Today, I did the second-hardest thing I've ever had to do: I took away Mom's cat.
Mom's assisted living facility called last Thursday. "We strongly encourage you to consider moving your mother to memory care," the director told me. "I know we talked about this a year ago, and at that time you and your family decided she wasn't ready. We think she's ready now. She's refusing her meds. She's refusing to eat. She's wandering. She's more confused than ever."
I phoned my brother, Jeff, who has handled the bulk of Mom's care since she moved to Happy Acres a decade ago. "What do you think?" I asked.
"I think they're right," he said. "Mom has been to the emergency room three times since the middle of November. She seems relatively lucid after each hospital visit, but that fades fast. Within a day of returning home, she's out of it again. And her confusion does seem to be getting worse."
"Yeah," I said. "You're right. Even when she's lucid, she's confused. Remember when she called me from the hospital two weeks ago? She was speaking in complete sentences for once, but the sentences made no sense. She was asking to see the sherriff. She was talking about her dog, but she hasn't owned a dog since the 1980s."
Then I added, "The tough part is that she can't keep her cat if she moves to memory care. And she loves that cat."
My mother's health has been declining over the past few months, and it's produced a wee bit of year-end financial drama in our family. (The word "drama" is a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it's produced some year-end financial consternation?)
As long-time readers will recall, my mother has been in assisted living for more than a decade now. She lives a mellow life filled with television, her pet cat, and a regular routine. Because she has cognitive problems, it's difficult for her to communicate. The doctors call her "non-verbal", and they can't explain the cause. She cannot form complete sentences (sometimes two words is tough!), and it seems as if she cannot formulate complex thoughts. It's a mystery to everyone.
Today — at this very moment — my brother is driving my mom to the emergency room. It's her third visit in six weeks, and it's always the same issue: vomiting, dehydration, confusion. During the previous two episodes, a few days of hospital rest helped her, and she returned to the assisted living facility feeling better (and actually able to carry on a basic conversation, like you might have with a two-year-old).
So, Mom's health is declining. That's important point number one.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
You've probably heard that saying before. It's from motivational speaker Jim Rohn. He used it as a way to encourage people to learn and grow from others' experiences, habits, attitudes, and so forth. He wanted folks to seek out and spend time with people of high quality.
Unfortunately for most people, this advice can be difficult (if not impossible) to implement.
That's because we tend to group with like-minded people, which includes hanging out with friends with similar levels of success. Those who are unmotivated often spend time with others who are unmotivated. And those who are motivated by achievement tend to associate with others at a similar level.
When you resolve to improve yourself — to become smarter or fitter or wealthier — it can be tough to find new friends with a similar desire. It can be difficult to change the five people you spend the most time with.
Today, I want to talk about finding a money mentor.
Talking to your parents about their finances probably seems like one of the most awkward you conversations you could ever have. I'll bet it ranks right up there with the sex talk your parents gave you when you were a kid — or that you’ve had with your own children.
I grew up in the South, where we don’t talk about money or sex. So when I asked my mom where babies came from, she told me a man and woman "make love". That’s it. That was the extent of the conversation.
I have three kids, so clearly I figured out where babies come from. When my oldest was 10, she asked me where babies came from. I didn’t say something vague like, “A man and woman make love.” I simply told her the basics. She then looked at me – and remember, I have three kids – and said, “Ooh, you did that three times.”
I decided to be upfront with my kids because I wanted them to know they could feel comfortable talking to me about a topic that many people consider taboo. Like the money talk with parents, it’s only as awkward as you make it.
However, unlike the birds and the bees talk, you cannot figure out your parents’ finances unless you actually get the details.
I learned this the hard way.
Yesterday, as I do most Fridays, I sent the GRS Insider to folks who subscribe to the Get Rich Slowly email list.
The email was unusual. It was more like a blog post than a simple summary of recent articles. I've had several people request a version they can share with other people, so -- this one time only -- I've created a stand-alone web version.
Parts of this have been edited slightly to account for the transition from email to web.
If you've been reading me for any length of time — or if you know me in person — you know that I hate conflict. I hate hate hate it. Some people seem to thrive on it. Not me. I shirk from it.
This is one reason I've steadfastly kept my financial writing politically neutral. I don't want conflict.
It helps that I'm neither liberal nor conservative. I'm some strange mix of the two. But mostly it's because I think financial advice is important for everyone regardless of political persuasion. It's rare that I take a stand on something political.
Because of who I am and what I believe, Get Rich Slowly will never become a political platform. (It'll touch on politics occasionally, but politics will never be a driving force at the site.)
That said, I'm mad as hell about not only the recent bout of racism in the U.S., but also the long history of racism that underpins our society. Something's gotta give. The current protests are 100% justified and they're not acts of terrorism. They're a call for action. What sort of action? I have no idea. I don't have solutions. But the problem is plain as day and it must be addressed. We, as a nation, must — at long last — deal with our history instead of sweeping it under the rug.
Minneapolis, Denver, NYC, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Louisville, San Jose, Des Moines, Detroit. The list goes on. These are just some of the cities that have experienced protests in the past week.
George Floyd's murder (and murder-porn video) was one of the catalysts for these protests. But let's be clear: Sooner or later, this was going to happen. Things are not okay in America. America's continuing issue with race, inequality, and the routine acceptance of the mistreatment of black people and other people of color came to a head in the last couple of days.
Then, we had Amy Cooper in New York City calling the police on Christian Cooper unecessarily during a normal incident that plays out all the time - annoying people with their dogs off leash. That one call could have resulted in Christian Cooper's death.
In this episode of Michelle is Money Hungry, I'm going to get candid about race in America, money and opportunity, and what's next.
This is a very difficult show for me to do because I have so many thoughts racing through my mind. The goal of this episode is to give a better perspective of what people are angry about and to leave with ideas of how we collective can do better. And, honestly, I have to say something about this. And just so you know, this is not the first time that I've talked about race and wealth in America on my website and podcast. (But it's the first time J.D. has shared my work here at Get Rich Slowly.)
Yesterday, to celebrate Thanksgiving, Kim and I instituted what we hope will become an annual tradition. Yesterday, we held our first annual family meeting.
Kim approached me with the idea last week. "I think it'd be nice to sit down and talk about our goals," she said.
"I agree," I said. I was thinking of the article Matthias shared here in August. Matt and his wife create five-year plans to co-ordinate their shared future. They spend a day drafting couple goals to build their dream life. I've been thinking that Kim and I should do something similar.
So, yesterday morning over coffee, we sat down for our a family meeting. We talked about the current state of our household -- and we talked about where we'd like to steer things in years to come.
J.D.'s Rocky Year
"It's been a rocky year for me," I said, although Kim already knew this. "I've been fighting anxiety and depression since March. I've had a few patches of amazing productivity and good self-worth, but I've spent a lot of my time trying to keep from drowning. Metaphorically."
"That's true," Kim said, "but you're making good changes. You're exercising. You're drinking less. You're seeing friends more often. You've stopped wasting time on videogames. And you have your big project coming up."
"Right," I said. I've been recruited by Audible and The Great Courses to create a ten-part (five-hour) series on financial independence and early retirement. "That work is going to take most of this winter. The first five lectures are due at the end of January. The rest of the course is due at the end of March. I'll fly to D.C. in early May to record the audio."
"Will the project pay enough to fund your lifestyle?" Kim asked.
"Sort of," I said. "It's four months of work, and it'll probably end up funding about four months of expenses. That's not bad, but it's not great either. But I'm not really doing it for the money, you know."
"How are your finances?" Kim asked. Believe it or not, in our nearly eight years together, we've only talked about money in-depth a couple of times. We trust each other, so we haven't felt the need.
"Things aren't as good as they were three years ago," I said.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well, when we returned from the RV trip in June 2016, I felt completely at ease financially. I had enough saved that I never felt like I had to work again. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted."
"That's not true anymore?"
"Not really," I said. "You know I'm not squandering my money, obviously, but let's look at the numbers. Over the past three years, I've spent $400,000 on a bunch of big stuff: buying back Get Rich Slowly, remodeling this house, those investments in other businesses. I'm not blowing the money on gambling and hookers. These are all financial decisions that made sense in the moment, but which have left me feeling pinched."
"Are you running out of money?" Kim asked.
"No, not really," I said. "I just don't have as much as I want. Look. I'll show you the numbers."
"Who was there for your father when he died?" Kim asked me a few moments ago. She's interested in becoming a death doula, so she's reading a book about end-of-life care.
"It's odd you should ask that today," I said after I told her the story of my father's six-year battle with cancer.
"Why?" she asked.
"Today is the equivalent day in my life as the day when Dad died in his," I said. "It's ten days until I turn fifty. Dad died ten days before his fiftieth birthday. So, it's a somber day for me. I'll be thinking of him all day."
Actually, I've been thinking of Dad all week.
It started when I published Naomi Veak's story about how she learned to stop feeling hopeless about money. In that article, Veak shared a letter her mother sent her when she was nineteen years old. Veak was a poor kid at a rich school, and she was struggling to figure out finances. Her mother offered some words of wisdom.
I had the exact same thing happen to me at the exact same age at the exact same college. I was a poor boy at this rich school. During my sophomore year at Willamette University, when I was nineteen, my father wrote me a letter filled with financial advice.
Today seems like a good day to share it with you folks.
When J.D. decided to spend three weeks in Europe with his family, he asked a few people if they'd be interested in contributing articles during his absence. He even asked me!
My name is Scott Rieckens, and I'm new to the world of smart money management. I'm new to the world of financial independence and early retirement. I'm new, but I've totally immersed myself in it. I've immersed myself so much, in fact, that I've spent the past eighteen months creating a feature film about FIRE. (FIRE is the clumsy abbreviation for "financial independence/retire early". Basically, the FIRE movement is all about saving big so that you can choose to live however you want.)
"You've been in a unique position over the past year," J.D. said when I asked him what I should write about. "You've had amazing access to a variety of people who think and write and teach about financial independence and early retirement. You've been able to hear what they think and say in private as well as public. What about sharing your biggest takeaways from this experience?"
Perfect! I can dish out everyone's dirty laundry and avoid posting those embarrassing stories on my own site. It's a win-win for me, really. J.D. is such a sucker.
You ready? Let's go behind the scenes of the early retirement movement. Here are five things I learned while filming Playing with Fire.
Lesson #1: The FIRE Movement is Polarizing
When I started down the rabbit hole of early retirement blogs and podcasts, I was swept up in the euphoria that many others have experienced: "Holy moley, I'm going to retire in less than ten years!"
Coming from fifteen years of a spendy, financially-illiterate lifestyle, this was a huge revelation that gave me hope, joy, excitement, and...butterflies. Imagine the control over your life! Imagine the freedom! Think of all the ideas I will chase, the whims I can explore! Think of what this means for my family!
Somehow, though, I missed the blog post or podcast episode that explained just how difficult it can be to live within the FIRE framework while the people around you wonder what the hell you're talking about.
- "But I like my job."
- "That sort of lifestyle sounds terrible."
- "Are you joining a cult?"
These reactions dampened my enthusiasm. Nobody had warned me that there might be people who thought we were crazy for pursuing financial freedom.
Now, as FIRE is spreading through the mass media, there's been push-back from unexpected corners. Financial guru Suze Orman says she hates the FIRE movement. The comments on articles and interviews around the web are often negative -- even hateful.
I wasn't expecting that. How can something so positive be viewed with so much negativity?
Since starting our project, the number-one thing we hear from early retirement folks is: "I really hope this film makes it easier to share FIRE with my friends and family. Every time it comes up, things get weird and my already-socially-anxious-self gets all clammy."
I can say unequivocally that we have the same hopes.
Our society's relationship with money seems completely broken. When the best-selling vehicles are full-sized $60,000 trucks, yet 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, it seems the general population is managing money at a fifth-grade level. (And again, that used to be me before I found FIRE.)
We've got a lot of work ahead of us.
In the world of personal finance, the subject of how couples share (or don't share) their money comes up time and time again. It's no surprise. After all, money problems are a leading cause of divorce.
But for some reason, the concept that "personal finance is personal" doesn't always factor into people's opinions about combining finances -- especially within a marriage.
Often, people argue that in order to be a team, couples must combine finances fully. Or that separate accounts mean there's some lack of trust within the relationship. Or that you aren't truly committed to each other. Or that you must not be on the same page about long-term hopes and dreams.
None of these things are true. Plenty of committed couples keep separate finances. These couples are teams. They trust each other. They share the same hopes and dreams. But for a variety of reasons, separate finances work well for them.
Today, I want to share an alternative to these two dominant modes of money management. I want to share how couples can both keep their finances separate -- and combine them. Confused? Let me explain.