Saturday, June 2, 2018

Inspiration from Bruce Lee, William James, Diving, and More

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Bruce Lee on practice

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

Practice, practice, practice. The more times you do something, the easier it becomes and the better the results.

It’s true for virtually everything in life. Cooking meals at home. Exercising. Reading. Meditating. Doing a work task. Almost anything you can think of, the more times you do it, the better you get at it.

If it seems hard but the advantages are obvious, do it. It probably won’t go well. That’s okay. Do it again. And again. And again. It will get easier. You will get better. The advantages will manifest themselves in your life.

2. Shepard tones

From the description:

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a nerve-wracking movie. Three separate storylines tell the tale of the famed World War II evacuation in a intense two hours of film. A lot of that feeling has to do with how the film’s score uses Shepard tones — layered sound waves that simulate a constant ascent in tone — to create a sensation of building tension. They’re a personal favorite trick of Nolan’s: he’s based sound effects and entire soundtracks with other composers on the auditory illusion. In Dunkirk, composer Hans Zimmer crafted his soundtrack around the effect — and it’s an auditory masterpiece.

I recently watched a portion of Dunkirk and I found it to be incredibly intense, so much so that the portion I had seen stuck in my head for a long while. I wasn’t sure why, though, but this short documentary explains it: it’s the Shepard tone, a clever little trick of overlapping audio tracks that makes it seem like the music is rising higher and higher and higher without end but never climaxing, which creates this unrelenting sense of intensity. The video explains it well.

I’m becoming more and more aware of how important sound editing and music is in terms of manipulating your emotion when you’re watching a film. Music can make a huge difference in terms of how you’re feeling when you’re watching a movie. The use of Shepard tones in Dunkirk is a strong example of this.

The thing is, we’re constantly manipulated by subtle things like this. The music in Dunkirk was able to put me on edge very effectively, and it’s relatively subtle. You might not even notice it at all if you aren’t looking for it. The world around us is full of these kinds of subtle effects, for better or worse, and they often nudge us without us even realizing it. It’s simultaneously amazing and a bit scary.

3. Socrates on change

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” – Socrates

One of the most powerful things I’ve learned when I’ve successfully changed things in my life is that if you keep up your old routines, you’ll never really change. You absolutely have to knock down some things and rebuild from scratch if you want to see change.

Back in the day, my ordinary daily routine involved a lot of daily routines that led directly to spending. I would stop at the coffee shop every single day. I would go to a nearby place to eat lunch most days. I would stop at a bookstore at least a couple of days a week. I would go to the convenience store near our apartment on a daily basis.

I didn’t fix it by trying to tweak my normal routines. I fixed it by nuking big parts of my routine. I started taking my lunch with me to work, along with a beverage for the ride, and I assembled it the night before. I started keeping a bunch of my own beverages in the fridge, replacing the bottled drinks I got at the convenience store. I started going to the library once a week or so and checking out a lot of books so I always had a strong sense of already having fresh and new books at home. I actually changed my commuting route as well.

I focused strongly on building up those new routines and, more or less, they held. My incidental spending dropped like a rock.

It’s all about changing routines. You have to knock down your old routines and build new ones to replace them or nothing will ever change.

4. Massimo Pigliucci on the philosophy of stoicism

From the description:

What is the best life we can live? How can we cope with whatever the universe throws at us and keep thriving nonetheless? The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism explains that while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things. Massimo Pigliucci describes the philosophy of Stoicism.

This is a great summary of the philosophy of stoicism, reduced down to a short animated video that’s clear enough for anyone to follow. Stoicism has become fairly popular in recent years as a philosophy to live by. Why? Because it works really well.

At its core, stoicism is all about controlling what we can control and not having an automatic emotional response (and acting based on that emotion) to the things we cannot control. You can’t control a lot of the unexpected events in your life, but you can control your response. You can’t control most of the things that would cause you pain, but you can control how you deal with that pain. That’s stoicism.

This is a really really powerful way of dealing with almost anything that life might send at you.

5. Gandhi on the ocean of humanity

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

There are always going to be people you disagree with in life. There are always going to be people out there who are negative. There are always going to be people out there who would do harm.

Those people are a mere drop in the ocean of humanity. The angry guy at the beach, the angry woman with road rage, even the ten thousand online people raging about things, all of them are the tiniest droplets of the more than seven billion people on earth.

Those people are loud and you want to look at them, but look elsewhere. Look at the many, many good things going on in the world.

If you don’t see good things, try reading Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker, which summarizes many of the enormous advantages of the world we live in today, or even watch this summary video. Don’t get distracted from that. Don’t get caught in the negative spiral.

6. Ten Meter Tower

This is a brief documentary that shows a series of people going up to the top of a ten meter high diving tower above a swimming pool. They look down roughly thirty three feet at the pool and then have to ask themselves whether they have the courage to jump or not.

I have fairly severe altophobia. While I’m okay climbing a fairly steep hill, I don’t enjoy going to the top of things like lighthouses or other structures. Consciously, I’m aware that a dive into a pool from a ten meter height wouldn’t kill me, but unconsciously, the idea sounds incredibly unpleasant.

Watching these people struggle with this same issue humanizes them a lot. There are few things more effective at humanizing other people than seeing their fears bubble up right to the surface as they try to deal with something that makes them deeply apprehensive or fearful. You feel for them, because you’ve likely struggled against things you’re afraid of, too.

Watching this video made me feel a part of collective humanity in a way that few things do. I felt connected to a lot of the people in this video because of that shared fear.

7. William James on battling stress

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James

This ties directly back to that stoicism video I shared earlier on. The ability to choose our thoughts, to decide what we’re going to react to and how we react, to select what we’re going to give consideration to and what we’re not going to invest time and thought into, is perhaps the most powerful tool we have in navigating life.

We do it constantly with small things. We glance at a blemish on our hand, instantly judge that it’s really not worth worrying about, and move our conscious thought onto something else. We do it with our food, with the task at hand, with everything. We choose, almost unconsciously, one thought over another.

Making that choice a conscious choice sometimes is a powerful thing. It enables us to get past difficulties and find success. It enables us to get past hurt and find joy. It also trains us to do it again and again and again.

8. Frances Frei on how to build and rebuild trust

From the description:

Trust is the foundation for everything we do. But what do we do when it’s broken? In an eye-opening talk, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei gives a crash course in trust: how to build it, maintain it and rebuild it — something she worked on during a recent stint at Uber. “If we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress,” Frei says.

It is hard to trust others, particularly when your own trust has been broken in the past, but it’s incredibly valuable.

I look at trust as being like a net below you as you’re walking on a tightrope. You spend a lot of your time building that net before you ever get up on that rope. You know that some of the strings you put into that net are going to break, but you also know that if you add in enough strings, it won’t matter and trust will keep you up. If you never build much trust at all, it won’t hold you no matter what you do.

I tend to extend trust to people until they give me reasons not to trust them. It has backfired on me in the past. More often, though, I’ve reaped enormous benefits from that trust. Most people don’t want to betray someone else’s trust – they want that connection, too. The presence of a few bad elements in the pool (like the earlier Gandhi quote alludes to) doesn’t change that.

Build lots of trust. Extend trust to others. Understand that sometimes that trust will be betrayed, but that the cost of the broken trust is far less than the value of the reciprocated trust.

9. George Herbert on the right time to do something

“Don’t wait; the time will never be ‘just right.'” – George Herbert

There is never a “perfect time” to take a career leap. There is never a “perfect time” to turn your financial life around. There is never a “perfect time” to start a new creative endeavor. “Perfect time” doesn’t exist.

Instead, you have right now. Tomorrow won’t be any better. Nor will next week. Or next month. You might think of reasons why right now is more difficult in some respects than things might be in a month or two, but in a month or two, something will occur to make things particularly difficult then, too.

Don’t wait around to do something. If you don’t feel like the time is right, sideline it and put your energy toward doing something else. Don’t sit around and fret about the perfect time to start saving for retirement or the perfect time to ask her on a date. Just do it.

10. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones – Life in Eleven

I’ve enjoyed the music of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones for going on twenty five years now. They’re firmly in that group of musicians that I’ll listen to obsessively for a month, then I’ll move on to another well-loved group or performer, then another, and then in a year or two I’ll move back to Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, and so on around it goes.

The band plays a mix of jazz and bluegrass music, which is an interesting mix of genres to say the least. A close friend of mine used to call their music “freestyle bluegrass,” which is appropriate, too.

Regardless of what you might call it, it’s brilliant, distinctive music. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones has been my soundtrack for the last month.

11. Charlie Munger on little steps

“I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.” – Charlie Munger

For those unfamiliar, Charlie Munger is the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha-based investment firm of which Warren Buffett is the chairman. They essentially built it up together.

This is a great philosophy for virtually anything you might want to do in life. Strive to go to bed just a little bit better than when you woke up, every single day. If you do it every single day, then you’re going to wind up with good results.

Think of where you want to be in five years. How can you be just a little closer to that when you go to bed tonight? Maybe get a step counter and strive to walk at least one step better than your seven day average each and every day, for example. Maybe strive to do one extra frugal task today. Whatever it is, make that one extra little bit normal.

12. Primitive Radio Gods – Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand

Songs make you think of people. Sometimes, you hear a song and you miss someone.

Sometimes you go look up that person to find out what happened to them and it breaks your heart.

Sometimes you realize that it’s a mistake to lose track of people who meant so much to you.

Reach out to that person who changed your life and then disappeared. If nothing else, let them know they changed you and thank them. Do it now, before you wake up one day, hear a song, look for the person that the song reminds you of, and realize that person isn’t around any more.

I’ve been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met. We were never quite sure what B.B. King was saying in that repeated sample. That’s what he was saying. I wish I could tell you that now.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

How to Sign Up for a Roth IRA

Daniel writes in:

I decided to sign up for a Roth IRA and started the process at Vanguard but it’s complicated with a lot of legalese. Do you have a walkthrough?

I’m a little hesitant to write a detailed walkthrough of how to sign up for a Roth IRA on a specific website because the exact details of where to click are likely to change regularly. However, the overall process of signing up is very similar at most investment firms, so I’m going to write a general overview of the process instead.

The first step, of course, is the actual decision to sign up for a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is a tool for saving for retirement that’s available to a large majority of Americans. Which ones? If you are single, you must have a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI; this is a specific line on your income taxes that more or less correlates to how much you make in a year with a few tweaks) under $135,000 to contribute to a Roth IRA this year, but contributions are reduced if your income is between $120,000 and $135,000. Similarly, if you are married filing jointly, your MAGI must be less than $199,000, with reductions beginning at $189,000. This covers more than 90% of Americans, so you’re most likely eligible to contribute.

So, what exactly IS a Roth IRA, then? You can think of it as a special kind of savings account that has some tweaks that make it particularly useful for people who are using it to save for retirement. Just like a normal savings account, you put money in there, it earns a return on your money, and you can take money out of there and put it back into savings. However, there are a number of key differences.

First, you’re allowed to contribute a maximum of $5,500 a year, or $6,500 a year if you’re over age 50. That’s the current annual limit of how much you’re able to put into the account, and nothing can change that. If you take money out, that doesn’t change the amount you’re allowed to put in at all.

Second, you have to choose an investment once you’ve put money in the account. Unlike a savings account, a Roth IRA offers a lot of investment options once you have money in the account. You essentially get to decide what the company managing your Roth IRA does with your money. The easiest route for most people is to choose a Target Retirement fund, which essentially manages your investments and balances out the risk automatically, with a lot more risk when you’re young gradually changing into a lot less risk when you’re close to retirement. However, you can choose other things; you can even split up your money amongst a lot of options.

Third, if you meet a couple of simple rules, you can withdraw your earnings tax-free from that account. This is the big advantage of a Roth IRA. If you’re at least 59 1/2 years old and you made your first contribution more than five years earlier, you can withdraw money tax-free from that account.

This is different than a savings account. If you have money in a savings account, it will earn interest in a small trickle. Each year, your bank will issue you a tax form and you have to pay taxes on the interest you earn in that savings account right away. With a Roth IRA, as long as you leave the money in the account, you don’t have to pay taxes right away on anything your investments earn. You only have to pay when you withdraw money, and if you follow the withdrawal rules stated above, you don’t have to pay any taxes when you take the money out. That’s a big advantage, because it’s basically money you can have in retirement for which you don’t have to pay any income taxes.

So, how do you actually sign up for this, assuming you’ve decided to do so?

The first step, of course, is deciding where to sign up. Just like there are a lot of banks to choose from when signing up for a checking account or a savings account, there are a lot of investment firms to choose from when signing up for a Roth IRA.

I’m the last person to simply tell you which one to choose. Most large investment firms have advantages and disadvantages. Some offer really nice tools for comparing investments and a lot of over the phone assistance if you need help, but they tend to have a lot of fees. Some have different philosophies when it comes to what kinds of investments they offer to people – again, with different fees.

I personally use Vanguard for my Roth IRA. Vanguard focuses on index funds, which are a particular type of investment with some nice advantages (very low fees) due to the fact that they’re basically just collections of investments that meet certain criteria. I’m a fan of index funds, so I use Vanguard, because index funds are their specialty.

There are many, many investment firms out there to choose from. Fidelity has a good reputation. Charles Schwab tends to always get good customer satisfaction numbers in surveys. I strongly encourage you to do a little research in this area and choose one that’s right for you. Money magazine and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance often run articles comparing different investment firms, so one great way to do this is to hit the library and look through recent issues of those magazines.

Once you’ve decided on a good firm for you, signing up is usually a matter of filling out some online forms at the company’s website. They’ll ask for quite a bit of information, including your Social Security number, because they report your financial information to the IRS as is their legal requirement. Most of it is straightforward – your address, a username and password for your account, and so on.

Almost all financial firms will also want you to link your new Roth IRA to a checking account. There are a number of ways that they do this; the most common way is that they’ll ask you to enter your bank’s name, your bank’s routing number (which can be found on a check), and your account number at that bank. After that, they’ll go through some verification process which will take a few days; often, they’ll deposit two small amounts (a handful of cents) and then have you verify the deposit on their website, just to make sure that the account info is correct. So, you’ll have to sign up, then wait a few days, check your local bank for a couple of small deposits into your checking account, and then log back on and enter the amounts of those small deposits. This is a verification procedure so that the investment firm can trust any money transfers from your checking account.

So, the information you’ll need will include your address, your phone number, your Social Security number, your bank’s name, your bank’s routing number (which you can find on the bottom of a check), and your checking account number (which you can also find on the bottom of a check).

One thing you’ll need to consider is automatic transfers. Almost all investment firms strongly urge investors to set up an automatic transfer from their checking account to the Roth IRA, moving money on a regular basis into the Roth IRA. The reason for this, for you as an investor, is to take the decision to contribute to the Roth IRA off the table. Each week or month (depending on the frequency you choose), the investment firm will handle the contribution automatically for you – you don’t have to remember to do it and you can’t choose to talk yourself out of it.

For example, you might elect to contribute $20 a week or $50 a month. (A contribution of $100 a week will get you close to the annual contribution limit.) It’s an effective way to make sure you stay on track for retirement; I recommend automatic investing for almost everyone’s Roth IRAs.

Another element of signing up is choosing your specific investments. You’re going to have a lot of options – most Roth IRAs offer all (or almost all) of the investments available from that investment firm as well as some options from other firms, and that can end up being a lot of options.

Many people get bogged down at this point with analysis paralysis. Don’t let that happen. Choosing an investment option is a great example of how the perfect is the enemy of the good. You are far better off choosing a good investment and starting your contributions right away than you are sitting around looking for the perfect investment and waiting to get started.

If you’re looking for a good investment, you’re almost always making a good choice by choosing a Target Retirement fund with a year close to your retirement year – so, if you’re going to retire in roughly 2050, choose the Target Retirement 2050 fund. It may not be perfect, but it’s virtually always good. Most people can pretty safely put their money into a Target Retirement fund and never think about it again until retirement unless they choose to start carefully studying investments. I personally use a Target Retirement fund for some of my retirement savings – I actually want a little more risk than it offers, so I put another portion of my retirement savings into a Total Stock Market Index Fund. That’s a personal decision, though, and my retirement savings would be very similar if I had just put everything into a Target Retirement fund and forgot about it.

That’s it! Once you’ve chosen your investment firm, signed up for an account there with your own information, linked it to your checking account, chosen an investment option, and started an automatic transfer, you’re done. Just sit back and let your retirement build. You only have to think about it when you want to. It’s not a bad idea to check in on it occasionally, but you won’t be missing much of anything if you just let it ride for months or even years at a time.

Good luck!

Related Articles:

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Stories From Our Readers: How Mandi recalibrated her family’s spending

“My husband and I are generally frugal people who live well within our means. We work very hard at this but for some reason, 2017 got away from us. We anticipate saving about $25,000/year. But in 2017, we only managed to save a total of $2,500. It was quite devastating. As we entered 2018, I knew I wanted to get a better handle on our spending. By no means were we spending super frivolously, but the addition of a second child plus a job change for my husband left us feeling like we were in survival mode for most of 2017.

First, I had to figure out where the financial leak was. Besides a few emergency expenses, I realized we were constantly living above our weekly allowance and charging it to the credit card. Mostly, the extra costs were for food. Because we were in survival mode, we didn’t have as much time to plan meals, and therefore, we were eating out too much. And when we did buy groceries, we overspent on them. On top of all of that, we were stressed out.

So, I was determined to stop charging, i.e. spending, extra money in the beginning of 2018. Trent Hamm has written about 30-day challenges in the past. In the month of January, I did a 30-day challenge to not charge anything extra on our credit card, and strictly live within our weekly cash allowance.

The first two weeks were very hard. I didn’t realize how big of a habit I’d formed. Getting coffee every day isn’t bad when you don’t have to see the money leaving your account. I felt deprived at times and I wanted to give up. But after those two weeks, it got much easier and I ended the month successfully. I even saved money to pay for a much needed haircut at the end of the month. Before, I would have just charged the cost and called it a necessity beyond our weekly allowance.

What I love most is how this challenge has had a positive impact on other parts of our lives. My husband and I sat down and made a manageable weekly meal plan. We no longer overspend on things like food or drinks. And toward the end of the month, we notice how we’re feeling much less stress.

So, by challenging myself to change one thing, several others improved. We plan on re-calibrating our spending a couple times a year, just to keep things fresh. It’s certainly important, because the stresses of life can draw you into some bad habits if you let them.”

-Mandi, MN

The takeaways

  • Our spending habits, no matter how subtle, affect a lot more than we think they do. It doesn’t take much to set off a chain reaction – and you go from being in control of your finances to survival mode. Making the decision to change one habit will make it easier to change the next, and the next, until you’re back where you want to be. For more, check out Trent’s list of the 10 daily habits consistent among frugal people.
  • Financial independence sometimes calls for going back to square one. Even if you don’t feel like you’re in survival mode, there’s no harm in assessing and re-calibrating your system. You may find that tweaking some things here and there will keep you engaged and prepared when life change happens. (Further reading: Trent’s breakdown of the four stages of financial independence.)

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Personal finance can be difficult to navigate, and everyone’s story is different. This series is about sharing experiences of people just like you — the good and the bad — to empower the TSD community. Through your stories, voices will be heard, lessons will be learned, and wins will be celebrated!

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

What Does ‘Frugality’ Mean?

In about a month, I’m going to launch a series of (tentatively) eight weekly articles discussing the book The Wisdom of Frugality by Emrys Westacott. It’s a book that covers what one might call the philosophy of frugality as it tackles a wide range of issues surrounding frugal living, why people choose to do frugal things, and how those frugal things impact the world.

It’s an excellent book, one that I’ve read several times now. I’ve attempted to write a single article summary of it multiple times, but I always end up with far more to say than could fit in a single article, so I decided to make a series of articles out of it. I’m giving plenty of notice in advance so that those who might want to read the book in advance or along with the articles will have plenty of time to check out the book from the library.

That being said, a big part of what underlines that whole series is the idea of what frugality is. What do I mean when I use the word “frugal” or “frugality”? One of the key lessons I’ve taken from The Wisdom of Frugality is that people often mean different things when they use the word “frugality,” and I wanted to somewhat define what the word means to me.

So, let’s dig in. You’ll find some useful things here, I promise.

Frugality = Bang for the Buck

When I say “frugality,” I simply mean a conscious effort to get the most value I can whenever I’m spending some of my resources. Usually, when I say “resources,” I mean dollars and cents, but not always (and I’ll get back to that in a little bit). Whenever I spend a dollar, it is important to me to get the most value I can for that dollar.

At first glance, one might think that would mean that I’m super price sensitive about everything and will always buy the lowest priced option, but that often ends up not being the case.

Why? To me, part of “value” means doing the job well, not just doing the job minimally.

I’ll use my favorite example of trash bags to make this clear. Many years ago, when I first started diving into frugality, I went the “cheap” route on virtually everything I could, and one of those things was trash bags.

Now, for most of the store brand and generic items I purchased, the item did exactly what was intended and I was very happy with that purchase. I was thrilled with store brand dish soap and store brand flour and store brand breakfast cereal and so on, as almost all of them were indistinguishable from the name brand for our purposes. Those were frugal purchases – I was getting the most “bang for the buck” for my dollar from those purchases because they worked just as well as more expensive name brand options for my needs.

With trash bags… that wasn’t the case. I found that I could only fill them up halfway, which meant that I was investing more time taking the trash out. Even worse, about one in 30 or so of the bags would split all over the kitchen floor, creating a big cleanup hassle that I had to deal with. These bags cost about $0.05 each, whereas the brand I was using before cost about $0.20 each, but I could fit twice as much in the more expensive bags and I never had blowouts.

In other words, there was a big extra hidden cost in the cheap bags. I was taking out the trash twice as often, which was eating up a minute or two here and a minute or two there, and about once a month there would be a huge mess in the kitchen that would take extra time to clean up. The generic bags were adding a time cost compared to the better bags.

So, while I might be able to buy a box of 100 cheap trash bags for $5 versus 100 good bags for $20, the truth is that I was using the cheap bags twice as often, so the real match was buying two boxes of those cheap bags, which cost me $10, and then watching lots of minutes here and minutes there come and go with the occasional blowout in the kitchen. All of that lost time didn’t add up to $10 in savings to me, so I switched away from the generics.

My point is this: There are more costs to the things you buy than just the initial dollars and cents. Using things costs time and energy, too. If you’re saving money on something that’s going to end up requiring additional time and energy to use, you need to make sure that the saved money is worth the extra time and energy.

Resources Are Transmutable

So, let’s back up to that definition of frugality again. When you choose to buy something, you’re essentially committing a certain amount of resources to it in the hopes of getting value out of it. Frugality is all about making sure that you’re getting maximum value out of the resources you commit, whatever they are.

There are lots of resources to consider. Money is the most obvious one, and time and energy and focus are right behind money. For example, if you buy cheap and hard to use trash bags instead of more expensive and easy to use trash bags, you’re not really being frugal because you’re just substituting time and effort for money.

There are more values even beyond those ones. What about supporting your local community? What about the environment? What about the value of treating guests in your home well? What about your stress level?

All of those are values that you’re either putting into a purchase or getting out of a purchase, and they all are part of what I consider when I think about “bang for the buck.”

The catch – there’s always a catch – is that all of these resources are actually transmutable, meaning that each one can actually be swapped for another one. This might seem hard to believe at first, but it’s actually true. All of the values you put into something or get out of something have a dollar amount that you put on them, whether you initially see it or not.

If I spend two dollars extra to buy a dozen eggs locally from a truly free range chicken farm, that means I’m putting a certain dollar amount on how much I value local farming and animal care. That doesn’t mean that either choice is wrong, just that I put a certain value on things.

If I buy a pineapple for $5 instead of buying an equivalent amount of cut up pineapple for $15, that means that I’m willing to save $10 to invest the time and energy needed to cut up that pineapple.

We all make lots of choices like this, mostly based on our gut instincts. Most of us don’t sit down and actually try to calculate out the exact ratios and dollars and cents that we put on a certain value. We mostly just trust our gut.

So, this leads me to refine my definition of frugality yet again. Frugality simply means that you’re paying a little more attention to how much you view various values to be worth in comparison to each other. The more you consider the actual cost of things or the actual value you’re getting, the more frugal you are.

Some Examples

A few examples here might be in order.

Let’s say I’m going to the grocery store to buy trash bags (I love the trash bag example because it’s so clear what I’m talking about).

A person who isn’t frugal is going to walk down the trash bag aisle, look at the options, grab the package that seems familiar because of good marketing, and keep rolling. They’re not very concerned at all about how well the trash bags will perform or anything like that. They want something that will hold their trash and do a good job of it and they put minimal effort or thought into meeting that need.

A slightly frugal person will walk down the trash bag aisle and buy the cheapest ones they can find. That person recognizes that the only real value they get out of trash bags is that they will transport trash out to the trash can, and thus spending the minimum possible amount on whatever gets that job done is a good choice.

A more frugal person will walk down the trash bag aisle and think about past purchases a little. Have they tried the cheap ones before? If so, did they do the job? If not, have they tried this next cheapest brand? How did that brand do? They’ll try to buy the least expensive brand that they know will do the job well and have minimal time and energy costs later on.

An even more frugal person might walk down the trash bag aisle and identify the best “bang for the buck” brand of trash bags – the cheapest one that gets the job done with minimal fuss – and then will seek out the best bargain on those bags or of higher quality ones. They’ll examine the cost per bag and the bulk buy options carefully and walk away with the lowest possible price per bag, which is probably a midrange bag in a big bulk box.

What’s the difference? At each step, a little more thought is given to the resources put in versus the value received and that additional thought is rewarded by either having to put in fewer resources or by getting better bags for the same resources.

The Value of Thought

This is just a simple example, of course, but it illustrates a very valuable key point about frugality: The more you think about something, the more likely it is that you’ll get more value for the resources you put in.

This leads to another interesting crossroads when it comes to frugality. Many people who reach this realization about frugality then come to see frugality as a sport of obsession. I see this a lot in the comments of posts I write about frugality. “You obsessed over something that will save four cents? What? Why?”

That utterly misses the point.

First of all, the time spent figuring out how to save four cents usually relates to something that repeats with a high level of frequency. If I’m worrying about something that saves four cents, it’s probably something that occurs at least once a day in my home.

Second, the time spent usually uncovers a good principle to follow that will last for a very long time. I can keep using that principle for the next decade to guide my purchases to a pretty good destination. This is because I do that kind of thinking once to uncover the best answer and then ride that answer for a very long time without thinking about it. I’ve already invested the thought – I don’t think it all out again the next time I buy trash bags or whatever the case might be.

Taking those two together, let’s say I obsess for a while over trying to optimize something that happens in our home every day and I figure out how to save four cents a day on it. I invest two hours trying out different strategies and thinking through it. “YOU INVESTED TWO HOURS TO SAVE FOUR CENTS?” No, I invested two hours to save four cents a day for the next decade, plus I basically don’t have to think at all about this again for a very long time, so I likely slowly recoup that time invested. That four cents a day for the next decade, by the way, turns into $146.

Third, when I write a post that dissects some specific frugal tactic, I’m usually doing it to share the results with a reader so that reader doesn’t have to think through all of this. They can just see the argument, borrow the conclusion, and use it in their own life as if they’d figured it out themselves. That’s the point of the article.

Finally, I actually enjoy figuring out the best way to do little things like this. I like to figure out how to optimize soap use or how to get the most value out of a garbage bag. If I can figure out a better way of doing things, that feels good to me. It’s the “engineer” side of me peeking out.

So, again, let’s redefine that definition of frugality. Frugality is about living by a series of well-considered principles that help to ensure that you get the most value out of the resources that you have.

We’re getting pretty close to what I think frugality means!

The Value of Principles

It’s worth noting that a big part of that last section is about living by a set of principles that guide your behavior. The idea of principles is really important here.

To me, principles are a really powerful tool for getting through life. Good principles that you trust will guide you through all kinds of situations with great results. I find that having a set of well-considered principles that you innately understand and trust will guide you to good things in almost every aspect of your life.

This requires two things.

One, you have to have good principles to begin with. In other words, you need to have some fundamental rules that you follow that guide your behavior. Frugality is just a way of describing some of those principles by simply saying that it’s important to you to get the most value out of the resources you spend.

Two, you have to trust those principles. Once you’ve figured out a really good way of doing things, you have to trust that those principles are right. I almost entirely trust my principles to guide me through lots of different kinds of situations – not just things related to finance, but everything in life.

I only start questioning principles when I start getting results I don’t like. For example, if I notice that my spending is going up a lot, then there’s probably some issue with my spending principles and I need to rethink them a little. As long as I’m getting results I like, I just keep living by my principles and I don’t really have to think about them too much.

(I will say that there’s usually at least one or two areas in life where I’m not getting the results I want and thus I’m questioning my principles in that area. Finances are quite often one of them, mostly because my mind is on my money quite a bit simply because I write about finances every day.)

This brings us to what I think is the final and fundamental point in all of this.

Frugality Is a Value

Principles – the rules we live by – are founded on values – the things that, at our core, define our sense of right and wrong and what we want to achieve and get out of life. Frugality is one of those values, a very fundamental one, in fact.

To me, frugality is simply a fundamental value that says “I consider it good to think about my choices in life carefully to ensure that I’m getting the most value out of those choices compared to what I’m putting in.”

Others may or may not hold that value. They may find such a use of thought and time and energy to be better used elsewhere and then base their decisions on other criteria, and they’re not necessarily right or wrong. I think that a lot of people reading The Simple Dollar do hold that value, though.

Most of the time, when we talk about frugality, we’re talking about money, of course, because money is the common medium of exchange. We value our time and energy in terms of money because we work for money. We value the things we own in terms of money because we spend that money to buy those things. Thus, frugality is easiest to see when it comes to money, but it applies in a broader way to almost everything in life.

So… What’s Practical Here?

If you’ve read through this whole article, you might be wondering what’s practical in all of this. For me, thinking about what frugality means to me exposed three very practical things.

First of all, a reasonable amount of time invested up front in thinking about a purchase or expense almost always pays off. That’s because if you’re thinking in depth about a small expense, it’s probably one that’s going to repeat often so even a small savings will add up, and if you’re thinking about a big expense, even a small percentage savings will result in a lot of money saved. In short, if you’re a frugal person, thinking carefully about a purchase is almost always worth it. This extends beyond purchases and dollars into almost anything you care about in life, in my opinion, but as I noted above, frugality is usually focused on dollars and cents.

At the same time, borrowing a frugal strategy from a trusted source is a good time saver. It’s not really even a money saver because it’s typically something that you’d figure out on your own with some time investment. The reason I read frugal websites and practical magazines like Consumer Reports, in the end, is to save time thinking through a purchasing decision or a “best” way of doing things. If a source I trust comes to a conclusion about something, I’ll just adopt that conclusion and use it. Spending ten minutes reading a blog post or a magazine article that results in something actionable is great because it probably means I saved two hours trying to figure the same thing out on my own. Even if only a small fraction of the things I read are actionable, it’s still worthwhile because the ones that are are really big wins. It’s worth noting here that “trusted” doesn’t mean you always have to agree with the source nor does it mean that the source is perfect, but that the source strives to always be honest and true to their values. A “trusted” source might give out a strategy that’s not perfect for you, but it’s probably perfect for someone.

Finally, the time you spend reflecting on any aspect of your life or idea that’s important to you is time that usually ends up paying for itself. If you find yourself struggling with a buying decision, a reasonable amount of time you spend really figuring out the right solution is time well spent. Sometimes, I’ll just make a choice in the moment that matches my gut instinct and then I’ll think about it in depth later on, which is a great strategy to rely on. I spend a lot of downtime reflecting on recent choices and asking myself if I made the right choice or if there was a better way to do things and that thinking either reinforces or refines one of the principles I live by. That time investment is almost always worth it. Don’t lament the past or a mistake you made in the past; instead, mine it for clues as to how to live better in the future. That works for frugal decisions and almost any aspect of life. Don’t be afraid to think things through.

Frugality is like any value that we have in life. The more we lean into it and trust it, the more value it brings to us.

Good luck!

Related Reading:

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New Grads: Seven Ways to Stand Out During an Entry-Level Job Hunt

As a manager at a growing technology company, I’m deeply involved in the hiring process for my team. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years about what makes a candidate stand out during the application and interview process.

While I think this advice can be especially helpful for new college graduates, I hope these tips — which go step by step from the initial search to the follow-up email — can prove useful to job seekers of all ages who are trying to cut through the noise and get noticed.

Applying for Roles: Speed Is Key

After I post a position to the job boards, I’ll check back after a few hours to see if any applications have rolled in. If I find someone great within the first 10 submissions, they have a huge leg up in terms of advancing in the process.

In a perfect world, I’d meticulously review the 50th applicant just like I did the first, but that’s just not how it works. Every employer is hoping to find someone quickly, as hiring is a time- and resource-intensive project. As annoying as it can be to apply for jobs, the hiring process can be just as tedious. Everyone is hoping to get it over with as quickly as possible.

If I was on the hunt, I’d be checking relevant job boards whenever I had a spare moment. This includes the huge ones like Indeed, Glassdoor, and Monster, but also industry-specific boards and smaller sites such as WayUp, which is tailored toward helping recent grads.

You can also be more targeted. For instance, if you know you want to work at a startup, you can check AngelList. Or if you have a strong desire to work for a company backed by a premium venture capital firm, you can check out websites of the big VC firms and see if they list open roles for companies they invest in (a lot of them do).

If you’re hunting for a new job while working a full-time job, I’d suggest checking job boards in the morning and on your lunch break, if possible. Set reminders for yourself so you don’t forget to give them a quick look. And make sure your resume is up to date and that you’re ready to shoot off the PDF at a moment’s notice.

The Resume: Use the KISS Method

Feel free to distinguish your resume with a few interesting design flourishes, such as using a colorful header with a unique font. You don’t have to use the exact same format as everyone else, and being unique can make you stand out from the pack. I’ve looked at a cleverly designed resume and thought, “What a fun idea, and so well executed!”

But, be careful of going overboard. When in doubt, think of the KISS acronym (keep it simple, stupid). I’ve seen resumes that look like a Picasso painting. There are colors, jagged lines, boldface words, and bright shapes. It can be overwhelming. You should do what you can to highlight your skills, but you never want to be jarring or muddle the message. Show your resume to a few friends and ask for honest feedback on your layout. When in doubt, keep it simple. Readability is much more important than creativity.

Finally, always keep your resume to one page, especially early on. I’m sorry, but no one cares about your high school internship working the front desk at the YMCA, and in no universe should you bleed onto the second page to talk about it. I am instantly skeptical of someone who can’t be concise enough to list what they need to say on one page.

As for content, again, keep it simple. If you’re applying for an entry-level role, the reality is that it’s unlikely anything you’ve done up to this point in your career is that impressive. There’s no need to make your internship at the local bank sound like you were clerking for a Supreme Court justice. Just be concise.

Also, it helps to use concrete numbers wherever possible. Instead of saying, “I supported the marketing team and helped launch their new campaign,” it’s better to say, “I generated 27 different marketing templates in a two-month period, which improved our email open rate by 42%.”

The Phone Screening: Bring the Energy, Be Concise

A recent study out of Yale concluded that we feel a stronger emotional connection with people when only listening to their voice than when we can actually see the person. This is counterintuitive, but highly useful information for interviewees during the phone screen phase. It means that the initial phone screening is an ideal opportunity to show that you’re enthusiastic and friendly. You should strive to talk clearly, confidently, and in an upbeat manner.

The other main way to stand out in this phase is to be concise. There’s something about a phone call that encourages rambling monologues covering every aspect of the candidate’s life. You should focus on hitting the key points you want to cover.

For instance, if you once worked on a project that was perfectly applicable to the role you’re applying for, find a way to quickly hone in on that one story. Doing so will show that you respect the interviewer’s time and also that you’re confident enough in your resume that you don’t have to talk ad nauseum about every aspect of it.

On a similar note, always leave pauses for the interviewer to jump in with questions.  If you’re worried the conversation is headed in the wrong direction, don’t just keep talking. Usually, if you take a breath, the interviewer will get a chance to ask a new question and get things back on course.

The In-Person Interview: Have Fun, Do Your Research

Finally, we get to the most important step. In my experience, the in-person interview for entry level roles is mostly about answering one question: “Would I be okay sharing a relatively small space with this person for eight hours per day?”

That might come as a surprise. Isn’t the in-person interview when you have to prove how smart and qualified you are by answering tough questions on the spot?

Well, that’s often part of it, and you certainly want to be prepared for those questions. But the truth is that, especially at the lower levels, you’re not likely to have a huge impact on the business’s bottom line. You’re being hired to play a small role. If you do that well, then you’ll be evaluated for promotions.

I’d rather hire an upbeat, optimistic, energized person with slightly less qualifications than a person who looks great on paper but comes across as surly and negative.

Any hire has the potential to have a tremendous impact on the overall atmosphere of the office and on team culture. As the saying goes, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. You want to come across as calm, friendly, easygoing, and supportive. I understand that acting that way is easier said than done, especially when you’re nervous. Maybe it will help to really think about the fact that, for a lot of jobs, cracking a funny joke and just generally being relatable is of more importance than having a compelling answer to the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

It’s also key to do your research about the company. The people you’re interviewing with usually have a passion for what they do. You want to be able to match that. At the bare minimum, you should have a strong understanding of what the company does and what their mission is. There’s nothing worse than interviewing a candidate who didn’t bother to do even the most rudimentary research about the company. You never want to find yourself saying “Oh, so that’s how the product works, I had no idea!”

The Follow-Up Email: Don’t Overthink It

It’s considered standard protocol to send a quick note to the people you met with. This can be done a few hours after the interview or the next business day.

In my opinion, it’s best to keep this short and sweet. There is no need to wax poetic about how much you loved the people, the office, the receptionist, or the picture in the bathroom. There’s also no need to reaffirm what a perfect fit you are. The reason you made it so far was that the company already likes you!

I see the follow-up email as the job hunting equivalent of saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. Some think it’s polite, some think it’s totally unnecessary, some don’t care one way or the other. Whatever your stance, the choice to say “bless you” or not is never going to be that big of a deal.

That being the case, the follow-up email is not the make or break moment of the job hunting process. I’ve never read a post interview email that swayed me in one direction or the other. So, just pump out a quick thanks and move on.

Summing Up

I hope the above steps can help reduce some of the anxiety that inevitably comes along with searching for a job. The keys, in my mind, are to cast a wide net and apply quickly, then demonstrate an easy-going enthusiasm if you make it to the phone and in-person interviews.

It can feel like a balancing act and it’s not always easy, but with some practice you should be able to put your best foot forward. Good luck!

Related Articles:


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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The High Probability of Low Probability Events

As many of you know, I keep a pocket notebook where I jot down ideas and things I need to do and things I hear and things I read and basically just anything I want to remember for the future. I do this throughout the day whenever something comes up, and then at the end of the day, I go through the notebook, doing something with each item (adding a new item to my to do list, adding a new item to my calendar, and so on).

Every once in a while, I come across something in my notebook that I simply don’t understand or know where it came from. Usually, it’s some strange idea I had that I didn’t record well enough, or something I overheard that I didn’t source.

This happened to me a few weeks ago, and the phrase I wrote down has stuck in my head.

The high probability of low probability events

What does that mean? I’ve found myself thinking about this phrase quite a bit lately, and I’ve come to realize that it points to a pretty important phenomenon when it comes to personal finance.

This idea is probably best explained by an example, so let me spell it out for you clearly.

In a given month, the probability of, say, my car breaking down is extremely low. The probability of having a flat tire is pretty low, too. The probability of losing my job is really, really low. The probability of someone getting seriously ill in my family is very low.

I could make a giant list of unfortunate events for which the probability of each is really low.

Of course, it’s likely that at least one of the unfortunate events on that long list is going to occur this month. By simply adding up the very small probabilities of thousands of unfortunate events, the actual odds of any of those unfortunate events occurring is actually fairly large.

Let’s say there’s a 1% chance my car will break down this month. Planning ahead for that emergency alone might not be the best move, right? If that was the only emergency that would befall my life, making a bunch of financial plans around that is probably not the wisest choice.

However, at the same time, there’s a 1% chance that I could lose my job. There’s a 1% chance that someone could get really sick in my family. There’s a 1% chance of significant storm damage to my home. There’s a 1% chance of my wife losing her job. The list goes on and on, with different percentage odds and different events.

Let’s say I can make a list of 100 events, each with a 1% chance of occurring. The way you figure up odds like that is that you actually calculate the odds of each event not occurring – a 99% chance – and then you multiply that together and then subtract from 100%. It turns out that on that list of 100 unfortunate events that each have only a 1% chance of occurring, there’s actually a 40% chance that at least one of them will occur this month, and a 0.5% chance that at least two of them will occur this month.

A 1% chance of an unfortunate event isn’t really enough to worry about. A 40% chance? That’s pretty significant.

If you think about this in the context of your own life, it’s not really surprising. Think about the last few months. You can probably think of a couple of unexpected unfortunate events that occurred, right? However, the odds of each one of those events occurring is actually pretty low in the big scheme of things. It’s just that there are so many different unlikely events that could happen that the odds are that at least one of them will happen every month or two.

In other words, there’s a high probability of a low probability event occurring. We’re not talking about a specific event, but one of a large pool of unfortunate events that might occur.

Take our family, for example. In the last month, we had a tire blowout and some wind damage from a storm. Over the course of years, those individual events might happen once, or might not happen at all, but that’s true of a lot of unfortunate events. However, eventually things like this are going to happen, and we have to be ready to financially deal with them.

To me, this is a brilliant case for why we need an emergency fund. An emergency fund isn’t necessary to protect against a singular unfortunate event. Having a fund set aside for something like a blown tire alone or wind damage alone is pretty silly – those are individually low probability events. Our emergency fund came through for us this month, in fact.

An emergency fund is very useful for the high probability of low probability events, though. It’s highly likely that over some period of time there will be some kind of an unfortunate event in your life – a car breakdown, a job loss, a sick family member, an unexpected funeral in another state, a washing machine that dies and floods the basement… the list goes on and on.

The purpose of an emergency fund is to step in and help out your monthly finances when you can’t handle an unexpected expense. Some unexpected events will happen, even if the odds of each individual possible unexpected event is tiny. Ideally, many people have enough flexibility in their budget to handle some smaller unexpected events. It’s the bigger ones, or the occasional situations where unexpected events come in bunches, where the emergency fund comes in handy.

The key thing to remember is this: an individual specific unexpected event is unlikely; however, some kind of unexpected event is actually fairly likely because there are so many different specific unexpected events that could happen that the odds add up. Because you know that some kind of unexpected event is likely to occur sometime soon, it’s a good idea to prepare for it now because you’re pretty certain it’s coming.

How do you prepare for it, then? I’ve written a great guide for building an emergency fund but it boils down to just a few simple steps. All you really need to do is set up a savings account somewhere – an online bank like Ally is a good choice. Then, set up a small weekly automatic transfer from your checking account to this savings account. After it’s set up, each week a small amount of your choosing will automatically be drawn from your checking account into that emergency fund savings account. Then, whenever you have a genuine emergency that you can’t handle, just transfer the money back from your emergency fund savings into your checking. That’s it – that’s all you have to do.

How much should you transfer? Smaller but more frequent amounts are a good idea. I recommend trying out $20 a week – that adds up to $1,040 over the course of a year. Don’t worry too much about how much you should have in that emergency fund, or how much is too much, or whether you have too little. Just let the automatic transfer drip money in there and don’t worry about it.

Also, don’t rely on credit cards as your “emergency fund” because credit cards can be lost or stolen or your identity can be stolen or the credit card network may go down. A credit card is convenient, but there are many emergencies where it just doesn’t help.

The thing to remember with an emergency fund is that it’s not just $20 disappearing each week. Instead, look at that money as security against a big disaster in the future, something that will happen. A specific type of disaster is unlikely, but a disaster of some kind likely will occur at some point in the fairly near future and you’re going to want to be prepared.

The high probability of low probability events is a real thing. Plan for it. You’ll be glad you did.

Note: I did finally figure out where the phrase came from. It came from the book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith, which I happened to be reading at the time. It was just an offhand phrase that wasn’t really connected to the main topics at all, which is why I didn’t initially remember where it came from.

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Nine Ways to Protect Your Kids From Identity Theft


More than one million children were the victims of identity theft in 2017, according to a new study from Javelin Strategy & Research. Two-thirds were under age 8. These crimes led to losses of $2.6 billion – some of which came from the pockets of the victims’ families.

Why would identity thieves go after kids? It’s not like they have credit histories, right?

That’s exactly the point. The blank-slate status of a child lets a thief apply for credit cards, take out loans (including mortgages), open utility accounts, and commit fraud on tax, employment, health, and government forms.

Unlike their elders, children don’t generally monitor their accounts or have protections like bank alerts or identity theft protection services in place. That lets the crooks open accounts gradually, giving the appearance of legitimate credit activities.

This means fraudsters can steal a lot more. On average, a child’s identity theft cost $2,303 – more than twice the amount stolen from adult victims. To add insult to injury, the children’s families were held liable for at least some of the fraud, an average of $541.

Data breaches are harder on kids than adults. Among people who were notified that their information had been compromised, 39 percent of minors ultimately became victims of fraud. By contrast, identity thefts went after only 19 percent of the adults whose material was stolen.

Children are vulnerable. Here’s how to protect yours.

Secure physical documents.

Three out of five child ID theft victims personally know the crooks. That could mean relatives or people with access to the child’s information, such as a medical care provider.

Don’t make it easier for thieves! Lock up a child’s birth certificate and Social Security card, either in a file cabinet or a safe deposit box.

Be careful what you give out.

When filling out medical or school forms, skip the part that asks for the child’s Social Security number. You don’t have to give it. If an overzealous clerk at the doctor’s office asks, politely say that you’re concerned about ID theft and therefore decline to use the number.

And if the clerk says, “But this computer form requires numbers in all fields,” do what Consumer Reports suggests: Ask the clerk to fill in the field with all zeroes.

It’s easy to share info accidentally, such as when you let your kid sign up for a rewards club offered by his favorite store. Instead, use your own information rather than letting him have the account in his own name.

Be careful what the school gives out.

Sometimes schools release information about students – including personally identifiable material such as address, date of birth, phone number, e-mail address, and even photos – to third parties.

Ask your child’s school about how to opt out of having this material made public.

Be careful what your child gives out.

It’s never too early to teach kids to be cautious about their digital identities. When signing up for online forums or gaming groups, tell them not to provide identifiers like a middle name (if possible, avoid using even a first name in favor of a nickname like “Destroyer of Worlds”), or date of birth (it’s okay to turn “8/19/2006” into “12/25/2006”), home address or, heaven forbid, a Social Security number.

Children are accustomed to having a ton of anonymous “friends.” Don’t let them be catfished into sharing vital information. Speaking of which, you should…

Monitor your child’s online activity.

Remember those anonymous friends and fellow gamers/commenters? You have no idea who they are. Your daughter is likely to believe that Destroyer of Worlds is also an 11-year-old girl – which she actually could be. However, DoW could also be an identity thief.

If you do allow your child to participate in social media and other online activities, make it clear that the password will always be available to parents, who plan to check regularly on Junior’s activity. Ideally, such activity would be done in a common area of your home.

Yep, your kid may just hate these rules. But that’s what parents do sometimes: Aggravate their children in order to keep them safe. You need to know where your child’s conversations take place and what kind of info he’s sharing online.

Monitor your child’s finances.

That bank account or college savings plan can and should be checked regularly. Review statements at least monthly and if there’s an option for account alerts, sign up.

Watch for warning signs.

Imagine getting a pre-approved credit card offer in your child’s name. Just a funny computer glitch, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. Someone who’s using your kid’s identity may be so good at opening cards that other companies want in on the action.

A few other warning signs:

  • Bills or collection notices in your child’s name show up.
  • An application for government benefits gets refused because someone else is already using that Social Security number.
  • The IRS writes to say your child owes taxes. (Note: Any phone call from an “IRS employee” is fraudulent, since the IRS communicates by mail only.)

If you see one or more of these signs, you should…

Find out if your kid has a credit history.

Contact all three of the major credit reporting bureaus to ask for a “manual search” of files relating both to the child’s Social Security number and to the child’s name and Social Security number.

Here’s how to get in touch:

You’ll likely be asked to provide information, such as copies of the child’s Social Security card and birth certificate.

Incidentally, the FTC suggests checking for a credit history close to the child’s 16th birthday. That gives you time to correct any issues, before the child needs to apply for a student loan or an apartment rental. (Learn more at the FTC’s “Child Identity Theft” page.)

Consider a credit freeze.

A credit freeze keeps potential lenders from accessing your child’s account. Should someone steal Junior’s info and try to open a new credit card, the freeze acts as a shield. No federal standard exists regarding credit freezes for minors, but many states allow it.

If you learn that your child’s credit has been compromised, take action. The FTC offers information on tactics like placing a fraud alert and creating an identity theft report.

Does this sound scary? That’s because it is. Don’t let thieves cause personal and financial stress for your family. Be as vigilant about your child’s credit as you are your own.

Veteran personal finance writer Donna Freedman is the author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times: Living Large on Small Change, for the Short Term or the Long Haul” and “Your Playbook for Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition.”

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How to Reduce the Urge to Eat Out

Jennifer writes in with a bit of a twist on a topic I’ve addressed in the past:

How did you and Sarah break out of the routine of eating out all the time? You mentioned that the two of you used to eat out several times a week and now eat out once a month or less. How did you do it? It always feels like it’s just way easier to eat out.

I’ll be fully honest – a big part of the equation was having children. Children present a certain set of difficulties when going out to eat at a restaurant. Children can be noisy and impatient and picky eaters; though that’s not true of all children all the time, it’s definitely true of most children at least some of the time, and such a situation is very hard to deal with in a restaurant setting. Family restaurants tend to succeed when they cater to this by having a children’s menu and some sort of activity to keep children distracted for a short period, but even then, it’s often not worth the added expense and the additional effort to take a child to a restaurant as compared to one or two adults without children.

Having children wasn’t the whole solution, however. During our financial turnaround, Sarah and I made a lot of conscious decisions about our spending and tried out numerous approaches. Our goal was simple: we wanted to get our food spending in check. It was unnecessary for us to be spending a thousand dollars a month for Sarah and I and our infant child simply to eat. We should be eating on a third of that, or less.

The thing is, as Jennifer mentioned, eating out has a lot of advantages, most particularly the convenience of it. It’s easy to just go to a restaurant, sit in a chair, have someone bring you food, and then have someone clean up after you. The convenience of that, especially at a quick glance, is pretty compelling when you have a busy life without a whole lot of downtime. Eating out is an expensive routine, but it’s a routine with a lot of perks.

How did we break this habit? Here are some of the strategies we employed.

Consider the Full Cost of Eating Out

Eating out at a restaurant isn’t just the financial cost of the entrees you order. You have to add in the cost of the drinks. You’ll add in the cost of the tax on your meal, which can be as much as 10%. You’ll be adding in the cost of the tip, which is somewhere around 20% of the bill. You’ll be adding in the cost of transporting yourself there and then transporting yourself home – that’s gas and miles on your car. All of that really adds up.

Let’s say, for example, that Sarah and I decided to go out for dinner at Red Robin. I’m just pulling a restaurant out of the air, an established one that many people might recognize that isn’t overly expensive but has a pretty decent reputation.

I order the veggie burger for $9.99 and Sarah orders the grilled turkey burger for $9.69. We skip the appetizers. We each order an iced tea for $2.99 to go with it and skip any alcoholic drinks. It’s a pretty cheap meal, as meals go, right?

Our bill comes to $25.66, but we’re not done there. There’s $2.05 tacked on for sales tax. We decide to give a 20% before-tax tip, so we leave $5.14 as a tip. We’re at $32.85, just for two burgers and an iced tea for each of us at Red Robin.

We’re not done there. We had to drive to the nearest area where there are restaurants in amongst our normal activities – let’s figure it’s 5 miles out of our way, on average. That’s 10 miles. The current federal government reimbursement rate, which is a pretty good average of the cost of gas and maintenance and auto depreciation, is $0.53 per mile. So that’s an extra $5.30 to get there and get home. Our new total? $38.15.

It costs us almost $40 in total to each have a burger and fries and an iced tea at Red Robin. Ouch.

I’m not picking on Red Robin here. It’s a good restaurant – it’s just the one I decided to use as an example of a well-regarded chain restaurant many might be familiar with. Your mileage may vary when you eat out – you may eat at a cheaper place. Still, the point is that when I simply look at the cost of a burger on the Red Robin menu, I see $9.99, but the cost is actually much more when I sit down and look at the full picture.

What if you go super cheap? At that point, you start getting into some pretty substandard quality with your food – it just isn’t good food. It’s often pretty poor quality food with some flavorings slapped on it.

The point is this: restaurant eating is expensive. Whenever you eat at a restaurant, the cost is usually more than you think it is.

Doubt it? Go through your credit card statement and bank statement and look at all of the entries associated with a restaurant meal over the course of a month. Each one of those covered one meal for you – maybe with some leftovers it covered two, but that doesn’t always happen – and maybe meals for dining companions. See how much that all adds up to over a month. I bet it’ll shock you. What’s the average cost per meal, too? I bet that’s a painful number as well.

It’s well worth your time to look at the reality of the costs of your own restaurant dining. It almost always adds up to a lot more than you expect that it will, and knowing that there are a lot of hidden costs in eating out can nudge you away from the concept.

Add Up the Full Cost of Eating at Home, and Compare

One great way to put that cost of eating out in perspective is to simply sit down with your grocery bill, subtract out the household items (the things that aren’t directly food related) and the taxes, and then divide that remaining total by the number of meals that the receipt represents.

So, for example, let’s say I spent $180 at the grocery store for actual food items (this was a recent receipt for us) and those items represented breakfast for all five of us for seven days, lunch for me and Sarah for five days, lunch for all five of us for two days, and dinner for all five of us for six days. That’s 35 breakfasts, 20 lunches, and 30 dinners, or a total of 85 meals. $180 divided by 85 is a cost of about $2.12 per meal. This was actually an above average receipt for us, as we stocked up on some items that we’ll use in the future when we have much lower food bills. (Another thing to note: that also includes things like after school snacks and having fresh fruits on hand.)

Now, a person could in theory eat off of the dollar menu at fast food restaurants and get by on about 1500 junk calories a day if you spend $2.12 per meal. You’d order something like a double cheeseburger or an egg sandwich with water to drink and that’s all you’d have for every single meal if you’re figuring in the extra transportation cost, taxes, and so forth.

The thing is, if you start using that $2 per meal baseline to compare all of your restaurant meals, which is what I do, they all start looking overpriced really fast.

I encourage you to do this yourself. Sit down with a grocery store receipt, figure out much all of the food actually cost by subtracting out the household supplies, and figure out how much that represents per meal. You’ll be stunned how low it is.

Step Up Your Cooking Game

Once it’s clear to you how much eating out is really costing you, the next step is to start clearing out the challenges to cooking at home, and those challenges really boil down to one thing: experience in the kitchen. The more familiar you are with your home kitchen and how to prepare a variety of meals, the easier it becomes to just eat at home instead of eating out.

For me, the most effective way of getting started cooking at home is to cook really really simple meals I knew I liked on weeknights and then learn how to cook more complicated things on weekends.

On weeknights, at the start of all of this, we had a lot of spaghetti nights. We had a lot of scrambled eggs and bacon and toast nights. We had a lot of grilling nights. We had a lot of taco nights. Those were all things that I knew I could prepare at home and that I knew that I liked. The thing was, even though I felt okay tackling those kinds of simple meals at the start, practicing them over and over made me more efficient at them. With practice, I learned how to crank out those meals quite quickly with good results and really efficient cleanup.

On weekends, I started cooking more complex meals. I made lasagna. I learned how to cook roasts. I learned how to make a small rotisserie-style chicken in the oven. Sometimes, these experiments took way longer than necessary. Sometimes, they turned into a disaster. Each time, though, I learned quite a few things, and I usually ended up with a pretty good meal for my family. Over time, my cooking skills grew and grew, to the point where I started preparing things like this even on weeknights, when I needed things done quickly with minimal fuss.

I started learning nice shortcuts, like how to use a slow cooker and making meals in advance starting with just making things the night before and eventually progressing to making several batches of meals and freezing them.

Basically, I just cooked and cooked and cooked some more until it felt really easy and natural, and I got started by making really really simple meals at first until I had those down to an exact science.

Splurge a Little on Home Cooking

To me, this is one of the advantages of cooking at home: you can splurge on the ingredients and the cost is still way cheaper than eating anything comparable at a restaurant. So, splurge on ingredients when there’s reason to!

That doesn’t mean that every meal should be made solely of gourmet ingredients. That would be silly and wasteful, honestly. Many meals that you eat at home are going to be quickly assembled and eaten, so there’s no need to go beyond the basics.

However, when you’re looking at a meal where you might otherwise obviously go out for a nice meal instead, consider making something amazing at home instead. It’s really okay to splurge a little.

I really like pasta, so for me splurging means eating fresh pasta. It takes time more than anything to make fresh pasta, so it’s a splurge for me. I also love fresh mushrooms and good craft beer, and if I’m going to have a good meal, I’m willing to splurge on those things.

Even with the splurging, though, I’m still making a less expensive meal than I would if I were going out to a restaurant, and it’s likely a tastier meal, too. We tend to splurge on one or two meals a week at home in this fashion.

Do Some Meal Prep in the Morning

Before you go to work, spend a little bit of time doing some meal prep for the meal you intend to eat in the evening. Chop some vegetables, put something in the slow cooker, put something out to thaw, whatever it is that is appropriate for a meal you’re considering having that evening.

The reason this trick is so effective is that it really nips the “spontaneous meal” in the bud. You might be tempted to just get takeout after work or just meet at a restaurant, but knowing that you’ve already invested time in getting a meal going at home will often motivate you to just go home and make that instead.

What you’re doing is taking advantage of the sunk cost to nudge you in the right direction. The time invested in that stuff is already lost, but the output of it just goes completely to waste if you don’t go home for dinner, and that feeling of having wasted your time and energy that morning is not a good one. It can push you to simply go home and make dinner.

Another advantage is that the meal prep steps you took earlier in the day will make the actual meal preparation in the evening that much quicker. If you made a slow cooker meal, then you probably don’t have to do anything much at all when you get home. If you chopped the vegetables, you probably just have to go home, turn on the skillet, and throw those vegetables in there. The time and energy you’ll need in the evening to get dinner on the table is less if you have some elements of the meal already finished.

I do this all the time, even now. I’ll put a meal in the slow cooker, or I’ll put some rice in the rice cooker and set the timer, or I’ll chop up a bunch of vegetables. I just try to take care of some portion of the meal prep earlier in the day so that I’m motivated to finish it that evening.

Issue Yourself a Challenge

One great way to initiate this kind of habit in your own life is to issue yourself a thirty day challenge. Simply pledge for the coming month that you’ll cook every evening meal at home for thirty days. That’s it. The purpose is to show yourself that it’s actually easier than you think to pull it off, but such a challenge doesn’t seem impossible.

Then, simply spend the next thirty days doing just that. Cook every meal at home and don’t go out once during those thirty days. Try making lots of different simple meals, but also don’t be afraid to repeat them, either, if you find that you like them, because repetition leads to mastery.

Thirty day challenges are really effective for things like this because they push you to really try something new in your life, but don’t push you hard enough that it becomes miserable. It’s long enough to really enjoy the “honeymoon” phase of a new initiative and to assess whether it can become a permanent thing for you, but it’s not long enough that it becomes dull and oppressive. I use thirty day challenges all the time to try out new routines and life patterns, and I stick with the ones that really work well and discard the ones that do not.

Don’t Break the Chain

One of my favorite strategies when trying to establish a new daily habit in my life is to use the “calendar chain” strategy popularized by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, which I’ve discussed before.

The “calendar chain” is simple, really. Just put up a wall calendar somewhere where you’ll see it all the time; a full year calendar like this one is perfect. Each day you live out the habit you’re trying to encourage, cover up that date with a big fat X. After a week or two, you’ll start to notice that you have this long chain of Xs starting to build up, and what you’ll find is that you really don’t want to break that chain of Xs. You don’t want to finish your day without adding an X to that chain.

The motivation to keep the chain going is often plenty of motivation to keep doing something. You can most certainly apply it to cut into the urge to eat out. Simply make an X on any day where you chose not to eat out. You can make exceptions for professional-related meals, but any time you’re choosing what to eat on your personal time, if you didn’t eat out, put an X on that calendar.

Soon a chain will form, and you’ll feel proud of that chain, and you won’t want to break it. That’s a pretty big nudge in a positive direction.

Final Thoughts

There is no “magic key” for breaking the urge to eat out. For us, it was a confluence of many of the above factors all at once, but it’s really hard to say which one really caused us to switch from eating out several times a week to eating out once a month or so. It just happened, thanks to a mix of children, becoming more adept at home cooking, and making a conscious choice not to eat out.

The main goal of all of these tactics is to reset your mind so that you view eating at home as the absolute normal thing to do, while eating out is an expensive splurge to be done when it’s a treat and when there’s a social benefit to it. Once you start to view eating out with that mindset, eating at home almost all of the time becomes natural.

Good luck!

The post How to Reduce the Urge to Eat Out appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Questions About Retirement, Motivation, Eggs, Time Management, and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Figuring out retirement investment options
2. “Done” when I retire
3. To do list specifics
4. When should I quit?
5. Real estate questions
6. Staying motivated to save
7. Journals after filling
8. Egg sale question
9. Interesting use for leftovers
10. Blocking off time
11. Walking shoe suggestions
12. Triggering questions

This was one of those weeks where almost everything I wrote generated several good follow-up questions or comments, so this mailbag issue is pretty heavy with questions and issues related to things you may have read in the past week.

On with the questions!

Q1: Figuring out retirement investment options

I am a 36 y/o working in the medical profession. I am newly married with no children. I am slowly working on a financial turnaround, which has been prompted by credit card debt that I allowed to get away from me.

I am embarrassed to say that I am also just now starting to contemplate my future retirement. My employer offers a 3% contribution regardless of my allotment. I wish to match that 3% on my own. I am currently staring at my 401(k) election form from my employer and have no idea what I am doing.

I have followed TSD for some time now and it has been truly educational and motivating for me. I know that you have a history with Vanguard and seem pleased with them. I have a wide variety of Vanguard options; including: the 500 Index Adm, Mid Cap Index Adm, Small Cap Index Adm, Total Intl Stock Index Adm, Total Bond Market Index Adm and Equity-Income Adm. Plus, there are also options for T. Rowe Price target retirement funds, of which the 2050 would likely be the best match – I would be 68 at that time. I have attempted some research on my own, but feel overwhelmed by all of the options. I am eager to find some direction.
– Jane

The answer really depends on how much time you want to spend on your investments – learning about investing, reading articles, and so on. If this sounds… not particularly enjoyable to you, the T. Rowe Price target retirement 2050 fund is a solid choice in which you can simply put all of your retirement savings and be just fine.

Now, if you want to beat that fund’s performance, you probably can, but it will take a fair amount of time getting up to speed on all of your retirement options. What you’d likely be aiming to do is match that target retirement fund or go slightly more aggressive (meaning a higher percentage of stocks) while you’re young. This would mean studying up on a lot of different funds to see what compares to the contents of the target retirement fund and building your own set of funds that somewhat matches what they’re doing with better individual selections.

You may or may not be interested in that extra effort. It likely will earn you a better return on your money, but how much better is really hard to say, and it will take some effort. It’s really your call.

Q2: “Done” when I retire

I am 62 years old and obviously not ready to retire yet. However, I do think about it. I’d like to work till age 70 or even 72 (my health is excellent & I enjoy my job), and after that I would like to be done. I mean, done. I have worked virtually all my life. First taking care of my alcoholic mom & abusive dad and raising my brother and sister; then working my way through college, helping my sister with her college expenses, and raising 2 kids, one of whom has autism. You know the drill. I won’t bore you with it. I feel no real “pull” to volunteer in my later years, or to get yet another job, or anything like that. I feel really guilty about it. Any ideas?
– Nina

What do you mean by “done”? What do you envision your days being like when you’re retired?

Whatever you choose to do, I strongly strongly discourage you from just sitting in a chair and growing old when you retire. Many people who retire fully fall into that trap of just sitting in their chair and growing old with a quick decline. My own great grandfather did exactly this. It’s not an enjoyable decline for anyone.

I strongly encourage you to figure out how exactly you’ll fill your days when you retire, and being sedentary all day long and not doing anything at all is a poor idea. For your own health and quality of life, you should do something. It doesn’t have to be work or volunteering – just figure out some things you actually enjoy doing that aren’t sedentary and do them. (You can do some sedentary things, too, just do them in balance.)

If you have adequate income to live on, the world is your oyster. Do whatever it is you want! Just do something, and you have time to figure out what that something is.

Q3: To do list specifics

What kind of detail do you put into your to do lists? Like do you include things like brushing your teeth? Or is it just big stuff?
– Andy

My rule of thumb is that if something is going to take more than two minutes or if it’s something I can’t conveniently do right this instant, it goes on my to do list. Otherwise, I just do it immediately and don’t worry about it.

The exception to that are things that are more along the line of checklists, like my morning routine. I try really hard to make my morning routine as much of a “routine” as possible so that I’m doing the same things every day and they get me as set up as possible for a successful work day. Those types of “checklists” will have things that take less than two minutes on it.

Some other “checklists” I have include my current exercise routine, my “kids home from school” routine, and my normal evening routine. Each of those has at least one item that takes less than two minutes on it.

So, no, I don’t add things like “brush my teeth” to my to-do list unless I’m sitting at my desk working, run my tongue along my teeth, and realize that I need to brush them and just jot it down to do later or something like that (I don’t t think this has happened, but it could happen).

Q4: When should I quit?

I have been working at a small software firm for two years. While I have learned a lot here and the pay is good, the people running this firm are insane tyrants. They constantly put us on unrealistic dev schedules and go crazy when we don’t meet their stupid deadlines. They yell and scream and throw books and stuff. They tell us that every waking hour we spend not sleeping or eating during crunch time should be spent coding and that we can use this money we’re earning when we’re millionaires later.

It’s absolutely crazy and I am sick half the time because I eat like crap and don’t get enough exercise. I don’t want to work here any more. I am fine financially but I don’t want to burn bridges in the industry. I have asked about this on software sites and the advice is always JUST QUIT AND YOU WILL FIND WORK ELSEWHERE ASAP but I don’t like to jump into the complete unknown like that. Advice?
– David

Right now, go update your resume on every website that you might ever want to have your resume on. Make sure it’s completely correct with your current information and skill set and work history.

If you have any friends in the industry that you trust deeply, contact them discreetly (using non-work email or other private means) and ask if they know of any openings or if they can pass along your info discreetly to any hiring agents. Keep this private and completely separate from your work.

Do not include anyone in your current workplace as a reference. If you’re trying to get out of a workplace in which there’s a climate of fear, you’re likely not getting a good reference anyway. Just note that references are available upon request and if they’re requested, give references that don’t include the angry people at work.

If you do get a job offer (and you negotiate and accept it), tell your current boss immediately, give your two weeks’ notice, and do not even listen to a counteroffer, no matter how great they make it sound. Get out of there.

Q5: Real estate questions

Why do you never talk about investing in real estate? You talk all the time about stock investing but never real estate investing?!
– Daniel

There are a bunch of reasons, but they really boil down to three core ones.

First, it’s pricy. You either have to be willing to leverage yourself into a lot of debt to get started or else invest a lot of your own money. Debt leveraging is a risky proposition because if the real estate market ever burps, you can end up in a huge mess very quickly, so I don’t recommend that route. I generally don’t talk about super high risk investments unless readers in large numbers email me about them. I also don’t talk about investments with a large up front cost.

Second, it’s a lot of work. If you’re involved in the usual entry level method of real estate investment (meaning you’re not leveraging or investing large sums of money), you’re probably serving as a landlord for a house or two or a small apartment building. That ends up being a lot of work – you’re repairing all kinds of things, doing all kinds of maintenance, and so on. Managing even a small handful of properties ends up being at least a part time job. If you hire someone to do the property management for you, you’ve drastically cut into your income and it ends up often being not all that great of an investment (back to the risk issue again).

Third, aside from the risk elements noted above, it still remains a risky proposition for most investors. You have legal risk. You have “all of your eggs in one basket” risk. If you’re taking on a lot of debt, you’re looking at leverage risk, as mentioned above. Those are risks above and beyond most investments.

Added together, real estate investing is great for the small subset of people who don’t mind the risk and relish that type of work, but for everyone else, it’s not a good choice. It’s a type of investment that requires a lot of active involvement even if you hire a management company and involves a lot of risk.

Q6: Staying motivated to save

I’m saving up for a new house, and I need a high-flux Internet connection that is non-satellite for my work-from-home full-time job. This typically means I need cable Internet with about 200 Mbps down and 20 up. I want to live on a large property in a custom-built home in a rural area near a college town, because I may want to resume teaching part-time at the college level. How do I keep motivated to save? I’m debt free, high-net worth, and saving and investing over 50% of my take-home pay. I have approximately 35% of the total amount saved so far for the new home. My neighbors, to add to this conundrum, are a problem, but I’m ignoring them and carrying on with my plan, although it is a constant source of annoyance…trying to remain focused on the goal. It will take about 4 more years to reach that goal. I’ve considered buying an interim house elsewhere, with a loan and large downpayment, to get away from the neighbors. House prices are high so it would be a good time to sell my current place. I guess I need a pep talk! I already do mindfulness practices such as Zen meditation, yoga, and journaling.
– Alice

For me, it’s honestly not motivation to save that brings financial success, believe it or not. Once the initial excitement of turning my financial ship around wore off – the “honeymoon” was over, in other words – I attribute almost all of my continued financial success to one thing: automation.

Sarah and I automate almost all of our savings. Money comes directly out of our accounts for things such as emergencies, retirement, college education for our children, and big upcoming expenses like car replacements. We do not even think about it most of the time, to tell the truth. It just happens.

Instead, most of our focus is on making our day-to-day ends meet on the relatively smaller pool of money that stays behind in our checking account after all of those transfers. We put ourselves in a position where we have to be at least a little careful with our money. We’re frugal so that we can afford some nice things without ever touching that automated savings.

My suggestion: when you’re really consciously focused on financial planning and saving for the future, set up something and fully automate it. Then, once that’s done, you’re left with the task of making ends meet with the remainder of your pay. Each period, your check will be a bit smaller, or each month, money will just vanish out of your checking. How will you make ends meet? It becomes a practical problem rather than a motivational problem.

Q7: Journals after filling

What do you do with your journals after you fill them up? Do you save them or throw them away?
– Anna

I do both, actually. Every few days, I take pictures of my last several pages of journal entries, giving me a digital copy of all of my journal entries. I do this right into Evernote, which makes the pages searchable. I generally create a single note within Evernote for each day of journal entries, which sometimes consists of several images if I have several pages of journal scribbling.

I usually burn journals once they’re filled and I’ve scanned all the pages. I’ll literally toss them into a campfire. I’ll save them during the winter and burn them all during the summer. I really have no interest in anyone else reading the things I’ve written and that takes care of the problem.

I do have a few journals I’m saving, but they’re journals being written for my children that contain things like family history and some life advice I want to make sure to share with them in adulthood if I’m not around to do so.

Q8: Egg sale question

About a month ago a local store had a huge sale on eggs. They must have had some kind of overstock or something. We bought about 12 dozen eggs and filled our fridge with them figuring we would use them for all kinds of things. We got through about 6 dozen and the rest are left and nearing expiration date. Don’t want to throw them out!
– Annie

My suggestion is to make breakfast burritos. A lot of breakfast burritos.

My actual method for doing so has changed recently. What I do now is beat two eggs together, put just a bit of oil or butter in a small skillet, then put the beaten eggs in the skillet over medium heat. I cook this until I can flip it, cook it for just a moment more, and then take it off and put it on a plate. I will make these “egg discs” using as many eggs as I have – if you have 6 dozen, you can make 36 discs.

Then, get a big soft flour tortilla, lay it out flat, grab an egg disc and pat it dry, then lay that egg disc in the middle of the tortilla. Spread dry toppings on top of the egg – shredded cheese, salsa with minimal liquid, other vegetables, cooked sausage, whatever floats your boat. Do not add condiments unless you want a gooey mess when you reheat – if you want hot pepper, put in dried pepper flakes. Spread the ingredients evenly and thinly over the egg, then wrap the egg up in a tube with the ingredients inside. Wrap this tube in the tortilla, then put the finished burrito in a freezer safe container, like a quart Ziploc bag. Freeze them, then pull them out as needed.

I made a batch of burritos like this and it worked like a champ. I cooked all of the egg discs first, then I assembled all of the burritos.

Q9: Interesting use for leftovers

We really can’t seem to do leftovers more than twice. I found what I think a great resolution to this. I have a friend who lives alone, eats all convenient crap, etc. I bag up these leftovers and they are the perfect one person meal and he doesn’t see this as the third day of the leftovers. He feels loved, taken care of, and we feel like we’re helping someone who doesn’t cook and works far too many hours. Yep, probably enabling him to not learn to cook but I was single until my early 30s and I KNOW that cooking for one is just the loneliest feeling. (I have tried freezing these things but find we end up tossing them and then I feel bad that I coulda fed a hungry person ‘at the time of’.)
– Dana

Right in the midst of this comment is a great suggestion for leftover use. Just simply take your leftovers, package them as a standalone meal, freeze that standalone meal, and then pass it along to someone who can really use it.

In this case, Dana is passing along meals to a friend who works extremely hard and has little time for meal prep, which is definitely an awesome choice. Other good options: elderly relatives, shut-ins in your community, people recovering from medical challenges, depressed or grieving friends, and so on.

If you find yourself with leftovers regularly, consider adopting this as a practice. Make standalone meals, pop them in the freezer, use them yourself if needed, and give them away easily to friends and family and community members who could really use them.

Q10: Blocking off time

Could you explain a little more about what you mean by “blocking off time” in your calendar?
– Aaron


Most of the time, my calendar looks utterly full to the brim, around the clock. The truth is that many of those things are actually just blocks of time that I’m setting aside for specific purposes.

For example, I have a block of time from 10 PM to 5 AM for sleep each day. Most days, I have a block from 8 AM to noon for focused writing. I usually have a block from 5:30 AM to 8 AM for my morning routine. I have blocks in the afternoon and evening for family time and exercise and reading and light work tasks and so on. I also have a “flex time” block that I use to make up for blocks that were interfered with in some way.

I stick to these blocks as much as humanly possible, but sometimes other events interfere. When I add stuff to my calendar, it usually takes priority over those blocks, so on that day, I’ll compress some of the blocks or move others around or even delete some blocks.

The purpose of all of this is to keep myself moving. By planning my day like this in advance, I don’t fall into the trap of sitting around trying to decide what to do next. It’s extremely clear at any given moment what I should be doing.

Q11: Inexpensive walking shoes

Do you have a recommendation for good inexpensive walking shoes? Going on a trip that involves a lot of walking and don’t want to spend $200 on walking shoes.
– Chris

In terms of “bang for the buck” for walking, New Balance shoes tend to be the right choice. That’s pretty much their wheelhouse – high quality midrange walking and general use shoes – and they do it really well.

Cheap shoes tend to have little internal foot support and fall apart quickly. Your feet would regret such a purchase. Higher end shoes will work great, but they won’t offer a significant advantage over New Balance for an ordinary vacation with a lot of walking.

If you want a specific model, I’d suggest this men’s model and this women’s model, based on my own research, experience, and anecdotes from friends.

Q12: Triggering questions

I didn’t understand what you meant by how you use “triggers” in your article about getting things done.
– Bryan

This is a trick I learned from the book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith, which I read earlier this year and which has really helped me start making some changes in my life. I’ve tweaked it just a little to work for me.

Basically, what I do each morning is think about several behavior changes I want to make in my own life to improve myself. For each one, I write a sentence like this:

I will try my best to eat a healthy diet today.
I will try my best to get a healthy amount of exercise today.

I have a list of eight of these statements. Each morning, I write each one of them down in my journal and think about that statement as I’m writing it. How will I eat a healthy diet today? I kind of visualize the day ahead of me a little bit.

Then, at the end of the day, I sit down and ask myself a very similar group of questions.

Did I do my best to eat a healthy diet today?
Did I do my best to get a healthy amount of exercise today?

Then, I give myself a score – a simple number between 1 and 10. 1 means I was absolutely atrocious in this regard; a 10 is as good as I could possibly hope to be in that regard.

On a 1 day for exercise, I did nothing at all. On a 10 day, I went to a vigorous taekwondo class, played soccer with my kids, walked 15,000 steps, and did my bodyweight exercise routine on a normal day. Sometimes, days are more challenging than others, so what I’m really focusing on is whether I put in the effort to really do my best at that individual thing.

I absolutely hate writing down a low number for the day on something I’m seriously trying to improve in my life. Seriously. I get really frustrated with myself when I have to write down a 1 or a 2 or a 3 on a day where there was no good reason for it.

This practice seems to really click with me for some reason, and it works with all kinds of habits. I highly recommend it. I will likely write a full article or two about it in the future.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

The post Questions About Retirement, Motivation, Eggs, Time Management, and More! appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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