 168,000 cards and perhaps twice that number — and they're largely unorganized, which means I have months of work ahead of me in order to sell them. But I understand the game and I understand collectibles, so this is all within my ken. It's just a lot of work.
- Kim and I have decided not to adopt any more of Duane's fish. This was a difficult decision. Duane very much wanted me to take his fish, especially the nineteen Mbuna cichlids. And there's a part of me that wants to have them. They'd be fun. It would honor his memory. But I also know that the fish would be a hassle, that they don't fit with our long-term plans. So, if nobody else in the family wants them we'll donate the fish to a pet store, then sell or donate the fish equipment.
Things have been complicated slightly because I got sick. Duane's extended family was passing around a nasty cold for much of April, and I managed to catch it the day after he died. It laid me low for several days. (And now, at this very moment, Kim is home sick from work with the same cold.) Fortunately, it's not COVID.
Things have also been complicated because my mother's health issues have recently reached a sort of crisis.
Are you all ready for this? It's one of my favorite days of the year! I just spent an hour entering data in Quicken, then another thirty minutes analyzing it. It's time to run some numbers.
How well did I do with my financial goals last year? Was I able to cut back on dining out? (Hint: There was a global pandemic. What do you think?) Did my net worth rise or fall? Let's take a look.
First, let's review where I was at the end of 2019.
Quite simply, I was a mess. Objectively, my life was good, but subjectively it was a disaster. My mental health was in shambles. Depression and anxiety were crippling me and truly affecting my relationships with other people. I felt like I was in the middle of a prolonged car crash.
The good news is that, for the most part, 2020 was much better from a personal perspective. Yes, I understand that 2020 sucked for a lot of people. And it was the most tumultuous year our country has seen in a generation. But for me, personally, the year was mostly good. I'll explain why this is in a bit, but first lets look at the Big Picture.
My Net Worth
Here's my end-of-year net worth from each of the past three years. (These numbers do not include the value of my business or this website.)
- At the end of 2018, my net worth was $1,334,227 — a 15.2% decrease from 2017.
- At the end of 2019, my net worth was $1,437,543 — a 7.7% increase from 2018.
- At the end of 2020, my net worth was $1,373,233 — a 4.5% decrease from 2019.
Now, on paper a decrease of net worth amounting to $64,310 might seem scary. Maybe it's because I'm in a better mental space than last year, but it doesn't bother me. This may also be due to the fact that I realize most of that drop comes from Zillow's valuation of our home.
At the end of 2019, Zillow said our country cottage was worth $495,749. At the end of 2020, the home was valued at $437,127, which is a drop of $58,622.
Yes, I realize using Zillow to track our home value is...erratic. And it leads to fluctuations like this. Still, I feel like it's a solid enough source for home values, and it gives me some sort of number to go on.
That's one way of looking at it. But looked at another way, things are a little dicier. You see, I currently live off of my investments. Most of those investments are in retirement accounts, which I can't touch (unless I want a tax penalty) for another eight years. At the start of 2019, my regular taxable investment accounts contained $269,264. Today, they have $197,117. That there could also be my drop in net worth.
One thing is certain, though. That $197,117 isn't enough to get me to age 59-1/2 at my current level of spending. I need to spend less, earn more, or (preferably) both.
Now, let's look at some of the numbers in greater detail.
Update! I've had a couple of people email to ask if I plan to host these videos here on the blog. The short answer is "no". The long answer is "maybe eventually". But I realized that I could make it easy on folks by embedding the Morning Musings playlist at the top of this article. So, here it is. In theory, this should get updated whenever I post a new video. This is an embedded playlist, and the most recent video should appear at the top. (In theory.)
For years now, I've wanted to start a Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube.
Well, I guess that's only partially correct. I have a GRS channel on YouTube; it's just not very active. So, I guess what I mean to say is that I want to have an active GRS channel on YouTube.
There are lots of barriers, though, all of which are purely mental. I worry about how I look. I worry about how I sound. I worry about production quality. I worry about the amount of time this will all take. Basically, I'm paralyzed by the need to be perfect.
Every Monday morning, Tom and I have a Zoom call to discuss the coming week's priorities for this site. For the past couple of months, we've been focused on behind-the-scenes stuff as we prepared to launch the redesign. (That, and I was working on my course for Audible.) Now that the redesign is (mostly) finished, we've begun talking about content. What sorts of articles do we want to write in coming weeks?
"You know," Tom said this morning, "it wouldn't kill you to write about the financial tools you use. You love your credit card, right? And you use Personal Capital? If you were to write about this stuff, we could make more money."
As I've mentioned many times, Get Rich Slowly earns little compared to other sites its size -- especially other financial sites its size. Expected earnings for GRS are probably on the order of $20,000 per month; we bring in about $5000. (And right now, because of the coronavirus, our revenue is lower than this even.)
Believe it or not, the current coronavirus crisis is affecting Get Rich Slowly too. Things are slow around here. Traffic is down. Revenue is down. Production is down. Plus, I have a big deadline at the end of the month. My project for Audible and The Great Courses is due on March 31st.
So, just like the rest of the world, we're going to press "pause" for a couple of weeks. I will return next Wednesday with my annual birthday article, but you'll have to scroll down to see it. I'm going to pin this post to the top of the front page.
The break will allow me to focus my full attention on the FIRE course. Meanwhile, my partner Tom can work on behind-the-scenes stuff (including the nearly-completed site redesign!) without worrying that I'll mess things up haha. And, best of all, maybe we can get ahead on our publication schedule for once. We have two new staff writers. I have some articles planned. Tom has some articles planned. It would be great to resume in a couple of weeks with a backlog of material!
What a long, strange couple of months it's been for me. On the blog, things have been quiet. Behind the scenes, I've been as busy as I've ever been.
The good news is that this busy-ness will (eventually) lead to a number of interesting articles. I've been reading Cal Newport's Deep Work, for instance, and have some thoughts on it. I've been thinking about the concept of "no speed limits". Shocking but true: I'm going to write an article about my primary credit card. And I've been reading and writing a lot about "doing nothing".
Today, though, I want to clear my head (and my inbox) by sharing five short financial anecdotes.