Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Increases His Brain Waves By 0.0125 In March 2017

Yes, this is my kitten. Older now but still cute.

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Pen,

It’s mid-month and that means it’s time to evaluate, and “scientifically” track, our happiness levels!

Reminder: According to my philosophy, I think life is about balance in 3 areas: Relationships, Personal Growth, and Freedom. These areas, for me, all need attention. Additionally, I’ve added the category Health because if you’re not healthy physically and non-physically (mentally, spiritually, etc), it’s hard to be happy.  

If you would ask me if I’m happier right now than I was in mid-February, I’d say yep, slightly. I was happy then and a little more happy now. Gut reaction. And it turns out my self-polling data bears that out. Before I get to the data, it’s worth asking whether or not this is even a valid exercise. I mean, can we trust our own perceptions of happiness?

As it turns out, YES WE CAN.

In Stumbling on Happiness, a book we are going to review later this month, author Dan Gilbert talks about measuring happiness. He contends that self-claims are not only the best way to measure happiness, they are the only way to measure happiness. We can’t get into another person’s head aside from what that person tells us.

Even brain waves, which are literally inside a person’s head, are simply echoes of self-claims, because the only reason we know a certain brain wave = happiness is because the person with the brain claimed to be happy while the wave was active.

Ergo, here are my own completely valid measurements:

An increase of 0.0125! Can’t really make smileys to reflect that slight difference.

I think 4 is my baseline, so this is good. Here are some highlights from each category …

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Why Penny Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting

Alert: Parent is airborne.

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Dear Rich,

As you may have surmised by now, given our income and the amount of student loan debt we have, we don’t have the means to, nor do we plan on funding our children’s (and we have four of them) college education.

But, that’s a good thing. Because even if we could, we wouldn’t do it anyway.

Here’s why:

You know the term helicopter parenting, right? (Go Finance Yourself talked about it in a recent blog post, if you need to bring yourself up to speed.) Basically, it’s overseeing your kids, to the point where you’re like a helicopter hovering overhead, swooping in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. This style of parenting gives children very little independence, doesn’t allow for developing autonomy, and can do a real number on the kid’s confidence.

And I think that paying for a kid’s college education is one of the biggest forms of helicopter parenting out there.

Your whole “building a legacy” thing seems a bit (how do I say this in a nice way?)… controlling.

Developing independence and autonomy is one of the most important things in a person’s life. Paying for their own education encourages a child to take responsibility for their own lives, to do with it what they want, and to fully make it their own. If a parent is funding their education, they are taking all of that away from them.

Granted, I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be pretty sweet to have your college education paid for (believe me, I know, as we have $153,000 in student loan debt), but it does come at another price (loss of autonomy)… and that is a price that I would not want to pay.

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Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!

Debt is not the legacy I’m aiming for.

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Penny,

Your food support post got me thinking about how I feel about supporting myself, i.e. self-reliance. I think it’s fair that you receive help, that’s why it’s there, no shame in that. So what I’m about to say isn’t intended to contradict the idea of food support or project anything onto your situation, it’s just my own internal perspective.

Probably my number one goal in life is to ensure that I will not need food support and that no one in my family will ever need food support, for generations to come.

I’m not saying we need to be the Vanderbilts, wealthy beyond imagination and not needing to work. I’m talking about having a firm foundation for self-reliance, autonomy, and opportunity. It’s about being ahead of the curve financially rather than digging out of extreme debt or relying on the government.

The desire I have to provide this, as a parent, is a deep core value. Very deep. As in self-determination key to happiness philosophy of life center of the earth stick it on my grave stone deep.

Can I actually build a family legacy of self-reliance for generations? I think so — or at least I can get close with the next couple generations — if I can achieve three milestones.

HOW TO BUILD A GENERATIONAL FAMILY LEGACY, IN 3 STEPS!

This sounds like a dumb how-to list but I actually believe this:

  1. Avoid the worst-case scenario via estate planning.
  2. Save for retirement.
  3. Provide for the kids’ higher education.

Step 1: Avoid the worst-case.

Immediately after the twins were born, Mrs. Rich and I took the following actions:

  • Increased our life insurance.
  • Set up an estate plan, including the following:

— Family living trust with named successor trustees; financial power of attorney; medical power of attorney; designated guardians for our children; pour-over will.

We literally sat in a conference room with an estate lawyer and 2 newborns to set up our family trust. I don’t remember anyone crying, so the kids must’ve liked what they were hearing.

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Are Stocks In A Bubble? And Why Do Engineers Retire Early? — Rich’s Ramblings

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We interrupt our regular programming to bring you the first edition of Rich’s Ramblings!

Wha?

It’s simply this: I might have thoughts, ideas, inklings that I want to share quickly, but I haven’t had the time to completely process them into full on professional blog posts. (Which is funny, because when did blogs become so professional?? They used to be for amateur novelists and family photos.) So, I’ll stick these 8 pound 6 ounce newborn baby ideas into Rich’s Ramblings.

That’s a Ricky Bobby reference.

What about Penny? Maybe she’ll have Penny’s Ponderings or some such. Or Penny For Her Thoughts. Up to her.

Last part of this preamble: I need to be able to write a ramble in one hour or less. Otherwise, it’s a post. Ok, go.

First a random thought and then on to my main topic.

RANDOM THOUGHT: WHY ARE SO MANY ENGINEERS TRYING TO RETIRE EARLY?

It seems like half of all early retirement bloggers are engineers. Why? Is it because engineers are smart and like to design systems (including early retirement systems)? Or is it because engineering jobs are soul-crushing and need to be escaped? I really want to know before my kids get old enough to consider engineering. Thank you for any advice!

I can dislike stocks and still be cuddly.

MAIN RAMBLE: I THINK STOCKS ARE IN A BIG FAT BUBBLE

This first ramble will, I’m sure, draw all sorts of ridicule and hate mail. It’s ok. I’m 41 years old with twin boys. I simply can’t be offended or humiliated. I’ve held a dirty diaper in one hand and a crying boy in the other at 30,000 feet with dozens of onlookers. And that’s a mild story.

Many personal finance bloggers have been asking themselves if stocks are in a bubble. It usually starts with “Stocks are definitely a bit frothy right here, I’m nervous,” and it usually ends with something like, “I’m sticking to my plan, stocks are for the long run, yadda yadda yadda, I’m really tired today.”

George Costanza reference.

But let’s analyze what we’re saying about stocks before we convince ourselves to stick with them. We — and by this I mean me and a bunch of market observers at this point — are saying it’s pretty obvious that stocks are either fully priced or overpriced. At the very least, we can say that stocks, on the whole, are not underpriced (which is the best time to buy them). If you think stocks are underpriced … agree to disagree. San Diego means Saint Diego.

Ron Burgundy reference.

Personally, I think we are in a bubble created by low interest rates, QE, and momentum. I also think many people agree with me but do not want to act on it. I’m not going to wow you with complicated math arguments. You can read those elsewhere (like here — Hussman Funds Weekly Market Comment). I’m just going to show you this chart, and if you think what’s happening right now is totally normal, that’s ok.

Bubble? What bubble? (Image credit: Yahoo Finance)

If you think the first 2 bubbles were obvious but this one is not, that’s ok. Saint Diego.

I’M OUT OF THE STOCK MARKET RIGHT NOW. COMPLETELY.

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Penny: On Being “Poor” And Receiving Help

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Dear Rich,

As you know, my family and I get food support. We’ve been getting it for about 8 years now, ever since my husband was in chiropractic school. We could have gotten it before then, when he was a Catholic elementary teacher making only $18,750 a year, but I hadn’t known it was available to us. I didn’t realize we were poor.

When we first started getting food support, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was kind of embarrassed by it. I felt like we were too good for it, like we were above it.

Now, I receive it with gratitude. I know that we are not any better or worse than anybody else getting it. I am no longer too proud. We are all just humans doing the best we can in this world, and I am happy and grateful for the help we get.

Could we get by without it? Yes.

Do we use what we save on food to help pay off our student loan debt? Yes.

Is that fair? I think so.

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Monthly Money Check: How Rich Spends $2,000 On Food — February 2017

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Hola Pennita,

You cut 3 years off your student loan debt! Well done. Now cozy up in your hygge quilt, pour yourself some glogg, and take a gander at my finances. As with last month, I’ll start off with a net worth update before moving on to my expenses, particularly my .

My goal is to have a million dollar net worth at age 45. Specifically, before I turn 46 in September 2021. When I started tracking this in September 2015, I had a net worth of $455,169.63. Today I’m at $568,367, a gain of $113,197.37!

Pretty good, but I’m not quite on track with my goal. To reach the goal I needed to average an increase of $7,600 per month, but so far I’m only averaging an increase of $6,658 per month. Doh! Consequently, I’m $16,002.63 behind the curve. Here’s a graph showing my progress. The blue line is the pace I’m on, while the black line is the pace I need.

Click on image to enlarge

Reasons for hope: Mrs. Rich and I both got promotions in the past year. Our retirement savings alone get us close to $7K per month, and certain gains tend to come in chunks (like our business LLC). Reasons for despair: Every month that we’re off the pace will make it harder to make up ground.

Here’s a breakdown of our net worth as of the end of February.

Click on image to enlarge.

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: How Rich Spends $2,000 On Food — February 2017”

Monthly Money Check: Penny Eats Down Under in February 2017

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Dear Rich,

I’m starting to eat at fancy restaurants like you!

Well, maybe not, but our restaurant category was a little higher than usual this month. We went to a pancake breakfast put on as a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts. It cost us $32. I wasn’t sure whether to classify that as a restaurant or a charitable donation, so I went with restaurant. Another restaurant cost was when Mr. Penny and I went out for Valentine’s Day. We went to the Outback Steakhouse and went ALL out… appetizer, dessert, everything! (Total cost: $57.56) So yummy.

I am laughing at myself for getting so excited about the Outback Steakhouse. I realize that it sounds silly, especially to a man of such fine tastes as yourself (and to some of my friends who roll their eyes at such places), but I really do love the Outback. I fell in love with their food (especially their Cheese Fries appetizer) when I waitressed there years ago.

But that got me to thinking a bit about our perceptions of restaurants. Like, whether we like it or not is influenced by the reputation of the restaurant. The Outback Steakhouse is a chain, so liking it seems kind of cheesy and uncool, amirite? I wish we could all (myself included) get beyond our perceptions and experience something fully and truthfully for what it is.

Remember Marilyn Hagerty, that food critic from the newspaper where we grew up? A couple of years ago, she wrote this loving and earnest review of the Olive Garden that went viral. The reason it went viral was because she was reviewing it with great detail and sincerity as she would any other restaurant, when it was just, you know… the Olive Garden.

But I like that, because it was honest.

It reminds me of this passage from a book I just read, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

That’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it?

Well, here’s what my financials looked like for February:

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Eats Down Under in February 2017”

Book Review: Tribe — Rich Digs The Modern Foxhole

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Penny,

I really enjoyed reading Tribe, just as I’ve enjoyed all of Sebastian Junger’s books, especially War. If you haven’t read War yet, I HIGHLY recommend it. While you’re at it, watch the related video documentary Restrepo. Incredibly powerful.

The basic premise of Tribe, as I understand it, is this: Soldiers returning from war are haunted by the loss of their community (i.e. their combat unit) as well as their sense of purpose, and the modern world is often unable to fill these voids.

Let me say up front that I’d never dispute anyone’s experience. I know people who have served in war zones, and I won’t claim to understand what they went through over there and after returning home. So, any comments represent my thinking on certain concepts, using the book (and your post) as a launching pad.

HAPPINESS IS BEING, DOING, CONNECTING

You wrote: 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?

Yep, I’m a big believer in self-determination theory, although I didn’t know what it was called. I’m not sure how I came to it, but studying theology / religion, reading books on happiness, talking with friends, and years of self-reflection got me there. When I looked back at my Philosophy of Happiness post, I noticed that I used different terms, but basically Junger and I (and Psychology Today) agree.

The Big 3

It’s all about being, doing, and connecting. On these points, I’m in the foxhole with Junger.

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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?

Continue reading “Book Review: Tribe — Penny Wonders If The Wealthy Are Missing Out”

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.

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