Hello, friends. Just a quick note to let you all know that my life, at last, seems to be settling. A full two months after the death of my mother, the fog has lifted and I find that I'm motivated to pursue productive pursuits once more.
I spent much of the past several weeks doing some serious soul-searching. It's clear to me (and to Kim) that above all else, I need to make 2023 the year of me.
2023 — The Year of Me
More than a decade ago, I got into the habit of theming my years and months. It was fun! It was also fruitful. Whenever I decided to devote a span of time to one thing, I had great results, whether it was with fitness or writing or dating. This habit of theming lasted for a couple of years, then fell by the wayside.
Well, I've spent too long putting myself second. Or third. Or ninth. Starting yesterday, my aim is to put myself first for the next year (or more).
This is tough for me. It seems selfish. It seems wrong. But the truth is I've been allowing other things to interfere with my pursuit of physical and mental health for too long. I've been making excuses. No more! For the foreseeable future, J.D. is job one. Let the age of selfishness commence!
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.
I am 53 years old. Never in my life have I allowed myself to buy a car I truly love...until now. This is the story of how I allowed myself to make a huge purchase just for the joy of it. And it wasn't even a purchase I'd intended to make. Let me explain.
During the peak of the pandemic (early July 2020), I paid $35,990 for a used 2019 Mini Countryman SE All4. The Countryman — which I call a "Maxi Cooper" — isn't a bad car, but I regretted buying it almost immediately. I'd intended to replace my 2004 Mini Cooper with a newer version of the same model, but allowed myself to be talked into a compact SUV.
For two years, I drove the Maxi Cooper and tolerated it. It wasn't a bad car by any means, but it was a bad car for me. I'm not an SUV guy. I'm a small-car guy.
Last month, I took the Maxi Cooper for an oil change. While I was waiting, the dealer offered to buy it back from me. I wasn't expecting that.
As you probably know, the used-car market in the U.S. has been crazy for a couple of years. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, prices on used vehicles are up 55% since July 2020. Prices for new vehicles have also increased during that time, but by only 18%.
Because I write about money, I'm aware that used-car prices are high, but I hadn't considered that I might sell the car I purchased only two years ago. I'm the sort of person who buys a car and keeps it for a decade or more. But when the Mini dealer told me they'd pay $33,000 for a car I'd bought 26 months earlier, I was intrigued.
I contacted one of my buddies, a former car salesman. "What am I missing here, Jeremy?" I asked. "This seems like a pretty good deal."
"It's not just a good deal," Jeremy said. "It's a miracle. It's as if you leased that car for $115 per month. You should take the offer. Now. Before they change their mind."
Before you read my story, you might want to read this similar story from Liz at Frugalwoods: Why we bought a NEW car. Here's a relevant excerpt:
"In normal economic times – or rather, in past economic times – used cars were remarkably cheaper than new cars, which made the depreciation on new cars astronomical. In other words, new cars would lose a tremendous amount of their value as soon as they were no longer new.
"Used cars, on the other hand, had a much more gradual depreciation curve, which meant you could buy a used car for a reasonable price and then, if needed, re-sell that used car at a reasonable loss. Currently, thanks to supply chain issues, a shortage of computer chips and inflation, used cars are no longer a deal."
I've changed the way I shop over the past few years. And although the shift has been subtle, I've found that I'm much happier with the things I buy.
In the past, my approach to shopping was simple. If I wanted a new thneed, I would go to a store (or, with the advent of the internet, a website) and choose from the available thneeds. I'd look at the store's selection (or the website's selection) and pick the one best suited for me.
If the thneed I wanted was particularly expensive or important, I might expand my search to multiple stores or multiple websites. But usually, I stuck with the first store I visited.
The key point here is that I allowed the places I shopped to impose limits on the thneeds available to me. I think of this approach as "store-centered shopping". Whatever the store has in stock defines my universe of options.
Now that I'm older, I've flipped the script. Instead of allowing the marketplace to define which thneeds are available to me, I decide exactly what I want before I begin my search. I put myself and my needs first. Once I know what I want, I take the time to locate it. What I want is almost always out there somewhere — if I'm patient enough to track it down.
I think of this approach "self-centered shopping". I'm putting me first, and that's a Good Thing. In fact, that's an Excellent Thing! This method consistently leads to greater satisfaction with the things I buy. Instead of picking up cheap, mass-market thneeds, I'm buying thneeds that feel as if they were specifically made for me.
Let me give you a concrete example.
It's always fun to unearth some esoteric piece of personal-finance history. I know there are only a few nerds out there who care (hello, Grant Sabatier!), but those of us who care really care.
Two years ago, I published an article exploring the history of financial independence in which I noted that the earliest reference I can find to the notion of financial independence comes from an 1872 book called Money and How to Make It by H. L. Reade. And it wasn't until the 1950s that the concept of early retirement (at least in the sense we mean it today) gained traction. But despite my research, I still have questions, such as: What's the source of the modern FIRE movement?
Who Coined the Term FIRE?
It's Sunday morning as I write this, and my weeklong adventure at Fincon 2022 in Orlando has come to an end. I'm exhausted.
As has become customary, I didn't actually attend any workshops or keynotes or breakout sessions here at Fincon. Instead, I spent the entire week connecting with friends:
- I enjoyed chatting with Rob Berger about how he's managed to grow his excellent YouTube channel from 0 to 63,000 subscribers in two years. He now makes more than he used to earn with his blog (and he made plenty with his blog). He does this by putting his audience first and only promoting a handful of products that he actually uses and endorses. Love it.
- Rocky Lalvani from Richer Soul told me about Marisa Peer and the biggest disease affecting humanity. As a guy who has struggled plenty with his mental health, I like Peer's message: "I am enough." (This is now the lockscreen on my phone!)
- Donna Freedman told me all about her frugal adventures in Anchorage, Alaska. Donna is just as funny and resourceful in person as she is in her GRS articles (and those at her own site). I have high hopes that she and I can reach some sort of arrangement to feature her writing here regularly again — but we forgot to discuss this because we were talking about gardening and education and moose.
- I talked with Carl Jensen about podcasting, friends, and home remodeling. He suggested something crazy but cool: What if he and Pete (a.k.a. Mr. Money Mustache) were to fly out to Oregon for a week to help me remodel my bathroom? I like this idea. Carl says he's serious about it, so it's just a matter of getting MMM on board. I suspect I can lure him to Oregon with promises of bikes and beer.
- Yesterday, I had a delightful conversation with Tanja Hester. I've never told her this, but I always feel like she's a female J.D. (or that I'm a male Tanja). Some examples: she's nerdy af, plagued by ADHD, and loves great writing. And we're both competitive pedants (as that sentence illustrates). Tanja and I are both notebook nerds. She showed me hers. I showed her mine. For years, I've been using the Hobonichi Techo planner (because I love the A6 size), but Tanja convinced me to test out the Jibun Techo from Kokuyo next year. Next time, I want us to compare notes on our computer-based writing workflows.
Because I didn't attend any sessions at Fincon, I didn't actually learn much about business. That said, I did learn lots from the conversations I had with friends. For you folks out there who like to read, let me give you a tip that I found eye-opening.
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.
Last week, I raved about the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. These two Stanford design professors have taken design principles and applied them to helping people figure out what they want to be when they grow up.
After advocating Designing Your Life to several friends, two of them suggested that we work through the book's exercises together. One of those friends is Kim, my long-term girlfriend. The other is Craig, a college classmate. I thought it might be fun to share some of these exercises as we complete them over the next couple of months.
Because I want to respect the intellectual property of the authors, I'm not going to describe the exercises exactly. Instead, I'll provide a vague overview and then discuss my own answers. (And, when it makes sense, I'll also include answers from my friends.)
With that out of the way, let's dive in! Let's see what happens as I begin the process of designing my life.
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.