Book Review: Tribe — Penny Wonders If The Wealthy Are Missing Out

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Dear Rich,

I couldn’t believe how in line this book (Tribe by Sebastian Junger) was to the topics we’ve been covering in this blog! Happiness, money, connection… it’s all in there.

Here’s a quote from the book:

A study found that conventional success in the legal profession had zero correlation with levels of happiness and well-being. The findings are in keeping with something called self-determination theory, which holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money, and status.

Bluntly put, modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones, and as a result, mental health issues refuse to decline with growing wealth.

The self-determination theory… those three things are basically what you described in your Philosophy on Happiness. Is this where you got it from, or did you figure that out all by yourself?

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The Squirrel Story: How Rich Plans To Increase His Giving (And Not Be An A-Hole)

Penny has a low income and gives 10% to charity. She NEEDS to give. Her cousin Rich has a high income and gives less than 5% to charity. So Penny asked Rich to explain why he doesn’t give more. He claims he’s not a materialistic hedonist, but is he a selfish asshole?

Here is Rich’s response, in the form of a parable.

It’s called The Squirrel Story.

Once upon a time, there were 5 squirrels. They were Gray, Red, Blue, Green, and Gold.

Gray Squirrel lived in an old, diseased tree that did not produce any acorns. He had a hard life. To feed his family, he depended on acorns from other squirrels, as well as acorns stored in Central Oak. This had been going on for generations, but there was not much he could do until his tree was healed. He dreamed of moving to a new tree, but it was not so easy. He was thankful for the acorns he received. He was a good squirrel.

Red Squirrel lived in a healthy, cozy tree, even though it was low on acorns. She had a simple life. She grew 10 acorns each year and did not waste any. She gave 1 acorn every year to Gray Squirrel, and it made her heart glad. However, she too needed acorns from Central Oak to feed her family. What’s more, she owed Central Oak many acorns, and it would take her years to pay them back. Probably she would not have many acorns left for her little squirrels as they searched for their own trees, but she knew they would be fine. She was happy in her cozy tree and thankful for what she had. She hoped her tree would keep producing just enough for her to live on. She was a good squirrel.

Blue Squirrel lived in a strong tree, with exciting branches to explore. His tree shared a common root with Red Squirrel’s tree, but produced many more acorns — 100 every year — because Blue Squirrel had learned how to grow them quickly. He gave 2 acorns each year to Gray Squirrel, and it made his heart glad. He gave 20 acorns each year to Central Oak, which did not make his heart glad, but greatly helped the forest. He did not borrow acorns from Central Oak, nor did he owe. With the rest, Blue Squirrel stored some for the winter, saved some for when he was old, and gave some to his little squirrels. In his squirrel mind, he hoped this would help Gray Squirrel, Central Oak (and, thus, Red Squirrel), and his own family’s trees for generations. Besides, he enjoyed growing acorns. He was a good squirrel.

Continue reading “The Squirrel Story: How Rich Plans To Increase His Giving (And Not Be An A-Hole)”

Penny NEEDS To Give To Charity … Why Doesn’t Rich Give More?

Dear Rich,

You’ve done a great job in telling me why I shouldn’t donate to charity (it’s a puzzle, my money would go further in paying down our student loan debt, etc.), but you didn’t really address why YOU don’t give more to charity. YOU don’t have debt. YOU’RE making plenty of money. You never really answered my question.

Sure, you say that you “could give more to charity as a line item,” and that you “pay tens of thousands in taxes, and some of that money goes to programs that help people in your situation”. But that kind of forced giving is not charity. It’s like the difference between forcing your kids to give you a hug and them giving you one of their own accord. It’s not the same thing.

Also, being generous with your friends and family (which you are), although wonderful and lovely, is not the same as being charitable. So, I still don’t quite understand what’s stopping YOU.

I want to explain a little bit more about why I choose to give:

1) It’s not so much about the charity’s need for my money, it’s about my need to give.

Continue reading “Penny NEEDS To Give To Charity … Why Doesn’t Rich Give More?”

Should I Cash Out an IRA to Pay Student Loans? — A Penny and Rich Blogchat

After Penny unceremoniously gave Rich a thumbs down on his drastic plan to reduce her student loan debt, the two cousins had a chat about what she should do next. Here’s the “Blogchat” transcript …

Penny: So Rich, should I use my IRA to pay a chunk of my $173,000 in student loans?

Rich: Hey Pen, I didn’t realize your house payment was so low compared to local rents … I said sell the house, but that changes the equation. How much is in your IRA?

Penny: I have around $35,000 in mine and my husband has $7,000 in his (he already cashed most of his out when starting his business).

Rich: Ah, I see. So you have around $42,000 remaining. At some point I’d love to hear more about the business — how it’s going, if there’s extra business debt, etc.

Penny: Sure, cuz. Now focus! Student loans. Let’s say we cash in $30,000 from our IRAs and put it toward our student loans. Am I doing the math right here… $30,000 x 6.375% = $1,912.50 per year saved in interest payments x 13 years = does that actually equal a savings of $24,862.50 if we weren’t paying interest on that amount the remainder of the time?

Rich: Well, under your current plan you will pay off the loan in 13 years and pay $86,000 in interest. A very rough spreadsheet (working off one of your old ones) shows that if you took $30,000 to pay principal on the loan this year, it’d look like this:

So you’d save $29K I’m assuming that after you pay the big chunk, you’d stick with your annual $20K payment. What do you think?

Continue reading “Should I Cash Out an IRA to Pay Student Loans? — A Penny and Rich Blogchat”

Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Eats, Drinks, and Stays Married — February 2017


Can happiness be tracked like a monthly financial budget? Can we figure out how to become happier? Are we self-aware enough to measure our own happiness level accurately? I have plenty of questions, and took a stab at finding some answers. Since it’s the internet, I also had to include a picture of a kitten (my kitten, actually).

Over the past month, I’d rate my happiness as:

4.5 out of 5 smileys!

How did I get there? Well, I think a lot of life is about balance. According to my philosophy, the meaning of life resides in 3 areas: Relationships, Personal Growth, and Freedom. These areas, for me, all need attention and can’t be too lopsided. Additionally, I’m going to add a fourth category: Health. If you’re not healthy physically and non-physically (mentally, spiritually, etc), it’s hard to be happy.  

In a ridiculous attempt to quantify my thoughts, I made a quick happiness spreadsheet to get to my score:

Continue reading “Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Eats, Drinks, and Stays Married — February 2017”

Monthly Happiness Report: Penny Is Almost 40 With Bangs — February 2017

Dear Rich,

A lot of the people around me don’t seem to be very happy lately. This is a rough estimate, but I think that around 60% of my friends are either very unhappy in their marriages or are in the process of getting a divorce. There’s a lot of despair going around. There’s a lot of brokenness. Life just seems to be getting a lot of people down.

Sometimes I think that I’m the only one who got the memo that everything is going to be alright.

When I think about my life in terms of happiness and smiley faces, I would say my baseline is probably around 4 out of 5. Not perfect, but usually feeling pretty good most of the time.

As you can see, I fell a little under par this month, with only 3 out of 5 smileys.

Continue reading “Monthly Happiness Report: Penny Is Almost 40 With Bangs — February 2017”

Are Rich People Selfish Materialistic Hedonists?

Heyo Penny.

This is a running conversation between us, so I thought I’d go back and answer some of your questions / comments. Here they are:

  1. After reading about my philosophy of money and the meaning of life, you responded by asking: Sometimes I wonder how (rich) people like you don’t just go out to eat ice cream all the time. What’s stopping you? … I wonder what it’s like to live like that, where you have no financial limitations on what you want or don’t want.
  2. When you saw my 2016 Review, you commented: You are not materialistic, but … it seems that you like to amass experiences (big, expensive experiences) the way other people like to amass material possessions. Still seems like a form of materialism ….
  3. In that same post: I didn’t see a category for charity. Please explain.

So basically you’re asking, are rich people a bunch of selfish materialistic hedonists?

Am I “rich”?

Creepy rich dude. Does not resemble me.

[Hold on, I just spilled caviar on my grass fed baby lamb’s wool persian rug — I need to fetch the butler … ok, I’m back. Not to worry, a dab of champagne cleaned it right up!]

Ahem, I’m not sure what to think of the “rich” label, but I’ll cede that my household income is high, around $260k annually from salaries. This doesn’t mean we have “no financial limitations,” like the creepy guy in the picture, but it does mean we have plenty of room to set our priorities. On to your questions.

Why don’t I eat ice cream every day?

First of all, Mrs. Rich is lactose intolerant and I don’t want to be a jerk by rubbing ice cream in her face every day. But seriously, I admit there is a great deal of freedom when $10 doesn’t mean much. Financially, I *could* eat ice cream daily, even your Cold Stone Creamery stuff.

To me, here’s a key point about money: It’s not about the money.

Let me unpack that.

Continue reading “Are Rich People Selfish Materialistic Hedonists?”

Penny’s Travel Journal: Harry Potter World on the Cheap

Dear Rich,

You used to love going to water parks. What happened?

I would LOVE to go on a water park vacation! I was seriously going to plan a road trip where we would hit a bunch of great water parks in the United States. It was going to be called The Great Water Park Tour of North America (even though all of the water parks were in the U.S., I thought “of North America” made it sound better).

But, alas, it never came to be. We are not able to vacation like we used to. When my husband was an elementary teacher, we would go on all sorts of vacations in the summer. Now that he owns his own chiropractic practice, and he’s the only doctor there, he is not able to take that much time off from work.


This past year we made it a priority to go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in California. I had finished reading all the books to our third child, the seven year old (the others had read them with my husband already), and we were all simply crazy about Harry Potter. The trip was the culmination of our love affair with that wonderful wizard.

Mr. Penny took a long weekend. We had to fly out there, of course (previous vacations had us always driving, since it was less expensive), since we didn’t have time to drive, but we got cheap plane tickets (only $111 each) and off we went!

It was amazing! We had so much fun. And here are 3 reasons we could do it on the cheap:

Continue reading “Penny’s Travel Journal: Harry Potter World on the Cheap”

Monthly Money Check: Penny Got Pinched in January 2017

Dear Rich,

Oh, gosh, what a month in spending for our family!

Here I am, supposedly an example of frugal spending, and we have this HUGE list of expenses this month. We had a couple of unexpected expenses come up (toilet needed to be replaced, something needed to be fixed on our van), along with our bi-annual payment of school tuition for the kids. So, it doesn’t accurately reflect our spending habits. It should be a lot better next month.

If you and I really wanted to compare and contrast our differences in spending, we should have started this blog 10 years ago, back when I only had 2 kids and my husband was making only $18,750 a year as a Catholic school teacher. I was super cheap back then. Or 6 years ago, when we sold almost all of our possessions, moved to Colorado and dug a couch out of the dumpster. Those were the days.

At $43,000 a year (the most we’ve ever made), I actually think we’re doing well.

So, here is what we spent money on this month! Read on for the exciting details!

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Got Pinched in January 2017”

Monthly Money Check: How Rich Spent His Greenbacks in January 2017

Hey Pen! 

After reading my 2016 review, you said you wanted more detail on how a “rich person” spends money (am I really “rich”? — interesting question). Well, I’m going to give you tons of money porn in a minute.

But first, I want to check in on my net worth goal, which has less to do with cash flow (i.e. monthly income minus expenses) and more to do with the big picture of smart money management. Here’s what I mean by that.

To me, the primary goal of money management is to grow net worth. (Note, I did not say this is the primary goal of life!) Net worth is assets minus liabilities, what you own minus what you owe, and a proper measure of wealth. Income and expenses are important, but mostly in the context of net worth.

Net worth is like a garden. Income streams are sun and water, and investments are plants. You need income to energize the plants at first, but as they mature they can keep growing on their own. If they’re very healthy, they’ll multiply and you’ll have fruit for years, maybe even fruit for your grandkids — if you teach them how to tend the garden. 

Spending money is like eating the fruit — it’s not bad, eating good fruit is healthy. Just don’t eat too much. In a big garden overeating can make you fat and sick. In a small garden, eating your only plant means you need to start over every season so you don’t starve. Stressful. Eating should be a pleasure, not a curse. Debt is a weed that can overtake the whole garden if we’re not careful.

My goal is to have a million dollar garden at age 45. Here are my plants and how they grew in January compared to December:

My plants are 401k accounts, IRAs, a business investment (LLC) with various holdings, and an investment in Prosper (P2P lending) that I’m trimming. I have a few debt weeds, but they aren’t growing (0% interest) and they’ll be completely gone by the fall. 

Ok then, on to a detailed look at my monthly income and expenses. What follows is the money porn you’ve been waiting to see!

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: How Rich Spent His Greenbacks in January 2017”