giving gifts in the office

dunder A pet peeve of mine, for a long time, has been the corporate office “pitch in for a gift” routine. If you aren’t a corporate employee, what happens is that there’s usually one perky busybody in every department who decides to buy a flower basket when co-workers gets sick, or a teddy bear when they have a baby, or an item from the registry when someone gets married, or even a little gift for everyone’s birthday. This busybody goes around and asks everyone for a “donation,” knowing full well that for most people refusing is an embarrassing proposition.

I have never liked this business of pitching in.

  • 1. I don’t always like the person for whom the present is being purchased.
  • 2. Sometimes the reason for the gift is trivial – someone is having a birthday? What, are we 12?
  • 3. There is a subtle discrimination – someone who has been around longer, or has a better position, or is simply more popular gets bigger or better gifts.
  • 4. If the busybody is encouraged, soon you are shelling out $10-$20 a week for “voluntary” gifts.

I am also very uncomfortable accepting such gifts, and have often said point-blank that I don’t want any gifts. Maybe I have a distorted view, but to me if I receive a gift I feel an obligation to return it the next time I’m asked to contribute. Then I’m “stuck” as a regular contributor.

Now that I’m a consultant – and technically not “part” of the department – I find it easier to refuse. I am stingy enough with gift-giving for my family and friends (and myself) that I resent any “required” gifts for my co-workers. I know, in a sense, that this just reflects the realities of most people’s lives – that they spend more time with their co-workers than with their friends and families and therefore want to contribute to the morale of their workplace. Yet every time I’m asked to pitch in $10 for a co-worker’s cheese-and-sausage gift basket I see $10 that could buy my son some books, or $10 to add to my nieces’ and nephew’s custodial accounts, or even $10 that Bubelah and I could put towards an occasional evening out. I am selfish that way.

So am I crazy? Do you have people asking you to contribute to “departmental” gifts at the office? Do you participate? Am I just being a jerk?

(photo credit by makelessnoise)

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

the pursuit of wealth for the sake of others

I wanna hold your hand

There are a million books written on the subject of money-making – at least. Most people, if they are sensible, want to acquire wealth.  If you don’t want material goods for yourself or for your family, you probably would like to acquire wealth to benefit a charity or a cause.  If you don’t want to acquire wealth, you may be perfectly happy and content with your lot, but you’re probably not a typical person.  So be it.

I’ve often thought that one of the true benefits of being wealthy would not be just the ability to buy what I want, when I want it, but also to be charitable. I’ve struggled with charity throughout my life; I have given generously to some causes and withheld money for selfish reasons at other times.  One of the advantages to being wealthy – to me, at least – would be the ability to give without any concern for amounts or timing.

So I think about wealth as a means not to buy the latest Wii, but as something to improve lives. Mine, sure.  My family’s, of course.  My extended family’s, yep.  Friends, my neighborhood, uh-huh.  Even charities that benefit people who will barely register the fact that I helped.  Why not?  I won’t pretend that my first goal isn’t to make life as good as possible for me and mine, but I have hopes that someday I’ll be able to make a real impact on others – not just $25 a year to a charity’s administrative overhead spending.

Many people disparage the pursuit of the wealth as self-centered. “Greedy.”  “Materialistic.”  That may be.  But if you become truly wealthy, don’t you have a far greater ability to help those in need?  Shouldn’t every person who seeks to help others make their life’s pursuit the attainment of wealth?

How much wealth is necessary, or appropriate, or required is of course open for debate. I’ve often thought that no amount could be “too much.”  I can think of an almost endless list of charities I could give to after I’ve provided for myself and my family.  I would never think of getting rich as having been selfish; if you turn that wealth back around to the world at large, you could be far more effective than the preachiest poor guy on the planet.

I would never claim that I want money first for the benefit of others. I jealously want to provide for my family (and myself) first, and charity second.  But I would like to be wealthy; I would like to have the ability to give freely to worth causes.   Wealth is not just the route to the latest video game; it can also be the route to helping people who truly need that help.
photo credit: batega

third marketplace appearance


Once again Tess Vigeland kindly invited me, along with Lynnae of being frugal and Jim of Bargaineering, back for another “bloggers’ roundtable.” I always enjoy talking with Tess, Lynnae and Jim and I hope you enjoy the show. You can listen here.  Feel free to chime in here or at the Marketplace site if you liked it – we’re getting close to being a regular segment on the show, which I’d love to keep doing.

Previous appearances of the “bloggers’ roundtable” can be found here:

photo credit: ChazWags

how I made a courageous decision to become an entrepreneur

…except I didn’t.

With the advent of a deep recession, or depression, or whatever the experts choose to call it today, the traditional and new media are running story after story about freelancers or entrepreneurs or similar types. I read a dozen blogs by people who left the corporate world to become freelancers, or start their own companies or some other entrepreneurial venture. I am taken aback by how few of the people who claim to have made a brave leap into entrepreneurialism did so voluntarily. Some are open about the reason – a layoff followed by a time without finding a new job forced them to improvise. Fair enough. Others look back and claim that a brave moment of clarity prompted them to leap into a new lifestyle – when in reality they, too, were forced by circumstance. Not as honest.

If you get laid off and can’t find a new job, the venture into freelancing or entrepreneurialism or whatever you’d like to call it becomes a necessity (let’s call it entrepreneurialism for now, even though that’s not exactly the right term). Someone in this situation can, of course, look back ten years later and pretend that they did it out of a suddent insight or burst of bravery. Maybe at a later date that person had a chance to go back to a full-time job and chose to stick with their new path. Maybe circumstances changed and that person enjoyed their life better after changing to an entrepreneurial lifestyle and adjusted in other, less visible ways – a spouse went back to work, or the family relocated, or the lifestyle was downsized. But if you were forced to do it, and adapted, say so. Don’t pretend you were Bill Gates, dropping out of Harvard to follow your dream.

I don’t think that entrepreneurialism is for everyone. I see some famous “lifestyle bloggers” or whatever you choose to call them decrying the cubicle life – the language on the blogs can be bitter, and on twitter some can be downright condescending (if you ask me). I’ve seen some derogatory language used towards people who aspire to the employee lifestyle. Hell, I do it. I’ve done it a lot, in fact. But not everyone can be a web designer or blogger working out of a coffee shop. Some people may choose to live a less “free” life in exchange for the lifestyle. This lifestyle is addictive. It’s nice having money that comes in regular bursts (until it doesn’t). Chasing down freelance work is difficult. What’s close-minded and feeble is calling people fools for making the choice, one way or the other. I have a friend who gets a kick out of untangling complex corporate accounting problems. He likes what he does and has never expressed a second’s interest in going it alone. Calling him a desk jockey or a cubicle troll would be silly – he’s happier than a lot of people I know.

I have had four working experiences in my life. I was a teacher (substitute grade school and a graduate teaching assistant), I worked for large firms and corporations (the bulk of my working life), I did contract consulting (the last five years) and over the last few months I’ve been attempting to forge an “alternative” work pattern. Each of these four experiences have had plusses and minuses. I moved from teaching to corporate life for money, from corporate life to consulting for the lifestyle, and from consulting to freelancing out of necessity. I might have chosen to freelance eventually on my own, but despite the best intentions to do so I only did it once I was forced to do so. It feels like a proper evolution, so hopefully the recession will turn out to be the kick in the butt I needed. But if I ever claim with a smile and a giggle that I took a bold and courageous step to seize my future, please give me a thwack in the ear. Choose a path, but be honest about why you chose it. Own your decisions – or lack thereof.

second marketplace interview

As I mentioned yesterday, my second marketplace interview with Jim of Blueprint for Financial Prosperity and Lynnae of is now available. You can listen to it here. You can also download an MP3 of the show here. If you like the interview, it would be a great help to Digg it (just click that link) or use some other social media to promote it. I think it’s a good interview – I hope you agree!

If you’re just arriving at my blog for the first time after hearing the show, welcome! Here are a few of my most popular posts on money:

  1. 38 random thoughts on building prosperity
  2. a little-too-late advice on building wealth
  3. spend less than you earn – the wrong way to think
  4. follow the white rabbit to financial freedom
  5. how to talk to your teenager about personal finance

And some other posts which have also been popular:

no eat, no need money

Part 2 of my 6-posts-in-day project:

When heaven opens up....

Yesterday Little Buddy woke up and called out for me, as he usually does.  I was downstairs and heard the standard declaration on the monitor:  “Papa, I’m awake!”

I went upstairs, and since I was already partially dressed for work he immediately asked me – even before leaving the crib – “Papa, going to work?”

“Well, yes, Little Buddy,”  I replied.

“Why?  Stay home,”  he shot back in a plaintive tone.

“I can’t.  We need money,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  I have been explaining the concept of money to him slowly – probably a little bit too much for 2.5 years old, but why not?

“Because we need money to pay for things – all the good food Little Buddy eats, the house…” I said.

“Need money to eat?”  he asked.

“Yes,”  I admitted, in a drastic but not at all untrue simplification.

He paused and considered.  You could almost see the light bulb explode in his head.

“Papa, today Little Buddy no eat.  Papa no need money, no go to work, stay home, play all day.”

These are the moments that both break and exalt a parent’s heart.
photo credit: multi_everything

5 signs your job sucks

Dudley Lagoon

Over the last three months since I’ve gone back on a new contract I’ve struggled. I was working like crazy during my “problogging” stint, but I enjoyed what I was doing and I had little desire to get back to work.  Since I took the contract, things have not gone well – although on the other hand they have.  My client took the time to praise me to the skies to some other contractors (and it got back to me) and I’ve gained the trust of some of the senior execs of this Fortune 10 company.  Lucky me.  At the same time, I’ve been sucked into a morass of corporate politics and dead time.  This contract feels more like a job than any contract I’ve taken in the last three years.  The stench of obligation is overwhelming.  I came up with 5 reasons why this contract sucked and decided that they could be universally applicable as 5 signs your job (or contract, or whatever) sucks:

1.  You can’t get out of bed in the morning. If you wake up in the morning and groan, it’s not a good sign.  During the one year in the last eight years of my working career I was excited about my work, I leapt out of bed every morning.  If the prospect of going to work creates enough dread in your mind that you don’t want to leave bed in the morning, your job sucks.

2. You spend more time on the internet than you do working. I know everyone spends a certain amount of time browsing the internet at work – we’re all human.  At the same time, if you spend more time at gothamist than you do working, it means your job sucks for one of two reasons:  either you have stuff to do and it’s so awful you’re avoiding it, or your job sucks because you have nothing to do.

3.  You’re the first person out the door in the evening. I’m a big work-life balance guy, but I know that when I lead the 5:00 charge out of the door I’m not engaged in my work.  If you’re enjoying your work you’re going to stick around at least past the first exodus every evening – if for no other reason than to see if you can pick up on after-hours gossip.

4.  You don’t think about work after hours. When I was engaged in my work, I thought about it after I left work.  I would go for drinks with co-workers and talk about work.  I got passionate about it, because it was interesting and I was involved.  As I sit here writing this post in the evening, I can barely tell you what I worked on today.  That means I don’t find the work interesting or even worthy of contemplation.

5.  You mock people who enjoy their work. I think this demonstrates that your job sucks worse than anything.  Everyone should enjoy their work.  Even if your work sucks, YOU should be able to find some sense of satisfaction in the paycheck, or the fact that you’re creating something of value or beauty.  If you TELL people your work is awful and mock people who enjoy their own work, your job probably sucks.

I’ve been wrestling with the goose-who-laid-the-golden-egg question for a while. I don’t care the least bit for the contract work I’m doing now, but it pays quite well, the hours are good and because of the structures of the contracts I get health care benefits.  I have found that it’s impossible to rationalize a job that sucks, though.  If you don’t like it, you don’t like it – and it’s hard to change your attitude once that mindset is locked in.

If you see that your job hits one or more nerves in the list above, it’s time to consider a move. I’ve started considering a change for myself.  One of the things you worry about in corporate America is that staying in year after year will kill your drive to create things outside of the normal corporate-paycheck-routine. I know I feel less and less desire to create (blog, other writing, cooking, etc.) every day I slog away at this contract; so the question is do I stay or do I go?  What do you do when a job sucks?

photo credit: suburbanbloke

review, zen to done

Unless you are new to the world of blogging, you’ve probably heard of Zen To Done. The author, Leo Babuta, started the blog Zen Habits as a personal journal for friends and family to chronicle some of the positive changes he was making in his life. The blog caught on with readers – due partially to Leo’s writing style, but also his habit of writing only “insanely useful” (his words) posts. He recently became a problogger, and has continued to write prolifically at a number of high-profile blogs in addition to Zen Habits. Since Trent from The Simple Dollar rolled out a belated review of Zen To Done, I decided I’d do the same.

One of the biggest factors in Leo’s transition to full-time blogger was the publication of his e-book, Zen To Done. Over the course of the first year of Zen Habits Leo wrote about how he organized and simplified his life, and his core philosophies in this area were gathered together in a methodology he called Zen To Done. He took all of the posts he had written on those subjects and put them together in the form of an e-book.

The book is not merely a quickie upload of his blog posts into a PDF file. While there is nothing in the e-book that could not be found on Zen Habits, the book takes all of the information and organizes it into a very pleasing package. The graphical design is very pleasant and obviously as an Adobe Acrobat file can be taken offline, printed or loaded on various e-book readers.

I’ll make two quick caveats before reviewing the book. One, ebooks are not for everyone. I don’t like them, myself – as much as I’m a techy-type, I still enjoy holding a bound set of pages in my hand. I haven’t printed Zen To Done out – because I try never to print things out – but if you don’t like e-books, this is not for you. Two, Leo recently released his entire body of work related to Zen Habits – including Zen To Done – from copyright. He gave carte blanche to copy, quote, redistribute, etc. anything off his site. It’s a brave move, and seems to align well with his core beliefs. But I do believe that even though people can easily make thousands of copies of his book and claim “hey, no copyright” there is still an obligation NOT to do that. People should pay for a copy of the book if they plan on reading it.

Now that’s out of the way.

The book contains an introduction, 17 chapters and a postscript in 83 pages. The layout is airy and – for lack of a better word – calming. Leo has a simple and direct writing style that make reading the book extremely easy. If it was compressed into a typical printed page it would be a far shorter book. But the layout and style and flow of the book come together perfectly. It’s a wonderfully laid-out e-book (understanding of course, that I don’t like e-books too much).

Getting Started
The first 10 pages, including the first chapter, “Why ZTD” explain how Leo arrived at the idea of creating a system and why it’s a good system for you to use. The “meat” of the book really begins on page 11 with Chapter 2, where he summarizes the ten habits you will need to form in order to successfully implement ZTD. Each habit is given a brief description (“Capture”) and a paragraph-long description. There are no long technical descriptions or methods here – a quick suggestion is given, for example, on organizing – “all incoming stuff goes in your inbox.” No attempt is made to complicate the system, and you could read these 10 habits and stop reading the book right there, if you felt like it. In fact, in Chapter 3 Leo highlights four of the habits and points out that if you did nothing more than implement those four, you’d be a much more organized person even if you never went further with his system: “Collect,” “Process,” “Plan,” and “Do.” It’s an interesting claim. You may think this overly simplistic, but the idea of “collection” – which I first came across in the much less accessible (albeit far more detailed) “Getting Things Done” – is a powerful idea. It was new to me when I came across it. Basically, just take everything you own that “needs something done” and put it in a pile and go through it. All the post-it notes, all the stuff to be filed, everything – pile it up and do it. It’s an interesting activity if you’ve never tried it before, and Leo has a point – he makes a convincing case for these four actions.

Starting in Chapter 4, Zen To Done moves into the nitty gritty. Great ideas, but how does the mere mortal set about DOING them? This is where Leo shines. Zen Habits (as the name might imply) has always seemed to me to be primarily about habits. Leo clearly figured out how to change his habits, and in a sense that’s all he writes about. The fact that he talks about habits surrounding waking up early, or exercising, or freelancing, or writing, etc. does not mean that he is writing about these subjects – he is always writing about how to change your habits in relation to these subjects. He has a huge number of posts – I would guess the majority of the posts he writes – that deal with the methodology behind changing habits, and based on the enthusiastic response from readers I think he’s hit on something here. Again, the value in his advice is simplicity. He doesn’t offer vague generalities or ridiculously difficult exercises. He is, for example, a proponent of changing one habit at a time. Don’t try to give up TV and sweets and start exercising all on the same day. This is just one of his tips; he has 8 “habit-implementing” tips and they are simple and flexible.

The 10 Habits
In chapters 5 through 14 Leo spends time going into more detail on each habit. I won’t list all of them – you should think about buying the book or visiting his website – but for each of the habits he spends several pages going into depth and answering the questions why you need this habit, how you can form it and what tools you need to do it. I will admit this is when the e-book format is particularly handy – he references specific blog posts on Zen Habits for further reading and you can easily *click* on the name of the post and read it right there.

If you are expecting long, detailed explanations of the 10 habits and how to form them you’ll be disappointed. This is quick reading; no lengthy anecdotes are recited. If you are the type of person who loses focus quickly, you won’t with Zen To Done – it’s short and sweet. However, if you like long, thorough explanations of actions and a list of 55 resources to do it, you won’t find it here – you’ll be zipping over to Zen Habits for the detailed lists. However, you won’t find all of the habits collected in one place like you do in the book. I had read most of these tips on Zen Habits, but reading them in sequence and – in effect- summarized was a completely different experience.

Steve Enters the Picture
I had a chuckle when I hit Chapter 15, in which Leo walks us through the day of a guy who has implemented Zen To Done – “Steve.” Maybe it was just customized for each customer? That could be another selling point for e-books.

The Unfortunate Similarity in Acronyms
In Chapter 16 Leo spends some time drawing distinctions between his organization tips and some of the “granddaddies” of the organization/self-improvement world – Getting Things Done and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He spends some time pooh-poohing the idea that ZTD and GTD have more than a passing similarity, although acknowledging that ZTD did adopt some GTD (and 7 Habits) core ideas. I saw nothing wrong with this; if we weren’t free to take basic ideas and modify them and put our own spin on them, blogging certainly would be restricted to the two “purely original” bloggers who exist (whoever they are – Seth Godin, maybe).  I wrote my own spin off, after all.

In Chapter 17 there are a few suggested websites and a few forms – nothing terribly exciting here. I doubt any of the forms would prove all that useful to the average Zen Habits reader, who probably loves using Google Docs and iDoodads – or Moleskines. But they are there if you find them helpful. I found one website that Leo suggested which was quite useful for me – Vitalist.

If you’ve read Zen Habits since day 1, nothing will surprise you here. If you’ve never read Zen Habits, this will be a very good introduction to the philosophy of the site and its author. This organization guide, like so many others, does offer the tools to get organized. It lacks heavy detail, but that shouldn’t be confused with being less than serious. It is serious, and if you did implement the whole thing your life couldn’t help but be simpler and better organized. I’m still about 20% of the way there – I am certainly still struggling with basic steps like Collection. If you think this guide is a “one-day fixer upper”… it’s not. It will require just as much focus and discipline as Getting Things Done or any organization system. However, as you put the effort into it you’ll see an improvement in your life – even if, as Leo admits, you only implement SOME of his system.

Worth your hard-earned cash?
If you like e-books, it’s a visually pleasant e-book. I haven’t seen that many, but of the ones I’ve seen this one among the best designed and most readable. As for the content – I had seen most of it, but I’ve been reading Zen Habits almost since inception. I’m not sure I was helped that much by seeing it all in one place – but after reading the book, I would go here first and not to Zen Habits when I need to refresh my memory on the key points of ZTD.

If you are serious about getting organized and simplifying your life, I would consider buying it. If you are just curious about whether this philosophy is right for you, stop by Zen Habits first – browse around a bit.

how to be a location independent family, part 1

A while ago I was reading Location Independent Living, and I came up with three questions that I had about actually implementing it with a family. Most of these questions probably would arise reading the now-famous Four Hour Work Week, too, but I have yet to read it. First, a lot of people say they want to travel but what does that really mean? Second, is it really possible with children? And finally, what kind of financial situation do you need to be in if you do it? I’ll address each of these questions in a separate post.

What Does Travel Really Mean?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Joshua Davis (

Take a look at this list of “travels” that I’ve done and think about which of them would appeal to you. This is not an abstract question, but an attempt to try to make you think about what kind of traveling you would prefer to do if money and time and commitments and so on were no object.

– A cruise to a generic Caribbean island.
– Camping in the hills, living in tents and eating food cooked over the fire.
– A hotel in a shabby part of Paris, but near a subway that gives you quick access to the heart of the city.
– Staying in simple accommodations in a small town in central Europe.
– Primitive hotel accommodations in distant Siberia; no shower, minimal heat, no TV.
– Visiting relatives in a town about 7 hours away by car.

Travel usually means one of two things to most people: a desire for new experiences OR relief from day-to-day routines. I don’t think there are many other reasons to travel, because almost any motivation can be put in one of those two categories, or both. If you want to become a location-independent person, though, you should be motivated by the desire for new experiences. If your motivation is relief from day-to-day routines – nonstop – then you may be disappointed eventually. Even if you travel constantly, routines will develop. As I’ll discuss in part two, routines may even be necessary. If your idea of perfect travel is staying on a cruise ship or in a luxury hotel where maid services take care of making the bed and the minibar magically refills, you will eventually grow tired of this new routine.

On the other hand, if you are looking for new experiences, traveling as a location-independent family would be liberating. You can stay in a location until it gets boring for you, then move to the next location. Your routine may be the same in each place (doing your remote work, schooling the kids, going grocery shopping), but the experience will always be new. You can do this by learning your timeframe for change, and planning ahead. Obviously if you have a routine built into your daily life, but your location changes once every six months, you will have new experiences. Grocery shopping in Irkutsk will be different than grocery shopping in Surabaya. However, you will have to do it. You will not have concierge service everywhere you go that will allow you to sleep until noon and party all day long.

Traveling in general, though, is liberating. As I said, I have made all of the trips I listed above and each has its own appeal. However, going to a new place for the first time is always tremendously exciting for me. I would rather go to Croatia than France, simply because I’ve BEEN to France. Similarly I would rather go to a small village in France, though, than go to the same city in Croatia twice. Some people enjoy one place; they have a timeshare there, or friends, or simply love it too much never to visit again. If you are like this, maybe you don’t really want to be location independent: maybe you just want to MOVE. It’s a critical difference, because they are two very different lifestyles. If you love France, for example, just move there and live there for a few years. Don’t move there planning to move on in 3 or 4 months; you’ll regret it.

I think the biggest part of this lifestyle would be making sure that you are doing it for the right reasons: for experience, not for escape. You can find escape without traveling – by getting a different job, exploring a new hobby or even learning something new. Experiences, though, have to be sought after, and being a location independent family would be a great way to continually invite those experiences into your life.

In the next part I’ll talk about traveling with children.

Also see:

why you need to write your goals down

This post originally appeared at Millionaire Mommy Next Door.  If you haven’t visited her blog yet, you really should.  She’s someone who “made it” – she’s achieved financial freedom and she’s willing to share the who-what- when-where-why-how’s.   I love her blog, and you will too.

A while ago I had an epiphany.  We were visiting my brother and his family, who live in a house with a fenced-in backyard and a pleasant detached home – quite different from our townhouse. I told Bubelah that this would be a great way to live: to have a fenced-in backyard where toddlers could play without us having to worry about them dashing out in the street. I declared that this should be one of our goals: to move out of our townhouse in the next few years and find a house with a yard that we could fix up into a children’s paradise. We would live simply, quietly in the country. This seemed to me to be a fine goal, and she agreed.

Fast forward a few days. I was again talking to my wife about the times we spent on the town in Manhattan while dating years ago. I lived in the heart of Manhattan, right off Central Park near Columbus Circle. She was living in Queens. While we were dating (and then afterwards while engaged) we spent a lot of time exploring Manhattan: a different ethnic restaurant every night, zipping to a bar or a lounge on weekends, hanging out with friends, taking in the sights and so on.  I was completely comfortable with a dirty martini in hand, dressed head-to-toe in black.  We stayed out late, listened to thumpin’ club music and generally lived the lifestyle of the young and unconcerned in the Greatest City on Earth.  We really enjoyed that lifestyle, too.

I told my wife that my goal was to somehow manage to move our family (the two of us plus our son and daughter) back to Manhattan and enjoy all of the culture that living in the heart of New York could offer. We would be a new urban family, enjoying a small apartment in a high-rise centrally located in Manhattan. Central Park for picnics with our kids, Broadway plays for us while the nanny watched the tykes at night. The luxurious lifestyle of the carelessly wealthy in New York. A dream, but why not? It’s a goal, and a good one.

At this point my wife turned to me and said, “Just a few days ago you were saying your goal was to live in the country with a yard! Now you want to live in Manhattan! Which is it?” Sheepishly I had to agree that it really depended on when you spoke to me. The theme song from “Green Acres” rattled around in my head.

Because of my inconsistency, and because of reading blogs like Millionaire Mommy Next Door, I now understand that I need to write down goals. I am good at keeping a to-do list and living within my means. My wife is a stay-at-home mother, and we spend less than we earn (although I’m always trying to earn more than I spend).  At the same time we’re still putting away plenty of money towards retirement and eating a fairly expensive organic and natural diet. The problem is that often I have a feeling that while we’re comfortable where we are now, I am not moving quickly enough to being free financially. While we are saving and carefully keeping emergency funds, I am certainly not in the position to consider quitting my consulting work now, or any time in the next 20 years at this rate. So how would writing down my goals help?

Writing things down inevitably makes them more concrete in your mind. Try keeping a notebook in your pocket 24 hours a day. Any time you have a thought – a to-do item, grocery shopping items, even if you hear a song you want to look up on the internet later on – write it down. You’ll find that this makes your memory stronger, not weaker. Review your list frequently. That will reinforce your memory even more. So if this works for “remember to buy eggs” why wouldn’t it work for “make every action aim towards financial freedom, living in a beautiful home in the country where I can pursue my writing?”  Every time I flip open my Moleskine I’m confronted by my ten-year goals.  And yes, I’m confronted – that’s the right word, meaning that they get up in my face and challenge me.

As you can see from my example, I can’t even remember my goals from one day to the next. I have realized from this little mistake, and a dozen others, that my confident claim “I don’t need to write goals down” is not confident, but silly. Writing goals down is a critical first step, not a pointless exercise. I have been dismissive of it because it seemed just a little too easy to be necessary. I liken it to skipping the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. We laugh at “rinse, lather, repeat” because we’ve seen that, done that. But for someone who’s never seen shampoo before, those would be helpful instructions.  Writing things down almost always serves a purpose.

So if you haven’t clearly defined your goals, written them down and begun a habit of reviewing them daily, you won’t have the reinforcement that you need to make them a reality. Dreams are fun and enjoyable, but putting your dreams onto paper (or into a Google Doc or a treasure map or whatever method works for you) is the real first step towards creating a real, workable path to achieve your goals.