Go Ahead, Refashion The World In Your Image

“I don’t shop at Walmart,” the lefty bumper sticker proudly proclaims. Congratulations I sarcastically think to myself, wake me when you convince ten working class families to do the same.

Similarly, I suppose, I deserve congratulations for having dropped my ballot in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church ballot box last week, but I’d be far more impressed with myself if I convinced another person, or group of people, to vote the way I did.

Whether shopping or voting, I am one drop in ginormous buckets, but what if I tilt the buckets through persuading others to shop, vote, and think more like me? Easier said than done though, because to varying degrees, we’re all engaged in the art of persuasion.

Why are we so intent on getting others to shop, vote, think, and be like us? Because we’re so insecure? If that’s even partially correct, why are we so insecure? As long as I feel good about my daily decision making, why should I care whether others think and act similarly? Fortunately, we’re all different; consequently, what works for me, may not as well for others. And vice-versa. I want the autonomy to decide things mostly by myself, so why my impulse to influence others’ decision-making? Isn’t that a contradiction?

The ecologically minded among us would rightly say because the planet’s future depends upon it. But that reality doesn’t justify projecting all of our myriad beliefs upon others does it? It’s difficult to project our beliefs upon others without a certain arrogance that we know better than you where to shop, who to vote for, what lifestyle is best.

As I touched upon recently, the FIRE—Financial Independence Retire Early—Movement is having a moment. One of the main advocates is Pete Adeney who recently wrote a blog post titled “What Everybody is Getting Wrong About FIRE.” 

To which I wrote as a comment on his blog:

“. . . I don’t understand something fundamental to your thinking. Who cares? That Suze Orman and others hate the FIRE movement? That lots of people are critical of aspects of the Financial Independence Movement? That misperceptions abound? How do inaccuracies or flat out negativity effect you or other adherents of simple living? More generally, apart from the serious, negative ecological consequences of mindless materialism; who cares if someone chooses a long commute to a corporate cubicle? The stridency—everyone can and should follow our example to live better lives—almost harkens of evangelical Christianity. Or intense political partisanship—if only everyone was a Democrat or Republican like me. Every time I walk into the weight room, I see people with scary bad form, but that doesn’t mean I give them unsolicited advice on what to do differently to avoid injury. I totally get sitting around talking in-depth with close friends who are interested in all things financial independence, it’s the caring about what other people think and the proselytizing to the masses I don’t get.”

To which Adeney took issue in this return-of-serve:

“Do you really have to ask why I care about our society’s perception and adoption of these ideas I’m sharing?

I want them to SPREAD, and spread quickly. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

I care, because every bit of pollution and pointless inefficiency and unhappiness hurts all of us. And the solution is so obvious and easy.

My own problems and those of my close friends are already solved. Once you have your own shit set up nicely, it’s a pretty natural instinct to turn outwards and try to help others. And it’s also hella rewarding.”

To which I replied a second time:

“No offense meant, but I do. Concern about pollution is admirable; but ‘efficiency’ and ‘happiness’ are relative terms. That’s why social scientists use the term ‘subjective well being’. If the ideas were truly ‘obvious and easy’ financially independent minimalists wouldn’t be a distinct minority.”

To which another reader replied:

“Maybe you SHOULD help your fellow lifters out with unsolicited advice, before they blow out a knee or herniate a disc. They might even be grateful for your thoughtful intervention (like I am economically, with this particular blog here.)”

Adeney is beloved by his millions of readers, so I’ll always get pillared for daring to do anything but completely agree with him. His blog’s comment section, an echo chamber, is boring, but I digress.

In some ways, the weight room hypothetical is the heart of the matter. There is a middle ground, an alternative to my decision to not offer unsolicited advice and the reader’s suggestion to do exactly the opposite. And that is to offer a compelling enough example—through specialized knowledge, kindness, and care that eventually, some people will ASK for input.

  • How can I improve my finances? How can I save more? How should I invest?
  • How can I build strength without injuring myself? How should I train for a marathon?
  • What do you think about Candidate X? Initiative Y? Why?

Go forth and set compelling examples. And refashion the world in your image one inquisitive person at a time.

Tuesday Assorted Links

1. Knicks fan sells fanhood for $3,450, now will root for Lakers. Genius. Wonder what I could get for my lapsed Sonic fanhood. $3.45? Speaking of Spike Lee, I’m giving the Blackklansman an “A-“.

2. New logo and identity for the Library of Congress. And John Gruber, who takes his logos seriously, is not happy. At all.

“This new identity is a horrendous mistake. The old identity was perfect.

The new identity doesn’t look bad in and of itself, per se, but it doesn’t fit the Library of Congress in any way. The Library of Congress is majestic, historic, dignified, authoritative. A new or tweaked identity for the Library of Congress should be for the ages, something designed to last for a century or longer. This feels like an identity that will last 10 years. I love orange and black as a color scheme, but why in the world would you choose those colors for the United States Library of Congress? Why is the word “Library” used twice? Why do some of these marks break up the word “Library” at utterly random points making it unreadable? The ones that break it up as “LIBR-Library of Congress-ARY” look like a logo for the Long Island Railroad.

This is all so wrong it breaks my heart.”

3. What’s It’s Like to Shop After Not Shopping for Two Years.

“The most common mistake was that I used to buy things for a more aspirational version of myself, but then never used them because the real me didn’t want to. In waiting to feel the need for an object, I know it’s something worth buying—and when I have the money, the real me buys it and uses it. There are no justifications and no shame. I just buy it and use it.”

I’m a Cait Flanders fan.

Weirdly, just lately, in my advanced age, I started drinking asundry espresso drinks at asundry local coffee shops a few mornings a week after swimming or running. My sissy is disgusted with my frivolous spending, and I can’t live with the shame, so I’ve begun shopping for an espresso machine only to learn that’s the world’s largest rabbit hole. Oh, you gotta have a grinder? Not just any grinder, but a particularly good one. And every machine has serious trade-offs. Long story short, I’ve spent an embarrassing number of hours the last week watching YouTube reviews as I try to declare my independence from our local coffee shops. Hours I’ll never get back. Talk about frivolity. I wonder what Cait would charge for an hour of therapy. I could even bring the espresso. . . eventually.

4. Make America Great Again.

How Much Does Your Commute Cost?

You don’t know because Jack was right.

I hope it’s a lot less than mine. All numbers are approximations.

• 40 weeks x 4 days commuting per week = 160 round trips of about 65 miles = 10,400 miles/year. Divided by 36 miles per gallon = 289 gallons x $3.25/gallon = $939. Because I like round numbers, let’s say the cost of gas continues creeping upwards, so let’s round up to $1,000 year in gas.

• $846 in insurance, but since 20% of my mileage is non-work, let’s pencil that in as $677 (I will resist rounding).

• Approximately $500 in routine services, tires, general wear and tear, so a work adjusted total of $400.

• 80% of my $65 annual registration is $52.

• I paid $38.5K for my car in 2015. Let’s assume it will be worth $5.5k in 2024 when it will have 150k on it. That’s $33k in depreciation over ten years or $3.3k per year.

So $1,000 gas + $677 insurance + $400 in maintenance + $52 in registration + $3,300 in depreciation = $5,429. Are we done? Unfortunately, no, we’re not even close.

Why? Because I haven’t added in the cost of my time spent behind the wheel. Without traffic, my 65 mile roundtrip commute takes 1:25-ish, adjusting for traffic, let’s call it 1:40, or 6 hours and 40 minutes per week for a grand total of 267 hours per year or nearly 7 weeks of full time work sitting behind the wheel.

Hmm, how to value that time? If you or your workplace want to hire me to edit or write something or consult on a work or life problem, I’ll charge something north of $100/hour, but that doesn’t mean all my time is that valuable. How much should we discount my commute time? By half? If my commute time is worth $50/hour, that adds $13,350 to the above total. What if we discount it by half again, using $25/hour as our estimation, then we add $6,675 to our previous total.

At $25/hour, it costs me $12,104 to work each year. At $50/hour, $18,779.

Drumroll. This is as painful a sentence as I’ve written in a long time. It costs me somewhere between $12,000 and $19,000 getting to and from work each year.

If you’ve ever read one of my 1,348 posts and thought there was some semblance of intelligence evident within it, this 1,349th one should disabuse you of that idea forever and ever amen.

 

 

 

 

The Overworked American

From True Wealth by Juliet Schor:

“Not surprisingly, over the last twenty years, a large number of U.S. employees report being overworked. A 2004 study found that 44 percent of respondents were often or very often overworked, overwhelmed at their job, or unable to step back and process what’s going on. A third reported being chronically overworked. These overworked employees had much higher stress levels, worse physical health, higher rates of depression, and reduced ability to take care of themselves than their less-pressured colleagues. Adverse effects of long hours, stress, and overwork have found in a number of studies, for a variety of physical, mental, and social health outcomes.”

Phenomenon like that inspired this blog’s name many moons ago. So, as the calendar year draws to a close, let’s step back and process what’s going on.

Why do so many U.S. workers subject themselves to the “adverse effects of long hours, stress, and overwork”? Is it because, as one of my friends insists, they have no choice, because their families have grown accustomed to uber-comfortable, expensive-to- maintain lifestyles? Is it as simple as mindless materialism or trying to keep pace with one’s neighbors conspicuous consumption? What if my friend went to his family and said, I want to invest less time at work and more strengthening our relationships and my physical, mental, and social health?

Overworked U.S. readers, what is keeping you from reducing your personal or family overhead and going half-time at work? Or if your employer doesn’t provide a half-time option, finding a different job that would require less of you so that you could prioritize, rather than continue neglecting, your physical, mental, and social health?

I don’t think my friend would admit it, but I’m convinced, despite his sporadic complaining about his work, he greatly prefers being at work to not. He does not have many interests outside of work. He’s good at what he does. Being good at what he does gives him an identity.

Maybe the central challenge for the overworked American isn’t figuring out how to down-size his or her lifestyle, it’s how to craft an identity from non-work interests and activities.

Postscript: Mea culpa. I should’ve woven this sentence in from Schor too. “Of course, for many earning less money is simply impossible, because their wages are too low.”

 

 

What William Morris Didn’t Factor In

William Morris was a 19th Century English textile designer, artist, writer, socialist, and Marxist. I imagine him as a calmer, more serene Bernie Sanders.

Among other memorable quotes, Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Same goes for cars, work offices, garages.

Wonderful goal, but most of what’s stored in our residences was helpful once, but isn’t anymore (ethernet cables, college texts, the golf shag bag). Or we think it may be helpful at some point in the future even though it hasn’t been for a long time (a gazillion screws, nuts and bolts; a road atlas, the golf shag bag). When it comes to our possessions, we mostly live in the past and future.

Similarly, we’re surrounded by stuff we found beautiful at one time. If we’re honest, a small subset of what we’re surrounded by is beautiful or particularly useful with any regularity (the Gal Pal just suggested I look in the mirror). What purposes then, do the majority of our things serve?

Like historical landmarks, they create order and bred familiarity. Like old photos or friends, subconsciously, they remind us of the past. Often, they are the product of nostalgia mixed with inertia. A sedentary sentimentality confounds efforts at genuine minimalism.

Knowing that, we can be much more selective about what we save as links to our past, scanning and digitizing much of what makes the final cut. Doing that, our living spaces will grow and we’ll enjoy them more.

 

 

Trenchant Research on How Birth Order Affects the Way You Spend Money

Thanks to Brown and Grable by way of Horkey for this description of how birth order affects the way we spend money.

Was blind, but now I see. By “trenchant” I mean amazingly facile.

First born. My oldest brother. The best editor I’ve ever had:

The oldest child in the family tends to be mature, confident and, more often than not, a perfectionist. As a result of the responsibilities and expectations placed on them by parents at an early age, older siblings are well organized and generally in control of their lives.

‘Firstborns handle money differently. I see a pattern in a lot of people that I know. They are viciously protective of making sure bills are paid on time and living within their means, which includes building savings and investments.’

Middle child(ren). My sissy and older brother. The best middle siblings I’ve ever had:

“While the oldest child is often given the lion’s share of attention from parents, and the youngest can typically do no wrong, the middle child might feel lost in the shuffle.

Middle children are resigned to the fact that someone is always both ahead of and behind them in terms of familial structure. As a result, they are often found to be naturally gifted problem solvers with excellent negotiation skills. And when it comes to financial habits, the middle child is a born saver, with nearly 65 percent of the group contributing money to their savings accounts each month.'”

The youngest. Myself. Such a perfect, little, Idaho potato that my parents immediately decided to procreate no more:

“More often than not, this person is. . . the life of the party.

While the youngest children might seem charming and fun to be around, they also tend to demonstrate bad spending habits and are typically the least financially responsible of their siblings. It doesn’t help that parents have often become more lenient about discipline by the time the second or third child is born.

Parents have a habit of overindulging and spoiling the youngest children in families. Ultimately, this desire to protect the baby of the family can backfire, causing the individual to spend rather than save for a rainy day.”

Thanks to these poignant insights, I’m going to start trying to save more money. All while remaining true to my life of the party, charming, fun to be around self.

 

Of Coupon Codes and Meaning in Life

Karl Marx believed history was shaped by an overarching dialectic—an enduring conflict between the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production and the proletariat who were stuck selling their labor to the capitalist class. I have my own overarching dialectic that I believe shapes family life, religious communities, municipalities, and even nation-states—an enduring conflict between our material and spiritual selves.

In the simplest terms, it’s a battle between our preoccupation with consumer goods that make our lives more convenient and comfortable versus prioritizing family, friends, those in need, and the ethical stewardship our finite natural resources.

My material self routinely gets the better of my spiritual self. I spend too much time shopping online and I recently I purchased an iPhone 6+ and a new car. But I suspect I’m different than a lot of consumers because I’m keenly aware of the battle that rages inside me. I also live well below my means and know my phone and car, as nice as they are, can’t hold a candle to the joy and meaning my wife, family, friends, students, and writing provide.

How ironic that this time of year is marked by numerous sacred religious traditions and we’re more susceptible than ever to mindless materialism. Consumerism trumps contemplation. This manifests itself in many ways, stampeding store customers have to be the most jarring (the increased popularity of online shopping appears to be dampening that phenomenon).

This weekend in Seattle, The Gap and a few other stores were having a “50% off everything in the store” sale. Which got me thinking about a grand experiment in which all of downtown Seattle businesses had simultaneous “100% off everything in the store” sales. Their motto might be, “This stuff was really ill-conceived and is poorly made, ugly, and of no real use, so please, please take it off our hands.” Tens of thousands would jump in their cars and speed downtown, park haphazardly, and run towards the stores with eyes ablaze.

Free man, free! Nevermind that they’d have no real need for the stuff falling out of their overfilled shopping carts. Free man! Nevermind that they wouldn’t have enough room in their dresser drawers, closets, or garages for the stuff. Free! Nevermind that the stuff wouldn’t fill those empty spaces in their lives created by superficial or strained relationships with others.

My spiritual self has convinced my material self to sit out the mania this December. Join me. Help me tilt the balance from the material to the spiritual.