Optimizing for joy

Hello, friends. It has been a l-o-n-g time since I've written online. Well, that's not entirely true. I've been writing a ton at Facebook. In fact, it's as if Facebook has become my personal blog. But that's about to change. Everything is about to change. Let's talk about it.

As you're well aware, 2022 was one hell of a year for me. It was a year of death and destruction. That sounds like hyperbole, I know, but it's not. It felt as if my world were crumbling around me.

After my mom died in October, I made a vow. I was going to do whatever it took to get myself back to the same mental and physical spaces I inhabited a decade ago. That span of time between 2012 and 2016 was Peak J.D., and I wanted more of it. Maybe I couldn't achieve exactly the same state of mind, but surely I could get closer than I've been the past few years.

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A clear line

Deciding to extend my sabbatical from Get Rich Slowly indefinitely has been liberating. The moment I committed to this, it was as if a heavy load were lifted from my back. I'm able to pursue other passions now without regret. I don't feel guilty. I don't feel like I need to give myself "permission". I just do what I want, and it's awesome.

Isn't this what financial independence is supposed to be?

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2023: The year of me

Last night, for the third Wednesday in a row, I ventured to the Whiteside Theater in downtown Corvallis to watch an old movie. Two weeks ago, it was National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Last week, it was It's a Wonderful Life. And yesterday was Star Wars. The place was packed! So fun to watch a favorite film in an old theater with a couple of hundred other fans.

I've also been watching many movies at home lately. I finally have the time. According to Letterboxd, I've seen seventeen films in December. I watched nine in November. I enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of cinema. (I highly recommend Letterboxd, by the way. I've been using it to log my film watching for two years, and I can no longer imagine not using it.)

The films I've watched in 2022

My days have been busy, too.

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A man of no ambition

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.

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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.

[My mother when she was probably 15 years old]

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This blog is now a teenager: Thirteen years of Get Rich Slowly

Thie middle of April is a Big Deal in my world.

The trees have nearly finished blossoming, which means my allergies will soon go away. We're seeing more of the sun, which means the worst of my seasonal depression is behind me. Yesterday, on the 14th, Kim and I celebrated seven years as a couple. And today, on the 15th, Get Rich Slowly celebrates thirteen years of existence.

That's right: This blog is now a teenager.

In the Beginning

When I started Get Rich Slowly, I had no idea what it was going to become. I had no grand plan or vision. I just wanted to write about money while accomplishing three goals.

  • My primary goal was to document my own journey as I dug out of debt and (I hoped) eventually learned how to build wealth.
  • My secondary aim was to help my family and friends get better with their money too. (Although, truthfully, in my entire social circle, I was probably the person with the worst personal finance skills.)
  • And, third on the list, I wanted to make a little extra money with the site. I figured if I could make a few hundred bucks with it, I could pay off my debt a little sooner.

On 26 April 2005 -- a year before I started this blog -- I published an article called "Get Rich Slowly!" for my personal site. Here's what I wrote:

Today's entry is long and boring. It's all about the keys to wealth, prosperity, and happiness. Over the past few months, I've read over a dozen books on personal finance. Recurring themes have become evident.

These books have embarrassingly bad titles, seemingly designed to appeal to the get-rich-quick crowd: The Richest Man in Babylon, Your Money or Your Life, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, Wealth Without Risk, etc.

Some of the books out there — most of them? — really are as bad as their titles. Others, however, offer outstanding, practical advice. The best books seem to have the same goal in mind: not wealth, not riches, but financial independence.

According to Your Money or Your Life, which I consider the very best of the financial books I've read, "Financial independence is the experience of having enough — and then some". More practically, financial independence occurs when your investment income meets or exceeds your monthly expenses. Financial independence is linked to psychological freedom.

How is financial independence achieved? Again, the best books all basically agree. (To some of you, this will be common sense, stuff you've known all your life. To others, like me, this kind of thinking is a sort of revelation.)

Here, then, is my personal summary of the collected wisdom found in these books.

"It's nearly impossible to get rich quick without luck," I concluded after summarizing all of these money books. "Getting rich quick is a sucker's bet. There's only a slim chance that you'll have the sort of luck that's required. You might as well play the lottery."

Instead, I thought the underlying message of these books was simple: "It is possible to get rich slowly, however, with no risk, and with no luck. All that's required is patience and discipline."

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The earth awaits: Comparing cost of living around the world

During the past decade, I've learned to love travel. The old J.D. was too timid to explore the world. He was afraid of everything -- flight delays! terrorists! foreign languages! weird food! -- and so stayed home and dreamed of exploring the world instead of actually doing it.

Since 2007, however, I've visited forty-two states and twenty different countries (many more than once). I've camped high in the mountains of Bolivia, ridden a scooter through rural Turkey, and eaten fried grubs in Zimbabwe. I've been to Cape Horn off of southern Chile and the Cape of Good Hope off the tip of South Africa. I've strolled through glaciers in Alaska, climbed mountains in Peru, and snorkeled in the Galapagos.

I've spent ten years making up for the time I sat on the sidelines doing nothing. And I've only barely scratched the surface of what this amazing planet has to offer. It'd take several lifetimes to see it all.

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The difference between frugality and minimalism

There's a popular notion in personal-finance circles that frugality and minimalism go hand in hand. If somebody's frugal, they probably also self-identify as being a minimalist. And if somebody's a minimalist, they probably self-identify as being frugal. But while there is a lot of crossover between frugality and minimalism, it's important to understand that they're fundamentally different ideas with different aims. Sometimes they're even at odds with each other.

In fact, I think these two concepts are so non-aligned that I feel the need to define them for those Money Boss readers unfamiliar with the minimalism movement.

  • Frugality, as we're all aware, is what used to be called thrift. It's the quality of being careful with money and goods. It's the opposite of waste.
  • Minimalism, on the other hand, is the pursuit of less. Minimalist strive to own and do less, and they generally want their possessions to reflect simplicity and elegance.

Frugal folks aim to spend less; minimalists aim to have and do less. There's plenty of overlap there, obviously, but there are many times that frugality and minimalism are neither synonymous nor compatible. Let's look at a real-life example.

A Real-Life Example

Last Sunday, I rode my bike to a local bar for a money-blogger meetup. Much to my chagrin, I got a flat about 3.5 miles into the 4.1-mile ride through the rain and the cold. I "limped" the last half mile to the bar -- putting most of my weight on the front tire so that I wouldn't lose control of the bicycle. Eventually, the flat was too flat; I had to walk the last few hundred feet.

Fortunately, I live in Portland. Portland might be the most bike-friendly city in the United States, which means there are plenty of bike shops scattered around town. After I finished drinking slushy margaritas with my friends, I walked half a mile to River City Bicycles, where I paid $15 (and waited an hour) for the friendly folks to fix my flat.

This action led to an interesting discussion on Facebook:

Bike Discussion

This is a real-life example of the balance between frugality and minimalism. The frugal move would be to carry gear with me so that I could handle minor bike problems as they arise. The minimalist move is to carry nothing.

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Frugal shaming and financial one-upmanship

Yesterday, a group of Portland personal-finance bloggers got together at a local bar for slushy margaritas and a chat about money. It's always good to hang out with the Fincon folks. I used to think of them as "virtual friends", but more and more they're my real friends.

Much of our conversation centered on our personal lives. We talked about dieting and "going dry". We talked about mutual friends. We talked about how my bike developed a flat tire during the ride to the bar, and how I'd need to find someplace to repair it before heading home. (As part of my year-long quest to reduce my driving, I rode four miles through the cold and rain to meet my friends.)

We also talked about the business of blogging, of course. James suggested some advertising networks I should try. Emma and Monica mentioned some work they're doing for clients. We all talked about how and where we work. I've begun hunting for dedicated office space in my neighborhood -- working from home is just too distracting -- but am having a tough time finding anywhere affordable.

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Comparing Quicken to other personal-finance apps

Welcome to the final day of my mini series exploring popular personal-finance apps. As I prepare to track my spending in 2017, I have to decide which tool to use.

In the olden days, there weren't many options. Lately, however, there's been a boom in personal-finance tools. Rather than try every available app, I elected to take a look at four that seemed like good fits for me: Quicken, You Need a Budget, Personal Capital, and Mint.

Earlier this week, I reviewed my experience with You Need a Budget. Yesterday I compared Mint and Personal Capital. Today I'll talk about Quicken.

And at the end of this article, I'll reveal how I've decided to track my money during 2017.

Quicken 2007

For years, my personal-finance tool of choice has been Quicken. I used it to track my descent into debt during the 1990s, although those files are exiled to inaccessible 3-1/2 inch floppy disks. That said, I have transactions in my Quicken datafile going back to 19 February 2004 -- almost thirteen years ago!

Quicken - First Entry

My records go back to when I was married to Kris and we were living in the small town where I grew up. I was still maxing out my credit cards, still living paycheck to paycheck, and still wondering why I had suck rotten luck. I hadn't yet had my financial awakening. (That wouldn't happen until October of 2004.)

I've tracked my income and expenses with Quicken intermittently during the past thirteen years. I used the program religiously from October 2004 until April 2009, when I sold Get Rich Slowly. Then I used it again in 2011 and in 2013. So, my records are spotty. But they're there. If I wanted, it'd be easy to compare my present habits to the past. (In fact, I just for fun I ran a net worth report on each year for which I have data!)

I use the decade-old Quicken 2007 to do the following:

  • I have a list of accounts and spending categories. I've been using the same accounts and same categories for thirteen years. If an account becomes inactive, I'm able to hide it from view (without deleting data). Account registers work just like check registers. Yes, I'm one of those old men who still uses checks now and then. And because I was raised using checks, I prefer a check-register interface.
  • I enter transactions by hand. Automatic downloads are available but I don't use them. Manual data entry helps me remain more aware of my habits. That said, I do use automatic updates for my investments. And I like that Quicken downloads stock prices every day.
  • I don't use the budgeting feature, although I might give it a go in 2017. From time to time, I do use other built-in features though, like the retirement calculator and the home inventory.
  • Finally, I'm a big fan of the reports. Quicken 2007 is capable of producing dozens of different reports, all of which are customizable. As a money nerd, I like this.

Quicken 2007 EasyAnswer Report

Until yesterday, I hadn't upgraded my copy of Quicken in over a decade. I stuck with Quicken 2007 -- warts and all. I was fine with it. The software works. Better still, I know how to use it. I know how to make it do the things I want it to do. This is no small thing; in fact, as you'll see, it's probably the biggest determining factor in which tool I use to track my money.

Yesterday, however, I gave myself permission to upgrade to Quicken 2017. I didn't feel like it was fair to review the current versions of Mint, Personal Capital, and YNAB against something a decade out of date! Let's see how the new version compares to the old.

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