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022 Optimization 2.0

My Office
Grandson Likes the new Office

Well folks, I’m sorry for the break in content. I’ll get back on track. Chronological followers of my site will remember my last post was I Quit! That was back in January. So it’s been almost two months since I posted any new content. Not my proudest moment. I’ve been putting a lot of effort into optimizing my mobility. Specifically, I’ve been focused on being able to work as flexible as possible, from wherever or whenever it fits into my life.

First off I had to set up my office. Since I didn’t have a decent desk I needed to get one. My wife found this beautiful desk and chair for $250 on Craig’s List – truly a great deal. Sure, we could have gone out and bought a brand spanking new 10k desk and chair. We “have the money”. But that would be wasteful of our resources. That’s not how we roll at PawPaw’s! We like to get the most value for our money. I could sell that desk years from now and get what I paid or more for it. I now have a place to work that’s even big enough to hold a small “bored” meeting with my grandson! He likes to come to work with PawPaw. If you look to the right you can see the nightstand on my side of the bed. My office is optimized for commuting. It now takes me longer to make my bed than it does to commute to work. Not too shabby.

A desk is a great place to work, but it’s useless to me without communications to the outside world. My new company really embraces remote working and is awesome at ensuring you can remain productive with solid communications. Shortly after I accepted the job, a new IPhone XS showed up. Then a large monitor, a laptop, a docking station and a printer/scanner/fax. Everything showed up at my house before my first official start day at work. I already have a fast internet connection, so hooking up all this new high tech gear was a snap.

Now that I’m all set up, it’s time to prove to my company and myself that I can do this remote working thing. Game on! There’s a lot for me to learn about the job and the whole remote arrangement to remain efficient. We’re doing teleconferences on multiple apps and video conferences on multiple apps as well. We have common file locations on SharePoint that allows us to edit common documents while in a meeting talking about them in real time. The number of tools available is unlimited. My brain isn’t though. So, I had to quickly learn how to use all of these new programs efficiently across my computer, iPad, and iPhone. I wanted to be mobile and not tied to my “office”. (Sometimes I require working from my backyard hammock swing!)

My productivity has increased significantly. The distractions in a formal workspace such as a cube farm, rows of offices, open workspaces, etc are excessive. I have far less distractions than actually “going in” to the office for work. Less distractions means more concentration, more deep thinking, and more productivity. I didn’t even realize it, but there are actual studies out there that agree with what I’ve been noticing. Also, when I take a break from work, my breaks are more productive. I cook, clean, make a quick run to the grocery store, wash clothes, and do numerous other small tasks that now don’t take away from being with family. With these small things knocked out during work, they no longer compete with quality time with those who matter the most. It’s a win-win. But wait for it…it gets better!

About two weeks into the job, I was presented with an opportunity to test my new mobile job. One of my sons wrecked his car on a Friday and needed a car to get to work on Monday. He called asking whether he should take his good buddy’s offer to get a newish car for about $16K. His friend had all the paperwork ready to go and it was a decent car. However, we agreed that it was outside of his price range. To make a long story short, there were no “under $5k small gas sipper” cars in his area. Living in Dallas, I knew we could find many and in a hurry.

So Friday night I searched some cars and we made a top three list. I purchased the best of the three cars the next morning. It wasn’t a loan…my wife and I don’t loan money nor did we need to! My son had done such a good job following some of the FI principles, he had money available to do this! I purchased the car, then he immediately transferred money back to my account.

I then drove his paid for car to his house in Alabama on Sunday, he drove his paid for car to work on Monday and I was able to spend some quality time with the one son who lives out of state. This is great! I was able to help my son in a time of need. I was able to extend my stay because I could work remotely. I wanted to prove this out for the many more times when I’ll do the remote thing! What a blessing that short trip was. I’m looking forward to more opportunities to maximize my quality of life by not being strapped to a location for work!

Since I’m the new guy on the team, I’ve been extra busy and neglecting this blog with recent material. My focus was on a Big Rock in my life. But this optimization isn’t as much about the money. Don’t get me wrong, this optimization is about the quality of life. I value my family more than any job. If I can be more available for my family and still have the same or better income, security of a job, and fulfillment from doing meaningful work then it’s a win-win for sure.

So far, the only thing that has suffered is this blog. The consistency has taken a dip. But with my work arrangement getting pretty well set up, tested, and proven, I’m ready to get back to blogging. First, I might need to hold a meeting with the grandson…in the hammock.

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021, I Quit!

houses near the rice wheat field under the clear blue skies
Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Well, I did it.  I quit my well-paying and pretty secure job to do something different.  I’m moving on to greener pastures.

My wife always says I don’t do change well.  Thus far, my career has consisted of 20 years in the US military followed by 12 years at a civilian company.  So, in the last 32 years, I’ve had only two jobs.  Maybe that is a sign of the old ways, but that’s been the path I took.  If you go back and read the first post , it will become evident that it’s not all about the money.  There are way more important things in life than money.

This blog has helped open my eyes to other things in life.  In some ways, this new job is just a continuation of similar things to help achieve goals.  It has a good salary to take care of monetary needs.  The job also has good insurance.  (You can read how important having good medical insurance is to my family at The $500,000 Tooth Ache post.)  There’s the 401K plan with company matching.  So, the base of security and steadiness needed for my family remains firmly in place with the new job.  More of the same.  No significant changes in that area.

However, the new job is radically different in other ways, which played a big part in the decision to make the change. This new adventure allows me to work from home!  At this point in my life, that has become very important to me.  My aging father, who is approaching 80 years old, lives with us.  We also have one of the kids and her 4 year old son living with us.  Our daughter is fairly young and at the stage where she’s working long hours, commuting, etc. to establish herself in her blooming career.  My new job allows me to be home with my dad in case he needs something.  It also allows me to be a backup to our daughter for when the grandson needs someone to stay home with him.  Or for that matter, any of the grandkids could be dropped off in a pinch.  I’m a sucker for those now 7 cute grandkids.

So, I’m going to practice what I preach.  I feel like at this time in my life, a change is needed.  This new career move will allow much more freedom to spend time doing what is most important. These things are more important and bigger than just punching a clock to run on the hamster wheel of work to make ends meet.  If nothing else changes, I’ll save 360 hours a year on the commute alone!  A lot can be accomplished in 360 hours!  Who knows.  Maybe I’ll even be able to blog more now!

Sure, there will be an adjustment period.  Staying focused, disciplined and effective at my new job is important to me as well.  Learning to avoid and manage the distractions will be critical to my success.  Of course, as anyone who works in a large office knows, there are always interruptions.  The distractions from home will be much less. In the old job, distractions were almost constant.  Many were work related, but not all of them.  So, even if slightly distracted at home, it can’t be nearly as many as in the previous office situation.

Just an important final note here:  I didn’t “quit” my job until I had another one in place. I had plenty of money in the bank to cover any transitional gaps.  My wife and family were supportive of my decision.  And, I remain in a field that both energizes and excites me.  It’s all good.

So, I’m off to greener pastures.  Wish me well!

 

020, The 2018 Christmas Gift

I wanted to take some time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! I hope that everyone, their families, and friends have a wonderful and blessed Christmas. The picture above is my little granddaughter and her dad. What a precious picture of her first Christmas. I’m always thinking about the kids best interest which inspired a new Christmas plan for the kids.

Last year for Christmas 2017, my wife and I wanted to get our young, adult kids something beyond the typical “stuff”. We knew we wanted the “Gift” to somehow be related to personal finance and the discipline that is required. After much thought and discussion, we decided to start with the very basic, first step of FI. That’s Financial Independence to the “newbies”. Our gift to them would be conveying the need and proper use of an emergency fund.

So, last year for Christmas, this is what we did: We started each kid a savings account at our bank – a joint account for convenience. Their Christmas gift was a seed of $500 on Christmas morning. The start to an emergency fund.

However, our goal was not just to give, but to teach. To sweeten the lesson of needing an emergency fund, we threw in a way for them to double their gift. On Christmas morning, we told them that we’d match up to $500 if they added another $500 to their savings account by Christmas of 2018! We wanted them to have some skin in the game too.

Now, although we’ve pounded this necessary step of an emergency fund into the minds of our children multiple times, some are better at actually saving, budgeting and delaying instant gratification. There are also differing levels and understanding of an emergency fund. As it is with a lot people, something always seems to come along that puts the emergency fund on the back burner. Throughout the past year, the level in each of our kids savings accounts varied wildly. And as frequently happens, an emergency occurs when the account balance is down.

So, our “gift” sounded simple enough, right? Not so much.

You see, my wife and I have six kids between us. They are at various ages and stages with differing personalities, strengths and, yes, weaknesses. But we were offering to give them a 100% return on their own investment. We give you $500. You add $500 and get an additional $500.

As I write this (December 24th), the amounts in the emergency funds varied from $0.06 to over $4,200. Also, some of the deposits came as late as December 24th as to not miss the matching. FYI: Sliding to the finish line in just a nick of time is no way to run an emergency fund! As you can see, there was quite a range of how much seriousness the kids approached this worthy endeavor. However, we understand that FI is a process. Sometimes a painful process.

Now, here’s the initial intent as it was in my mind, including the numbers. We would deposit the initial $500. That money could only be used for emergencies and should be replaced if the balance fell below $500…as soon as possible. Then, sometime through the year, they would put away a little bit or lump sum until they added $500 to the account. The initial $500 plus their $500 they deposited in the account would equal $1,000. Then we would match their $500 contribution on or before Christmas of 2018. That $500 match would take their account up to $1,500.

Obviously I wasn’t clear to all the kids. Yes, they were even all in the same room and got to ask questions. I’ve also discussed the concept multiple times throughout the year with several. After talking to one of the kids a couple of weeks ago about his understanding of the Christmas gift, I committed to writing it down in order to ensure clarity. Since that conversation, I’ve also decided, for this year, to make it more complicated and add a bonus program. I like to try to encourage sound practices and discipline. So, here comes the 2018 Christmas deal:

1) For Christmas 2018, each kid will be gifted a deposit of $500 on Christmas Day. That’s their Christmas gift. Simple.

2) Bonus #1, The Match. Each kid should deposit $500 above and beyond the Christmas gift ($500) by December 24, 2019. This money must remain in the account on December 24, 2019 to qualify. If this is met, we’ll match the $500 with a deposit on December 24, 2019.

2) Bonus #2, Monthly Deposits. Each kid that does a direct deposit of $42 per month or a manual deposit of $42 per month will receive a $100 bonus on Christmas Day 2019. You must deposit $42 or more each month to qualify for the bonus. This is to reinforce paying yourself first & making small consistent deposits. The twelve $42 monthly deposits will amount to the $500 needed for the 100% match.

3) Bonus #3, The Intent Bonus. To meet our intent, each child that has $2,500 in their savings account on December 24, 2019 will get a $100 Bonus on Christmas Day 2019.

Here’s how I came up with the amount in Bonus #3, the intent amount of $2,500.

1) $500 2018 Christmas gift

2) $500 Kid’s contribution for 2018

3) $500 2018 Match

4) $500 2019 Christmas gift

5) $500 Kid’s contribution for 2019

If you add all the value of the above items 1-5, it adds up $2,500. Of the $2,500 they would have $1000 of their money in the account, the rest would be gifts. So, the incentive to follow the plan is pretty good by most standards.

And finally, here’s our thoughts on the emergency fund and our intent in general for this gifted lesson: An emergency fund is money on hand to cover emergencies. When an emergency arises and you spend from your emergency fund, you should return that money to your emergency fund as soon as possible. Having a $1,000 unplanned issue like a car problem should cause only an inconvenience , not a crisis. Also, this emergency fund’s value should increase every year until there is 3-6 months of expenses saved. (Expenses are everything that you need to pay each month to live like food, housing, bills, gas for the car to get to work, etc).

So, that was our gift to our kids for 2018. What do you think? Please leave comments as to your thoughts. I’d love to hear any ideas or improvements on this idea of mine.

Again, Merry Christmas to all!

019, Can’t Win Big Without a Strong Offense

Offense or Defense? How do you budget? Are you even watching your money? No matter what goals are trying to be achieved, it’s not likely to happen if no one is watching the money. An awareness of what’s going on with your finances is essential. What’s coming, what’s getting paid, and what’s going on with any remaining money. If money isn’t told where to go, it can’t be maximized towards your goals. It will slip through your fingers.

Having a great offense:

Playing offense would be knowing the money coming in for the month and designating each dollar where to go. Send it to pay for a bill, an expense, maybe pay down a debt, or put into savings or investments according to a plan. Yes, a plan is important too. Without a plan, spending is just random and not targeted towards a specific goal. Just like in football, there’s always a plan for both offense and defense. Time is put in to study how to play the game and maximize chances of success and winning. Finances are no different. Plan and have a great offense. Then execute as close as possible to that plan.

Goals (SMART goals) are key. SMART goals can be it’s own blog post. But the essence is Specific, Measurable Achievable, Relevant, and Time based. If goals are created using the SMART structure, they tend to be met more frequently. There’s a saying “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit nothing every time”. So set SMART goals, plan to achieve them, and track them. That’s a great offense. Have short, medium, and long term goals. Just as mountains can’t be climbed in one giant step, goals can’t be met in one giant step either. Daily decisions move towards weekly, weekly move towards monthly, monthly towards yearly and on an on. Some will be met, some will be missed, and some will be excepted. But in general, you’ll be closer to where you wanted to be than if you just wandered through life.

Take an active role in keeping expenses down to a minimum. Often it’s difficult to make more money at a typical job quickly. Generally workers have to wait for an annual raise or an even less frequent promotion. That should be part of the plan too. But cutting expenses can yield immediate results. Decisions to buy one item over another could be the difference between spending a little money or a lot of money. Each of these decisions move you closer or farther away from your financial goals. Lots of small good decisions lead to big wins. Lots of small bad decisions lead to big losses and mistakes. To make a Smoking good decision, you have to be prudent, intentional, and consistent. Prudent, intentional and consistent purchasing is a great offense for personal finance.

A defensive budgeting perspective is much different. Some find themselves trying to make their dollars last to the end of the month. They may not be tracking all their expenses throughout the month. They may be struggling to come up with rent money. Maybe it’s emptying the change jar to keep the lights on. Whatever the situation, budgeting (or simply paying your bills on time) seems to be a struggle.

These struggles are real. These struggles stem from a lack of planning and poor execution. Not paying attention to the details and being on offense for your personal finance will surely lead to you playing from a defensive position. Defensive budgets are plagued with creeping expenses that go unnoticed until it’s time to pay the light bills. It’s trying to just get through just one more day, week, or month. It’s living paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s a defensive position.

There’s balance to this game. Sometimes there will be unexpected expenses that force you to go on the defensive posture. But if it is happening every month, you’re losing the game. Stop playing defense and make choices that get you back on the offensive drive.

Personal finances are not a game to be taken lightly. Families depend on security. It’s the most basic need. By playing offense with your budgets and directing your money, you’ll win a lot more frequently financially. Paying attention to your incoming bills and expenses and outgoing money will show you the play book for the month. Make choices that support moving into a better position today and in the future.

018, Do Your Part

Recently, I’ve been reading about “doing your part”. I heard something similar on a podcast. I’ve even come across it while reading about stoicism. Do your part is a pretty common saying that is often said, heard, or read. Do your part.

What stoicism teaches is that you can’t always control the outcome, but you can control your attitude and what you do. Do the things you can do, but don’t fret on the overall outcome. You did your part in whatever process, thing, or endeavor you participated in with your time. So be proud and content that the part you can control, you controlled.

An example of this was in our recent mid-term elections. Several ads were about doing your part to get out and vote. So, a lot of people got out and voted. Some may have voted for the candidate who was actually elected. Some may have voted for the candidate who wasn’t elected. However it played out for your candidate(s), you did your part and should be proud of that. You can control whether you voted or not. But you alone couldn’t control who won the election.

Another example is my nephew’s recent retirement from the Air Force Reserves. He did his part. He showed up every time he was called. He answered with a job well done. But I’m sure everything didn’t go as he planned. (I know my military career didn’t. I wanted different jobs, other promotions, and many other things.) So, I’m sure there were things in my nephew’s military career that didn’t go as planned either. But he did his part each and every time he was called. Whatever didn’t go as planned didn’t affect his attitude or cause him to quit.  Subsequently, he was honored with a well-earned retirement ceremony after 20 years of service. He couldn’t control every step along the way, but he did his part and was rewarded.

Of course I was thinking about how this applies to personal finances and, believe me, it applies to personal finances very soundly.  Personal finances can be controlled. I know, there’s a million reasons, excuses, explanations, or whatever that easily surface. But you must do your part. Perhaps you had hoped to contribute more to your 401K, IRA, Roth or savings account. Maybe you didn’t exactly reach a certain financial goal. Maybe your interest, dividend, or return didn’t meet your expectations.

The only thing that can really be controlled is what you contributed. Returns, interest, etc. can’t be controlled. Contribute what you can, when you can, and as much as you can towards your personal financial goals. Progress will never go exactly as planned. You can’t control exactly how all the other factors work out, but you can control what you contribute. Without contributions you’ll never meet your goal. Goals may be met far beyond your expectations or, they may be less than expected. That part can’t be controlled. If outcomes of investing could be controlled, there would be a heck of a lot more rich people in the world.  So, do your part and contribute to your financial future.

What else can be done? Due diligence is what.  Proper research and an education in financial matters can be controlled. A choice is made to either learn more about personal finances or watch TV, play video games, surf FB, or whatever other mind numbing tasks occupies your time. Do what you have to do and become well-educated on personal finances. Controlling your education can help you minimize your losses over time.

Whenever possible, do your part.  Things won’t always work out exactly as planned but if you do your part you at least have a shot!  If you don’t do your part, failure is guaranteed. Just DO YOUR PART.

017, Just Start Doing Something

Where are you on your journey to FI? If you haven’t started yet, get moving towards something! Marathons start with that first step. FI is very similar. It starts by doing one step. Then continue taking steps to get you closer to the finish line or further down the path. Just keep stepping towards the goal. Marathons and FI can’t be done in one step either. Only through consistent steps along the path will you ever get to your goals.

So, if you have already started that’s great! You can’t finish what you don’t start. But if you haven’t started, get going! Even if you are unsure of exactly what steps you need to take, take a step. It could be paying off debt. It could be starting a savings account. Maybe start an IRA or a Roth IRA. Maybe it’s enrolling in your company’s 401k, 403b, or Thrift Savings Plan. Just take a step.

Don’t wait until you understand every aspect of personal finance before you begin. Some people can or will try to analyze every aspect so hard that they never start. They may be afraid to make a mistake. That’s the “paralysis by analysis” often referred to from time to time. Don’t let that become a road block towards starting. Someone who starts with sound basics such as the big rocks mentioned in other posts here will be just fine. Suppose only 80% of the goals are met. That’s still way better than sitting at the starting gate!

Once you are stepping, keep on keeping on! Every month try to do what you did last month as the minimum. Take another step. Keep on stepping. Maybe automate an extra car payment. Maybe automate an amount to go into that savings account, IRA or 401K. Keep on adding to what you did last month.

Another good pattern to get into is to increase your savings a little at a time. For example increase maybe 1% contribution to your saving each month or quarter. Maybe put 50% of a raise, bonus, or tax refund into savings instead of spending it. Increases like these will also help you get a bump in progress. Every little step helps and adds up over time.

You should also learn more detail about each of the areas of your personal finances. Read an article or two a week to gain more knowledge. Maybe read a financial blog or listen to a podcast. Perhaps you go to the library and check out a book. If you are not a member of the local library, you should become one. It’s a great source for resources. If you don’t like reading, check out an audio book!

In a year’s time, the results can be surprising. Say the goal was to increase savings 1% per month. It was a tough month so only eight 1% increases were possible throughout the year. That’s still 8% more than in the beginning of the year. Maybe a goal was two articles about finances per week was the goal. Again, the year was tough and only one per week was able to be completed. That’s 52 articles read in the year! Not too shabby.

The point of the post is to start doing something to get to a better financial position. Once started, continue to get more knowledgeable and increase forward progress. After a period of time, through small steps the progress made will be significant.

Take that first step, that next step, or that higher step. Just get going an keep on keeping on!

016, Mentorship

We all start out with a “blank slate”. This is a pic of one of my 7 grandkids. Yes, they all came into the work with a blank slate.

According to Merriam-Webster a mentor is a trusted counselor or guide. This word is is usually thought to be someone who helps you with their career. These are generally older people who have been around for a long time. They are also usually considered successful in their fields whatever that may be.

But mentors come in many different types. There are apprentices, journeyman, and masters in career fields. There are elders in churches. There are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members. To become a chef, you have to pay your time and work under a chef. Mentoring relationships are all around you.

I’ve heard on a few podcasts that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. There’s even a Ted Talk about it. It makes sense on a basic level.

Take an inventory of who you spend the most time with. Are they helping or hurting you when it come to your financial goals?

I have had many mentors over the years. Not all were helpful for my financial health.

By no means am I saying that all of the people you hang out with should be mentoring you in your financial journey. Maybe you will be the mentor. You should try to have at least one friend that is like-minded about financial independence. If all the people you spend time with are deep into the consumerism lifestyle and not supportive in financial independence, it will be a lot harder to stay motivated. They won’t understand what you are doing. They may not believe in the concepts you are trying to apply. Being around like-minded people in the financial independence area will help and support you. You can ask questions or get asked questions. You can debate the finer points and differences. But both of you will be coming from a solid place in finance.

Luckily, there’s the financial independence community. While reading blogs on financial independence there are frequently posts stating that the blog is the only place they can talk openly about their finances and be supported. If you don’t have a real person around to talk to, try a blog. You can join Facebook groups too. Lots of folks are supportive in the Facebook groups. You can use some of the social media to augment your local friends. Maybe you can even find local groups that have meet ups, lunches, or dinners.

Whatever you do find a friend, neighbor, family member or social media to help you on your journey. The more time you spending talking, thinking, or doing financial deeds, the more mature you become in financial independence. So, if you need a mentor, find one. If someone needs a mentor, be one. It doesn’t matter that you may not have all the answers. If you don’t know, think of it as an opportunity. No one knows everything! You just need to listen and learn. Never stop learning. But being a mentor or mentee in financial independence can be a very rewarding endeavor.

So, if you don’t have have a mentor, become a mentee. Everyone’s slate starts out blank. Fill your slate with the good stuff, then pass it along.