Rich Glances At 2017 And Sets Goals For 2018


Penny — you and our readers have no doubt noticed the lack of writing on the blog. The reason: normal life. I’m probably the busiest I’ve ever been professionally and personally. Days oscillate between work, family time, and a few free moments. When those free moments emerge, I want to be reading or exercising. Sometimes living life crowds out writing about living life. At least in my case, the reasons are good ones.

Still, there’s a benefit to this exercise of taking a step back and taking stock of my financial picture, and posting it on the blog means I can review it again in the future. Today, I’m going to take a quick look at 2017 and a quick look ahead at 2018 in order to divine if I’m still on the right track.


Click on image to enlarge.

Interesting. With all the ups and downs of the year, all the changes and hoopla, I’ve ended up almost exactly where I wanted to be in terms of my net worth goal. Looking back, I was behind the pace because of a large preschool payment last February. I gained back ground because I was still not paying rent, my LLC value went up, and I made hay in months were I was paid 3 times (March, August). Now, my pace has slowed considerably, but I’m finishing the year with a gentle slope and a new high water mark.

Year End Net Worth Total: $660,558  ($950 ahead of the pace needed to meet my goal).

Total Net Worth Gain: $106,788

A six figure gain is not too shabby.

How was I able to make a projection so close to reality? Simple, really. The bulk of our saving is done automatically in 401k accounts. It’s the epitome of the automatic millionaire strategy — save consistently and don’t sweat the details. Check out my retirement chart:

Click on image to enlarge.

The red line — actual savings — is tracking projections almost exactly.

Will it continue in 2018? Should it, or should I change things up?

2018 GOALS

1)  Stay the course on retirement. No reason to change this. I’ll do this via the 401k. I don’t think I’ll make IRA contributions this year, because I want to build cash / reduce debt. Therefore, the green parts in the chart above won’t get much bigger. I’m ok with that.

2) Build cash / reduce debt. My debt is all 0%, so it’s not “costing” me anything except mental peace. That said, mental peace is important. I’d like to get rid of the debt. I’d also like a cash build in case something comes up. For example, we have a car with 120,000 miles on it. Never know.

3) Start an HSA / reduce taxable income. In 2018, my health plan will allow HSA saving, which will reduce my taxable income.  The limit is $6,900. With a top tax rate of 24%, that’s a tax savings of $1,656. Other ways I’m reducing taxable income: 401k ($37,000 for me + Mrs. R), Dependent Care FSA ($5,000), and Limited Health FSA ($2,000). All together, these pre-tax savings plans will reduce taxable income by $50,900, which is $12,216 in federal taxes.

4) Spend mindfully. Normally, I try not to worry about spending as long as we’re saving. However, we have more big expenses now (rent, kid activities) so the only place to be mindful is in small things. The best way to look at this is not to fret, but to see the positive benefit of mindful spending. For example, I was spending $15 per month on HBO and not watching HBO. In a year, that’s $180. If we find 4 areas where we’re regularly spending $15 per month for no good reason, that’s $720 we can put toward a family vacation. Sure, we’re still spending, but we’re spending it on something we actually want. Empty spending is like an empty calorie — it might feel good in the moment but has no nutritional value.

5) Use frequent flyer miles / close flyer mileage credit cards. We have a bunch of miles and I’d like to use them for 2 reasons. First, travel is still a priority and we can save a bit on airfare. Second, I have 4 frequent flyer credit cards with annual fees. I opened the cards to get miles and I use them to make sure miles don’t expire. But, the annual fees run from $60-$90 per year. Over time, they cost more than they’re worth. So, closing them will save $200-$300 per year. In fact, I think I need to clean up my whole credit card situation. More on that another time.

6) Non-financial goals. I want to: improve my french language ability; be more patient with the kids, take some great vacations; workout 4x per week; continue increasing leadership capacity at work; read more books.


So those are my 2018 goals, and I still have the big picture goal of $1MM at age 45. To stay on track for that, I need to grow net worth by around $90,000 this year. This should be achievable. In our 401k accounts alone, we should see an increase of $70,000 with very little risk (i.e. not dependent on stock market returns). The remaining $20,000 should come from LLC income and appreciation. Plus, we got a tax cut — not sure if it’s good for the country, but there it is — and our household income is up by $20,000 over last year.

So is reaching my goal a sure thing? Anything can happen, but I feel good about my chances. The X factors would be overspending or some unforeseen emergency. Of course, there could also be a positive surprise. My “stretch goal” would be an increase of $100K: $70K retirement, $20K LLC, and $10K cash build / debt reduction.

Finally, I always try to remind myself that these financial goals are not the most important things in life. They are rooted in more important values: relationships, personal growth, and freedom.

And that’s all for now!  Happy new year …


Penny: Here’s all the things that have been bothering me about the world lately


Dear Rich,

I am still SO. TIRED. But, I’m going to give this writing thing a shot.

I like what you had to say about your life and work. Good post. I couldn’t help but to think how it really exemplifies the differences between you and me. The whole “city mouse / country mouse” sort of thing. While you’re all about getting ahead in your job, living an expensive lifestyle, and having a busy schedule, I’m all about trying to find more ways to get back to nature, simplify my life, and focus on the little things.

I’m going to go on a tangent here about all the things that have been bothering me about the world lately, so please just bear with me and don’t take offense. Your post just reminded me of some of these things for some reason.

Here we go:

(I will address some of these ideas toward you, but that’s only because you personify a general way of living and being in the world that most of the culture engages in or strives for. Again, please don’t take offense. It’s okay for people to have a difference of opinion, I just want to take this time to highlight some of the differences between us [as well as between me with society in general] because I think that’s part of what makes this blog and these conversations interesting.

First of all, it bugs me how schools and education are geared toward “getting a good job”. Is that what our lives amount to?

I read the book Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto recently. This was a man who taught for 30 years in the New York City school system, and then quit (shortly after being named New York’s Teacher of the Year), and has been spending the rest of his life trying to reform our ideas about education.

He writes:

What nineteenth century American experience demonstrated unmistakably is that an independent, resourceful, too well-educated common population has the irresistible urge to produce – and the ability to do so. Many famous “panics” of nineteenth century America were caused in part by a hangover from early Federal times and Colonial days when the common ideal was to produce your own food, your own clothing, your own shelter, your own education, your own medical care, your own entertainment, etc. The common population was still insufficiently conditioned to be interdependent and specialized.

Now, all we are are interdependent and specialized. We don’t produce things for ourselves and our families anymore. We consume, consume, consume. We consume products, we consume education, we consume everything.

Under this outlook, the classroom would never be used to produce knowledge, but only to consume it; it would not encourage the confined to produce ideas, only to consume the ideas of others. The ultimate goal implanted in student minds, which replaced the earlier goal of independent livelihoods, was getting a good job.


In that super long Wendell Berrry article I sent you awhile back, he writes:

The modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.

When questioned about Why Do We Need to Learn Math, my high school daughter’s math teacher presented them with an essay that had a lot of great points about how math is important in problem solving (“each individual problem because a small but important lesson for solving problems in general”), which I thought were great answers. But then, on the subject of Can I Get a Good Job Without Learning a Lot of Math?, the essay says: In all honesty, anything is possible. However, less and less labor intensive jobs are available. Workers in those fields are being replaced by machinery and robotics. Someone has to fix all of those machines and robots.

Really? That’s what our lives and jobs amount to, fixing machines and robots? I’m so tired of hearing about freaking robots. (Have you read anything about the production of robots lately? There’s some crazy stuff going on.)

And I want my kids (and people in general) to have labor-intensive jobs. I want them to have their own businesses (to produce) instead of working for big corporations. Sitting down all day, working in front of a computer, and moving from one indoor location to another is not a good thing. There’s not enough natural movement in people’s lives. Not enough nature. We have really created an unnatural world for ourselves.

We are really moving away from a lot of the things that are really important in life in pursuit of things that aren’t.

The number one case in point being the family. Now, instead of making the family the most important thing in our lives, it becomes our schooling and then our jobs that are most important.

In another book that I recently read, Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist, he writes:

What common sense through the ages tells us is that most people have this simple basic desire: to have a happy family and a happy home. Chesterton says that “just now there is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.”

As is so often the case in the modern world, we have things exactly backward. In the process of turning our children over to the public education system, we have turned our backs on the home and the family. And we have somehow mislaid the primary purpose of going to school.

By turning public education over to “the experts”, we have undermined the natural authority of the family.

Continue reading “Penny: Here’s all the things that have been bothering me about the world lately”

Monthly Money Check: Rich Horsed Around in October 2017

My kids: Up early playing with a “ghost horse.” (Picture from 2016, in Ireland)

Hey Penny,

Sorry to hear about your lack of sleep. I can’t imagine being pregnant, for obvious reasons. If that ever happened … now that would be a blog! Pregnant Mansplaining.

I get close to 8 hours nightly but the difficult part is that my boys wake up at 530 and go immediately to playing — experiments with water, indoor gymnastics, and other not so relaxing games. As I write this, they are playing some sort of imaginary game about ghost horses with a ball and a nerf gun. I guess this is cute but I’d prefer a quiet cup of coffee.

Anywho, what’s the topic here, monthly money check?

We’ve been back in the US for 2 and a half months now, and I think our spending is starting to settle down. September and October were full of big one-time moving expenses, like furniture. In November, I plan to track expenses more closely to see how we’re faring with “routine” expenses. That said, I’m not sure any month is routine. The holidays are fast approaching and perhaps we’ll have a vacation to book. Our spending routine is lumpy.

Let’s see how our net worth has changed recently, then we’ll look at each category and our longer term  goal. Here’s my net worth overview from the past 4 months.

Click on image to enlarge.

OVERALL: Overall, our net worth is up by $15k since July and flat since August, the moving month. In one sense, this is encouraging, because we’ve spent the lights out and we’re still not going backward. In another sense, we’re not going forward either, we’re just moving money around between categories. Speaking of categories …

CASH: Current level is $13,500. I try to keep cash levels between 10-20k. I was able to do this despite buying a car for $18,750 in cash and paying a hefty amount on rent. How did I do it? Well …

DEBT: Unfortunately, I increased debt by 11k with a 0% balance transfer. In other words, I paid $7,750 down financed the remainder. I’m growing tired of this debt, and would like it completely paid in a year.

INVESTMENTS: My investments are up because I’m slotting the car’s value here. So, nothing exciting on this front. Brothers, LLC is holding steady. I’ll be drawing down my alternative investments (Prosper) and my Opportunity Fund in order to pay down debt.

RETIREMENT: Here’s the bright spot. Retirement funds are up by nearly $20k in 4 months. This is the Automatic Millionaire budgeting method at work. Basically, max out the 401k and don’t sweat the rest. Live life, and retire at a reasonable time. Even if we save nothing else and earn a paltry 2%, we’ll have nearly $2 million in the 401k at retirement.


Click on image to enlarge.

Big picture, we are on track for my net worth goal of 1MM at age 45. The blue line is roughly tracking with the red line. I’ll be 45 in 3 years, and if I hit 1MM at any time that year, I’ll declare victory.

It’s interesting to look at the graph and notice how we get a bump in the Spring and dip toward the Fall. I think that’s because around tax time we get an updated valuation of our LLC holdings, and later in the year we’ve had preschool payments in 2016 and moving expenses in 2017.

I expect the coming year to present a new pattern. This will probably be the key year in achieving (or not) our goal. Expenses are high and we’re adjusting to new travel realities (it’s not as easy to get to new, cool places). Anyway, stay tuned for a more detailed expense review next time.

Get some sleep!


Monthly Money Check: Penny Has Normal Spending, Abnormal Sleeping in October 2017

Dear Rich,

I apologize for not writing more. I have lots of thoughts in response to your last post, but I haven’t gotten around to writing them out yet. I’m not sleeping very well. Probably because of pregnancy. I go to sleep around 9:00 pm every night and wake up for the day at 3:00 am. I just can’t fall back asleep. And then I spend my days tired thinking about how and when and if I can get a nap in. So, that is my life right now.

I did put together my Monthly Spending Report, because that doesn’t require much thinking. (I realize that these are probably getting kind of repetitious and boring for you to look at, but I still like doing them.)

Not much to say. Pretty basic spending.

It’s been 3 months since I put together a Financial Worth update, and I know you probably like these better, so here’s what we look like now:

This is not much more than our financial worth was three months ago. This is because the equity in our house went down a little bit. (Zillow is saying it’s not worth as much as it was three months ago.) Aside from that, everything adjusted accordingly (and minimally).

Hope you’re doing well, cuz. I’ll try to write more when I get a chance / get more sleep.


Rich On Work: Responsibility And Meaning, Human Capacity, Kindergarten Soccer, and Bathroom Breaks For Lawyers In NYC

Chinatown, NYC. Lots of workers out there.

Hey Penny,

I was going to write an eloquent post about the nature of work, it’s philosophical basis, the various ways of looking at it, and so on, followed by a blurb about my own current work situation. But alas, my own current work situation leaves me with little time to organize an eloquent post. So, I’m going to wing this at the real world level, like our old-fashioned emails (which is how this blog got started), and ramble, making philosophical comments as I go along.


Work has taken an interesting turn, and I’m busier than ever. Where to start?

I’ll start by mentioning that I’m in a leadership program — a formal course, run internally at the company, stretching over several months and designed to prepare me for executive-level work. It’s a lot about being self aware and learning how to deal with yourself and others from a leadership position. I was observed in a “leadership lab” for several hours and the observers — mostly psychologists and leadership consultants — gave me specific feedback on how I was performing. Additionally I’m getting executive coaching, as well as participating in a group where I talk about leadership challenges with peers in the course.

The whole thing is quite involved.

At first I wasn’t sure how the leadership course would go. I was kind of lost on how to apply it, because I was in the process of looking for a new position within the company. I wasn’t sure of my place. Well, I found a new position — more on that later — but even before that I found the course to be extremely beneficial. I’ve learned a lot about myself and, just as importantly, I’ve learned how to view myself as a genuine leader, not just someone trying to lead, if that makes sense.

I’m 42 years old, and people my age are running large companies. I’ve always had self-confidence, but at the same time, it’s easy to look around and see others who are more influential and more professional. I’m not talking about jealousy or envy, I’m talking about self-regard and getting past the infamous “impostor syndrome.” The reality, I’ve learned, is that I’m just as professional as many of those I consider successful, and I have been for a while. I can embrace my own career reality.

This is not to say I can’t improve — I have LOADS of room to improve. But I don’t need to be full of doubt.


Realizing this, internally, is a personal game changer, in a couple ways. First, I’m more comfortable in situations that might otherwise be intimidating. Second, I realize that however comfortable others look, they’ve had to overcome their own insecurities too. Have you ever been to a party or an event where you thought, why am I the most nervous one here? Do I belong here? Well, probably everyone is just as  nervous and uncertain. This is all human nature and a trick our brains play on us. Once we realize this, we can take some control over our own brains and overcome these hurdles.

As I said, I just started a new position in our company.  I interviewed and I was nervous. Quite nervous. I had interviewed for a different position and didn’t get that job, so I was nervous that I’d be rejected twice in succession.

After the interview, I took a long walk because I had no idea how it went. Interviews, for the most part, stink. The awkward introductions. The delicate dance of being confident but not overconfident, comfortable but not cocky, smart but not a know-it-all. Waiting for an answer. Interviews stink.

Surprisingly, I got the job! I’m not sure if it was my interview or my connections or the suit I was wearing … and I don’t care. I got it. It was probably the suit, the J. Crew Ludlow. [Note: People should never discount the value of looking professional at work. Dressing well has helped me advance since I was a waiter. I know a guy who was baffled at not getting a certain job, and yet he adamantly resisted dressing well. It’s like trying out for basketball with cowboy boots on — it just doesn’t work.]

Funny how career paths develop sometimes. I’m now very glad I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for, because the position I ended up with is much better. One can never predict these twist and turns, and I’m sure I would’ve adjusted to a different outcome. In some ways that’s the whole point of having decent self-awareness — to realize that no matter what you are doing, you are the same person with the same qualities.

Attaining a particular job or role does not change who you are, essentially.


So what’s the point of reaching for new or challenging roles, you might ask? You are who you are, right?

I’d say … not exactly. Being self-aware of who you are at any given time is not the end of the story. When you see who you are clearly, you want opportunities that match your abilities. And if you have drive or ambition, you want opportunities that exceed and stretch your abilities.

We are always changing, evolving, growing or regressing. Attaining a new role or taking on a new responsibility is an opportunity to first be who you are and then to become who you want to be, or who you could be, by using and growing and stretching your capacities. In other words, roles can help you change. Potentially, to become a better self.

I think you’re a Jordan Peterson fan, Penny, and he talks a lot about how people find meaning in life (here’s one snippet). One of his basic conclusions is that people gain meaning by taking on responsibilities. By taking on a responsibility, you then have an obligation to do something, and by doing that something, whatever it is, you find satisfaction and meaning.

Example: I am coaching Kindergarten Soccer. I signed up, initially, on a whim. The league was desperate for coaches. At first I questioned this move — I was adding something to an already busy schedule, it messes up my Friday evenings, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I can see that Peterson is right. Taking on the responsibility to these kids and their parents brings me satisfaction, another sliver of meaning, and a nudge to personal growth. Paradoxically, it gives me more energy rather than less. And it makes me a more interesting and well rounded person. It opens the door to a new community of people, which may or may not result in friendships but I’d never know if I hadn’t signed up.

Coaching soccer is a relatively small obligation. The point is, anything can be a meaningful obligation. The trick is to try things, find out what works, find that set of responsibilities that gives life meaning. According to Peterson, no one is as miserable as the person who has no responsibilities and nothing to do.

For a lot of people, the standard responsibilities that drive them are work and family. Rightfully so. Even though people often complain about these responsibilities day to day, there’s a lot of evidence that their absence would create personal nihilism. People become sled dogs without a sled to pull.


Anyway, back to my new position at work. It is close to a dream job at this stage in my career. Interesting work, more responsibility, professional recognition, and it could potentially lead to more cool opportunities down the road, if I do well. It’s also demanding, difficult, and my head is spinning because of the learning curve.

This is the nature of career advancement. Success is great, but success often leads to bigger challenges. A person needs to decide if bigger challenges are interesting to them. We all have our limits, and it’s part of the journey to figure out what our personal capacity is. What’s the right level of personal and professional balance so that one can experience flow (competent enjoyment of a challenging activity) and also experience health and sanity?

Sometimes I think about TV shows featuring high performing professionals. Generally they are cops or doctors or lawyers who are smart and savvy. It’s usually an intense, difficult profession that requires commitment and expertise. There are always exciting situations, because it’s TV. Being a District Attorney in NYC looks amazing on Law and Order. On TV, there’s dramatic music and deep, interesting conversations with mood lighting. Why are these shows interesting? One of the reasons, I think, is because characters on these shows are showing the limits of human capacity, the weight of responsibility that humans can take on. We root for them to do well even at personal cost.

Can I get some dramatic music to go with working late?

In real life, being a DA in NYC is a long career road (law school, starting out low on the totem pole, etc). And then the job itself, which is a big career achievement, is probably stressful and difficult much of the time. Even boring. In real life, there are bathroom breaks, days off to care for sick kids, dry cleaning, bad cafeteria food, and cramped offices.

Fiction is not reality, of course, but art can imitate life. An interesting exercise is to look at your life as if it were a story, with you as the main character. Would the story be interesting? Would you be rooting for the main character to fully reach his/her potential? Or would you want the character to spend 3 hours a day on Facebook and Netflix?

When I look at my story, I like the direction of the main character and the overall cast of characters, in broad strokes — leaving out the parts about bathroom breaks.


Here’s a typical day for me now:

Continue reading “Rich On Work: Responsibility And Meaning, Human Capacity, Kindergarten Soccer, and Bathroom Breaks For Lawyers In NYC”

Monthly Money Check: Rich Decides How To Handle Large Expenses … Will He Close His Eyes To Reality Or Take Action?? — September 2017

Should I close my eyes and ignore the world around me, like my cat?

Hey Penny,

Very interesting that you make 20 student loan payments per month now. Crazy, almost. I’m curious what you’ll notice, what impact that will have. I hope it cuts a year or two off!

As for me, September was quite the spendy month. I’ve mentioned how expensive our move has been, and September is when many of the bills came due. We spent $36,000 (half of which was a car). That’s quite a chunk of money.

So, I had to make a decision about how to manage these payments, since I didn’t have $36,000 in available cash. I couldn’t just close my eyes and ignore these payments — I didn’t want to pay high credit card rates. So, I took action!


Here were my options:

1- Stop buying stuff. Well, that ship had sailed, and we were intent on making our new apartment comfy as quickly as possible. We’re going for minimalism but not frugality.

2- Sell Investments. I have some investments that I’m drawing down, and I could have done that more quickly. Or, I could have sold investments from the LLC, or something. I didn’t really consider this because it wasn’t practical.

3- Reduce 401k contributions. Currently Mrs. Rich and I max out our 401k accounts to the tune of $36,000 per year (the limit is $18,000 per person per year). That’s $3,000 per month. We could have afforded all our purchases if we had stopped contributing.

This is not something I’m willing to do. That $3,000 per month is actually worth more than $3,000.  Since all of that money is pre-tax, and we are in a high tax bracket, that $3,000 is actually more like $3,750. In other words, if we take home that $3,000 rather than put it in the 401k, we would lose $750 per month.

But wait, there’s more. We would also lose out on the company match, which is an additional $1,000 per month.

But wait, there’s more! We would also lose out on the interest being accrued in the account at a rate of 2.25%, which is not much but not nothing.

All told, stopping 401k contributions would be a terrible financial decision — we’d lose almost $1,800 per month in otherwise “free” money.

4- Increase debt. As you probably guessed, I went with this option. I did a credit card balance transfer of around $11,900 at 0% interest. The fee was 3% of the transfer amount, around $350. The debt is due in January 2019. Compared with losing $1,800 per month, $350 is small beans.

Some people will avoid debt at all costs, and I respect that. I also respect math, and in this case I went with the math. My goal is not to be debt free right now, my goal is to keep my net worth growing.

Debt, of course, as you know, can be taken to the extreme. I’m not going to borrow more than I need to. But in this circumstance, debt solves my problem rather easily. We have solid jobs and good credit, so I’m not worried about paying it down.


Okey doke, let’s look at some numbers.

Click on image to enlarge.

I went with a 3-month view to make myself feel better. Despite all the spending, our net worth is still up $12,841 over 3 months. I expect the next few months to be expensive, but eventually we will settle back in to normal spending patters.

Note: Click on this next graph to enlarge it.

Click on image to enlarge.

The graphic shows our progress from September 2015, when I started tracking the goal of being a millionaire at age 45I’m still ahead of the required pace.

This encourages me and should encourage Mrs. R as well. We’ve grown our net worth by $200k in 2 years! We have a lot going on, we have some debt, we have more expenses ahead, but overall we’re doing well. 



Monthly Money Check: Penny Is Making 20 Student Loan Payments Per Month! — September 2017

Dear Rich,

I’ll get to all your wonderful and interesting and thought-provoking questions in my next post, but for now I need to do my Monthly Money Report. We came very close to getting under my arbitrary $2,000 goal, despite the fact that I thought we had some kind of hefty expenses (more school supplies and uniforms, a birthday celebration, etc).

Here is how the month shaped up for us:

Something we just started doing, finally, is making more than one payment on our student loans. This was recommended to me a while ago, and it took us a little while to finally get it going. The student loan company doesn’t do more than one automatic payment a month, so we ended up dragging our feet on it because of that. Now, we aren’t only doing one payment a month, we aren’t doing two payments a month, we aren’t even doing three or four or five payments a month… We are doing, count ‘em, TWENTY student loan payments a month!

Since student loan interest accumulates daily, this should help us immensely in having more of it go toward the principal. So, every weekday, my husband is going to manually pay $80. Twenty payments of that will add up to $1,600 a month. This is $600 more than what we’re paying now, but my husband no longer has a certain business expense starting this month, so we are going to funnel all that money directly toward the student loans, and we won’t even miss it.

It’s weird thinking about how we spend $80 a day for student loans. Just think, if we didn’t have student loans, we would have an extra $80 to spend almost every single day. That’s more than what we spent eating out last month! We could eat out every day with that kind of money, amongst other things. I can’t wait to get rid of those student loans for good. Hopefully this new method will greatly speed things up. It should.

I’m still waiting to get our property tax refund, and we should have an extra chunk to throw toward student loans there as well.



Rich Ruminates On The Benefits Of Being Uncomfortable. Can Imperfect Systems Help Build Resilience And Confidence?

I’d say he’s comfortable.

Hey Penny,

I appreciate your last post — it gave me a bunch of food for thought. This is exactly the sort of conversation we used to have over email, so I’m happy to reply on the blog. For those just catching up, here are the first 2 installments of this conversation:

If I could sum up the main emotional thrust of my initial post, it’d be something like: “My family is in the middle of a huge, tumultuous transition right now that involves money, work, life, school — is this really the good life??”

My answer to my own question, in that post, was The Good Life Is Not About Perfect Comfort.

Your answer, if I read your post correctly, is basically: Screw that! Get out of the rat race, ditch that prison school for a place your kids can thrive, and don’t knock Craigslist.

Again, this really made me think, so thank you. I’m going to try to unpack my original thought a bit more, with updated thinking based on the past week or so.


As I said, I understand the desire to retire as early as possible. The transition back to work in the US from overseas hasn’t been all high fives and pizza parties. So why don’t I try to retire earlier?

I won’t spend much time on the practical aspect of this, but the practical side is quite complicated. I’d need to shuffle accounts, reset priorities, move again, etc, etc. It’s all possible I’m sure, if we were really committed. Maybe I could retire at 50 instead of 55. Maybe. For 5 years of … what again?

The more important aspect of this is philosophical. As I’ve spelled out in several posts, especially my Philosophy Of Money and the Meaning of Life, personal growth and meeting my potential and the value of work are all real priorities for me.

Even though work has been a bit of a grind lately, I recently had some days that were fully engaging. There’s nothing quite like the feeling that I’m doing good work on interesting topics with other professional people I like and respect. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of FLOW: “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” (Wikipedia)

What I’m getting at is that there’s a positive side to this, and sometimes the positive side only comes after a period of difficulty. I don’t want my career to be difficult all the time, but I also realize that very few things in life are achieved or enjoyed without effort. If we didn’t persevere through the difficulty, we wouldn’t enjoy the personal and professional gains on the other side. For me, the positive aspects of my career have far outweighed the negative.

Mrs. Rich and I want to meet our potential at work as much as possible. It stretches us, makes us grow, opens up new doors of opportunity. We have lived in different places around the country and around the world, and that scratches a special itch for us. We also live the lifestyle we want to live, and we feel lucky to be so lucky. Does that make sense?


One thing you mentioned that I don’t really understand: “And it seems to make more sense to me to Retire Earlier (if that’s what you’re planning on doing anyway) so you can watch your kids grow up ….”

Am I giving the impression that, as a busy professional, I don’t have much time with the kids to watch them grow up?

I can assure you, that’s not the case at all for me and Mrs. Rich. We chose to live close to school so we can walk them to and from every day, and we chose to live close to work so we can be with them rather than sitting in the car commuting. Mrs. R is a Kindergarten room parent, and I’m the soccer coach. There really aren’t many more hours in the day that we could spend with the kids even if we were retired right now.

Of course, we could be with them all day if we were homeschooling or something, which leads me to the education part of your note.


I don’t disagree with much of what you said about education. I’d probably prefer the Finnish way of doing things, or Montessori, or the little preschool we used to send our kids to.

That said, I’m not all doom and gloom about our local public school. It’s not much different from the schools I went to growing up. We were expected to sit down and we had homework and all that. I turned out ok, right?

Ha, don’t answer that.

I like your point about thriving: So, I don’t know, you say you’re boys are struggling in school, but, yeah, they’ll just have to adjust. Don’t you want something better than that? Don’t you want them to thrive?

I was open about the fact that my first, emotional, transitional reaction was to pull the kids right out of the new school and put them somewhere they’d be more comfortable. That’s a natural response for many parents. I also give a nod to the stages of development you highlighted in your post — I don’t feel as strongly as you do, but I see your points.

However, I also wonder, could there be some downside to pulling them out of uncomfortable situations? Conversely, is there some upside to giving them time to adjust to a different way of doing things?

Continue reading “Rich Ruminates On The Benefits Of Being Uncomfortable. Can Imperfect Systems Help Build Resilience And Confidence?”

Penny Explains Her Philosophy On Education. Why Do Little Kids Spend 5 Days A Week In School Prisons Anyway?

Dear Rich,

I’m going to write a bit about my educational philosophy, but first I wanted to address a couple of things from your last post.

You talked a bit about how you can kind of understand why people strive for FIRE. And you set yourself apart from them because you like spending the money that you have, you like being a busy professional, etc. But here’s the thing I don’t understand: You are setting yourself up for Financial Independence and Retiring Early, you’re just doing it a little later than everyone else. Retiring at 55 (which you said you plan to do) is still retiring early.

And it seems to make more sense to me to Retire Earlier (if that’s what you’re planning on doing anyway) so you can watch your kids grow up, rather than later, when you’re using your (still) early retirement to have more time to drink mai tais on the beach. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to each their own, I’m just stating my opinion.) So, I’m with those FIRE people. They seem to have something figured out.

Now, let’s talk about education. You know I have strong feels about this, and I can understand why your boys are struggling, because schools are really no place for young children, especially young boys. They need to be outside moving their bodies, having adventures, exploring the world.

Here’s my primer into what I feel about the best form of education for certain age groups.

Birth – Age 9

I think that kids at this age should not be in school and should be allowed to explore and learn from the world as they are so inclined. I think they should spend a lot of time outdoors. A lot of time being physical. A lot of time finding and developing and pursuing their own interests. Some people call this Unschooling.

If you think about how babies learn and develop, how they learn to talk, and walk and do things without any formal instruction… you can carry this mentality for older kids too. Kids are always learning, even without formal instruction. My kids even learned to read pretty much on their own, in their own time, without any formal instruction.

This quote by John Taylor Gatto:

“It was never factually true that young people learn to read or do arithmetic primarily by being taught these things. These things are learned, but not really taught at all. Over-teaching interferes with learning, although the few who survive it may well come to imagine it was by an act of teaching.”

Age 9-14

At this age, with my kids, their minds were ready to learn more than I (and the world) were offering them. Fortunately for us, we found a 3 day a week Montessori Homeschool Academy. It was the perfect balance into a more formalized education with the kids going to a place that offered them the resources to learn more. Plus, Montessori doesn’t do homework or tests, so their philosophy matched up pretty well with how I wanted my kids to be educated anyway. Montessori is about teaching the child, not the curriculum. In addition, I like that it is only 3 days a week. That’s enough. Who says a 5 day school week is the ideal anyway? Why is that the norm? Family time should still be a bigger part of the child’s life than school.

I like what G.K. Chesterton has to say about schooling:

“There is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.”

This summer, my 11 year old was talking to his neighborhood friends, and they were asking him when his prison (by which they meant school) started. He said, “I don’t go to prison. I go to a nice little Montessori school.”

So, my kids like their school. They choose to go, I don’t force them. (I talked about this a bit already in my Paying for College Is Helicopter Parenting post, and I included a good discussion with my son about what he thinks about school and what he wants to get out of it.

Age 14-18

High school. We are still figuring this out. My oldest just started this year.

We picked a private high school that we thought was in line with our educational beliefs. At an open house, when asked about homework, the founder of the school, said, “We have your kids 7 hours a day. That’s enough.” And went on to say that they got around 30-45 minutes a night.

Well, cut to the parent orientation, and we see in our materials to expect 1-2 hours of homework a night. Not exactly what we signed up for.

Plus, it takes my daughter an hour to get to and from school on the city bus, so this full-time school thing is ending up taking a lot more of her time than we had planned for.

But maybe this is the next stage of development for a 14 year old. In his book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Gordon Neufeld talks about how during the teenage years, it is developmentally appropriate for kids to become more peer-oriented. (But until then, parents should be the primary influence, and it is often the other way around, especially with the way schools are structured.) So, I don’t know. She’s going to graduate in four years and maybe this is the beginning of her structuring her life differently. We’ll see how it goes. If it’s not working out for us, we’ll try something else.

Continue reading “Penny Explains Her Philosophy On Education. Why Do Little Kids Spend 5 Days A Week In School Prisons Anyway?”

Rich Examines Moving Expenses, Minimalism vs. Serial Killers, His Cat’s Shopping Habits, Modern Living, and The FIRE Desire

Dear Penny,

I thought it’d be interesting to compare our actual moving expenses with our estimated moving expenses. And I believe this will lead into a rant about modern living, early retirement, and education. We’ll see.

Let’s take a peak out the window of our new situation.

Is this home?

Before we moved, I estimated $30,000 in expenses. The big expense was our car, because now we need 2 cars as modern dual income working professionals. We also needed a bunch of furniture because all we owned was a couch, a bed, and an old dresser.

Well, the numbers are in — gaze upon them and be astounded:

Click on image to enlarge.

I’m not sure what’s astounding about this, I just wanted a dramatic transition.

Mrs. Rich told me my estimates were too low, and she was right. That said, I was expecting it to be worse. Every time we leave the house we spend a few hundred dollars on something. I’m not complaining at all — we knew we’d spend a lot getting a car and getting our apartment set up. $6,000 isn’t nothing, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I decided long ago I don’t want to lose sleep over money. 

Here are some observations about minimalism vs. frugality, modern professional living, and FIRE (financial independence / early retirement).


The personal finance blogosphere has already noted this apparent paradox, that minimalism (desiring fewer possessions) is often at odds with frugality (desiring inexpensive possessions). I think we’re a good example of this.

I was telling someone about the furniture we needed, and they commented, “You could find a lot of that on Craigslist.” I can’t remember what I said, but I was thinking, “Do people still buy second-hand merchandise from would be serial killers?”

But seriously, the Rich family doesn’t use Craigslist. Mrs. Rich and I agree that we don’t really want a cheap find; we want a quality piece of furniture that we enjoy and would like to keep. That’s minimalism vs. frugality. So when you look at the line items like Rug, Dressers, End Tables — that’s what you’re seeing.

Even the cat is getting into the act, showing an interest in Crate And Barrel!

Do not give this animal a credit card.


I would describe us as modern professionals. We’ve got the dual careers, the dual cars, the school activities, and the Vitamix. This is what we want. But in the midst of this tumultuous transition, I need to say something: I understand.

I understand the desire for simplicity — something you, Penny, have expressed over and over in one way or another. My life right now isn’t difficult, but it isn’t simple either. And this is mostly by choice, and the consequence of a life where one moves around.

We’re busy, juggling school related activities and work related activities. On top of it all, I volunteered to coach Kindergarten soccer. What was I thinking? Yet another activity.

Most of our stuff is still on a boat, so we’re eating take out on paper plates. At night we’re exhausted. It won’t last forever, but it’s been quite week. Or two.

I understand your mixed feelings about education in America. We went from a small cozy international preschool to a huge chaotic urban elementary school. Our boys, so far, don’t like it very much. All the rules, regulations, and impersonal interactions … I understand why you can’t stand it. Part of me wanted to pull them out after the second day, drop everything, and move to Finland.


I understand why people strive for FIRE — Financial Independence and Early Retirement.

Continue reading “Rich Examines Moving Expenses, Minimalism vs. Serial Killers, His Cat’s Shopping Habits, Modern Living, and The FIRE Desire”