Showing posts with label international stock market. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international stock market. Show all posts

Saturday, September 14, 2019

My “Five Books” for Financial and Life Improvement

In last week’s Dozen Pieces of Inspiration, I made a reference to the website Five Books, where people in various fields recommend five books related to that field.

Since then, I’ve been tossing around that very idea in my head over and over again. If I were to recommend five books in an appropriate category for The Simple Dollar, probably “Financial and Life Improvement,” what five books would they be?

One book was very easy to pick. Two others came pretty quickly on their heels. With the two other slots… I had to struggle a little bit, but I think I came around to some wonderful choices.

So, without further ado, here are the five books I would choose if I were to select “five books for financial and life improvement.”

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

This was the “no brainer” book on this list, as it would be the one book I would recommend to almost anyone who found themselves struggling financially. This book was the essential book for me when I started to turn my financial life around, and it’s had a similar profound impact on many readers.

In a nutshell, this book is about the relationship between your finances and the other aspects of your life that you care about, particularly your time. The book introduces a ton of concepts that are really powerful in terms of evaluating your money use and the real impact that has on your life as a whole.

I’ll mention two that really stand out for me.

One is the idea of your “real hourly wage.” Most people think of their jobs in terms of their salary or in terms of the amount of money they make per hour. This book instead focuses on how much money you actually get to keep in exchange for an hour of your life. You might work for eight hours, but are you also including the hour of commuting that you have to do and the hour you sit in your chair at home slumped over because you’re burnt out after your workday? You’re really handing ten hours over to your job. What about time spent doing things like buying work clothes or going out with coworkers or traveling for work? That adds up. On the other hand, you might know how much you “make,” but have you subtracted out taxes? Have you subtracted out the cost of eating out with coworkers? Have you subtracted out the cost of your wardrobe? As you start subtracting work-related expenses from your income and adding in all of those extra hours you devote to work or thinking about work or getting to work, your hourly wage drops precipitously. That resultant number is your real hourly wage, and it’s very useful to use that as a comparison point for everything you spend money on. You might nominally make $15 per hour, but once you add in the extra hours devoted to work and subtract out the money spent on things related to work, you’re actually only keeping $8 an hour. If you spend $20 going out for a meal at Applebee’s versus spending $4 making a meal at home, you’re basically trading two hours of your life for the privilege of Applebee’s versus your meal at home. Is that really worth it?

Another idea that’s really impactful is the fulfillment curve. Basically, the idea is that once you get past a relatively low level of purchasing, additional purchasing in that area leads to diminishing returns and can actually even lead to a decline in your enjoyment. There’s a “peak” where you get the most pleasure for your dollar, and it is very easy to overshoot that peak, often without realizing it. We aim for that peak and very, very often wind up on the far side, spending too much and getting too little overall value and pleasure out of that expense.

This book is loaded with concepts like this and yet manages to fit them all into a clear overall picture of your finances and how they relate to getting what you want out of life. To me, it’s the essential personal finance read.

While I’m going to name some alternate choices for all of the other books on this list, I can’t really think of a book that I would recommend as an alternative to this one. It deserves to be read and thought about by anyone who is struggling with lining up their finances with what they want out of life.

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

If you’re struggling with debt and with getting the very basics of your life in order (like keeping the bills paid), this is likely the best book on the market for you. Dave Ramsey offers a very straightforward plan for getting out of debt and couples it with a coaching style that serves as a powerful motivator to carry through with that plan.

Ramsey’s plan centers around seven “baby steps” that people should take to move from a disastrous personal debt situation to debt freedom (or close to it). They are, in a nutshell:
+ Baby Step 1: $1,000 to start an emergency fund
+ Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
+ Baby Step 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
+ Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and tax-advantaged retirement accounts
+ Baby Step 5: College funding for children
+ Baby Step 6: Pay off your house early
+ Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give!

For those unfamiliar, a “debt snowball” means that you make a list of your debts from the smallest balance to the largest, then strive to make the largest possible extra payment on the debt with the smallest balance while making minimum payments on all of the others. When that debt is gone, move on to what is now the smallest debt and hit it with a hammer.

While I might have minor quibbles with the absolute specifics of this plan, I completely agree with the broad strokes of it, I admire its simplicity and straightforwardness, and it will work. Couple that with Dave’s coaching style, which will be a home run for some people, and this book gets a high recommendation from me.

A couple of alternate choices for a good book about getting out of debt and getting started on your financial journey include You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham and I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. You Need a Budget focuses on a simple way of developing an actual budget that works for people, while I Will Teach You to Be Rich offers good practical advice on the foundational big financial moves people should make early in their professional lives.

The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing (2nd Edition) by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, and Michael LeBoeuf

This is the single book I would recommend to anyone who needs to invest for goals like retirement or for a child’s education but isn’t exorbitantly wealthy. The book does a fantastic job of carefully laying out a plan for doing those things that doesn’t require a financial advisor or obsessive study of finances with a thoughtful philosophy behind all of it.

In short, the Bogleheads recommend investing in index funds, which are a low cost type of investment that aims to match the overall market rather than trying to beat the market. For example, if you are buying a very broad based stock index fund, that fund’s goal is to match the growth of the overall stock market by including tiny amounts of all available stocks and doing that as inexpensively as possible. You won’t get huge returns with this model, but you will get very good returns with a much higher level of consistency and you won’t lose it all, either.

The book guides you through why you should do this and the mechanics of how you can do it through your retirement plans at work, an IRA you might set up for yourself, or plans for your child’s education, aiming to maximize the tax benefits for you. While a bit dry in places, it does a very good job of spelling out in very clear language the “how’s” and “why’s” of investing for the average person in a way that’s logically consistent and balances reasonable risk with pretty good returns without spending a lot of time managing all the details.

Basically, at the point at which The Total Money Makeover begins to become less relevant to your financial life, meaning you’ve paid off your debts and are starting to save for retirement and other goals in earnest, this is the book to pick up. The two books cover almost none of the same ground in personal finance, but complement each other perfectly.

Another well rounded book about investing that I would highly recommend as an alternatives to this book is The Simple Path to Wealth by J.L. Collins. Collins covers much of the same material as the Bogleheads’ book above, with many of the same principles, but uses a more conversational style. If you found the Bogleheads’ book to be a little dry, this might be a better read, but I find that the Bogleheads’ book serves as a great reference book and I turn to it more often (perhaps out of familiarity). However, both books remain on my shelf and I suspect that the authors would all laud the other book and would have a lot in common if they sat down for a conversation.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Regardless of what stage you’re in on your personal finance journey, you’re going to eventually realize that a lot of your success in terms of both improving your income and keeping your spending habits under control comes down to having good routines in your life and being able to make good decisions in the moment. Controlling your impulses and having a daily set of routines that guide you toward your big goal is absolutely fundamental. If your ordinary days don’t guide you toward where you want to be, you’ll never get there.

I considered a lot of books on developing better personal habits and routines, but I think the best all-around book I’ve read in terms of making sense and providing good tools for actually applying the ideas inside is Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Clear’s core idea is that, if you have a sense of what your big goals are, at least in terms of the direction you want to go in life, the best way to get there is a systems-based approach, where you essentially have a handful of tiny habits that you do as a routine on a daily basis that will naturally guide you toward your goal. In terms of personal finance, those tiny habits would be oriented around reducing the overall spending in your average day by doing things like preparing meals at home, taking leftovers, filling your time with low-cost activities, and so on. If you make each day into a system of those habits, you’ll gradually move in a much healthier financial direction. Ask yourself, “what would a financially successful person do today?” and stick to that, making an effort to carry out the habits and routines that a financially successful person would have.

I would strongly point toward Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith as a complement to this book. They are both essentially tackling the same issue – how do I become the person I want to be? – from different angles, with Triggers focusing on behaviors and Atomic Habits focusing on tiny habits and routines. Both are great approaches, with one angle working well for some changes and the other working well for other changes.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

The problem, of course, is that many people don’t know who they want to be or where they want to go.

My view is that personal finance success for anyone who is not exorbitantly wealthy is practically impossible without some level of inner contentment. Inner contentment is different for everyone, but it’s heavily tied to really understanding what you truly care about and value and having a life that supports those things, recognizing that even the difficult things are a part of life and that you can’t appreciate the good without some challenges along the way.

That journey toward inner contentment, to me, is an absolute fundamental part of financial success. Your financial state, particularly in terms of your personal choices and spending decisions, are just the surface of what’s going on underneath. We often use money to chase desires and chase away bad feelings that even we don’t understand, and modern marketing is really effective at nudging those underlying feelings. Having some level of inner contentment is absolutely key for resisting those urges and feeling naturally content with your life.

I thought about a lot of different books that could express this idea well. A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine is certainly one of them, as is Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright and How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci, among many others. However, I felt like each of those books really just described one particular path to inner contentment, whereas Man’s Search for Meaning is about the idea of that path as a whole.

Part of me wants to recommend this book first rather than last, but the reality is that many people are in an urgent place with their personal finances and going down a path toward internal contentment is not going to be the fix to their finances that they’re seeking. Rather, there’s a realization point with almost any personal change – finances included – that the changes they’re trying to make aren’t fixing what they want from life and a different approach is warranted.

In the end, one’s finances are just a big part of the expression of what we want out of life. When we’re unsure what we want and aren’t content with things, our finances tend to be a mess. It’s only when we’re more sure of what we want and are on a path toward contentment that we can get our finances in line with what we really want.

And, believe it or not, that brings us right back in a circle to Your Money or Your Life, the first book I recommended in this list.

Final Thoughts

My recommendation is that, if you’re struggling with your finances, at least one of these books will deeply speak to you, depending on where you’re at, and that Your Money or Your Life is probably the best jumping-in point by default, followed quickly by either The Total Money Makeover if you’re struggling with debt or The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing (2nd Edition) if your debt is under control and you’re wanting to understand investing basics. The other books follow in almost a cycle, from purpose to plans to routine and back to purpose again, as we all need a helping hand at different points in that cycle at different times.

The amazing part is, many of the principles you’ll pick up from these books apply just as well to other aspects of your life – yes, even the more financially-focused ones.

It’s worth noting that many of the books in this article that I haven’t written about individually on this site before will eventually be discussed in detail, offering a detailed summary so you can know the high points of the book before deciding whether to read them yourself. Many of them have already been discussed before, and here are links to those earlier discussions:
+ Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
+ The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
+ You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham
+ Atomic Habits by James Clear
+ Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith

Good luck, and happy reading!

The post My “Five Books” for Financial and Life Improvement appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

When Do You Need Life Insurance?

When I graduated from college, a thoughtful relative of mine gave me a letter she had typed out on her computer. It was about twenty pages of material that she had typed out over the course of a number of years, and she printed out a version of it for every relative of hers who graduated from college or trade school or high school, given at the point where it was clear that they were about to enter the workforce.

The letter mostly contained a ton of different practical life advice and suggestions about how to navigate life as an adult. I don’t have it any more – it was wiped out when my apartment flooded at some point in the mid-2000s – but I do remember much of the advice.

One piece of advice that I remember stewing over was the suggestion to get life insurance. She said to get a big thirty year policy that would cover me through the years when I would be raising kids and to get it young so the premiums were cheap. It’s really good advice, but I didn’t really internalize it and never bothered to get a policy.

Instead, I waited around until my firstborn was a couple of years old and then I got a 20 year policy, which would cover the loss of my income during the period when we would have kids at home.

Looking back, I clearly understand why I didn’t get a policy at first and why I did get a policy later. At first, I really didn’t have anyone depending on me, so what was the point of having a big life insurance policy? Later on, people were depending on me, so a life insurance policy made sense.

In the end, that’s the key answer to whether or not you need a life insurance policy. Is anyone else depending on your income in order to maintain their quality of life? If you disappeared, would the void of a lack of income create hardship in the lives of people that you love? If the answer is no, then you (probably) don’t need life insurance. If the answer is yes, then you should probably get a policy.

Let’s look at a few specifics.

First of all, if you’re single with no plans to be in a long-term relationship and no plans for children, a life insurance policy is probably not a very high priority. You almost definitely have financial priorities in your life that greatly supersede a life insurance policy, so take care of those things. Things like debt repayment and retirement savings take a much higher priority here.

On the other end of the spectrum is people with children, who should have some significant form of term life insurance to help provide for those children should an unfortunate event happen. The term of that policy should last into the adulthood of your children so that if something happens to you at any point during their growing years, they’ll be financially taken care of. It is a very good idea to couple this action with a clearly-stated will that identifies who is to become the guardian of your children in the event of your untimely death. This is a decision we wrestled with greatly, but when we made our decision, it was clear that it was the right decision, and it’s one that we wanted to spell out in legally binding terms.

The challenge comes with situations that are in the middle, and you’re likely to get a lot of contradictory advice. Here are some principles I recommend.

If you don’t have any life insurance and have at least some realistic chance of having a child in the next ten years, you should get a thirty year term policy now rather than later. The reason is simple: getting such a policy now, when you’re in relatively good health and as young as you’ll ever be, lowers the overall risk of the policy and thus lowers the cost of it. In general, a 30 year term policy starting today will cost less in total than a 20 year term policy starting in ten years, simply because of the risk of medical issues cropping up in those intervening ten years.

If you are in a long term relationship with someone and your partner would be financially unstable without your income but children are not planned or expected, consider a shorter term policy. You’ll want to be sure to cover the years in which you expect that your partner would be in financial difficulty without your income, and the benefit for that policy should be enough to make up for that financial shortfall in your partner’s life.

Another valuable principle to follow: as soon as you realize that your situation has changed and you’re now in a situation where life insurance is important, get a policy now rather than later. The reason is that the younger you are, the less expensive term life insurance will be, plus you run the risk of experiencing a loss of life or a serious health issue between now and when you get the policy. The sooner you get it, the better.

The truth is that life insurance is about having a good grasp as to where you’re trying to go with your life as well as having a sense of responsibility for those choices. I am financially responsible for my children because we made the decision to bring them into this world and they’re not capable yet of earning an income of their own, thus I need to do all I can to help shepherd them to that point. I am also financially responsible for my wife, to an extent – she’s quite capable of earning a solid income on her own, but there would be financial impact if my income were to suddenly disappear, and my financial planning needs to take that into account.

What should you buy if you determine that you need life insurance? My general recommendation is to get a term policy with a term long enough to cover the period in your life where you have dependents whose lives would be very adversely affected by losing your income and a benefit large enough to replace your income for ten years. As for who to buy from, the market changes frequently, so I’ll point you to The Simple Dollar’s guide to life insurance companies for help in your decision. In general, I recommend shopping around amongst well-established and reputable insurance providers before choosing a policy, and I would make sure to look at providers who cater to specific groups you might be a part of, such as veterans or teachers or members of a particular faith.

The key thing to take home is this: life insurance is merely a tool that takes care of people who depend on you in the event of your death. Term life insurance is the most cost-efficient way of taking care of this. Buy a term policy that will cover the people who depend on you for as long as they’ll depend on you, and that will help you figure out the term that you need and the benefit that you’ll need.

A final note: having a healthy life insurance policy that will take care of my wife and children is a notable stress reliever. It takes care of that worry that many people who have long-term partners and also many people who have children have, that if something were to happen to them it would have a catastrophic impact on their family. There’s nothing you can do that will replace your presence, but this is a part of the equation that you can control, and it’s one that, when you do take care of it, brings genuine peace of mind.

If you’re in a situation where a life insurance policy does make sense, it is a very responsible use of a surprisingly small amount of money, and making that move will bring you some peace of mind as well.

Good luck.

The post When Do You Need Life Insurance? appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Challenge of Seeing Progress

Monica writes in (with a bit of editing and a link added so you can jump straight to the article she’s mentioning):

I’m in the “boring middle” that you wrote about the other day. Been trying to articulate what I’m struggling with and I think it’s that I don’t see any progress. It’s just a day in and day out grind toward my goal of retiring early. My life isn’t really getting better in any tangible way that I can point at, as having 5 years of living expenses socked away is much the same as having 10 years of it. It’s that endless repetition without visible change in my life that is wearing me down.

This is a challenge with almost every long term goal that people face. Once you start down the long journey of that goal, it can become very difficult to actually detect any sort of forward progress on that goal in your day to day life. You are making progress, but it doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress, and that can go on and on and on.

While much of the advice for handling the “boring middle” works well in terms of developing a sustainable pattern of behavior so that you can keep on moving forward even when it’s boring, it doesn’t help much with this very real issue. The only suggestion that really touches on this at all is developing milestones along the way and celebrating those milestones in a non-disruptive way.

What exactly can you do when you’re a third of the way or halfway to your big goal, the day to day progress is dreadfully boring, and you don’t actually notice any significant change in your day-to-day life, even after months and years of effort?

Here are some things that work well for me.

Make Your Overall Progress Visual

Sarah and I have a target number at which we can withdraw 3% of that amount each year for the rest of our lives and live a lifestyle similar to what we do now, plus with some freedom to do some low-cost travel without worry (as part of our retirement plan is to see a great deal of America and do some traveling around the world). We’ve already adjusted that target number for inflation and it’s roughly what we’d need if we reach that goal in about 2030-2032. That number is in the $2.5 million range, so let’s use that as a round number.

I took a piece of graph paper and counted off an area of 80 squares by 125 squares and drew a big box of that size on the graph paper. This contains 10,000 individual tiny squares.

Since our goal is $2.5 million in retirement savings, each one of those squares represents $250 in retirement savings.

Each month or so, I calculate the total balance of our retirement accounts and compare it to our previous all-time high. For every $250 that our current number bests the previous all-time high, I fill in a single square on that grid.

This is actually a very enjoyable ritual. On a really good month, where we socked away money and the stock market did well, I might fill in a whole bunch of squares. There are months, however, where I don’t fill in any at all (generally those are months when the stock market took a significant dive).

Another benefit of this is that I can see our overall progress by just glancing at that picture, which I have hung unlabeled in a place where I see it frequently. Over time, I can’t help but see how that grid is getting filled in.

Over time, the grid as a whole becomes darker. You can fill it in one square at a time, line after line, or you can come up with your own pattern, or you can just fill it in at random based on how you feel at the moment. You can use a color you like or even multiple colors. No matter how you do it, you’ll see that grid darkening over time, creating a visual reminder of your progress.

Compare Your Current State to Your Starting State

Whenever I start on a big goal, I usually make some kind of opening statement, usually in the form of a rather difficult entry in my daily journal. I outline the state of my life as it is right now, focusing in particular on all of the elements of my life that I’m wanting to fix by adopting a big goal. I didn’t do this in particular with my own financial goal right when I started it, but I could definitely find elements of this in things I wrote right around the time of my lowest financial point. On the other hand, I have done this with many other goals since then.

When I find myself in the “boring middle” and getting disheartened, I pull out that “opening statement” and read it. I read about the state that my life was in before I made changes to it, and I compare that to the state my life is in right now.

That simple act makes me feel incredibly good about what I’ve achieved so far and often fills my sails with a great deal of desire to continue that forward progress. Mostly, this is due to a desire to not revert back to the way things were, but instead move forward to the way things should be.

For example, when I started this financial journey, Sarah and I had a negative net worth, we had a total amount of student loans in the high five figures, we have more than $10,000 in credit card debt, we had two car loans, and we lived in a tiny apartment. We were struggling mightily to keep the bills paid and we were both upset that many of our lifetime dreams were slipping away from us. We didn’t see a clear path to owning a home of our own and we were very worried about the future for our child (and future children).

Flash forward to right now, where we have no debt at all, own our home with the mortgage completely paid off, have substantial retirement savings and a very healthy emergency fund, three children with an abundance of college savings put away for each of them, and a pretty clear plan for the future.

I have zero interest in going back to where we started from, or even moving in that direction at all. There’s almost nothing I can think of that I could add to my life that would make me want to move back in that direction.

That feeling adds a great deal of motivation to stay on my current path. It’s a powerful antidote to the mild negativity that can crop up along the “boring middle” of the path.

You can do essentially the same thing for any goal. Just look at where you were when you started, and you can make that easier by writing something of an “opening statement” when you launch a new long term goal, making it clear where you are right now and how you feel about it (probably not very good). It will be a powerful motivator for you going forward and a very powerful comparison point, as it makes it abundantly clear that your life has improved a ton, even if you don’t see it.

Sketch Out Your Destination in Detail – and Revisit It Regularly

While the previous strategy centered around looking back to the past, this one is all about looking forward to the future.

What exactly will your life be like when you achieve the goal you’re heading towards? What will improve with regards to your life, both on a daily scale and on a broader scale? What will a typical day be like for you once you’ve achieved that goal?

Think about things such as reduced stress levels, reduced worries about finances (or whatever your goal is about), and the elements of your life that will actually change if you achieve your goal.

For example, when Sarah and I achieve our overall goal, our professional stress will basically vanish, as will pretty much any remaining concerns we have about day-to-day finances. Both of our careers will shift drastically, with Sarah moving into a volunteer position and me transitioning into writing opportunities with a very low guarantee but a very high upside. Our day to day lives will be a lot more flexible, due to both the financial stability and our children growing up and moving out. We’ll have the ability to easily visit our children and any grandchildren and to be able to help when needed.

When I think about that picture, I find myself drawn to it in a very deep way. That’s the life I want, very strongly. It’s simply a substantially improved version, in many ways, of the life I have right now.

Revisiting this picture regularly reaffirms my commitment to a lot of the choices I’ve made that define my day to day life right now, as I realize that if I undo those changes, not only will I slip back toward that initial state that I was unhappy with, this vision for the future will slip away, too. Doing things like we’re doing them right now makes that future grow slowly bigger and that past shrink away slowly; changing what I’m doing will achieve the opposite, and I desperately don’t want that.

Reflect Deeply on All Spheres of Your Life

Often, when a person gets the sense that their life isn’t going anywhere, it’s because on some level they’re unhappy with some aspect of their life. Without digging in a little deeper, it is incredibly easy to misattribute that sense of unease to some other aspect of one’s life, particularly something that seems very front and center… like, perhaps, a big goal you’re working on.

The problem is that if you take an axe to that front and center aspect of your life, you’ll often find that things have become worse, not better. You’ve damaged something that was actually good while leaving something that wasn’t good untouched, compounding the difficulties in your life.

A much better approach, when you feel a sense of boredom or vague unhappiness with your life, is to spend some time really assessing your life in detail.

One thing I do every so often, perhaps every six months, is to go through each of the spheres of my life – physical, mental, spiritual, intellectual, marital, parental, social, professional, financial, and leisure/avocational – and ask myself, within that sphere alone, what are five things I’m happy with and five things I’m not happy with.

After that’s done, I gather up all of the things I’m happy with and all of the things I’m unhappy with and spend some time with each list. My goal is to identify ten things I’m truly happy with in my life – the best of the good stuff – and ten things I’m most unhappy with in my life – the worst things.

When I have those lists, I usually ask myself why about each one of them. Why does this particular thing make me happy? Why is that answer so important? I dig down to five levels of why’s. I do the same with the negative ones. Why does this particular thing make me unhappy? Why do I feel that way about my answer to that? Again, I try to go five levels deep with the why’s.

What I find, every time, is that the good things in my life are the result of me living life in accordance with what I most value, whereas the bad things in my life are the result of me living life out of whack with what I most deeply value. Often, reviewing the good things in a deep way reveals those values, and then understanding those values makes it clear that many of the bad things are because I’m out of whack with those values.

The thing is, this kind of exploration will take you in unexpected directions, every time. Quite often, the things we try to do to improve our lives are attempts to address surface issues without digging down into what’s really going on.

Before you take action, make sure that your sense of feeling “worn down” by your goal is really being caused by your goal, and this is a practice that has almost always helped me find answers when I’m struggling.

Change Significant Aspects of Your Life That Won’t Derail the Big Goal

As I noted above, a person’s life is made up of a bunch of different spheres – physical, mental, spiritual, intellectual, marital, parental, social, professional, financial, and leisure/avocational, and perhaps even more. Quite often, a big goal is really only relevant to one or two of those spheres. For example, a huge financial goal is usually only causing significant changes in the financial sphere of your life, with only minor effects in other areas.

Thus, when you’re looking around your life for the big changes you want to see and your eyes pass over the physical and mental and social and marital and professional and avocational spheres, you probably don’t see much change at all. That’s because that big goal, as life-changing as it might be, really isn’t affecting those other spheres much at all. It’s changing one axis of your life and leaving all of the other axes alone.

What can you do about that? Find ways to make changes in the other spheres.

This is something I suggested in the earlier “boring middle” article when I suggested coming up with other major goals. Inherently, those other goals would begin to alter other spheres in your life, creating more of a constant sense of change throughout your life. You might not sense much is changing if only one sphere is shifting, but if five are?

However, you might not necessarily have big goals in other spheres. You might just have a sense that things are old and stale.

The solution, then, is to simply try new things in lots of different spheres in your life without derailing the progress you’ve made in the financial sphere.

With your physical sphere, try new exercise routines. Check out what your local parks and rec department has to offer and get involved in some of that stuff. Try a completely new sport or a completely new kind of physical fitness. Start doing yoga at home, for example. Reboot your dining habits and try eating a bunch of new kinds of foods. Try to do a grocery trip based on meals that are new to you with lots of ingredients that are new to you.

With your mental/spiritual sphere, try reading books about different spiritual traditions and explore some of the practices of those different traditions. Dig into things like mindfulness meditation and journaling.

With your intellectual sphere, dig deep into a new subject or a new skill that you know little about and make an effort to learn about it. Check out a book on World War I from the library, or teach yourself how to knit using some yarn, a few needles, and Youtube.

With your marital sphere, try spicing up your life with your partner. Change up the routines of your relationship. Hold your partner more often and tell your partner that you love them. Plan a surprise “staycation” and do some things together that you don’t regularly get to do together.

With your parental sphere, just try doing whatever it is that your kids are into at the moment, with your full attention and heart. Put aside 30 minutes or an hour each day and just engage with them directly. Find some windows for one on one time and don’t push conversation, but see if it happens.

With your social sphere, intentionally go to social events that you might have otherwise skipped. Plan a big dinner party at your house and invite some people over. Make a daily habit of getting ahold of an old friend for a meaningful conversation.

With your professional sphere, try taking on a new kind of project at work that’s different than what you were normally working on. If you find your workplace stale, polish up your resume and do some job searching.

With your avocational/leisure sphere, try spending a full day this weekend devoted to a hobby that you really care about, turning off as many distractions as you can. Make this a regular habit once every few weeks, just giving a day over to going fishing or reading a book or whatever you deeply enjoy.

There are lots of ways to change up the tired patterns of your life without adopting a huge new goal. Often, those little change-ups can breathe a lot of new life into a life that seems to have become “boring” and repetitive.

The interesting part is that, if you start diving into those other spheres like this, you often see the shadow of your progress in the main sphere of your life. You find that things that used to cause you stress no longer cause it. You find that you’re no longer distracted by things in your life. You’ll often find that the life concern that drove you to this big goal had a really negative impact on other spheres in your life, and that negative impact is receding and opening up paths that you thought were closed. Look for that, and you might be shocked at what you find.

Final Thoughts

The “boring middle” is a part of almost every major change and major goal we set in our lives. Even if we have tools with which to help us keep up with our goal through that “boring middle,” it can be really hard to see that progress as we’re going along.

That doesn’t mean the progress isn’t there, we just don’t know where to look. Find places to look. Make a visual indicator that shows your overall progress. Compare your life now to your life as it was when you started, and to your life as you want it to be in the end, and note how your life is moving away from that starting point and also toward that closing point. Dig into the other areas of your life to see if there’s something wrong. While you’re at it, try out lots of new things in each other sphere in your life, both to freshen things up and to see how much impact your change really has made.

Seeing progress can be really difficult when your life is in a fixed routine, but if you know where to look, you can see real change.

Good luck.

The post The Challenge of Seeing Progress appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

On “Living For Today” or “Living Each Day Like It’s Your Last”

For a long time, I found myself frustrated by the sentiment of “living for today” or “living each day like it was your last.”

If today was my last day on earth, I’d eat my favorite meals and spend pure leisure time with the core people that I love the most. If today was the only thing that mattered, I wouldn’t do things like clean the house or do my job or anything like that.

In short, I viewed statements like that as encouragement to lead a purely short-term hedonistic lifestyle, which is great if the world was going to end tomorrow. Just do whatever feels good because the consequences don’t matter. However, in the real world, there are a lot of consequences for living like that. You can’t sustain an income, for starters. Your health will probably fall apart, depending on what you choose to do. Your living areas will fall into a pretty bad state before long. If you live solely for today, then tomorrow will end up being pretty terrible.

Over the last few years, however, I’ve come to take a much different approach on this advice, and I’ve found that it’s actually incredibly good advice.

Rather than looking at the advice as simply an encouragement to ignore all consequences for your behavior, treat it as an encouragement to live each day as though it defined who you are as a person.

In other words, live for today in the sense that when people think about you as a person and your eulogy is written, it’s based upon your behavior today. What do you want said about you when you pass away? What do you want people to remember about you when you’re gone from this world? That’s what you should fill today with, not the other stuff you waste time and energy on.

Or, for another way of looking at it, live today in a way that, when you look back on it in twenty years, today will be a day you’re really proud of.

In other words, “live for today,” to me, means nothing else matters other than making today a day you’re incredibly proud of.

So, what exactly does that mean for me?

It means a day where I didn’t waste money and energy on things that aren’t meaningful for me. If I’m spending money just for a little burst of pleasure, or if I’m spending time and energy on something that I’ll just forget in a day or two and for which there will be no positive residue in my life, then I’m probably not living for today. When I live for today, I don’t waste resources on things that aren’t really meaningful.

It means a day where I planted a lot of seeds for the future. A really good day means a day where I go to sleep knowing that there are a lot of things to look forward to in my life, and to have that means that I have to invest time now in things that won’t pay off for a while. That can mean investing in myself, as I discussed yesterday. It can mean putting aside money for the future instead of spending it on something meaningless today. It can simply mean taking a real step forward on a big project that won’t be finished up for a while. If I plant several seeds like this each day, then there will come a point in my life where lots of seeds are sprouting each and every day, making my life into a lovely garden. When I live for today, I move forward on big projects and do some things that won’t pay off for a while.

It means a day where I go to bed genuinely tired from physical and mental exertion and sleep comes easily. A good day is a day when I exerted myself, where I used my body and my mind and my “social batteries” to do something useful, draining them such that when I go to bed, sleep is a meaningful recharge. I also know that if I used my body and my mind and my “social batteries” thoroughly, I probably did some worthwhile things. When I live for today, I fully exert my mind, my body, and my social batteries.

It means a day where I built or sustained positive relationships rather than damaging them. That doesn’t mean every single interaction has to be happy and positive, but that they do have to be full of love and care. I can provide lessons for my children that aren’t necessarily positive ones while still maintaining the understanding that I love them deeply, and they’ll know that too and it can actually strengthen our bond. There are also infinite possibilities for positive bonding, too. The key thing is to have those interactions be meaningful, not just empty babble, because it’s the meaningful things that build bonds. Have conversations where you say worthwhile things. Do active things together. Those are what sustain and build relationships. When I live for today, I build up relationships and don’t tear them down.

It means a day where I laughed, I thought, and I cried, and I shared those experiences with someone. I’m a big believer in Jim Valvano’s idea of a great day, in which a person laughs, cries, and thinks deeply about something. If you do those three things, you’ve had a pretty good day. If you can share those experiences with others, then that’s even better. (This is part of why I enjoy board game nights so much; they almost always involve laughing and thinking with others.) When I live for today, I laugh, I cry, I think, and I share those things with others.

It means a day where I don’t feel like I missed opportunities. Life hands you opportunities all the time. Your wife is standing there at a table doing something and you have an opportunity to put your arms around her and kiss her neck. Your son looks bored and you have an opportunity to do something meaningful with him. A great idea flickers in your head and you have an opportunity to write it down and maybe eventually take action on it. You see a great bargain at a yard sale and you have the cash to immediately take advantage of it. Good days are ones where I take advantage of lots of those opportunities; bad days are ones where I lay in bed thinking about opportunities lost. When I live for today, I don’t let those opportunities pass.

It means a day where I share the good things I feel. If I feel love for someone, I let them know. If I see someone do something I think is great, I tell them that the thing they just did is awesome. If I appreciate someone, I get ahold of them and tell them that I appreciate who they are or what they did for me. I’ve learned, over the years, that there is only upside to this, and you’re almost always better off saying something, even if you’ve said it many times before. You can never tell your wife you love her too many times. When I live for today, I say the good things I feel about others and about the world around me.

It means treating my body and mind as things that I want to last for a very long time. This is probably the part that I struggle with the most. Living for today doesn’t mean hurting my body and my mind; rather, it means the opposite. It means treating them as things that I want to be able to rely on for many, many more years, so that I don’t feel completely worn out after relatively little exertion, so that understanding complex things doesn’t feel overwhelming. I am to eat well, to exercise well, and to be observant of the world around me and to think clearly about what’s happening. This doesn’t mean I don’t go out for a nice meal with friends; it just means I try to avoid putting junk in my body. This doesn’t mean I don’t engage in silly things; it just means I try to enjoy the moment. When I live for today, I do and eat healthy things and aim to be present in the moment as much as possible.

It means doing everything in accordance with the values I hold dear. I’m not going to get into a lot of what I think is morally right or wrong or what my own values are, other than to say that I do think some things are right and wrong in terms of personal behavior and there are clearly some best practices for being a good person. The closer I stick to those values and practices, the better the day is. When I live for today, I try to live as closely as possible to my own core values in everything that I do.

For me, that’s what living for today means. It means that if my entire life were to be judged by a single day on this earth, it would be today. It means that if I could design a day that I live right now that, if I were to repeat it, would lead to a truly amazing life in the future, that’s the kind of day I want to lead today.

Living for today doesn’t mean binging on junk food, buying a bunch of stuff online, and watching a bunch of Netflix while barely moving from the couch. It doesn’t mean partying all day and all night, either. It means simply living a truly great day that’s in line with everything you want out of life, and that includes health, financial stability, good relationships, and everything else.

Go out there and live for today. As John Wooden put it, “Make each day your masterpiece.”

The post On “Living For Today” or “Living Each Day Like It’s Your Last” appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

How to Invest in Yourself without Significant Financial Risk

Let’s start off by clarifying exactly what I mean by “investing in yourself,” because it is a term that has somewhat nebulous meaning that can vary a little from place to place.

For the purposes of this article, investing in yourself means applying resources you have to improving personal traits and skills and improving your resume. You are taking things you have – money, time, energy, and so on – and using them to make yourself better, with “make yourself better” usually meaning some measurable or discernible improvement in a particular trait that’s important to you and/or your career.

Here’s the catch: improving yourself is great, but it is not a direct recipe for career success and greater income. Almost always, investing in yourself merely increases the likelihood of career success or of the success you want in other areas, but it does not guarantee it.

In truth, the ideal goal of investing in yourself should be to improve your own traits and nothing more. Those better traits will improve your chances of the kinds of outcomes you desire. However, most people won’t go through that effort without either a very strong personal desire to improve themselves or else what they perceive as a near-guarantee of better pay.

Because of that, avenues of investing in yourself that require a significant up-front payment are inherently risky. Usually, such investments are done with the expectation that they’ll return much more over the long run, but, as I note above, that’s not a guarantee. There are many risky ways to invest in yourself. Such investments might end up with an improvement in a particular trait or skill, but the large financial investment is far from being recouped. This includes things like going back to school for a new degree when you already have one, buying expensive equipment without a very clear and immediate purpose for that particular piece of equipment, and buying luxury items to impress people and inflate your own confidence.

In short, investing in yourself with a large financial expenditure is very risky. Sometimes those things pay off. Often, they don’t and you’re left with debt (and sometimes other non-financial costs, too).

A much better approach is to find ways to invest in yourself that don’t have significant up-front financial investment and instead involve regular investment of other resources you have in your life, such as time, energy, focus, relationships, and so on.

Committing time and energy on a very regular basis to invest in yourself can feel like a challenge, but what it actually means is simply trimming out the least important time use in your life to make space for it. Thus, the first step in investing in yourself is to figure out the least worthwhile use of your time in a given day or week and cutting that time out of your life. Any time you spend aimlessly visiting websites or browsing television channels can be significantly cut, for example. Time spent on hobbies and leisure that aren’t bringing you refreshment and renewal can also be significantly cut. Commuting time can often be used for self-improvement, too – take the bus and use that time to improve yourself in some fashion.

Here are nine ways to invest in yourself that don’t require a huge financial investment, yet offer the strong possibility of professional and personal success.

Developing a Lifetime Independent Learning Habit

One of the most effective ways to invest in yourself is to get into the habit of spending time each and every day learning something new. Learning things directly applicable to your career path is obviously going to increase the likelihood of being able to translate that knowledge into improved income, but simply widening your knowledge base and understanding of the world often pays dividends in unexpected ways.

The key is to make this into a regular, sustained practice; learning is most effective when it is part of your everyday life. Not only does this maximize the amount of things you’re learning, but it also means that you’re practicing the art of learning. The ability to self-learn is in itself a skill, one that is actually quite useful in many of today’s jobs, and so simply developing that skill regardless of what you’re actually learning has value.

This is something that’s been a part of my life since … forever, really. I am constantly attempting to learn new things, read challenging books, take on complex intellectual tasks, and so on. This is part of a normal day for me, serving to keep my mind sharp, add to my knowledge base and understanding of the world, and maintain my ability to quickly learn things when I need to.

Here are some strategies for pulling this off.

Set aside time each day for self-directed learning. I set aside an hour each day (at least) for challenging reading, with the intent of adding to my knowledge base and encouraging deep thinking. As of late, it’s typically during the first hour after my children get home from school, when they’re often doing homework or studying themselves. I “study” alongside them.

Learn about things that engage you. If you’re forcing yourself to learn about topics that you have no interest in, this will be an awful practice. Instead, focus on areas where you have motivation to learn, whether it’s internal motivation because you’re curious, a motivation to directly help your career or some other aspect of your life, or, ideally, both. Don’t just learn about something you don’t care about for the sake of self-learning. Choose things that matter to you.

Choose methods of learning that click for you. Some people learn best from reading (like me). Others learn from listening or watching or, when applicable, doing. Figure out what works for you. Try reading challenging things. Try listening to challenging audiobooks. Try watching Youtube videos. Try really challenging projects related to whatever you’re learning about. Figure out which styles work best for you.

Take some form of handwritten notes. Along the way, try to write down some of the things you’re learning in your own words and in your own handwriting. This might feel awkward, particularly if you’re not used to it, but there are tons of studies that demonstrate that doing this vastly increases both understanding of ideas and retention of those ideas. The goal of lifetime learning is to understand and retain ideas and information, so find a practice that works for you.

Strongly challenge yourself – but don’t overwhelm yourself. You’re not learning if the material is just repeating what you already know. You’re also not learning if you’re completely lost. The magic point is in the middle – it’s new ideas and new material that build on what you know, but aren’t so far out there that you have no idea what’s going on. You should be able to follow the general thread, mixed with occasionally stopping to look up words or concepts elsewhere. My general rule is that if I’ve read a page and felt confused more than twice such that I had to stop and look up something in another work, I need to find a simpler text.

Keep track of your progress. I find it really useful to track my own learning progress by keeping a list of all of the books I’ve read, along with the notes for them. I maintain a “master list” of notes, along with digital copies of the notes for each book, on my computer, and I love looking through that list of challenging books and sometimes reading through the notes of individual books, particularly when I’ve read something new on a similar topic. It reminds me of how much I’ve learned and grown on my own.

A highly recommended book on adult self-learning is The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, which deftly mixes a great primer on lifetime learning with some fascinating autobiographical elements. (Have you ever seen the film Searching for Bobby Fischer? Waitzkin is the main character in that movie.)

Developing an Independent Exercise Habit

Much like a lifetime learning program is helpful for expanding your knowledge base, your ability to learn quickly, and your mental sharpness, a routine of daily exercise keeps your body in shape to be able to handle challenging situations, ward off aging, and keep yourself healthy for as long as possible. It can also help you look better and definitely feel better and more energetic.

To be clear, when I say “exercise,” I’m referring to any activity that involves physical exertion to the point of significantly elevating your breathing and causing you to sweat for at least some sustained period. Over time, regular exertion like this leads to more energy and better capacity for such activity, and that is strongly tied to better health outcomes.

Again, the key is to make this into a regular, sustained practice; exercise is most effective when it is part of your everyday life. Exercise shouldn’t be a rare thing – it should be a healthy, normal thing that you do pretty much every day.

How do you do that? Here are some tips that work well.

Set aside time each day for some form of exercise. It doesn’t even have to be that much time – ten minutes can be enough. Just set aside some time each day for the purpose of breathing hard and sweating, for exerting yourself, and make that time non-negotiable. This is what you’re doing during that time, no questions asked.

Do something you enjoy doing that makes you sweat and gets you breathing harder. The exact activity that makes you sweat and breathe hard depends a lot on your fitness level, and the activity you enjoy depends a lot on your own tastes. Thankfully, there’s an almost infinite list of things you can do that will make you sweat and breathe hard. I recommend trying a variety of things to find out what clicks for you, things that you actually enjoy doing. For example, after a lot of trial and error, I discovered that things I like include brisk walks (preferably in wooded areas), hiking, and taekwondo, along with specific exercises intended to make me better at taekwondo, like basic calisthenics and yoga.

When you figure out things you like, take the time to learn best practices for doing them safely with minimal chance for injury. You can dabble in things to figure out what’s enjoyable to you, but once you figure that out and start committing your exercise time to a particular activity, figure out how to do it well and with minimal risk for injury. This often involves things like stretching and warmups, better postures, and smarter techniques.

Keep track of your progress. As with the learning described above, I find it incredibly powering to find a way of measuring what I’ve achieved with my exercise and recording it in some fashion so I can look back and see how far I’ve come. I keep a list of significant trails I’ve hiked and I also keep track of personal bests in terms of various exercises as well as daily routines.

If you want some resources for getting started, I highly recommend Fitness 101: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Exercise by Dulce Zamora, which is available for free.

Eating a Healthy Diet

The purpose of eating a well-balanced and healthy diet is to improve energy and improve long-term health outcomes, both of which are very highly linked with an appropriate diet. To be clear, I’m not talking about “going on a diet” with the goal of losing weight, but simply about recognizing that the food you consume is fuel for how you feel, the energy you have, and your long term health.

I’m not going to get into the science of healthy eating, because for starters there is no perfect diet for everyone, but I largely subscribe to these ten principles that almost all food and dietary studies tend to agree on. The key principles:
+ avoid added sugar
+ make sure you have omega-3s in your diet (you can get these by eating nuts, fattier fruits and vegetables like avocados and coconut, fish, and omega-3 eggs)
+ avoid artificial trans fats and, by extension, anything with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
+ eat plenty of vegetables and some fruits; you don’t have to be vegetarian, but make them a major part of your diet
+ avoid refined carbohydrates like white flour and white bread and white pasta; eat the whole grain versions instead
+ choose unprocessed foods; stick to the produce and meat section and not convenience foods or fast food

If you stick to those guidelines most of the time, you’re doing a pretty good job of eating a healthy diet, much better than the average American, and you probably feel it with better health and more energy.

Here are some specific things you can do to move in this direction.

Think of almost all food and drink you consume as being fuel for living above all else. There’s nothing wrong with eating for pleasure on occasion, but make it a splurge that you anticipate rather than a routine. Instead, start thinking of the food you eat and the beverages you drink as healthy fuel for the things you want to do in life.

Learn how to prepare foods yourself so you’re not relying on processed foods from restaurants. The more you cook at home, the more control you have over what exactly goes into your mouth, plus the better you’ll get at it. The best starting guide I know of is How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman; here are the eleven cookbooks I actually keep and reference frequently in my own home.

Replace white bread and white pasta with whole grain bread and pasta. This is an easy substitution that will really help with your health. If you make your own dough for bread items at home, switch to using whole wheat flour. For some, this will be a significant switch in terms of flavor, but it’s a really good step in terms of health.

Eat a wide variety of things. The more variety in your diet, the more likely it is that you’re going to cover all of the micronutrients and macronutrients you need. If you find yourself getting into a rut and eating the same things over and over, intentionally switch things up.

Stop eating or drinking things that have “sugar” or “high fructose corn syrup” as ingredients. If you see that on the label (or know it would be on the label), just eliminate it from your diet. This might cause some cravings for a while, but it will really help.

If you just do those things and then continue eating as you normally would otherwise, you’ll see positive changes after a while in terms of how you feel and your energy level, and they will definitely help your long term health outcomes.

The next four sections will seem similar, but there are enough distinctions between them that I felt they needed to be addressed separately.

Developing New Practical Skills (and Honing Old Ones)

By “practical skills,” I mean things what you would use in everyday life outside the bounds of your career. Think of things like basic carpentry, cooking at home, basic plumbing, and so on. These are skills that keep you from calling a repairperson. These are skills that can often be utilized to help out a friend. Occasionally, they might have application within your career path, but mostly they just make you a more well rounded and self-sufficient person.

I could provide a long list of such skills, but it’s better to just identify some basic strategies for honing them.

Do things for yourself rather than paying others to do them for you. The more you do things for yourself, the easier the task becomes for you and the more likely you’ll try gradually more challenging tasks in that area and begin to share those skills with friends and neighbors. Rather than paying others to prepare food for you, prepare it for yourself. Rather than calling the plumber when you have toilet problems, try to fix it yourself. Rather than calling a handyman to fix a doorbell, try fixing it yourself. You might not succeed, but I guarantee you’ll learn some things and you’ll also recognize that it’s approachable.

Use Youtube. This, in my opinion, is the “killer application” of Youtube: videos that teach skills. You can sit your phone down to free up your hands, start up a video on a particular task, and use that video to show you step by step how to do that task. Along the way, you’ll build a number of little skills that add up to the ability to handle a particular task on your own, and many of those little skills will transfer to other similar tasks (like how to make dough or how to properly use a screwdriver).

Stick to basic but well made tools. You don’t need twelve knives and eleven pots and pans to cook in the kitchen – almost everything you’ll make can be done with three knives (a paring knife, a chef’s knife, and a bread knife – and even the bread knife is debatable) a small pot, a larger pot, and a skillet. You don’t need infinite tools – one good claw hammer, a large and small Phillips screwdriver, a medium regular screwdriver, and an adjustable wrench will do an awful lot of little tasks. If you do find you need specific things for specific tasks, see if you can borrow one first; only buy it if you actually see yourself needing it frequently.

Developing New Transferable Skills (and Honing Old Ones)

By “transferable skills,” I mean skills you will use within your career path but would also apply if you changed to a different career path. Examples of this include time management, information management, presentation skills, public speaking skills, communication skills, and networking skills. Many careers use some or all of these skills, and if you have such skills sharpened, you’re already ahead of the pack in a lot of different career paths. Not only that, they can help you in your personal life as well.

Again, I could provide a long list of such skills, but it’s better to just identify some basic strategies for honing them.

Get in the habit of keeping a calendar and an ongoing to-do list and refer to them frequently throughout the day. There are a lot of people that will read this and go “Duh, obviously,” but the number of people who don’t do this is almost shocking. They rely on their short term memory to remember dates and tasks and only refer to calendars or lists infrequently, if at all. Find a calendar and a to-do list system that works well for you and start using it. If you have a smartphone, I recommend Google Calendar and Todoist for starters; if you use paper, just get a simple planner with a calendar and a lot of blank pages you can use for a to-do list. Start recording every single date and appointment you can think of, as well as reminders in advance for things like buying gifts. If you have a task to do, write it down, and frequently go through your list of tasks to do. The goal is to get all of that stuff out of your head and into a permanent place where it can’t be forgotten or misplaced.

Take time when communicating in written form to others. Rather than just dashing off a message or response, ask yourself what you’re really trying to convey to the recipient. What will make the message you’re about to send actually useful or valuable? When you make your messages more useful and genuinely valuable, you become more useful and valuable.

Don’t shy away from any and all opportunities to present and to communicate with people in your field. If such opportunities ever come up, take them. Give presentations. Go to meetings and participate. Don’t hide during social hours or networking events. You don’t have to become best pals with everyone, but if you spend that time avoiding people, not only will you have zero chance of connecting with people, you won’t build the skills needed to make it go well.

Developing New Technical Skills (and Honing Old Ones)

By “technical skills,” I mean skills that are ones that define your career path and are the unique things you do that people are willing to pay for. What are the core elements of your job that relatively few people can do? Those are your technical skills.

The list of technical skills is essentially infinite, but here are some good practices for keeping yours sharp and developing new ones.

Stay up to date in your field. This means doing things like reading trade publications, reading websites focused on your field, and attending meetings and presentations related to your field as a constant habit and practice. If topics come up that you’re unfamiliar with, make a point to learn about them on your own. Your current field of expertise should never “pass you by.”

Take on projects that are a little beyond your skill level. The best projects are the ones where you feel like it’s possible to get from where you’re at now to the finish line, but you’re not 100% sure of each step for getting there. Those projects force you to hone and expand your core technical skill set, and the more things you do that fall into this category of stretching yourself, the better.

Use continuing education resources. If your workplace offers resources or funds for continuing education and certification, gulp up every bit that you can. If your workplace supports it, you should be aiming to earn all kinds of certifications and higher degrees. Getting such things for free or at a steep discount is a direct boon to your skill set and to your career.

Applying Deliberate Practice to Your Moneymaking Skills

One aspect of investing in yourself that often isn’t considered is the value in honing and sharpening some of the key skills you use to make money. Here’s another way of thinking about it: what basic things are you asked to do at work frequently? What kinds of tasks do you do over and over again?

Whatever those things are, there’s great value in applying deliberate practice to them. You take those specific tasks and really dig into them, trying to hone your ability to do those tasks with excellence and efficiency.

Here are some ways to apply that idea.

Take a task that you do all the time at work and do it very slowly and deliberately, looking at each little piece. For example, if you send dozens of emails a day, slow down on a few of them and move through them step by step, asking yourself what you’re doing, what you’re trying to communicate, how the recipient will use it, and how the recipient will feel about it. What can you do in that process to make the result you want be as good as possible? Then, how can you do that better version as efficiently as possible? Do that for every task you do repetitively: who will be the person benefiting from the result of this task? What will they get out of the work you produce? What can you do to improve what they get out of it (meaning how can you make the end result more useful for them)? Then, how can you change what you’re doing to get that best result more efficiently?

Do some of your regular tasks very slowly and with intense focus to try to produce maximum results. If part of your job is to stock shelves, do that very slowly and methodically some of the time so that the ending shelf display is as neat and attractive to customers as possible. What little things can you do to make that happen? That’s what you should have learned from the previous step, when you broke down this repeated task. Do those things carefully and deliberately.

Gradually improve your efficiency at the task. Over time, aim to do that “better” version of your task at a faster pace. How can you do this task really well – which you figured out already – but do it really efficiently? Intentionally try to do the high quality version of a task (once you’ve figured it out) as fast as you can, over and over again, moving through those steps as efficiently as possible.

Then, start the cycle over again, re-evaluating that same task or moving on to another one.

Reducing Stress

A reasonable level of stress is actually beneficial, as it causes you to focus better on the task at hand. Where stress becomes a problem is when it becomes a distraction, adversely affecting your health and causing you to be unable to focus well because of the stress in your life. Furthermore, continuous heavy stress has serious long term health consequences.

Simply reducing the level of stress in your daily life is a powerful form of investing in yourself, improving your ability to focus and handle unexpected events, making daily life more pleasant, and improving long term health outcomes. Here are a few steps for doing this.

Set aside time for adequate sleep. Inadequate sleep can make the impact of stress in your life that much stronger while also leaving you feeling tired and unfocused throughout the day. Simply get in the habit of going to sleep early enough such that you can get a full night of sleep before you absolutely need to wake up in the morning. For example, if you need to be up by 7 AM, start going to bed by 10:30 PM so you can be asleep by 11 PM, ensuring a good seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Set aside time for true leisure. There should be periods in your life where you are able to engage in things you do solely for personal enjoyment. Such periods of leisure are deeply refreshing and renewing, yet many people simply don’t put aside time for them, viewing themselves as “too busy” even as they spend multiple hours a day aimlessly browsing their phone or flipping through channels or what’s new on Netflix. Put aside a big block of time each week for uninterrupted leisure, doing whatever it is you deeply enjoy, and during that time, turn off your phone and kill other distractions that would take you out of the moment. If you’re struggling to find the time, spend a little less time doing things like watching television and instead fill that time with tasks that would keep you away from your leisure block.

Adopt a daily reflective practice. Just spend a moment or two each day directly focusing on the positive things in your life. Think of five things you’re grateful for in your life and hold each one individually in your mind for twenty or thirty seconds, thinking about how great that element really is. Think of family members or good friends or moments where you felt really good or the taste of a really good cup of coffee or whatever it is that makes you feel glad to be alive. You’ll find that appreciating what you have in life makes stress melt away.

Developing and Maintaining Quality Relationships

Relationships with other people provide social opportunities, companionship, opportunities for help when you need it, and often unexpected additional opportunities as well. Professional relationships can open career doors, while personal relationships can open up life opportunities you never saw coming.

The thing is, cultivating new relationships as an adult, especially outside of work, can be difficult, and maintaining older relationships is something that can easily fall through the cracks. Here are a few good strategies for making it easier to cultivate new relationships and maintain old ones.

Touch base with an old friend or family member or professional acquaintance each day. This doesn’t mean broadcasting your latest life events to them, but sending them a text asking them what’s up in their life. Make this a daily habit to reach out to someone in your life, personally or professionally, and then have a conversation with them. You can do this via text, via a private social media message, or even by sending them a handwritten card. I actually try to do this with two or three people each day.

Intentionally put yourself in social situations with like-minded people with the goal of meeting people and building relationships. I regularly go to social events that revolve around people with which I have at least something in common with – meaning that we have a shared interest or are in the same field – and I make it my goal to have five meaningful conversations while there with three of them leading to worthwhile follow-up, meaning I have an actual reason to text them or send them an email or a message on a social media platform later that could turn into actual dialogue. This sometimes means forcing myself to be social at those events, and it also means seeking out events like this, which is a challenge for an introverted person like me, but it’s the only efficient way I know of to actually meet and begin to build friendships and professional relationships with people as an adult outside of simple “drinking buddies.”

Give of yourself freely, especially when it’s multiplicative (but don’t be used). You can invest in relationships by giving of your resources freely to others – time, energy, information, focus – particularly when the value is multiplicative, meaning that what you give has far more value to them than to me. This is particularly true for information, but is often true for things like lending a hand when they’re moving or doing a home improvement project. However, this should be part of an emerging or long lasting relationship that reciprocates with at least some frequency; if you help someone a bunch, then ask them for something a few times and they don’t offer help, then it’s okay to dial down that relationship in favor of others. It is great to give and it is powerful for building relationships and for earning help when you’ll need it later, but giving should never be wholly one-directional over a sufficient period of time. You might view this as “investing in others,” but what you’re earning for yourself is relationships in which others hold you in esteem, which is incredibly valuable to have both professionally and personally.

Final Thoughts

Investing in yourself doesn’t have to involve a big outlay of money. Rather, some of the most effective ways to invest in yourself involve using time and focus and energy, and those investments often produce far more than what you invest in them, often producing valuable things like professional advancements or meaningful relationships or a better state of mind and body.

Put aside time and energy each day for investing in yourself, using any or all of the strategies described above. They’ll all provide elements of a better life for you, and they will usually produce dividends far beyond what you put into them.

Good luck!

The post How to Invest in Yourself without Significant Financial Risk appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Questions About Basil, Kiplinger’s Magazine, Castile Soap, Recessions, 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. State retirement plan question
2. Working all my life
3. End whole life policy?
4. Thoughts on Kiplinger’s?
5. Getting value from used books
6. Salary negotiation
7. Way too much basil!
8. Recession worries
9. Saving digital notes securely
10. Dr. Bronner’s soap?
11. Knowing I’m making bad move
12. How I think about savings

One of the best noises in the world is that of a laughing child.

On with the questions.

Q1: State retirement plan question

I started a job with the state and they automatically enrolled me in their retirement plan. Basically a portion of my check is required to be put into the plan and the state matches it and a little more, and then it seems to be like a 401(k). Do I treat this like a 401(k)?
– Max

Max didn’t specify what state they are in, so I can’t give precise advice on this question. However, what Max describes sounds a lot like how the state employee retirement plan in Iowa (called IPERS) works, and is similar to plans in many other states as well in terms of contributions.

However, state plans vary a lot in terms of how they pay out. Some states operate much like a 401(k) plan, where your payout is related to how much you contribute over the years and how you choose to invest it. Other plans are much more like a pension, where you pay in a certain amount each year and then you get a clearly defined payout when you retire.

Regardless of how it actually works, in almost every case, this plan will provide you with additional income in retirement that will be on top of your Social Security income. Most plans have some kind of online portal where you can check your balance and the benefits that the plan will give you, as well as calculators where you can see what benefits will look like depending on how long you work there.

In most cases, you can consider the plan as a sufficient replacement for a 401(k) in terms of saving for retirement, but you may want to have a Roth IRA of your own to save even more. In some states, you may have to remain employed for a certain number of years to receive benefits, so you’ll want to make sure that you do so (this is usually referred to as “vesting” and usually requires five or seven years of service). Staying employed until you’re vested in the retirement plan is a huge financial boon.

Q2: Working all my life

My aunt sent me some of your newsletters and I hope you will have some good advice. I am 22 years old and due to graduate in the spring with a degree in construction engineering. While I like construction engineering just fine, I recently realized that the prospect of working for a living for the entirety of my adult life seems incredibly awful. I don’t want to work at engineering firms for 45 years and then retire completely burnt out and a decade from death, and I also don’t want to spend my entire adult life scrimping and saving so I can retire a decade earlier and have just two decades before death. It all seems miserable and fills me with dread about graduation and about what to do with my career. Hoping you’ll have some good “words of wisdom” beyond “suck it up” which is what everyone in my life tells me to do.
– Andy

I really don’t buy into the idea of “sucking it up,” because it assumes that you have to suffer misery in silence. An adult life where you feel nothing but misery is not a good life to live.

As far as I can tell, the secret to all of this is inner contentment. You have to find a level of contentment with the life you have and the good things in it or else your life will always feel rather miserable, as there will always be something that’s dragging you down because it’s not up to the level that you want. There will always be things in life that aren’t what you want, but there will always be things in life that are pretty good at the same time.

Essentially, there are two ways of looking at the world. You can dwell on the parts of your life that aren’t what you want them to be and allow that negative feeling to pervade the rest of your life, or you can dwell on the parts of your life that are good and allow that positive feeling to pervade the rest of your life. Everyone has a glass that is half full… or is it half empty?

It is incredibly easy to fall into a situation of thinking that “if X were true, then I would be happy,” but the thing is, if you were to fulfill X, would you actually be happy? Or would you just find a different X that would lead you to discontentment with your life?

I could make a long list of things that could be a potential source of discontentment for me. I’m blind in one eye. I’m deaf in one ear. I have an underactive thyroid (since birth) that seems to arbitrarily work better at some times than at others. My knees hurt much of the time, sometimes quite badly. I currently have more writing contracts and commitments than I feel like I can fulfill. My parents are getting old and are starting to sink into ailing health. All of those things could lead to a whirlpool of despair.

At the same time, I have a lot of things to be content with in my life. I have a great marriage that I feel is incredibly strong. I have a really strong relationship with each of my children. I have a nice home to live in with lots of space for my hobbies and interests. I have work that I quite enjoy almost all of the time and I have a ton of schedule flexibility.

I very much try to keep a “glass half full” view of my life, understanding that I have a lot of good things in my life and that the things that are less… enjoyable are okay and are often a necessary counterbalance, meaning I have to have some less good things in my life in order to have other good things. I also understand that my own poor choices in the moment can easily add to the misery, and making better choices in the moment is vital, as is working on my own thought patterns so that they don’t turn into a cycle of negativity.

I’d highly recommend that you read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, as well as posts I wrote in the last year on stoicism, epicureanism, Aristotle, and secular Buddhism. A lot of the answers you’re looking for can be found there.

Just know this: you are far, far from alone in these kinds of feelings, and I think the answer to it is to start a journey down a path to internal contentment. The problem is that such a path is different for almost everyone. I wish you good luck.

Q3: End whole life policy?

My parents enrolled me in a whole life insurance policy when I was a kid that now has a cash value of around $7K. I am thinking about cashing it in and getting a term policy instead that has a much higher benefit and costs less per month and then use the $7K to pay off student loans. Good idea?
– Stephen

It’s a good idea provided you make sure that the term policy is in effect before canceling the whole life policy and that you’ve had the whole life policy long enough to avoid any surrender fees (you’ll have to check on that, but if your parents gave it to you as a young child, it’s probably true).

You’ll also want to make sure that the basis of the policy – the total amount of premiums paid in over the course of the policy – is more than the cash value, or else you’ll owe taxes on the excess amount. This info should be available from the insurer. If you and/or your parents paid in $6K over the years and you get $7K out of it, you’ll owe taxes on that extra $1K. This shouldn’t sway your decision – it’s just something you’ll want to account for. Set aside half of the amount that would be taxed so that you’re sure it’s covered when next year’s tax bill comes around.

I am generally opposed to whole life policies, as I think they try to do two things at once (be an investment and be a form of life insurance) and don’t do either one particularly well. If you need life insurance, get a term policy. If you need to invest or want to invest on someone else’s behalf, get an appropriate investment account (a Roth IRA or a 529 or an ordinary brokerage account).

Q4: Thoughts on Kiplinger’s?

What are your thoughts on Kiplinger’s personal finance magazine? Is it worth reading or subscribing to?
– Adam

Kiplinger’s does a very good job for the audience it’s targeting, which is individual people who love to tinker with their investments. If you’re into chasing the best mutual funds or evaluating which annuity is right for you, then you’ll get a lot of value out of it. It serves that audience very well.

However, I think that there is a much broader audience for personal finance than people who are interested in being individual investors. I think that Money Magazine comes a little closer to serving that broader group, although I think it’s also somewhat heavily focused on investment options.

I think that if you’re in a strong financial state and are interested in investing your money in a variety of ways and tinkering with those investments, you’ll get a ton of value out of Kiplinger’s. If that doesn’t sound like you, you probably won’t get a ton of value out of it. It’s a magazine written very well for its audience – the question is whether you’re in that audience.

Q5: Getting value from used books

My wife and I have a ton of accumulated used books from many years of book buying. We have realized that we will never reread almost all of them and want to seriously pare down. We had a yard sale with some friends in the spring but very few of them sold for more than 2/$0.25 which is how we priced them on the last day. That just didn’t seem worth it. The only used book store in the area isn’t taking any books right now. Tried to sell some on eBay but they didn’t sell at all and I don’t think it’s worth it. What can we do to get value out of these books?
– Jim

Used books, unless they’re rare or otherwise noteworthy, are notoriously hard to re-sell. Used book stores stay in business because they have a huge selection from which people will find perhaps one book they want. There have been some online book swapping services in the past but they have all seemed to have difficulty maintaining the service.

What I’ve done with my used books in the past is to mostly donate them. I’ve donated books to the local library. I often put books in nearby Little Free Libraries. If a friend has an interest in a book I’ve got, I usually just hand it to them without concerning myself over whether it gets back to me. The only exceptions to this are books that I believe I’ll re-read in the future.

Get in the practice of donating them or swapping them with friends. You’ll get way more value out of that than selling them two for a quarter. Plus, you’ll spend less time dealing with them and make a lot of people you know and people in your community happier.

Q6: Salary negotiation

What’s a good way to handle a salary offer? I just got a job offer paying about $10K per year more than I make right now. On the one hand I want to just take the money and run. On the other I think I should negotiate at least a little but I’m kind of scared as to how to do it. All articles I’ve found on salary negotiation seems like people playing hardball. How do I not risk my job or feel like a jerk?
– Seth

Is their offer in the range of what’s reasonable for the position in your area? If you’re not sure, do a little homework and make sure the offer is in a reasonable range for the type of job in your area. Does it compare with other job listings?

Negotiating comes with a little risk. They usually can rescind the job offer, though they usually won’t do so unless they feel you’re being unreasonable in the negotiations. If you’re asking for salary that’s outside the range of what’s expected for this job in your area, that’s potentially a reason to rescind the offer.

What I would do in your position is evaluate comparable jobs in your area and what they are paid for similar jobs with similar experience requirements and then make a counteroffer that’s within that range, explaining your reasoning in the counteroffer in polite language. If the offer is already close to the top of that range, I’d respond with some questions about benefits, like 401(k) matching and vacation time and the health care plan, and if those seem reasonable, I’d take it.

If you end up at a salary impasse, ask for some non-salary benefits, like a small amount of extra vacation time accrued when you start.

Q7: Way too much basil!

I planted some basil along the side of our house because a friend of mine said it would basically grow with little effort and he wasn’t kidding. I have more basil than I know what to do with. I borrowed a food dehydrator and am trying to dry out some of it and I told some friends to come and get as much as they want but I still have tons of it.
– Amy

I’d make some infused oil. Just get a big container of olive oil and, for every cup and a half of oil, blend it with a packed cup of basil leaves in the blender until it’s pureed. Then, put it in a skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then pour it through a fine mesh strainer, then pour that through a paper coffee filter, saving the oil. You might have to replace the filter a time or two. Put that oil in a jar and save it in the fridge and it’ll last for a month or so, and that olive oil will be amazing in anything that needs even a bit of basil flavor.

You can also just pick things clean, put it all in a large bag, and put it somewhere with a sign that says “FREE BASIL!” You could also just knock on the doors of your neighbors and offer it to them.

While you’re at it, I would dry as much as I possibly could and store it in the pantry.

Q8: Recession worries

What can I do to prepare myself for the upcoming recession? My job is pretty stable but what else should I do? Should I make any changes to my retirement account?
– Bailey

I wouldn’t do anything much. I definitely wouldn’t touch my retirement account, as you have no way of accurately predicting when the stock market or any other market will be at a high and when it will be at a low.

The one move I would make is to make sure you have a well stocked emergency fund. It should be cash stowed away in a savings account somewhere and it should cover at least a few months of living expenses, if at all possible.

My own strategy for an emergency fund is to just have a small amount automatically transferred every week from my checking account to an “emergency” savings account, and I never turn it off. When something big and unexpected does strike, I don’t hesitate to tap that money. There’s usually plenty in there. It’s a good practice, especially since credit cards are not a trustworthy emergency fund. They fail in times like natural disasters and identity theft and robbery, among other situations.

Q9: Saving digital notes securely

I have a bunch of old journals that I want to digitize and then destroy the originals, but then I want to keep the images safe. Don’t mind spending time on doing this because I’ll just read the entries along the way. What’s a good way of doing this?
– Natalie

There are a lot of ways of doing this. It really depends on how secure you want the saved pages to be and how frequently and easily you want to be able to access them yourself.

The easiest way of doing it would be to take pictures of each page with your phone, email them to yourself, then save those attachments in a folder on your computer and password protect that folder. You’d obviously want to delete the images from your phone and delete those emails as you go. If there’s nothing that’s overly sensitive in there beyond personal thoughts, this should suffice.

From there, you can get more and more and more secure, depending on what security needs you have. With my own journals, I largely don’t back them up, but the specific parts I have backed up, I simply have the images in a password protected folder, just like the description above. The worst thing that could happen is that someone might read them and know that I was struggling with some things, which might be embarrassing but wouldn’t be a huge deal, or that I was critical of someone. While I don’t want to broadcast that to the world, it’s also not apocalyptic if it was found. For me, a password protected folder is enough.

As for destroying the originals, the question I’d ask myself is whether I ever wanted someone – a child of mine, perhaps – to ever read them. If you ever might want this, I’d save the originals in a safe place. A safe deposit box at a bank is probably appropriate for this kind of thing. If that’s of no interest to you, destroy away.

Q10: Dr. Bronner’s soap?

Enjoyed your recent articles about homemade cleaning solutions. Have you ever tried Dr. Bronners? I use it at various dilutions for all kinds of things like shower soap and hand soap and dish washing and window cleaning. If you can get it at a good price it’s a good bargain.
– Chloe

Dr. Bronner’s is a type of liquid Castile soap, which is soap that’s made with vegetable oil (usually olive oil, though hemp oil and coconut oil are common) rather than animal fat. Since pure Castile soap basically consists of ash and vegetable oil, it’s pretty pet and environmentally friendly, and it’s a pretty good all around soap provided you dilute it appropriately for various uses (it’s mighty strong right out of the bottle).

Sarah got into a Dr. Bronner’s kick about a year ago, using it for a bunch of different things. The big issue we ran into is that it’s really potent (and pretty expensive) to use as hand soap, but if we cut it, it was really watery and our kids made a pretty big mess with it consistently. She had positive things overall to say about it, though.

I did some math on the variety of uses of Dr. Bronner’s and how much you should cut it with water or other ingredients for each use, and I came to the conclusion that if it works well, it would probably be a notable money saver over buying several different dedicated products for home cleaning purposes.

So, what I think I’m going to do in the near future is buy a bottle of it, use it for a bunch of common uses (hand soap, body wash, shampoo, various household cleaning uses) and see how it works and then turn it into a post. Look for it in a month or two.

Q11: Knowing I’m making bad move

Whenever I go do something it seems like I end up with a situation where I can spend money and I know it’s stupid but I want to do it anyway and I ignore the part of me that’s telling me it’s stupid. So I get nowhere. Very frustrating. Don’t now how to fix it.
– Kevin

That’s your inner voice talking, and it’s usually pretty wise. You’re just choosing to ignore it.

Most of us have two voices in our head, the metaphorical “angel” and “devil” that are used so often in pop culture, with one sitting on one shoulder and the other on the other shoulder. Your “angel” is quietly saying that this is a bad move; your “devil” is usually louder and is finding all sorts of reasons to do it anyway. Most of the time, the “angel” is speaking on behalf of the better long term move, the side that’s in line with your core values, while the “devil” is the one that speaks on behalf of immediate gratification and emotional desire in the moment.

What you’re dealing with is something almost everyone deals with as they try to change themselves. It is great that the “angel” voice is there, but the “devil” voice is louder and more compelling and gets your attention, so what can you do about it?

The best thing I can say is this: practice. In every situation you can, try to hear both voices, and make a conscious effort as often as you possibly can to listen to the “angel.” The thing is, the more you listen to the “angel,” the louder that voice gets and the quieter the other one gets. This is particularly true when you start seeing the benefits of listening to the “angel” in your life. Make that your goal every single day, think about it every single day, and give it your all.

This doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect at it – no one is. The point is to simply start listening to the “angel” more often, and the best way to do that, at least that I’ve found, is pure focus and practice. Keep the idea in mind as much as you can in the coming days and weeks: “I need to listen to the good voice and do what it says.” Don’t kick yourself if you mess up; just focus on doing it right the next time.

Eventually, if you do it enough, not only will you start seeing real positive results in your life, the voice of the “angel” will get louder and louder and the voice of the “devil” will get quieter and quieter. It takes time, of course, but what’s really happening is a change in your habits and routines.

Make it your goal every single day for, say, three months. “Today, I will try to hear the ‘good’ voice before I make a choice and I will do my best to do what the ‘good’ voice says.” Do that as best you can; don’t expect perfection, but expect improvement. That’s all you can do.

Another good strategy is to simply change up your environment: try to avoid even being in situations where you’re needing to listen to that “angel” and that “devil.” Rather than going out somewhere and then struggling with choices when you get there, make the choice to do something else entirely. Rather than hanging out with someone who constantly gets you in these situations, find other people to hang out with.

Good luck, my friend!

Q12: How I think about savings

The way I think about savings or about money in retirement or in investments is that it’s just another way of making money. If I decide to spend less and then have $100 to put away at the end of the month and I put it in something that earns 7% per year, I’m now earning $7 more this year and every year for as long as I leave that initial $100 alone. If I do that 100 times, that’s $700 a year forever. I like to look at it in $100 increments like that because it becomes something tangible in my life. I decide not to buy a $300 Switch and instead bank that money and now I make $21 a year without working basically for ever. I like it when little stuff adds up like that too. Not spending money on stupid stuff means I make more money without having to work.
– Joe

That’s a really good way of looking at things. You’re simply translating making good spending decisions into what that means when you invest that money. Money in the bank is working for you, earning more money for you without you lifting a finger. If you can get money in the bank, then you’re going to earn even more without lifting a finger.

The thing that got me going on savings was the compounding. Like you said, $100 means that if I invest it and get 7%, that $100 will earn me $7 a year automatically as long as I don’t touch it. But if I don’t touch that $7 either, then the next year that $100 earns me another $7, but that $7 I didn’t touch earns me $0.49. And if I don’t touch it again, that $100 earns me another $7, the $14 I didn’t touch earns me $0.98, and even that $0.49 I didn’t touch earns me about 3.5 cents. And on and on and on. It grows on its own.

You can maybe think of that as the money in the bank giving itself a raise because it’s been working for a long time!

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 Basil, Kiplinger’s Magazine, Castile Soap, Recessions, and More! appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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