On February 17th — in the middle of nine days without power due to an ice storm — we had the foundation contractor out to re-inspect our house. We experienced some settling last fall, and I was worried that might indicate deeper problems.
For thirty minutes, the contractor explored the crawlspace while I sat in the living room, fretting. When he finished, he came up to tell me what he'd found.
"Look," he said, "my assessment is the same as when you had me out here three years ago. Your foundation is fine. It's not failing. The house isn't falling down."
I felt a wave of relief wash over me.
"That said," he continued, "I do think you'd feel better if you were to reinforce one section of the foundation. It looks to me as if you're seeing some minor expansion and contraction of the soil, which is what's causing your settling issues. It'd cost about $9000 to remedy that."
That evening as Kim and I huddled in our powerless living room, bundled in coats and jackets and using flashlights to read, I made a confession.
"I want to move," I said. "I know we both love this house and this yard, but it's taking a toll on my mental health."
"I know," Kim said. "I know you've been struggling. Ever since we moved in, I've seen how you've grown increasingly depressed and anxious. I'll do whatever it takes to make you happy, but I think maybe you should give up on your dream of owning an old house."
She's right. I love old houses but my personality isn't suited for them. They stress me out. (My ex-wife and I owned an old house too — she still lives there — and it caused me endless stress, as well.)
For the next couple of weeks, Kim and I spent many hours discussing our best course of action. Then, one month ago today, we made a decision: We would sell the house as soon as possible (to take advantage of the crazy Portland real-estate market), then rent a place for a while as we made a careful, calculated decision about where to live next.
And now we are 52...
On this day in 1969, baby J.D. entered the world. I don't think there's any way my parents could have predicted the path their firstborn would take through life. It hasn't always been easy — no thanks to the obstacles I've placed in my own way — but I've really had a wonderful (and interesting) life, and I look forward to whatever time is left me.
As I do every year here at Get Rich Slowly, I'm going to commemorate my birthday by sharing some of the most important things I've learned during my time on Earth. These are the most important pieces of my life philosophy.
Let's start with a look at the core takeaway from my 52nd year, the newest addition to my life philosophy.
What I Learned During My 52nd Year
This past year, especially, has been an interesting one. I know that's true for the world as a whole, but I personally have experienced a great deal of growth over the last twelve months. It's been a deeply introspective year.
If you were following along, you could see me process some of this introspection in real time, both here on the blog and at the Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube.
In July, I wrote that I am the one thing in life I can control. In August, I wrote about eliminating net negatives (or trying to). In October, I wrote about the pursuit of quality. And just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of low expectations.
What I've realized in recent weeks is that all of these Deep Thoughts seem to be a manifestation of the same fundamental problem in my life: my ADHD. For years, I suspected I had ADHD. In 2012, my therapist confirmed it. In consultation with my M.D., my therapist prescribed a medication (Vyvanse) that I was meant to take every day. I hate the side effects, though, so I never did. I took it only as needed.
But in searching for answers regarding my ongoing depression and anxiety, I've come to understand that these two debilitating mental illnesses can actually be caused by ADHD. My inability to focus leads me to become overwhelmed. When I become overwhelmed, I get stressed. When I get stressed, I get anxious and depressed.
It all seems obvious today, but it was never obvious before.
Anyhow, I've begun taking my Vyvanse regularly. Today is the sixth day in a row that I've used it. It seems to be helping. Meanwhile, I've been trying to practice mindfulness in everyday life. Plus, Kim and I are taking some big steps (to be discussed here in the coming weeks) to alleviate some of the things that overwhelm me on a regular basis.
Coming to grips with the fact that my ADHD is more pronounced than I believed (and that it's probably the source of so many of the things that bring me suffering) has been eye-opening. As I reviewed this list, for instance, I was surprised at just how many pieces of my philosophy directly tied to ADHD coping mechanisms. It's crazy.
So, the biggest lesson I learned this year is the age-old maxim: know thyself. As far as possible, know what makes you tick — and how that affects your goals, actions, and relationships.
My Life Philosophy
Before we dive into the rest of my life philosophy, I want to make something clear: I am no wiser or smarter than anybody else. And I'm certainly no better. But I am an individual.
I'm my own person with my own personal preferences and personal experiences. These have all jumbled together over the past 52 years to give me a unique perspective on life (just as you have a unique perspective on life). To quote my favorite poem:
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met...
So, these 52 nuggets of wisdom are things I've found to be true for me — and, I believe, for most other people. (But each of us is different. What works for me may not work for you.) These beliefs make up the core of my personal philosophy of life.
Some of these ideas are original to me. Some aren't. When I've borrowed something, I've done my best to cite my source. (And I've tried to cite the oldest source I can find. Lots of folks borrow ideas from each other. There's nothing new under the sun and all that.)
Here are 52 principles I've found to be true during my 52 years on this planet. I'll lead with this year's new addition.
Nearly two years ago, I received an unusual email at an address I rarely check anymore. The author wrote:
I am writing to you today because The Great Courses in partnership with Audible is exploring the possibility of creating a high-quality series on Financial Independence. We believe that you may be an excellent candidate to teach such a series. I've read many articles at Get Rich Slowly and I'm always impressed by your writing and how much excellent content you create.
At first, I thought this was spam. Before I deleted the message, though, I checked the sender. Sure enough. The sender (and the message) was legit.
I wrote back:
Thank you for reaching out. I get a lot of requests for my time and typically turn them down. Not this one. I feel like this is a terrific idea and well-worth exploring. I am a long-time fan of both Audible and the Great Courses. I'm not joking.
I included screen captures to prove that I owned 72 Great Courses and nearly 372 audiobooks from Audible. Those numbers have since grown, naturally.
Discussions ensued, a contract was created, and in December 2019, I began the work of creating a five-hour, ten-part course on financial independence and early retirement. I finished that course last April. I recorded it in May. And last month, at long last, How to Achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early made its way into the world!
At the end of January, I had an epiphany.
Kim and I were sitting in the living room one evening, relaxed in our easy chairs, both reading books. All four of our beasts were nestled nearby. The house was quiet. For the first time in forever, I felt completely content.
For maybe twenty minutes, I paused what I was doing and simply savored the moment. I stopped. I looked around. I made time to be present in the Now.
Eventually, my mind began to wander. "When was the last time I was this happy?" I wondered. I thought back to the late 1990s when my ex-wife and I lived in similar circumstances. Kris and I would read together in the evening, each with a cat in our laps. Life was simpler. I felt no anxiety. I was happy.
Then too, I achieved a similar level of contentment as recently as 2013. Soon after Kris I got divorced, Kim and I began dating. I lived alone in an apartment. My life wasn't filled with obligations and Stuff. Again, things were simpler. Simpler and saner and more filled with joy.
"But what really is the difference between those two periods of time and the last few years?" I thought. "Why have I been so anxious recently?"
The difference, I realized, has a lot to do with my expectations.
While I've identified as a writer since I was eight years old, what I've written has changed significantly over time.
When I was very young, I was only interested in writing stories. These stories were child-like, to be sure, but they grew in sophistication as I did. By junior high, I was drafting large chunks of fantasy novels (mimicking the books I tended to read at the time). Then, in high school, I discovered a love for poetry.
In high school and college, I mostly wrote poetry. Some of it was actually good, too. (Seriously!) I won contests and scholarships with my poetry, and some of it even saw print in small magazines.
But somewhere along the way, I stopped writing poems. I've written a few songs with friends over the years, but that's it really. The part of me that's a poet — a part that once was integral — seems to no longer exist.
Anyhow, it occurred to me today that the spending moratorium I've set for myself in 2021 is, in a way, like writing poetry. Let me explain.
For decades, I've been a proponent of habit tracking. Habit tracking sounds and feels nerdy to a lot of folks, so many people avoid it. That's too bad. Habit tracking is a powerful tool that can help you make better decisions about your life.
Let me share an example.
Over at Reaktor, Olof Hoverfält recently published a long piece about why he's tracked every single piece of clothing he's worn for three years.
That's right: For 1000+ days, Hoverfält documented every garment he wore. (And, in fact, he's continuing to document his wardrobe publicly.) Using the info he collected, he's now able to make better decisions about which clothes to keep and which clothes to buy. I love it!
Hoverfält says people worry about how much time it'd take to do something like this but they shouldn't. Most of the time investment is in the initial setup, in that first batch of data entry. Actually using and maintaining the system requires about one minute each day. And the rewards are far greater than the cost in time.
Hoverfält's project is a perfect example of the power of habit tracking.
Kim and I are back from a week-long beach vacation with her brother and his family. We traveled to a luxury timeshare resort where it was super easy to practice social distancing because almost nobody was there. (The place was running at maybe 10% capacity because of COVID, and the level of cleanliness was mind-boggling. I felt safer there than at home! Sanitizer, mask, wipe your feet. Instant-read thermometers. Digital menus. Etc. Etc. Etc.)
This trip was a terrific early test of my spending moratorium resolve. I was mostly good.
The vacation itself cost money, of course, but I'm okay with that. We scheduled it months ago, long before I decided to take a year off from spending. I didn't cancel it, and I'm not canceling the other trip we have planned for March. Instead, my aim is to keep my spending as low as possible for both trips. Plus, I have no plans to book other vacations this year.
Because of my spending moratorium, I deliberately altered my standard vacation behavior. I'm the kind of guy who likes to get small souvenirs wherever I go: pins, patches, t-shirts, and so on. I didn't buy one this time. In fact, I only spent money on food. (On our first day, we stocked up on groceries so that we could eat most of our meals in our room.)
For the entire week, there were two purchases that violated the rules I've set for myself.
While walking the dog last weekend, Kim noted that I've been getting a lot of packages in the mail lately. "What's up with that?" she asked.
"Remember how we shared that bottle of champagne on New Year's Eve?" I said. "Well, that got me buzzed enough that I sat down at my computer and ordered a bunch of used books. Mystery novels and manga. So, those are starting to filter in." That's right. I got drunk on New Year's Eve (because I no longer drink regularly, I've become a lightweight) and ordered old John le Carré paperbacks and Lone Wolf and Cub compilations from ABE Books. I lead an exciting life, my friends.
"Don't you have enough books?" Kim asked.
"Honestly, I do," I said. "And I haven't read half of them. I haven't watched half of the movies I've purchased. I haven't read half of my graphic novels."
"You only wear about half of the clothes in your closet," Kim added. We stopped to let the dog dig in the ditch. Tally was certain she smelled a rodent and was desperate to find it.
"Right," I said. "I know I'm not the only one who does this, but that doesn't mean I like it. I feel as if I ought to take a break from buying new stuff and just work through the books and movies and clothes I already own."
"I feel as if you ought to do that too," Kim said, laughing. Then Tahlequah saw a deer in the neighbor's field, and our conversation was forgotten in the ensuing excitement. Bark bark bark! Deers are evil.
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.
Ah, a brand new year.
Especially after the shitshow that was 2020, it's good to have the sense that we can begin anew, that we can shed some of those habits and behaviors that have been holding us down while adopting new patterns that lead us to become better humans.
I actually enjoyed a fruitful second half to 2020. I lost 24 pounds. I (mostly) gave up alcohol. I recorded 61 videos. I made progress in my fight against depression and anxiety. And, most importantly, I resumed the habit of writing every day.
In 2021, I want to build on this momentum. I want to continue these habits while incorporating a few new ones, such as tracking my time, keeping a personal journal, and — once I reach my target weight — exercising regularly once more.
There's one thing that often holds me back when I decide to make changes. It holds others back too. It's the overwhelming feeling that there's just so much to do — and that I've handicapped myself through poor choices in the past. I remember the physical feats I was capable of when doing Crossfit a decade ago, for instance, and I feel a sense of helplessness. I'm nowhere near as fit I was ten years ago. There's no way I can do that stuff today.
But I have to remind myself: It's not a competition. I ought not compare myself to others — or to my past self. My sole goal should be a better person tomorrow than I am today.
To do this, I must accept who I am, where I am. It sure would be nice if I were to start a fitness program in better shape than I currently am, but that's only a dream. If I want to change, I have to accept reality. I need to start where I am.
And if you want to change — if you want to master your money, your health, your relationships, your career — you too must start where you are.