Monthly Archives: May 2009

on being homeless

Wellington Desolation... potty?

I don’t think I could start a post like this one without saying that I’m not homeless in the usual sense of the word.
I have now not a single debt in the world – no mortgage, no loans, no consumer debt, NOTHING – and I have a net worth in the mid-six-figures.  Yet I fit the definition because, for a week, my family has had no home.  Our home was sold and our lease on our new home has not yet begun, so we are – by a weak technical point – homeless.

I can’t say it’s enjoyable. I am fortunate to have parents with a home large enough to accomodate an additional four people without much strain, but it’s still an odd feeling.  I have been homeless twice in my adult life now.  Once, when I returned from Moscow in my mid-20s, and now.  When I returned from Moscow I was single and simply didn’t bother to get a separate place to live.  I had been overseas for a while and living with my parents for a month or two while I found a new job seemed like a vacation.  After selling our house in New Jersey, we were left with an awkward “gap time” between the pickup of our belongings by the moving company and delivery in Florida.  So, for a brief time, we are living off what could be stuffed into our minivan.

Again, we haven’t suffered. My parents and my brother’s family have spent a lot of time taking care of us, and in many senses it’s been a relief to finally put the house sale behind us.  Although I’ll miss our house (the house to which I brought my two children home from the hospital), I was relieved to sell it, collect the proceeds and move on.  Knowing that it was sold a few months ago gave me time to adjust and move on.  What I wasn’t prepared for was a sense of disorientation – being unemployed and without a “real” home for even a week gives me a sense of vertigo.

If you read much about the crisis we are enduring as a nation, you get a glimpse of the terror a lot of people must be facing. Worrying about paying the electric bill has never crossed my mind, but I can’t even begin to understand the terror a family must face if they can’t pay for heat in the winter.  For the first time in my life though, I have started to realize that I CAN understand that terror.  Not because I’m suffering – far from it, to be honest.  I just felt, for a second, the open, empty feeling of having no base.

I don’t think I can take much away from this episode other than sympathy. We have rented a nice house in a good neighborhood of a well-to-do town in a prosperous county in a … well, struggling state.  But Bubelah and I are fortunate to have parents who are supportive and helpful, so we’ve never felt hopeless.  I just wish – after a tiny dose of homelessness – that everybody was as lucky as we are.  Being homeless – even in a technical sense of the word – is a disturbing feeling, and I would never wish it on anyone.

photo credit: Glutnix

guest post: a kick in the pants

By Curmudgeon, brip blap’s favorite guest writer…

I have just had my annual physical examination (I passed, although some of the parts that have gone out of warranty are getting a little creaky).  What? You haven’t seen a doctor in ten years?  Are you, well, nuts?

My parents were children of the Great Depression (not this little blip we are currently living through).  The prevailing attitude of that generation is that you went to see a doctor only when you were about ready to die.  It’s a stark commentary, but it’s largely true.  A part of it is cultural, but a part of it is a distinctly human trait that encourages us to avoid hearing bad news, and having to act on that news.

A decade or so ago my mother took my father into the hospital emergency room, for his first time in 40 years, because he could no longer stand the pain of the cancer that infiltrated his body. He lived for a year and a half afterward, although I can’t call his quality of life anything to write home about.  For the last several months, he was delirious and bed-ridden.

While we decry the state of health care in the United States, at least in comparison with nationalized programs in other countries that the media describes (all of which have their downsides), the fact of the matter is that if you are fortunate enough to have a decent employer-sponsored health care offering, and are not taking advantage of it, you are a fool who is taking unnecessary chances with your life and livelihood.  Despite the costs, paperwork, and general confusion, it is largely the best program in the world.

I recognize that there are those of you who don’t have access to such a program, and in my older years I have been an advocate for a drastic change in how the US delivers health care. Yet even so, it is more important for you to find a way to obtain the care that is the privilege of living here, because you likely need it all the more.  Without good health, you can’t fulfill any of the goals that Steve describes as the cornerstone of his postings.

photo credit: mikemariano

how to have a happy childhood

Here comes the sun...
Over the last few weeks, as we’ve discussed our move to Florida with other parents, the inevitable comment – other than the “oh  there’s no state income tax there” or “oh, the cost of living must be much lower there” – has been “think of us when it’s October and you’re outside playing and we’re stuck at home.”

I grew up in the Deep South. Winter meant jackets, not heavy coats, and snow meant a dusting and a nuclear-war level alert by the local school districts.  A half inch of snow meant weeping mothers, runs on canned foods at the supermarket and preparations for the breakdown of society.  As kids, snow wasn’t really much of a factor one way or another for us.  Life was the hot season and everything else.

Yet I’ve spent three winters with a child in the northeast and learned that the seasons of a childhood here are the outdoor season and the indoor season. This year, we had a long indoor season.  When I lost my last consulting contract, we were faced with an odd prospect – Papa was going to be home all winter but we had to watch money because we had no income coming in.

I count myself lucky. My wife and I, despite having many differences of opinion on money, have aggressively saved against a day such as…well, these days.  The long cold winter wasn’t filled with trips to Disneyland but it wasn’t filled with Ramen noodles and sweaters-versus-50-degree-thermometers, either.  We had the means to prepare.

But at the same time, I had a long winter not working – unless you count blogging as work – to think about what made a happy childhood and one of the recurring thoughts I had was that outdoor time was precious. I’m not sure about my daughter yet, but my son appears to rocket into full form when he’s outdoors.  He seems happiest outside.  He seemed restricted and bored indoors throughout the winter, and once a mild spring/summer (whatever this miserable pseud0-season is here in New Jersey) arrived, he launched outdoors with a vengeance. His childhood – at this early stage – could appear to be defined by the ratio of indoor to outdoor time.

I know some people will wax nostalgic about snowmen, or snowballs, or mulled tea. Not me.  For me, a happy childhood – and to some extent, a happy adulthood – are directly proportional to warm days.  Wish me luck as I seek to prove this theory.  🙂

photo credit: chantrybee

farewell new jersey

white sneakers

New Jersey, farewell – I’ll miss a few things, and won’t miss many others.  I’ve lived in a few states in this Union:  in order, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Illinois, Mississippi (with a brief time spent living in Germany), Tennessee, then some time overseas in Russia, then New York and most recently New Jersey.  In a few more days, I’ll add Florida.

New Jersey…I’ll miss:

  • Your proximity to Manhattan, the place on this Earth that will always seem the most perfect place for a human to live, to me.  I’ll tell my children to come live in Manhattan – but not New Jersey.  But then again, living close to Manhattan seldom meant VISITING Manhattan.
  • My neighbors, who were nice people, and their kids, who were charming and wonderful companions for my son and (due to her age, to a lesser extent) my daughter.
  • Your mild summers.
  • Your sports teams, namely the New York “New Jersey” Jets, whose outrageous ticket prices made it difficult for me to attend games, and who have caused me no end of heartbreak through the years.
  • The local Houlihan’s.  I know it’s a chain restaurant and I know it’s blah food and it’s really not my thing, but they were always patient and pleasant with our kids and always accommodated us with friends and family buying silly drinks with umbrellas and bringing exacting kids’ orders.
  • My house – the first one I’ve owned after 15 years of renting.  It’s not the Taj Mahal, but I put a lot of sweat equity into it and I’m proud of the way it turned out.  It was a home for us, our children and our family.

I won’t miss:

  • Crippling taxes, which are accompanied by failed school systems, understaffed and overwhelmed safety officers, broken roads, awful libraries, pathetic museums and non-existent public parks.
  • Traffic.  Hellish traffic.
  • The weather.  If I never see snow again in my life, I’ll be happy.  I’m not one of those people who likes snow, even in small doses.  Go away, snow, forever.
  • Commutes.  One of the primary determinants of a happy working life seem to be commute length.  I averaged probably more than an hour and a half living in New Jersey – it doesn’t make for a happy life to live in a place where three hours a day are spent commuting.
  • Cost of living.  We often noted how our local supermarket seemed insanely expensive even compared to the same chain in Queens near my in-laws’ place.  In New Jersey, chains seemed to feel free to increase costs simply because – well, you have nowhere else to go.
  • The weather.  Oh wait, I said that before.  Well, that’s the main reason we’re leaving.

Sometime today I’ll leave New Jersey, probably for the last time.  With no family here and no real reason to return, I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon.  We’ll be back in New York, and we might come to visit friends in Jersey.  But for me, another page has turned.  As Omar Khayyam says, “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on”.  Farewell.

photo credit: joiseyshowaa


dtv bandwidth

I spend a lot of time thinking about money.
More than is healthy, to be honest. Part of the time I’m optimistic, and part of the time I’m morbid. I spend more time than I should focusing on the morbid (“how can I lose my money”) and less than I should focusing on the optimistic (“how can I make more money”).

When you start in on major life projects – healthcare for an ill relative, a move, a career shift, a new child – static overwhelms the day-to-day problems of life. If you are worried about whether the gas bill was paid on time, you won’t be once you’re caring for a critically ill elderly parent. If you were troubled about your asset allocation earlier, you won’t be when you have a new baby on the way three weeks prematurely. Priorities fall into place.

The amazing thing is that when you’re struggling with “real life” problems, these stupid little “small life” problems become irrelevant. If you have your finances set up on an automated basis, these small life problems become almost invisible. Our gas, electric, phone, internet, satellite TV, mortgage, taxes and several other small bills were all paid automatically by direct charge to credit cards (if possible, for rewards points) or checking accounts (if credit cards were not possible, simply for convenience). If I was worried about anything, it was investment money and our long-term financial prosperity.

And long-term finances aren’t worth thinking about, because better minds than mine (or yours) couldn’t figure them out, either. Pick a strategy and stick to it. When moments in life come up that totally disrupt your ability to deal with money or other decisions, make sure you’ve automated as much as possible. Don’t rely on your ability to react in the moment. If you think you’ll be able to monitor your investments on a daily basis, the day will come when you can’t.

Have a system set up. I meant to have automatic post after automatic post set up for the week surrounding my move, but I don’t as of yet – I’m working on it, but bear with me. Automating your life to the greatest extent possible will make a huge difference in the quality of your life. You may not think it will when you’re buried deep in routine, and “remember to pay the gas bill on the first Tuesday of every month” is the most important thought you have crossing your mind for a week. Prepare for the days when you’ll be disrupted, and get ready for overwhelming static.

photo credit: kalleboo

linklings, countdown now edition

U-HAUL in north van  - Image1551

This week Bubelah and I have been furiously packing.  You never know how much stuff you have until you try to organize it and put it in boxes.  Another challenge is trying to decide whether or not to – for example – throw out an old bathroom mat.  You’ll need it, of course, but it’s just one more thing, and it’s old.   At least for now we’ve decided to go with the take-everything-possible theory, in order to minimize the amount of new stuff we’ll need to buy immediately.

But since we’re moving this week, don’t expect roundups for a week or two.  I’ll keep the posts coming, but the “real time” updates like these will have to wait.  I was trying to decide whether moving or having a baby was more disruptive, and I think moving is!

On to the links:

Some dry reading, but worth checking out if you’re looking for a federal job:  Government Careers – Applying for Federal and Security-Related Jobs.

Save Money by Turning Off Your Television?:  We have canceled satellite altogether this week.  We have digital TV (broadcast) and Netflix, and that’s it.  I have to be honest – signal quality is fine, we were already down to basic satellite so we didn’t lose much (mainly Nickelodeon and the Food Network) and Netflix is the only TV I really care about watching, anyway.  It’s not the point of this article – it’s more about how you will be more successful and wealthy without watching TV – but we’ll see how our experiment in satellite/cable-less life helps us.

How To Save Money – The 1,001 List Of Money Saving Tips And Ideas:  A huge list of money-saving tips, and unlike Wisebread’s new book (which, don’t get me wrong, seems like a good idea although I haven’t read it), it’s free!

Credit Card Rewards Programs Illusion Myth: Mr. ToughMoneyLove, who had a few harsh words for me about my post on credit card rewards (see his comment here) has his own opinion.  I disagree with it, but see what you think about his take on it.

You can have whatever you like…

And some other articles I enjoyed:

photo credit: roland

making money with a credit card

Perchtenlauf Klagenfurt

Credit cards are evil.
Credit card companies are predatory, aggressive entities who seek only to make money.  Poor consumers are victimized by high interest rates and ridiculous penalties.  Credit card companies are worse than baby kitten stompers, and we all know how evil THEY are.

Except, of course, they are no worse than any other type of corporation-for-profit. They do use aggressive, sneaky tactics to hide charges and interest rates from consumers – but they do disclose them when you get a card.  They make cute commercials (Credit One, I’m looking at you) but then again, so do the soda companies – and they are selling a product that rots your teeth and makes you fat.  They charge high interest rates, but would you be willing to lend a total stranger tons of money at 0% interest?  If so, head over to Lending Club – I’m sure you will be the most beloved lender in their history.

I get tired, from time to time, of the demonization of credit card debt. I understand some people weren’t as lucky as I was, to be raised in a home in which debt was frowned upon.  Lord Polonius’ words from Hamlet were uttered more than once in my family as I grew up:  “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  Those words made an impression on me, and other than one impulsive purchase of a car using a loan from GMAC, I have never entered into any non-mortgage debt.  But let’s face it – credit card debt is a debt, just like a mortgage or a loan to start a business or a student loan.  It’s just how the individual chooses to use it that causes a problem.

Our family has a credit card – and we use it for everything we can possibly use it for.  Buying something for $2 at the store?  I’ll use the card if they take Amex.  Phone, cell, satellite – all paid on the card.  I’d pay my mortgage with my Amex card if possible.  Why?  Because I made $640 with it last year. Blue Cash® from American Express pays some nice cash back bonuses.  Other cash back cards – Discover® Motiva Card, etc. – pay similar bonuses.  I used Amex’s Membership Rewards for years, and it paid for – among other things – a roundtrip business class pair of tickets to Europe for our honeymoon, hotels here and there through the years, even some gift certificates. Over the last year I have received a flat screen TV and a baby stroller – by redeeming credit card rewards points.

Every type of tool can be used for good or ill. I can use a shovel to prepare a garden for planting, or I can assault someone with it.  Credit card companies offer a product that many people have trouble using.  Yet at the same time, if you use the product they offer – easy and unsecured credit with “bonus” or “reward” programs – you can make a lot of money without incurring any risk at all.

photo credit: annia316

how America loves entrepreneurs

No, really.
As I’ve written several times, I’m constantly amazed at the roadblocks thrown up in the path of entrepreneurs in America – supposedly the birthplace of the self-starter.  If it’s not health insurance – my favorite bugaboo – it’s something else.  Just recently I learned about one more stumbling block:

Friends of my relatives have this story to tell. They  live in the northeast, and they have grown tired of the pressure of daily life in a crowded metropolitan area.  They have one child with another on the way, and the same concerns about the cost of living – education, food, commutes, etc. – bore down on them.  For months they have been preparing to move to another state where they planned to open their own business, the same business they currently run in their city – they have a good business that has been a profitable living for years.  They currently own a house which they plan to keep and rent out.  They also own another property which is rented out.  They have a solid business with a good history of earning income and a solid net worth.

I don’t know them well.  I’ve only met them a couple of times.  As far as I know, though, they are careful, prudent, and not overextended.  They had all the details worked out about their business plan for their new location.  They found a house, applied for a mortgage (for which they had a more than adequate cash down payment, even though they were not selling their current properties).  The mortgage was denied.  The only reason given is that they are self-employed. Even though they’ve been successfully self-employed for years, they will be newly self-employed in their new state, so there’s no income history there.  They are devastated, depressed, and feeling trapped.  For now, they are resigned to staying where they are.  They aren’t willing – as we were – to rent.

The system pushes back against people who don’t conform to a corporate ideal:  the worker for a big company who has a “safe” job. I can’t see why someone with a track record of years of self-employment income would be deemed a mortgage risk, but they are.  I imagine – although I’ll put it to the test soon enough – that I’d be more likely to get a mortgage as an employee of a big corporation than they would be as far more successful entrepreneurs.  I’m sure if I work in the financial services industry it would seem like a better job with a “secure” income – even after Lehman, Citigroup, AIG and all of the other disasters of the past year.  I would also be willing to bet that I’d have an easier time getting a mortgage after working for a corporation for 3 months than I would after working as an independent consultant for two years.  Why?

I know there are reasons for these types of barriers. Banks are – and definitely should be – able to set their own risk comfort level.  I’d hate to see too much government control over banks’ ability to loan – or not loan – for riskier groups.  Then again, that was the whole purpose of Fannie Mae – for that quasi-governmental entity to absorb some of the risk of lending from private companies.

This story is an anecdote, and I don’t have all of the facts. Nonetheless, it does demonstrate that there are challenges on top of challenges for someone who wants to strike out on their own:  heavier tax burdens (self-employment tax), discrimination against “non-safe” or “non-stable” self-employment income and the difficulty of obtaining health insurance for a self-employed individual.  As plonkee commented on a recent post here:

I’m surprised anyone that’s single is self-employed in the States because of the healthcare / insurance issue. It’s notable that most or all of the Yank pro-bloggers are married, and the majority of them are married to people who work in the public sector (school teacher, crime lab scientist,military, etc). [link]

That includes any single-income family like mine, too, not just single people. People still do take the leap to become successful on their own, but as plonkee points out, it’s a lot easier when that self-employment income is backed up by a spouse with a “real” or “safe” job.  I wonder how many families in America have a parent who would love to launch their own business, but shy away in fear of the consequences.  I know that’s what risk means, and that some people take that risk.  But it’s a shame that home ownership and health insurance are the things those people risk losing, because for some of us, that’s too much to lose.

photo credit: Old Sarge

getting organized with a Brother MFC-5890CN

Finding tools to make you more productive can often be, well, counterproductive. For every new online task list manager program, there’s another set of fancy features that do more than you want and missing features that make them less than useful.  You set up a great filing system, but it gets bogged down with paper.  You have online files that you mean to read but you can’t take your netbook along with you everywhere.

I had been wishing for quite a while now that I had a few tools that would make me more productive:  a better productivity book than the ones I’ve read so far, a filing system that made better sense than my current one, a high-speed multi-page scanner, a netbook and a few other things (high among them a good online task manager, since Remember The Milk is very good but does lack a couple of features I want).

I was lucky enough to get a Brother MFC-5890CN Professional Series Compact Color Inkjet All-in-One with Wireless Networking “device” to review.  I say device because I couldn’t really categorize it as a printer or a scanner (and it’s a fax machine, too).  It does a lot of stuff, far more than the printer I owned.  To be honest here:  in exchange for the review, I get to keep the printer.  Brother did not, however, ask me to give a positive review… they simply asked me to express my opinion on the printer. Since I have been wanting something like this for a while, and it seemed to be a good productivity tool, I agreed.

A little background – I’ve had the same printer/scanner unit – an HP – for years.  It scanned, slowly, one page at a time.  It printed, but the print cartridges were expensive and even an ink refill was pricey.  I don’t blame HP.  I’m sure if I bought a new HP it would be significantly improved.  But the cost of the cartridges and the slowness of single-page scanning made it more of a hindrance than a help to productivity.

The Brother printer is much better. It has a 3.3 inch color display for photos, so if you put in a camera card you can print directly without loading onto the PC.  It’s a cute feature, but if you want to correct red eye, lighting and so on you still need to upload.  I’d call the display a cute feature but ultimately not that helpful.

It has some neat wireless features I didn’t try out, yet. I hooked it up via USB, and despite having to install from a CD it worked very well from the get-go.  Print speed is great, and it prints 11×17 pictures, which are practically posters.  Print speed was impressive, too.  The CD installation was annoying, to be honest.  There were a million hoops to jump through before I got it up and running, but once everything was installed it worked just fine.

Other productivity features – it has a 33.6kbps fax modem.  Again, I haven’t faxed with it yet – and I think faxing is a dying technology – but occasionally I have found myself wishing I had a fax machine just to avoid the annoyance of scanning and emailing, when a fax would have sufficed.    So even though a fax is rapidly becoming as pointless as a rotary-dial phone, having it built in saves some trouble.

But here’s the best thing about the printer:  the scanner. I won’t lie – I love this feature.  It scans up to 50 pages at a time, and fast.  I always wanted a high-speed scanner, and this one did not disappoint at all.  It scans straight into any format you want, but I have been using PDF.  Being able to drop a 50-page document into the scanner and have it come out as a neat PDF is fantastic.  I have visions of paperless filing dancing in my head already, even though I know certain things like birth certificates and diplomas won’t ever be tossed in favor of their electronic counterparts.

The print cartridges are weird – there’s 4 of them, a black one and three color ones. On the other hand, the nice thing is that the cartridges – even the “high yield” ones – are far cheaper than HP cartridges.  The black ink cartridge – the high yield one –is only $27 bucks.  It cost me $17 just to refill an HP cartridge – new, they run closer to $50.

The Brother is not as cheap as a lot of printer/scanner/fax combos.  It runs around $200. But I can say, as someone who’s vaguely needed a printer, a high-speed scanner and a printer than can print quickly and on bigger-sized paper – this printer’s alright.

Read more about it here.

And by the way – if you enjoyed my review, let me know. I’ve been thinking about adding a weekly feature along the lines of “stuff that I use to make life easier/be more productive/etc.”.  I have a few products – books, stuff, etc. – that I’ve been thinking about writing about.  I am never compensated directly, but I do get copies of books and the other items I talk about, so you can take that for what it’s worth.  On the other hand, if you found my review annoying, let me know that, too.  Either way, your comments will make my writing on this blog better!

linklings, packin’ and movin’ edition

1/3 finished packing

We’re less than two weeks from our move now, so most of our days are filled with packing, throwing out and cataloging our stuff.
It’s a weird experience.  Removing yourself from a place in which you were so deeply entrenched is a jarring experience.  I can’t say, even now, that I’m going to be sorry to leave, because I’m ready to go on many, many levels.  Yet at the same time it is a little odd to start packing up the home in which two children were born, and the first home I ever bought.  It was a new home, and Bubelah and I put a lot of sweat equity into painting every square inch of the place, hanging blinds and curtains and making a million small improvements.  But we’re still more excited about new experiences than we are about hanging onto rooms we’ve painted.

A few links:

Alternative Income is a Form of Insurance: Patrick’s family (soon to grow a little larger) is going to be better off thanks to his alternative income – worth remembering.

The Miser’s Peril: Why You Should Save for Tomorrow AND Enjoy Today: We wrestle with this question quite often: as heavy, heavy savers, at what point do you cut loose and just spend?

Financial Freedom in Five Years (and the Difference Between Rich and Wealthy): Rich vs. wealthy – there is a difference.

Fleeting Wants vs Genuine Wants: I think a lot of people struggle with their wants, and learning to distinguish between a fleeting want and a genuine want is tough – but it’s critical in order to manage your money.

How Will You Spend the Money From Your Parents’ Estates When They’re Gone?: Nobody likes to think about this, and the simple fact is that for many of us we won’t have much to consider, health care costs being what they are. My grandparents on my mother’s side saved a huge amount and watched it all evaporate thanks to health care costs at the end of my grandfather’s life. It’s OK – it was their money to spend on themselves – but just because your parents have some money now doesn’t mean you can look forward to inheriting a dime, frankly.

Going Off The Grid Once A Week: This is a cool idea but I’m not there yet. I like the idea of backing off one day a week, but I like lights for reading and cooking in the kitchen, etc. Turning off the TV? OK. Turning off the lights in the bathroom? Not there yet.

Consider the Impact On Your Finances When Taking a Paid Leave of Absence, FMLA, or Disability From Work: Paid leaves of absence are a luxury. I didn’t get one. The state of New Jersey guaranteed me unpaid leave, but my company didn’t offer 1 day of paid leave when either of my children were born. And you know what? It’s fine. Staying home was worth the loss of income.

A few more links worth checking out:

photo credit: buniqa

early retirement or meaningful work?

endlich himmelblau

For years I have dreamed of early retirement.
The idea that someday I would be free to pursue leisure, and have time to do what I wanted, haunted me.  It was the driving goal of my investing and saving plan.   That was after I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad (yes, I know, but it gave me a new perspective) – but before I left my last employer to become a consultant.

What I’ve realized since then is that I don’t want early retirement. I don’t want to stop working at all.  What I do want is to find work I enjoy, or at least tolerate.  There are a lot of advantages to work.  I’m not talking about 9-to-5 corporate work, but just work in general; freelancing, public service work, contract consulting, whatever you like.  If  you like 9-to-5 corporate work, fine.

Work gives you a structure and meaning – if it’s good work. Work provides you income, of course, which isn’t a small factor.  Work gives you a sense of self – again, if it’s work that you can identify with.  Work can sometimes provide colleagues, or challenging opportunities.

Work can also drag you down. If you don’t like what you do, early retirement is the best escape.  Getting away as soon as possible is the only exit.  I don’t think this applies just to people who work in white-collar jobs, either.  Some people work at heavy labor or in non-white collar jobs who love it.  My father-in-law is happiest doing manual work, for example – gardening or building things.  I think he would detest a desk job now, although he worked at one for most of his life.  Work doesn’t have to be high-tech or “cool” – just something that makes you happy.

For me, meaningful work is something that you enjoy. I know people who love accounting, for example.  They like the complexity, the challenge of figuring out the interplay of accounts and the theology of GAAP.  I don’t.  I know people who love making things, and corporate politics, and writing, and teaching, and a myriad of occupations.  I also know people who do work they hate, and people who do work they love.  Most of my life I’ve been someone who worked at something I hate while seeking something I love.  I think – but don’t know – I’ve found something I love in writing, but it comes and goes in spurts.  I started writing this blog to practice writing, then morphed into a personal finance blog.  Putting myself in that box has hampered my writing a bit, so I’m going to try to write on a broader range of topics in the future – because I still want to find work that means something to me.

If you can find something that makes sense to you, as a person, early retirement is pointless. I honestly believe that if I ever find my groove as a writer – I haven’t yet – I could be happy writing up until the day I die.  Early retirement would be pointless.  I’m not a good enough writer to earn a living writing yet, so I have to supplement with other work.  I suck as a writer.  I have a long way to go to be – by my own measure – creative, although I tickle my own ego by thinking I’m technically proficient.  But I have realized that my real dream is not early retirement, as I often thought it was.  I dreamed of days of leisure.  I’ve had those days now, as I’ve been unemployed.  I don’t want leisure.  I want work with meaning.  My real dream is finding meaningful work, and it should be everyone’s dream.

photo credit: extranoise

guest post: age is a state of mind

Today’s post is another contribution from brip blap’s most frequent guest writer, Curmudgeon.  I like the list he incorporates in this article, and I’m doing alright on 3 of the 4…:

Young & Old, Let's Get it On!
I am fifty years old.
More or less (and it is not less).  I’m gainfully employed at a full-time job (the last time I changed jobs was just under a year ago), in what might be considered a middle management position, with a salary hovering around six figures.  I also have my own business that brings in perhaps half again that amount of income.  I live in a moderate-cost area of the United States, and this income is much more than sufficient to take care of my needs and wants.  I work largely at home, but have to be somewhat visible to both my employer and my clients, so I get into a car once or twice a week, and an airplane perhaps once a month.  More often, I get on webcasts.

Most of the industries I’ve worked in have been volatile. The one I am currently in is most definitely in decline; employment in the industry as a whole has probably shrunk by about a third over the last decade or so.  I have certain skills that make me more valuable in this industry, but they also require that industry to pay me more than the average bear.  My current employer laid off over ten percent of the company at the end of last year, but my job is secure for at least the foreseeable future.

In a recent post, Steve wonders if his resume is being rejected for new employment because he has, well, too much experience. That has prompted me to answer his muse in some fashion.  Have I at all suffered from age discrimination?  I have no idea.  My standard resume lists jobs going back to circa 1980 or so; the hair that I have left is approximately fifty percent gray, with no artificial coloring.  I am certainly a candidate for such a response.

Interestingly enough, though, most people guess my age at almost a decade less than my true chronological age. Perhaps some of that is due to genes (I can guarantee that none of it is due to Botox), but I would like to posit that most of it is due to a high energy level, willingness to question my own beliefs and experiences, and perhaps most important, willingness to learn radically new things.  I Twitter (though not under the Curmudgeon sobriquet), have several hundred LinkedIn partners, and IM with dozens of people that I have never met over the course of a week.

My boss is fifteen years younger than me. Does that make me inferior to him?  Of course not; it merely means that we have different career paths.  I respect him for his position, and he has come to depend on me for my knowledge and experience.

What is the lesson for those of you here who are aging, gracefully or not?  Try these:

  1. Keep an open mind. If you don’t honestly consider new ideas and incorporate the good ones into your point of view, you are old whether you are 20 or 70.
  2. Learn something new every day. Don’t skip a day, no matter how miserable you feel.
  3. Exercise regularly and vigorously. It’s not that hard if you set up a routine, and the more vigor that you show in your exercise, the more you show in your job.
  4. Treat everyone as an equal, and with respect. The executives will think you’re one of them, and the twenty-somethings will die for you because no one has ever listened to them before.

You can’t stop the forces of Time.  But you can behave in a way that does you credit, no matter what your age.  Give it a try.

photo credit: AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker

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