Knowledge Working Class

Although as a native born U.S. citizen I was led to believe that we live in a classless society where anyone can be anything that they want to be when they grow up, I know better now.

In many a post I have included the disclaimer that examples abound for those who have succeeded in lifting themselves up from poverty or seemingly hopeless situations to make themselves very successful.

There is an entire genre of self-help writers who extol those types of feel-good stories and I could look up a dozen and share them here were I so inclined.

Statistics show otherwise; that income class mobility in the U.S. is extremely low.  Also, per the Gini Coefficient, the U.S. has a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots than most other countries.

The point being that class differences are a real thing here in the U.S. Our sense of class is connected to our gender and race, to where we live and to who our neighbors are. It’s affected by how healthy we are and even how much we pray. Class is about many facets of our dynamic lives, and we’re constantly piecing together a narrative about it through shards of subjective information, expert say.

I am a self-proclaimed Middle Class Guy who ranks high as a middle class person in any test or list that exists, from the way that I was raised to my educational attainment to my family’s lifestyle to the neighborhood where we reside to our middle class income that skews closer to upper middle class than lower, but for the area where we reside it is the middle of the middle.


Following last year’s presidential election, much was made of the white working class, which was credited for launching Trump into the White House as a way of getting back at the Democrats for years of being ignored and passed over.

Working class is another one of those terms, like Rust Belt, that I do not care for.  While those who use the term are referring to those with less skilled positions and a lower amount of education, I cannot help but think of myself as working class.

Investopedia defines working class as a socioeconomic term used to describe persons in a social class marked by jobs that provide low pay, require limited skill and/or physical labor, and have reduced education requirements. Unemployed persons or those supported by a social welfare program are often included in this group.

Businessdictionary.com defines working class as a socioeconomic class consisting of individuals that are paid an hourly wage and considered to be lower-middle class. Typically these individuals work blue-collar jobs such as manufacturing, retail sales, or food service. Also called lower class.

Blogger Joseph Chris writes that the working class comprises people (together with their families) who exhibit specific class indicators, which are little or no college education; low or negative net worth; rental housing or a non-luxury home that was long saved for and lived in for many years; careers that involve physical work; and little to no control in the workplace. Though lower middle-class individuals are in certain ways more secure and prosperous than those in the working class, these groups still have a lot in common, like both of them having less college education than a BA degree, having less control over their work and having a fewer assets than those in the professional middle class. If these people own an enterprise, then they can keep it afloat by doing hands-on work.

Interesting.  I suppose that low hourly wages and blue-collar jobs that do not require a college degree could be considered working class rather than professional.  It is just a choice of semantics, but I still do not care for the term.

So because I hold a master’s degree and certification in my field and wear khakis and button-down shirts most days and sit in front of a computer in an office and attend many meetings, that means that I am not working class?

When I read about knowledge workers, I associate with that definition, too.  After all, everything that I do at work consists of writing, speaking and meeting with people about business-related projects.  I do not just blurt out whatever I want to.  My replies and advice are based upon many years of experience in the field and working for my current community.  I can pretty much tell you what type of project or business my community wants and where.  and I possess enough knowledge about every property in the town to share details that could not be found via a Google search to make myself needed.

But I still think of myself as a working class guy, but with a lot of knowledge.

Working Class Guy

Although I have never been to Australia (even though I would not mind going someday), I would be a very working class Australian. Per a social class quiz, I would be an established working class Australian.

Social contacts

Below is a list of occupations. If you know anyone socially who works in each occupation, select that box. You may select as many as apply.

Secretary   Nurse   Teacher
Cleaner    University lecturer   Artist
Electrician   Office manager   Solicitor
Farm worker   Chief executive  Software designer
Call centre worker   Postal worker   Scientist
Truck driver   Accountant   Shop assistant
None of these

Cultural activities

Below is a list of cultural activities. Please select any that you have done in the last 12 months.

Gone to the opera     Listened to jazz   Listened to rock/indie
Gone to gigs   Played video games   Watched sports
Seen plays or gone to the theatre   Exercised/gone to gym

Used Facebook/Twitter   Socialised at home   Gone to museums/galleries   Listened to classical music                                      Done arts and crafts   Watched dance or ballet                              Listened to hip-hop/rap   None of these

What is your total annual household income before tax or anything else is taken out?

Less than $20,000   $20,000 to less than $40,000

$40,000 to less than $60,000   $60,000 to less than $80,000
$80,000 to less than $100,000   $100, 000 to less than $150,000 $150,000 or more

What would you say is the approximate value of all property owned or mortgaged by you?

Less than $250,000   $250,000 – $500,000

$500,000 – $1 million   $1 million or more

Roughly how much do you have in savings?

Less than $20,000   $20,000 to less than $40,000
$40,000 to less than $60,000   $60,000 to less than $80,000

$80,000 to less than $100,000   $100,000 to less than $150,000    $150,000 or more

According to the ANU’s analysis the class group you most closely match is:Established working

Estimate of population percentage:24%

Established working class Australians are the oldest group, with an average age of 66 years. They have the lowest participation in both highbrow and emerging cultural activities, the lowest social contact score and the lowest occupational prestige among their contacts.

A few points on the above: (1) my house might be worth around $250,000, but I think that it would be more like $240,000; (2) our $150,000 or more in savings includes our children’s college savings accounts, so those will be depleted over the next eight years; (3) a solicitor is what they call an attorney in England and Australia and probably some other countries.

The description of established working is a little insulting, saying that I have the lowest social contact score and occupational prestige, although an argument could be made for both.

The explanations that most convinced me that I may be part of the working class are the following three comments from a thread on the Guardian website:

THE difference between the classes is in their relationship with society’s institutions. The working classes do what the system sets out for them. The middle classes invent, operate and belong to the system. The upper classes tolerate the system but know the right people to speak to if they feel the need to bypass any part of it. The underclass (often overlooked) don’t have any relationship with the system at all. Similarly, for example, working-class attitudes on school are: “Keep your head down and your mouth shut – if they don’t notice you, then you can’t get into trouble.” Middle class on school: “Your school is there to help you learn, and teachers are there to answer your questions.” Upper class on school: “It’s a pity you have to spend your time with second-rate people but you’ll get the real lessons of life here, when you come home for the hols.”                                                                                    J Nieman, Muswell Hill, London N10.

THE last two of these three terms are confusing. The important division is between working class and owning class. Members of the owning class own enough so that they do not have to work to stay alive, while members of the working class have to sell their work to survive. The point about the owning class is not that they are richer than the rest of us, but that they own the things that generate wealth without them having to work: essentially, land and buildings (giving them income from rent) and businesses (giving them income from the sale of goods or services). The only sure way to ensure your place in the owning class is to choose your parents carefully.

Raphael Salkie, Brighton.

If you can walk into work in the morning and be told your labour will no longer be paid for, so you are out of a job AND have no other meaningful way to get money to live off then you are working class. You may have been under the impression you are middle class, because of education, participation on managing institutions and systems, because you have disposable income, liking classical music, etc. But the bottom line is no means of survival but the job you are employed to do, then you are functionally working class!!!

Val Knight, Brighton East Sussex
By the definitions set out by these three Brits, who know a thing or two about class structure, I am most definitely working class.  By and large, I have done what the system has set out for me to do, I have to sell my work to survive rather than owning things that generate wealth, and at this point, I have no means of survival but the job that I am employed to do.
Do those things apply to you, too?  If so, welcome to the working class, my friend.

An Upper Middle Class Guy

Per CNN’s middle class calculator that goes by county, my family is not even middle class.  They think that we’re above it because our income is four thousand dollars higher than what it considers middle, which is from $36,000 to $107,590.  If you think about it, this measure does not account for anything besides income.  What it really should report is that I skew toward upper middle income in Cook County.

Of course, that measurement does not account for where we live in Cook County or how many family members we have.  True, if I was twenty-five years old and single, I could get by pretty well on my salary and maybe even enjoy some upper middle class amenities like a new car, travel, an iPhone, a new TV and other accoutrements.

A more detailed quiz on the Christian Science Monitor website has me tabbed as upper middle class due to factors including my proper use of adverbs, having hundreds upon hundreds of books in my home, giving to charity, buying fruits and vegetables and hating gospel, rap and heavy metal music.

Your results: BOURGEOIS VOUS

Your habits and perspectives most resemble those of upper-middle-class Americans. Though members of this group are not the most accurate judges of others’ emotions, they do have a high faith in people’s basic decency, and a commitment to raising healthy, curious, and imaginative children. Your people eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, eschew cigarettes, and live in homes full of books. You have vast and eclectic tastes in music, which likely exclude country, gospel, rap, and heavy metal. In fact, you identify so strongly with your own individual tastes, that you may resent it a bit when friends impinge upon your discoveries.

A Knowledge Worker

Another term that has been widely used is that of a knowledge worker.  This term refers mostly to those who utilize technology

In a Harvard Business Review article by Rick Wartzman, the author writes that business guru Peter Drucker had been anticipating the monumental leap – to an age when people would generate value with their minds more than with their muscle – since at least 1959, when in Landmarks of Tomorrow he first described the rise of “knowledge work.”

Three decades later, Drucker had become convinced that knowledge was a more crucial economic resource than land, labor, or financial assets, leading to what he called a “post-capitalist society.” And shortly thereafter (and not long before he died in 2005), Drucker declared that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.”

I am certainly a person who generates value with my mind more than with my muscle and combine my knowledge in the field of economic development with what I know about properties and projects in my employer’s community to bring about private investment and job creation in the community.

If the community had to rely on my building skills or physical labor to build up the town, I would not have lasted through my first day there.

A case can be made that all workers in today’s modern world could be considered knowledge workers.  In another interesting Harvard Business Review article by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison called “Are All Employees Knowledge Workers?” they make just that point.

Hagel, Seely Brown and Davison write that when executives focus on “knowledge workers”, they lose sight of the fact that even highly routinized jobs require improvisation and the use of judgment in ambiguous situations, especially if the goal is to drive performance to new levels. Many of these improvisations require interactions with one’s fellow humans.

I would not argue that all workers are knowledge workers, but I do support the notion that a large percentage of professional positions where you use new technology, apply some measure of judgement and interact with clients on a regular basis could be construed as knowledge worker-type jobs.  It goes far beyond scientists and engineers, and applies to me and probably to you, as well.

A Knowledgeable Working Class Guy

By reading this post and others, you could come to the conclusion that, like many people, I possess a unique blend of knowledge. Besides knowing much of what there is to know in the field of economic development, I have gained a great deal of knowledge about the field of finance, self-improvement, the future of work and literature.

Image result for worker bee gif

I also consider myself a worker bee-type of employee.  I have set hours, my assignments are given by someone fourteen years younger than myself with little to no knowledge about what it is that I do, and I report to both a Committee and Board who question everything I do including what I said to whom and why and even the level of enthusiasm with how I said it.

If I am not a working class Middle Class Guy, I do not know who is.

I may have a bachelor’s and master’s degree, I may spend my work days in meetings and on phone calls and sending emails, I may listen to jazz rather than country music, I may make a living by utilizing my knowledge in the field of economic development, and I may write numerous blog posts that will ultimately be read by thousands and re-packaged into eBooks, but I still think of myself as a working class guy.

As long as I will be going into an office tomorrow at a preordained time not set out by me to take orders from an inexperienced, overly-aggressive boss and will dutifully carry out those orders, the same as I did when my kindergarten teacher told me to draw a picture or write out the alphabet forty-two years ago, what is it that makes me any better than a working class guy?

Image result for name on work shirt

I may not have my name on my shirt, but I probably should.

From My Mind to Yours

Not Wasting My Time on the Bears

This post is being written on a Sunday afternoon, September 17th, 2017.

Being a middle aged Middle Class Guy who became a Bears fan back in the days when they sucked, but Walter Payton racked up the yards because he was their entire offense, then watching their juggernaut of a team win only one Super Bowl in January of 1986, and throughout their years of clawing back to respectability through their defensive prowess during the Lovie Smith era, and now once again into rebuilding mode, I have seen my share of games over the past thirty-five years or so.

Speaking of that only one Super Bowl, even though Mike Ditka has been living off that win for the past thirty-one years, I consider it a monumental choke and poor job of coaching on his part.  You or I could have coached that team to a Super Bowl victory that year.  The monumental disaster was bowing out early in the following seasons with a team perhaps even better than the Super Bowl victors.  How exactly was it that he lost with those teams?

Image result for mike ditka with super bowl ring

When my father and I discussed those mid-eighties Bears, that was our topic of discussion instead of the one major victory.  He considered Ditka a poor coach, as I did and still do.  Yet he does have the ring from their lone Super Bowl victory.  The Bears had previously won the NFL championship eight times per Wikipedia.

So about a half hour ago, I figured that I would occupy some of my time watching my beloved Bears.  I turned on our old tube TV downstairs just in time to see a highlight-worthy touchdown reception from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans near the end of the first quarter.  After the extra point, the Bucs were up ten zip.

I said to myself out loud that if the Bears did not put some points up in their next possession, whatever the reason may be, that I was not going to waste another minute of my Sunday watching them.

After a few first downs, third-rate QB Mike Glennon got wrapped up by a Bucs defender, the ball popped up in the air, and was recovered by the defense for the third Bears turnover of the game.  TV off.  They might fight their way back and make it an exciting game, but Yours Truly Middle Class Guy won’t be spending any time cheering for the Bears or witnessing their gritty comeback.  I prefer to display some of my own grit by cranking out a post inspired by a difficult read that I found interesting this past week.

Also, I have been reading a lot lately about producing more than you consume.  It is something that I have been thinking a lot about, too, and is both the topic of a forthcoming post as well as a New Years Resolution for 2018 and beyond.  Today, I would prefer to produce a thought-provoking post than consume a losing Bears game.

Just Another Middle Class Middle Aged Guy

In the book that I just read, the author refers to someone as just another middle-class middle-aged person getting along.  Worried about someone else, but beyond that nothing special.

Ouch!  It made me think that he could have written that about me, although I most definitely worry about quite a few people.  I do have a job that can be interesting from time to time, and I do read, think and write about things more than your typical Middle Class Guy but overall, I am basically just another middle-class middle-aged person trying to get along.

While the characters in the book contemplate a particular ridge that they drive up to at sunset and enjoy the way the sun diffuses through the trees and creates a halation (the spreading of light beyond its proper boundaries in a developed photographic image) down on them, the narrator looks upon an old cabin and realizes that there was someone, a person who lived here once, who was creatively on fire with a set of ideas no one had ever hear of before.

Image result for beautiful ridge at sunset

That also made me think of myself.  These days, I am creatively on fire with things that I want to write about or perhaps talk about in a podcast or write a book about.  Even if I succeed in writing two hundred more posts between now and the end of next year, I still would not be able to cover even ten percent of what I would like to write about.

After a few minutes more of contemplation, the narrator writes that “Now suddenly the sun is gone behind the mountain and the whole canyon is in dull shadow.”

Stuckness

Although I have what most middle class people would consider a “good” job, by many criteria I am stuck.

As an economic development professional in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, I have a six-figure income and benefits including my employer paying for most of our family’s insurance costs (even though it is a shitty HMO), I have nearly forty vacation days on the books and more sick days than I ever hope to need.

The community where I work is less than thirty minutes from home, and the Village Hall is one of the few left in the area that is only open for eight hours per day rather than the typical eight-and-a-half or nine.

Despite all those positives, I could list numerous reasons why I feel stuck.  I have a mental stuckness that accompanies the physical stuckness of my transfer to a new department and the many hours that I am expected to be in my office.

I will not make a Resolution to get a new job next year, as I have many years ago and succeeded in on two occasions.  No, my Resolution will be more to explore other avenues, pursue at least one new avenue of employment, but will mostly help myself feel less stuck by accepting and thriving in my new expanded role and making my daily work routine less stressful and creating more than I consume next year when it comes to writing rather than reading or watching.  I certainly will not cease reading and watching TV, but I could easily continue cutting that down by a few hours per week, like I have been, and writing more.

As my post titled “The Purpose of this Post” mentioned, I have to make more time for my writing rather than waiting for it to present itself.

(I hope that the Bears did not just do a great play that I missed).

By succeeding more in my new work role, pursuing other employment opportunities and creating more content while consuming less, and also improving upon taking more vacation time, I intend to make myself feel less stuck next year.

Quality

Even though I aim to produce a high quantity of posts, my new aim is to place more focus on the quality.

Image result for zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

The book that I just finished and am referring to is Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig, published way back in 1974.  It first came to my attention during the Bulls championship years, when it was well-publicized that Phil Jackson loved the book and adopted its philosophies.

Not being a motorcycle guy, myself, I certainly appreciate the zen and values aspects of this book, and its way of tying in motorcycle maintenance into greater philosophical ideas.

Pirsig writes that when you’re really stuck it’s Quality, not any subjects or objects, that tells you whre you ought to go.  He uses the analogy of a string of box cars not knowing where to go without the locomotive in front pulling them to the right place.

“At the leading edge there are no subjects, no objects, only the track of Quality ahead, and if you have no formal way of evaluating, no way of acknowledging this Quality, then the entire train has no way of knowing where to go.  You don’t have pure reason – you have pure confusion.”

The past cannot remember the past.  The future can’t generate the future.  The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.

How’s that for a Zen attitude that moves beyond just maintaining one’s motorcycle?  I think that reasoning applies to anything and everything, whether it is me trying to drum up some economic development for the community that employs me or whatever it is that you do.

Even though the past plays a distinct role, and we must always plan for the future, those who you and I work with or assist in this coming week are more concerned with the here and now.

Although Pirsig acknowledges that the above  sounds so far out and esoteric when it’s put like that, he writes that it comes as a shock to discover that it is one of the most homespun, down-to-earth views of reality you can have.

Getting Lost in What You’re Doing

I have read of and experienced the Zen-like state of getting lost in what you are doing, especially while writing or completing a work-related assignment.  Occasionally, I will work for two or three straight hours without taking a break.

Last week, while writing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for development of a Village-owned property, I did just that, working on it straight from about 8:45 in the morning until just before Noon without breaking for anything else.  It was a pretty good feeling, getting a seven-page draft completed during one morning.  It is far from completed, but I have a damned good framework for it and will be ready for others to fill in some blanks, pick it apart, and put their two cents in this coming week.

According to Tim Lott in The Guardian, the emphasis on the present moment is perhaps Zen’s most distinctive characteristic. In our western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it, and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment.

Part of the emphasis on the present includes having moments when we’re doing something we really want to do.  Pirsig uses the examples of a mechanic who is “interested” in what he is doing versus a mechanic who is “involved” with his work.

What produces this involvement is, at the cutting edge of consciousness, an absence of any sense of separateness of subject and object.  This absence of subject-object duality, is scarce because scientific minds have shut themselves off from consciousness of this kind of understanding in the assumption of the formal dualistic scientific approach.

By the way, please do not stop reading after that last sentence.  It will make sense if you read it once or twice more.

What Persig alludes to is the difference between a mechanic who is “just fixing” a motorcycle versus one who can be said to “care” about what he is doing.

This, in essence, is the challenge that I face daily at my place of work.  I have lost some of the caring about the many small things that go behind assisting small business people in their endeavors.  I may “just fix” what I need to fix at my job, but many times my heart is not truly in it.

Whereas, when I work on a post like this, I love doing it so much that I have cranked out about 2,000 words in the past hour since turning off my TV.  I am not just writing this for the sake of doing another post; this includes topics that I find fascinating and hope that you do, too.  Reading this may even save you from reading what is definitely a very esoteric 400-plus page tome comparing motorcycle maintenance to Zen.

From My Mind to Yours

I conclude this with a reference from Pirsig’s book that has always fascinated me.

I read very much and always like getting in the other worlds and minds of authors like Stephen King, Anne Rice, Len Deighton, Mario Puzo, David Liss, Daniel Silva, Dan Brown, John Le Carre and many others.

Just by clicking on this post and reading for a few minutes, you gain access to my mind.

Pirsig writes that “sometimes, when thinking about this, I thought that the idea that one person’s mind is accessible to another’s is just a conversational illusion, just a figure of speech, an assumption that makes some kind of exchange between basically alien creatures seem plausible, and that really the relationship of one person to another is ultimately unknowable.”

You may not always agree with my take on things, and I totally respect that.  Much of what I read, I do not agree with.

What I do find most fascinating, is how you are able to read what is on my mind, on various media, for eternity based on what I write today.  Some of these posts will ultimately be re-packaged into eBooks over the coming years to fulfill multiple goals and Resolutions of mine, including my family’s ever-increasing need for additional income.

Thank you again for allowing me to share some of what is on my mind, and I hope that even though we are just regular old middle aged middle class guys, that we can become less stuck, succeed in improving upon the Quality of what it is that we do, get lost in what we are doing when it is something that we enjoy or want to accomplish, and altogether be a little more Zen-like, whether we maintain motorcycles, cars, our homes, our careers or ourselves.


By the way, the Bears lost to the Bucs 29 to 7, so I am very pleased to not have wasted more time than a few minutes watching today’s game.

After their next two scheduled losses to the Steelers and the Packers, perhaps the Brain Trust will be ready to put the team’s best QB into the game.

 

 

Where Did My Vacation Go?

I am beginning this post on a Saturday morning, September 16th of 2017, after a long, difficult and stressful work week.

The end of the week was nice, since my young, inexperienced and aggressive new young boss left early on Friday, although he did continue emailing until later in the afternoon.

It was a payday, and my wife also got a paycheck, having started her part-time job supervising lunch hour at our children’s former school about four weeks ago when class resumed.

I did check my Yahoo! email this morning, seeing nearly 500 since I last cleared them last Saturday, maintaining my average of about seventy per day, but decided to go through and clear them “later.”

I have 457 unread emails in my Yahoo! account since last weekend.

A topic of an upcoming post as well as one of my forthcoming New Years Resolutions, I have been unsubscribing from things here and there, but still have a long way to go.

Also, I kept up my ongoing Resolution of Paying Ourselves First, ourselves referring to my wife as well, by sending $300 to the               T. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation fund, one of the two funds that comprise my Roth IRA, this morning.

Account Name Account Number Available Shares1 Available Balances1
Capital Appreciation XXXXXX 504.008 $14,742.23

Confirmation Number: XXXXX Trade Date: 09/18/2017

Bank Account Information: US BANK, NA   – CHECKING   XXXXX

Investment Amount: $300.00

Incidentally, I received my quarterly T. Rowe Price Investor newsletter in the mail today, which includes a note to encourage us to use their automated asset builder program, designating a monthly contribution towards our investments.

I have not used that for myself or my wife yet, but decided in the last few minutes to sign up for it in early 2018, so I no longer have to manually initiate the transaction on the computer, which is easy enough to do, but not automated like the financial gurus would advise.

The point of this particular post is not about email or Paying Yourself First, but looking over my paycheck, I saw that I now have thirty-seven vacation days to go along with my ninety-five sick days and three personal days on the books.

At my place of employment, you are allowed to carry twice the amount of vacation days that you earn per year.  Since I now receive twenty vacation days per year, I am allowed to accumulate a maximum of forty.

Let me be clear on this point.  I would rather be on a vacation day than not, and even though we are allowed to cash out a certain number of vacation days per year (and I have done so before), I would prefer to be off for a day than to receive an extra $300 at this point in my life.  I may truly need an extra multiple of $300, but my mental health benefits more from a day off at this point.

About nine months ago, I made a Resolution to take twenty vacation days this year, but conceded that I would settle for eighteen, which would have been a new record for me.

I had gone over the work calendars that I had maintained for twenty-four years and found that the most vacation days I had ever taken in a year was seventeen, which I took twice: once last year and back in 2000.

So here I am in mid-September, having taken nine vacation days so far this year and only having gone out of town on a vacation with my family for three short days to the Starved Rock State Park area which is not even out of our home state.

I currently have a personal day scheduled for Friday, September 29th, which is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, for us Jewish folks.  I do have a lot to atone for, so I thought that a good time for some quiet reflection and attending services.

But even that is not a vacation day; it is one of my four personal days per year.  My former boss knows that I am Jewish, but my current boss does not and I do not see fit to bring it up for the purpose of taking a religious holiday off of work.

So I will have gone through nine months of 2017 having taken nine vacation days, two personal days and one full sick day.  My one sick day was March 1st, a day when I got scoped up my schlong first thing in the morning.

How did this happen?

Well, lack of money for one.  Even though I report regularly having ten grand leave our bank account every month, those funds go toward college costs, investing, groceries, maintenance on our cars and home, insurance costs and co-payments, payments toward Disney World trips, eating out thirty or more times per month and on and on…

More pressing for me is my unexpected transfer to a new department and new boss after twelve years in another department working for a much wiser, more experienced and more compassionate boss.

Had I remained in my former department, I still probably would not have made the twenty vacation day goal, but in all probability would have been able to achieve the eighteen day goal.  I most likely would have gone to the upper peninsula for a few days as I wanted to, would take off a few days this month, and a few days per month through the rest of the year.  Perhaps the three days prior to Thanksgiving.

No, my new boss only has a few vacation days on the books, himself, and has far too high aspirations for what he would like me to accomplish than would allow me to do something so unproductive as to spend vacation days with my family.

I did tell him this past week that I intend to travel to New Orleans for a week this coming January, which I certainly hope to do.

It is well-documented that us Americans do not take all of the vacation days that we are allotted, as well as the reasons why.

Project Time Off has a ton of information about this topic, and looking at it just now I found a blog post topic for the last week of next January.  National Plan for Vacation Day is January 30, 2018.

According to the State of American Vacation 2017, the most effective remedy for American workers who want to use more vacation days is better planning. A majority (52%) of workers who say they set aside time each year to plan out their vacation days take all their time off, compared to just 40 percent of non-planners. They also tend to take longer vacations. While three-in-four (75%) planners take a week or more at a time, non-planners take significantly fewer days—zero to three—than planners at once (42% to 18%).

This tells me that I not only need to make a Resolution to take more vacation days, but I actually need to plan for them better.  Even if it is a random Friday in mid-May when I will not be doing anything exotic, taking a day off would still be better than a stressful eight-plus hour day catering to every whim of my new boss.

Insofar as this year goes, I think that it would be good if I took six more vacation days or two per month during October, November and December.

That would give me a total of fifteen for this year, a respectable though unimpressive number all-around.  Unimpressive for many reasons.  One reason is that people who run their own small businesses or have more important jobs than I do, as well as low-paid hourly workers trying their best to make ends meet would typically take less than that.  Some do not take any vacation days at all.

On the flip side, I am more impressed by people who take three or four week-long vacations every year.  Unless they are just going into more debt  by doing so, I envy those people more than I admire those who do not take vacations.

Because of where we live and who our children associate with at school, and where I work and know many people through there, we come into contact with many upper middle class families.  We know several families where both the husband and wife make six-figure salaries and travel to places like Hawaii, Mexico and other nice family vacations every year.  A far cry from driving two hours south to the middle of Illinois for a few days.

In closing, taking more vacation days is something that I aspire to. Like many a middle aged Middle Class Guy, I prefer to do well at work and remain gainfully employed than have every day become a day that I do not have a job to go to.  But there should be room for both doing a great job at work and also taking the vacation days that I am entitled to.

I do look forward to identifying six more days, all Mondays and Fridays, to take off during the fourth quarter of this year.  I am looking forward to going to New Orleans in January if things work out the way that I would like them to, and I look forward to planning for more vacation days next January 30th on National Plan for Vacation Day.

 

 

 

Gaining Grittiness

Much has been written of late about Grit.  The funny thing is, long before it became a catch-word with popular books and blogs posts dedicated to it, my father and both of my grandfathers exemplified grittiness to a tee.  All three would have broken the scale when it came to grit, and I have always assumed that some must have rubbed off on me.

Grit can be defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals and entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.

Gritty individuals like my three male predecessors approach achievement as a marathon rather than a sprint.  A gritty person’s advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, gritty individuals stay the course

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Not that I am very successful now, but when I was just starting out in the “real world” during my twenties and thirties and struggling at my jobs and struggling to rub two nickels together, my father told me on several occasions about how hard he worked for many years to attain the moderate amount of success that he achieved.

I recall my father telling me that it might seem to me like he was doing well and making good money, but that he worked diligently ans steadfastly at his craft for over twenty years before enjoying some modicum of success.

I was younger then, and replied something to the effect of, “Yeah, yeah, Old Man.”  Well, my father is gone and who’s becoming the old man now?  I am, and you are too.

He did not necessarily use the word Grit, but he often spoke of his and his father’s tenacity, perseverance and stubbornness when it came to making a good living and providing for their family.

Grit has many components and is hard to define by a simple ten question quiz as devised by Grit guru Angela Duckworth, although I have yet to find a better quiz.

Asking questions about how diligent you are, how often you set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one and how hard of a worker you consider yourself add up to a numeric measurement of your grit per the Grit Scale devised by Duckworth.

I scored an unimpressive 3.5 out of 5, or grittier than 40% of those who took the quiz but less gritty than a majority.

I’m not claiming to be the grittiest guy that you would ever meet or whose words you would read.  I do have a long way to go and my interests do change from year to year and I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but have later lost interest.

I intend to re-take this grittiness quiz at the end of next year, honestly answering the questions as I did just now.  When I succeed in publishing the three eBooks, earning income online, thinning my hoard of books and saved articles, embracing the notion of abundance to a greater degree, coping with or eliminating my anxieties, creating a larger percentage in relation to what I consume, improving my relationships, taking care of deferred maintenance, and generally improving upon my family’s quality of life, I intend to score higher on the Grit Scale.

It will definitely take some measure of grittiness for me to overcome obstacles, to not give up when things inevitably fail to go my way, to accept my share of long days and evenings toiling at my very challenging job, helping all that I can with my family and writing on a consistent basis to get where I would like to go.

Considering all this, here are a (dozen) things about grit for you and I to consider in our mutual quest for self-improvement.

Grit is Intangible

Beyond the aforementioned Grit Scale, grit is fairly intangible.  It is hard to quantify grit.  Just because I or you go from one project to another and may lose interest in something that we care about a lot right now, does that really mean that we lack the grit to follow through with our goals?

I know that my forefathers would have tested far better than I did on the Grit Scale, but I do not know if they were any more or less gritty than others of their same generation.  Many people pulled themselves out of dire straits during the Great Depression and made something of themselves.  Was everyone who did so especially gritty?  I, for one, think so.

I have met and currently know quite a few highly successful business owners and entrepreneurs through my role as an economic development professional for a local municipality.  Nearly every single one of these men and women are unusually resilient, hard-working and know what goals they want to achieve.

All those being components of grit, it remains a difficult thing to easily quantify.

Can You Inherit Grit?

Can you inherit grit like you can inherit your height or eye color?

Since my father, his father and my mother’s father were all supremely gritty, did I inherit that trait through my genes?

I suspect not, for the simple reason that I have personally witnessed and read about many people whose predecessors built up successful businesses through their sweat, hard work and determination, only to have them frittered away by those who inherit them.

According to The Family Firm Institute, only about 30% of family and businesses survive into the second generation, 12% are still viable into the third generation, and only about 3% of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.

Now that I am concentrating on improving upon my own grit and urging you to do the same, it does help for me to think back on how hard I witnessed my father work toward achieving his goals and the modest amount of success that he ultimately achieved.

The reason that I did not follow exactly in his footsteps is for exactly that reason.  Although it would be like a dream come true for me now, in my earlier twenties just out of college I came to the conclusion that I could not drive myself hard enough to accomplish what my father did working at home.  I figured that I would spend too much time watching TV, taking naps and scrounging through my refrigerator, among other things.  The Internet was not ubiquitous at that point in time, but now you could add surfing the web to things that I might have done instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Here and now, leading into 2018, I think about how great it would be to be able to put my thoughts in writing eight or ten hours per day and how much more I could create than I currently do if it was not for the forty to fifty hours per week that I spend at my full-time employment trying to make a living.

Perhaps the half-measure of grittiness that I am currently employing by writing this (late into the night after work?) and the increased amount of grittiness that I will display in 2018 and beyond will come more naturally to me than some others due to the “Grit Gene” that I may have inherited from my three forefathers.

Grit Grows With Age

A middle aged Middle Class Guy like you or me does not have a choice but to grow grittier with age.  Grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity, according to Duckworth.

I, for one, have grown somewhat grittier with the passage of time.  A lot can happen between the age of twenty-seven and forty-seven.  Most of us become more conscientious, confident, caring and calmer with life experience.

Unfortunately, a lot of the disappointments, the loss of loved ones and family issues that have put a large amount of strain on me and my family has in some way made me grittier and more philosophical as I approach my late forties.

My children look to me for advice and guidance, as I looked to my father and occasionally still seek guidance from my mother.  If my son and daughter cannot seek advice from me on how I may have overcome a similar hurdle, whether it is with a particular class they are taking or, more often, dealing with another student or colleague, then what good does it do anybody?

I know and you know that these problems too shall pass.  However, when someone is giving you a hard time with something, how can you preach grit, determination and perseverance if you do not pursue those same ideals yourself?

As we age, we are thrust into new situations like my current work situation where I was recently transferred to a different department with a young, inexperienced and aggressive boss and where things are done completely differently from my prior department.  It has caused me quite a great deal of anxiety, which I am coping with in several ways, one of which is to become grittier.

For that reason, I hope that I have inherited the “Grit Gene” from my paternal line of hard-working, determined middle class Jewish men and can pass it along to my own progeny.

When the Going Gets Tough…

When things are not going your way, like they have not been going for me at work lately, you always have two choices when things begin to get tough: you can either overcome an obstacle and grow in the process or let it beat you.

Middle aged middle class guys like you and me are creatures of habit. If we quit when things get tough, it gets that much easier to quit the next time. On the flip side, if we can force ourselves to continue pushing through it, like I have been striving to do on a daily basis since my unexpected transfer to a different department this past July, the grit begins to increase.

Don’t Get Too Emotional

Negative emotions will challenge our efforts to become grittier every step of the way. While it’s impossible not to feel our emotions, it remains completely under our power to manage them effectively and to keep ourselves in a position of control.

If we allow our emotions to hinder our ability to think clearly, it becomes easy to lose our willpower. Although I have woken up in less than a good mood most days this week, I realize that a bad mood can lead me astray from my chosen direction and deter me from accomplishing what I want to.

Once we know the causes of our negative emotions, we must begin looking for healthy ways to manage stress.  Avoid stressful situations if you can, and if you can’t (like me), work on taking control of your feelings. The better we work at managing our emotions in the long run, the better a handle we’ll have on how you react to whatever hurdles come our way.

It’s not about completely suppressing our emotions, it’s about monitoring them.  The truly mentally tough “monitor their emotions throughout the day and recognize how their feelings influence their thoughts and behaviors. They know sometimes reaching their greatest potential requires them to behave contrary to how they feel,” according to mental strength expert Amy Morin.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

The fear of failure has stopped me from trying something many, many times.

I realize that the fear of failure is not unique to me, but stories abound about individuals who failed time and time again at a project or invention or at starting a business prior to hitting on the right thing for them and then becoming highly successful.

Failure is a part of life. Take enough risks, go on enough adventures, try enough things, and you’ll encounter failure. Those who have showed the grit to succeed have encountered it more than most, but they’ve overcome it and ONLY through determination.

A Gritty Goal

You can read blog posts about grit and determination ’til the cows come home, but this post is not meant to convey everything about that trait.

I recommend Duckworth’s book for a comprehensive analysis of who, what, why and how grit comes about.

The most uplifting thing in my study of becoming grittier is just that, that we can grow our grit.  You and I can develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice.  We can connect our work to a purpose beyond ourselves.

I can do that on a daily basis at work, since my job primarily entails implementing programs to assist business owners and entrepreneurs in a single suburban community.  All day every day I am in contact with people seeking information, guidance and recommendations from me and what I say can have a major impact on their future endeavors.

I could easily go to work tomorrow and help five people before lunchtime if I so choose, and that is just doing my job.

What I am seeking to do is grow my grit from the inside, from my own reading, thinking and writing about it.  Nobody has told me that I should become grittier or need to improve myself.  It is something that is painfully obvious to me from the time that I wake up in the morning until I fall asleep every night.  I do not think about it all day, but I certainly do think about self-improvement including becoming grittier a large percentage of the time.

Another way to grow our grit is “from the outside in” according to Duckworth.  Parents, teachers, coaches, friends, bosses and mentors can help you.  This is not so much the case with me at this point in time.  My former boss, who I was blessed to have for twelve years from May 2005 through June of this year helped me grow my grit immensely.  I survived many a difficult situation at work by seeking out and then heeding his advice.

My father passed away five years ago last month and was the primary person who taught me the value of grit in my life, although he used other words for it like perseverance, determination and stubbornness.

I am blessed to have had a great father for forty-one years, although it was really forty years since he was unable to act in his normal capacity for the final year of his life.  I also realize that I am blessed to have had a great boss for twelve years.  Many people go their entire careers without a great boss.  I certainly do not have a great boss at present.

I no longer have any mentors, teachers, coaches at all and my few friends mostly advise me to loosen up a bit and not be so uptight about everything.  Not exactly helping me become grittier; they think that I am too gritty already!

No, growing grittier is entirely “on me,” but my goal of becoming grittier is a little bit on you, too.  For one, you have read this post this far so you must have some measure of interest in the topic.  Secondly, although it is hard to quantify and measure as I wrote, gaining grittiness will be one of my many goals and Resolutions for 2018.

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I will take the Grit Scale quiz again at the close of 2018 and will answer the questions honestly again as I just did.

If and when I succeed at accomplishing a high percentage of my New Years Resolutions, I will allow myself some small measure of satisfaction and will (maybe) score a fraction of a point higher.

Only time will tell.

 

Highest Middle Class Income, Debt and Stock Prices Ever

As y’all know, I follow many things closely and many of them are related to the cabbage.

I read with interest three different articles on my Yahoo! feed today, which were that our middle class incomes are now the highest ever, that credit card debt is now the highest that it has ever been, and the Dow Industrial average once again set a new high.

How are these interrelated to Yours Truly Middle Class Guy, my few dozen readers and what does any of it have to do with the price of tea in China?

 

My guess is that Chinese tea prices are not effecting any three of these things.

What is effecting these three things is a confluence of companies that have become more and more profitable by cutting labor costs and by selling to upper middle class and upper class consumers throughout the world.

According to a new study released Monday, U.S. consumers added $33 billion in credit card debt during the second quarter of 2017, making it the second-highest point of debt since the end of 2008.

Personal Finance website WalletHub.com—who conducted the study—projects that by the end of 2017, Americans will pile more than $60 billion in new credit card debt, which means overall the U.S. is headed towards well over $1 trillion in credit card debt.

American consumers now collectively have the most outstanding revolving debt — often summarized as credit card debt — in U.S. history, according to a report released by the Federal Reserve. Americans had $1.021 trillion in outstanding revolving credit in June 2017. This beats the previous record in April 2008, when consumers had a collective $1.02 trillion in outstanding credit revolving credit.

Total household debt — including housing, auto loans and student-loan debt — in the U.S. also surpassed the 2008 peak. While the debt level is similar to 2008, the things Americans are buying on credit have changed, as household incomes have increased in recent years, and housing prices and stock prices have improved.

Speaking of increased incomes, today I read several articles referencing the Census Bureau’s release of last year’s income data, which indicates that middle class incomes in the U.S. hit their highest levels ever.

Per the Washington Post, which I consider to be real news, the incomes of middle-class Americans rose last year to the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau, as poverty declined and the scars of the past decade’s Great Recession seemed to finally fade.

Median household income rose to $59,039 in 2016, a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year and the second consecutive year of healthy gains, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. The nation’s poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent, returning nearly to what it was in 2007 before a financial crisis and deep recession walloped workers in ways that were still felt years later.

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Of course, inequality remains high, with the top fifth of earners, the twenty percenters, taking home more than half of all overall income, a record.  Also of course, massive racial disparities remain, with the median African American household earning only $39,490, compared with more than $65,000 for whites and over $81,000 for Asians.  Nothing surprising there.

The deck is stacked against African Americans and Hispanics because they are dealt, as a recent Stanford University report states, an immediate “one-two punch” at the very moment of birth. They are not just more likely to be born into families with less wealth, education and income, but they are also more likely to live in poor neighborhoods where high-quality schools are more difficult to find, crime is high and other amenities are unavailable.

Going along with these higher middle class incomes and debt-fueled spending, on the way home from work today, I heard that the S&P 500, Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq all closed at record levels today.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose rose 39.32 points, or 0.18 percent, to 22,158.18 The S&P 500 edged up 1.89 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,498.37, and the Nasdaq Composite added 5.91 points, or 0.09 percent, to 6,460.19.

So what does that mean to you and me?

Well, for me, most, but not all, of the money that I have invested in my and my wife’s IRA and in my children’s college savings accounts are tied into these funds.

I have purchased many shares in the S&P 500 Index fund, the Wellington fund and the Primecap fund through Vanguard and the Blue Chip Growth, Capital Appreciation, GNMA fund and College 2018 fund through   T. Rowe Price.

I hold some individual stocks, as well, but those are mostly contrarians and have been losing money as stocks have been soaring.  My largest stock holding, several hundred shares of a triple-leveraged daily gold miner stock has been losing me money hand over fist.

Don’t worry, I do not invest my children’s college money or our retirement funds in this crazy stock that I should be ashamed to admit having bought and sold numerous times over the past three years.  Last year I made over $7,500 on one trade with it.  This year, I am down far more than that so thus will be holding it for a good long while.

If anything, I wish that I had more money invested in stock funds rather than the GNMA fund, which has not done particularly well for years and the bond funds that I have two of my children’s four 529 accounts in.  I still have two 529 accounts per child, one in a bond fund through Bright Start, and my daughter’s still in the Wellington fund and our son’s in the College Portfolio 2018 fund.

I share this highly personal information with you because, unlike a financial adviser who may likely be incentivized to push certain products at you, I am telling you what funds I am entrusting the funding for my children’s college education, something that I take most seriously, probably more seriously than my own retirement.

Trust me, it was not easy for a Middle Class Guy worker bee like me to save up nearly two hundred grand while my wife was a stay-at-home Mom and I was inching my way up from the forties when our son was born to just over a six figure salary.

Ask me how I did it and I will tell you that I picked some good funds on the advice of my late maternal grandfather, namely the Wellington fund and the Primecap fund, and I regularly contributed to them through thick and thin.

I have never owned an iPhone and do not want one.  My family uses pay-as-you-go phones from Walgreens and Tracfone.  We own two old tube TVs, both older than our nineteen-year-old son and speaking of nineteen years old, I drive a rusted out 1998 Subaru station wagon handed down to me by my mother when she purchased a new Prius about two and a half years ago.

However, despite my efforts at frugality, I recognize the need for us to further address our family’s precarious car situation this coming year and it will be one of my 2018 Resolutions.

Also, I may have a cheaper phone, TV and car than you, but we have been eating out several times per week lately and I made a $650 payment today (with $500 more to go) for our daughter’s December marching band trip to Disney World and throughout Florida.  We made another deposit on yet another trip for her to return to Disney World for the national poms competition in February, and I just made a $2,471 payment to our son’s college this past Monday night.

I do not want to provide all details, but I went over our last month’s bank statement today and again, more went out than came in.  This time, $10,455.89 went out and only $9,398.75 came in.  To our defense, besides the first month’s payment of $2,671.40 to the college, I also completely paid off the two round-trip flights and the payment for the first night’s lodging for my wife and son to visit Disney World while our daughter is there this December.  I also continued Paying Ourselves First $300 per paycheck and also continued automatically depositing $400 into our daughter’s 529 account on the first of the month.

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I got off on a tangent there

The upshot of all of this is that as Yours Truly Middle Class Guy, I benefit from the soaring stock prices while losing some dollars on some unconventional investments.

I am glad to read that the median household income in the U.S. has risen for the second straight year, but am nervous about the massive amount of debt taken on by our fellow citizens.

Even though I strive to pay off my wife’s two credit cards and my one credit card every month, it is not an easy thing to do.

Between my wife’s $1,706 Visa bill, her $219 Kohl’s bill and my $416 Visa bill, I sent over $2,300 to our creditors in August.  Along with all of our other purchases, repairs, groceries, gas and everything else, it added up to another middle class suburban month of over ten grand leaving our account.

I have been listening to a lot of music lately and most of my posts, like the one that I wrote on a whim earlier today called Wouldn’t It Be Nice, remind me of a lyric from a song.

Whenever I open my wife’s credit card bill, once I express my dismay at the amount, a quote from David Bowie’s 1975 hit Young Americans plays in my head:

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Do you remember, the bills you have to pay

For even yesterday?

 

 

 

 

 

Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

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Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

Brian Wilson wrote those words many years ago,  in 1966 to be exact, to sing how nice it would be if he and the girl he loved were older and would not have to wait so long to be together and make a life together in the type of world where they belong.

In late 2017, I am thinking wouldn’t it be nice if there were affordable housing, health care, college education, child care, transportation and the ability to obtain a decent pension for everyone.

For many middle class folks who have not cracked the top twenty percent like I still aspire to, these are mostly pipe dreams.

At the risk of sounding like I am on my high horse, it sure would be nice if working folks like restaurant workers, childcare workers, factory workers, nurses, clerks, small business owners and others who put in long hours for modest pay could earn enough to enjoy those items like those with higher incomes do.

Falling somewhere in between low-wage workers and the upper middle class is the wide swath of those of us largely forgotten about by the politicians until campaign season.

Wouldn’t it be nice if big corporations and the government would stop collecting data on everything that you look at, do online, where you shop, where you travel and sometimes even what you are thinking about? They collect your purchase history, employment history, bank records, credit card statements, property owned, taxes paid, credit ratings, and record you on video when you stop by the bank, fill your car up with gas or go shopping for groceries.

There is another digital you and me out there and my identity has not only been stolen by someone with my date of birth and social security number to apply for credit, but last week I learned that my information was stolen again from Experian.

This is coming a year after several of our accounts like Target and Home Depot were hacked right after we shopped there.  It might be easier to list where my identity has not been stolen from.

There’s a digital me out there, and he is not faring very well these days, but at least the digital me creates posts for the Middle Class Guy blog.  The real me has plans for the digital me to create eBooks to sell this coming year and beyond.  It may not be my real name on these things, but at least my wife, my children and I know who the real me is behind this digital me.

Following my years of working for one of the most conservative local government agencies that exists, I will work at integrating the real me with this digital me.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our private information could be kept private and our digital selves were not at risk every time we shop somewhere, complete an online transaction or even get our identities stolen by doing nothing but being a living U.S. citizen with a social security number?

Wouldn’t it be nice if middle class guys like you and me and our families would not be treated like sheeple or commoditized to the point where we have become hamsters running on a never-ending treadmill until we drop dead of exhaustion?Image result for sheeple

Big government and big business want you to get a job, take a pill for everything, watch reality TV, don’t be different, live vicariously, buy lots of things and junk food and then when you are older, pay every spare dime that you have saved on end of life healthcare and then taxes what’s left when you die.

That’s not for everyone, mind you, just those of us in the lower eighty percent of the income spectrum.  For the poor, there is little to no hope for most of them despite the rampant political rhetoric of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.  True, there are myriad stories of those that have done just that.  But for everyone who has succeeded in pulling themselves out of poverty by hard work, determination and quite a bit of luck, there are ten others who have not.

On the upper end of things, now is a better time than ever to be among the wealthy.  Not that it has not always been a good time to be wealthy since the dawn of humanity, but with those currently in power doing whatever they can to stick it to the rest of us, they do whatever they can to help those who least require the least amount of help.  They would rather help a multi-millionaire make an extra million than protect vulnerable working class people whose jobs have already been or will soon be outsourced or replaced through automation.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a politician who repeatedly invokes wanting to help us middle class folks during his or her campaign actually followed through instead of just catering to wealthy donors and special interests once they are in office?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the ideals that we are taught to us by our parents and teachers when we are young like fairness, compassion, justice and equality were truly important in the country today?

In the years while we sat by and allowed the basics of our democracy to erode by who we voted for, which products we decide to purchase (hint: new $1,000 iPhones), agreeing to be tracked by Google at all times, blithely swiping our credit and debit cards many times per day and generally ceding our rights little by little as time goes by, we have perhaps unwittingly contributed to the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

Have you noticed that company executives, politicians and the media do not even bother questioning or talking about traditional values anymore?  It is considered old-fashioned.

I am a Middle Class Guy, and us middle class folks including working stiffs like me, small business owners, teachers, social service providers, immigrants, small farmers and the whole lot of us have seen the American Dream begin to fade.

I, for one, still believe in the American Dream and will continue pursuing it until the day I die.  I urge you to continue pursuing personal betterment and achievement of your own version of the American Dream as well.

If we both achieved our versions of it, wouldn’t it be nice?

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The Purpose of this Post

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What is the purpose of this post?

After two long days, one technically a day of rest and today having been quite the opposite, I want to display my Grit by cranking out a post starting at about 10:00 PM on a day when I have been on the go since 6:00 AM.  I know…cry me a river.  There are doctors and truck drivers still doctoring and driving right now that started before 6:00 AM today, although it would be better for their patients and other drivers if they would call it a night.

One purpose of this post is to provide a checklist of how incredibly middle aged middle class suburban white guy my last three days have been.

Here on what I would consider late on a Monday night I will do my best to recollect what the last three days have been for Yours Truly, once again solidifying my role as a Middle Class Guy.

  • Watched about four hours of Hurricane Irma coverage on the Weather Channel with my wife.
  • Got inspired and cranked out a 2,905 word post in about two hours called Goodbye Florida Condo and then put my +/- 150 Florida condo listings in our recycle bin.
  • Served as sous chef for my son’s chicken cacciatori on Saturday night, then ate a lot of it. Took the leftovers for lunch today (Monday).
  • Took my dog for long walks on both Saturday and Sunday around a local lake, about a mile around.
  • Woke up around 6:00 AM on Saturday, when my wife had to drive our daughter to school for a marching band field trip to play halftime at a college football game.
  • Waited at the same school around 6:30 PM on Saturday to pick up our daughter.
  • Happily went to buy iced pumpkin coffees for me and my wife from Dunkin’ Donuts on Sunday morning for us to watch hurricane coverage with.Image result for dunkin donuts iced pumpkin coffee
  • Made great omelettes like I do every Sunday morning.
  • Mowed my f-ing gigantic one-third acre lot on Sunday with a push mower, wishing for a smaller property or to make enough to hire a landscaping and mowing crew.
  • Took my daughter and her BFF for a horse riding lesson at a horse farm about fifteen miles away, $40 for a half hour lesson.
  • Took my daughter and her BFF to Steak n’ Shake for lunch afterwards.
  • Took my daughter and her BFF to a local festival that we go to every year on the second Sunday of September.
  • Got home in time to catch the final twenty-six seconds of play in the Bears game including a dropped pass that would have won the game if the sucky receiver did not drop it.
  • Returned my son to his college Sunday evening around 9 PM.
  • Listened to the Cure, Ministry and the Smiths for over an hour when I got home.
  • Finished reading Grit by Angela Duckworth late Sunday night around midnight.
  • Also paid the $2,500 monthly nut to our son’s college last night.
  • Initiated a $1,100 transfer from his T. Rowe Price College 2018 account to cover 44% of this month’s payment.
  • Only slept three freakin’ hours last night. Did not fall asleep until around 3 AM after taking a Tylenol.
  • Got my ass out of bed around 6:30 this morning to start another long, stressful work week like many millions of other people.
  • Bought myself another iced pumpkin coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to work today after drinking two hot coffees at home this morning.
  • Worked all day today with meetings, phone calls and emails about anything and everything; it is far too much BS to detail everything that went on and that I did today, but I did walk a mile and a half loop during lunch hour, then read a magazine for a few minutes before returning to my office.
  • Made a $1,000 cash deposit into our checking account on the way home to cover another 40% of this month’s college payment. The cash came from my former $4,250 stash.  The teller asked where I work, but I told her that I would prefer not to discuss it.  Perhaps she thought I was a drug dealer, since it was comprised of twenty new fifty dollar bills.
  • Staffed a committee meeting tonight from 7 PM until 8:30 PM, answering a slew of difficult questions on development issues throughout the community where I am employed.
  • Walked my dog when I got home at 9:30 because nobody else really ever walks her.
  • Popped a Tylenol PM a few minutes before starting this post.
  • Also ate three incredibly delicious pumpkin cookies in the last fifteen minutes that my daughter made tonight while I was at the committee meeting.
  • Decided to crank out a post tonight even though I really do not feel like it to improve upon my grit and because writing is done in the time we make, not the time we find, and I definitely would rather watch TV for a few minutes, read for a bit and then try to get some sleep.
  • By the way, I have a busy and stressful work day already lined up for tomorrow. But you gotta do what you gotta do to pay the bills.  Know what I mean?

My wife has now requested that I relocate since she is going to sleep, which makes me wish for an extra room, an office or den where I could claim some space to work on my writing instead of moving from room to room.

I suppose that the miracle of modern technology that allows me to easily relocate myself and my laptop from room to room is something that I should be grateful for rather than lamenting my lack of a steady space to write at.

Oh well.  If I waited for the perfect space and the perfect time to present itself, I would most likely never write anything.  Thus, the purpose of this post is to display some meager amount of Grit to myself.  I figure that if I can make myself write a bit after a long, difficult twelve hour work day, then I must have some amount, at least for today.

There you have it.  I have put over 1,100 words into the blogosphere tonight and thus can go to sleep soon with some small measure of satisfaction that I did something for myself and my readers, and did not just toil in vain for my employer all day.

Regarding my reference to 1,100 words, I am going to strive next year to not worry or think about word count goals like I have done this past year, and will instead focus on doing shorter, more worthwhile and interesting posts on a variety of topics.

Incidentally, I started this blog exactly one year ago today, on Patriot Day of 2016, and this will be my 182nd post.  If you like math like I do, that is nearly exactly an average of one post every other day.

Image result for patriot day 2017

Thanks for reading.

One more thing: if you figure out the purpose of this post, would you mind telling me what it is?

 

Goodbye Florida Condo

I interrupt the long post about Grit that I started about five days ago and was going to work on today to say goodbye to my Florida condo.

No, I do not actually own a condo in Florida, but boy did I want to!

As my wife and I watch Weather Channel coverage of Hurricane Irma getting ready to slam the Sunshine State, I was reminded of the many hours that I spent researching, coveting and dreaming of our own little slice of paradise.

Of course, over the years I have learned many times over that for all of the natural beauty and warmth in Florida, that beauty and warmth can be overshadowed by crime, poverty, drugs and what must be the highest tattoo per capita rate in the U.S.

Once I researched and dug a little deeper, I found that many of the properties that I wanted to purchase were in areas plagued by crystal meth, gangs and host to episodes of Cops.

I would tell my brother about how much I hate Illinois winters and am looking at purchasing a property in Florida to spend a few weeks every winter and then eventually a few months, and he would tell me that he had noticed over the years that if something crazy or bizarre happened in the country, it most often happened there.

Image result for crazy people of florida

Someone eaten by an alligator?  Cannibal frat boy eating an older couple?  Smoking crack in the ICU?  Man stealing over 800 pairs of underwear from Victoria’s Secret?  Man having sex with a pit bull? This shit could only happen in one state.

Why I Wanted One So Bad

I have taken my lovely family for a week in Disney World six times at about five grand a pop.  We have not gone for several years; however, my wife, son and daughter are going there this December and my daughter is going again in February assuming that it is open again and accepting tourists and their dollars.

I realized then and still do that our lifestyle at Disney World of not driving, walking around a perfectly clean environment filled with happy families and forced-to-act-happy staff is not real life.  Paying $200 or so dining out three meals per day is also not reality for our middle class family.

What was very real was the seventy-five to ninety degree weather day after day without a flake of snow in sight.

We would return home as the snow melted in late March and I would go about returning to the drudgery of work, making money, paying bills, saving money for our children’s college funds and trying to save a few dollars for my wife’s and my future.

Time would continue to pass, as it always does, and January would come about with its twenty below zero days, eight inches of snow, shoveling, slippery roads, furnace repairs, $200 to $300 natural gas bills, higher and higher taxes, higher and higher crime, higher and higher corruption and other things associated with long, dark Chicago area winters.

While shoveling my one hundred foot long driveway at six in the morning before embarking on a nine hour workday, I would be dreaming the entire time of sipping an iced coffee or perhaps a tropical drink on the beach or in the Florida room of my Florida home.

Realizing that I have neither the time nor inclination to maintain a single-family home including making sure that the lawn gets mowed, that the structure is maintained and that it is secure from the hundreds of thousands of potential burglars throughout the State, I settled on searching for condominium units or townhomes in what appeared to be somewhat safer and nicer areas.

My Collection of Would-Be Second Homes

I printed out well over one hundred property listings, nearly all Fannie Mae-owned homes listed on Homepath, for cheap foreclosed condos and townhouses throughout the Sunshine State from 2011 through 2014 and kept them in a folder called “FLA Condos” in my office file cabinet.Image result for the sunshine state

Having transferred from the department where I was hired to work and did well for twelve years into a new department with a new and inexperienced supervisor this past July, I had to relocate all of the items from my office to a new one.

Besides all of the stress and anxiety that I experienced during this transition, and continue to experience but am doing better coping with it, it provided me an opportunity to weed old useless stuff from my office that I would not have otherwise weeded out until retiring at the end of 2025 or later, or until I resigned my position to move to a better one, or got let go.

I certainly was not expecting to have to go through and move twelve years worth of stuff this past July.

While going through the files, I came across my Florida condo folder and thought it worthy of a post before I moved it along,, admitting that I was not going to purchase one while also inching closer to my annual Resolution of becoming more organized.  After all, what good does it really do to have a seven-year-old condominium listing sitting in a folder in your office?

Even more so considering that I never purchased any of them, and many of these properties are soon to be destroyed or heavily damaged.

Even considering that, as I flipped through them today I could not help thinking “What if?” and began contemplating purchasing a second home that might ultimately become our only home in the future when Florida ultimately rebuilds.

My FLA Condo file with about 150 printed listings.

Even on the eve of massive destruction throughout the State, I have no doubt that one of the biggest construction booms ever will happen throughout Florida and parts of Georgia and perhaps even damaged areas of South Carolina for years to come.  It will be a long and painful process, many people will be permanently displaced and many lives will never be the same.

Ten years from now, people will be complaining about the gentrification of areas that were once trailer parks and lower class areas as Millennials, hipsters and Gen X retirees like I hope to be someday move into new or rebuilt properties.  Much like the nicer areas of New Orleans have come back and are still coming back stronger than ever, while the poor, mostly black folks in the Lower Ninth Ward and other similar areas never came back.

Example Properties

The examples blow my mind.

A 1,140 square foot condo in Taveres for $23,900 in January of 2014.  Annual taxes of a mere $807.

A 3,567, seven bedroom, three bathroom home on seven acres at 612 W. Park Street in Lakeland for a mere $44,900 in July of 2013.  A pittance of property taxes of $479 a year.  Seriously?!  My own taxes on a home one-third that size is a Benjamin per week.

A 1,239 square foot  three bedroom, two bathroom condominium on Environmental Drive in New Port Richey for the ultra-low price of $24,900 with a HOA fee of $294 per month and annual property taxes of $95.  That is less taxes than I pay every week!

I even printed out listings for numerous condos in the twenties, thirties and forty thousand dollar range in towns like Winter Springs, Winter Park, Altamonte Springs, Kissimmee, Lauderhill and Tampa.

This 1,350 square foot 3 Bedroom 2 Bath Condo in Lauderhill was listed for $25,900 in January 2011.

One townhome that I printed out and coveted was a nice 2,176 square foot four bedroom, three bathroom unit in Universal Resorts in Kissimmee for a mere $12,771 with a $275 monthly HOA fee and only $962 in property taxes.

These units were and remain rentals for tourists, so it would not necessarily have been a nice place to live.  But it sure would have proven to be a money maker for the past seven years since I printed the listing in 2010 and will continue to be.

Image result for 1069 universal resorts place kissimmee
I wanted to purchase a four bedroom townhouse larger than my house in Kissimmee for a mere $12,700 in 2010.

By the way, if I purchased a property for only $12,000, I am not bothering with a mortgage.  Just stroking a check, and then renting it out enough to cover the low monthly nut.  Just have the tenants and renters deposit a check in a Kissimmee area bank account and let it grow until the late 20’s, when I am ready to get a nicer, more permanent area residence.

Another condo that I printed out and looked at a lot in 2011 was at 832 Camargo Way in Altamonte Springs, where I wanted to purchase a three bedroom, two bathroom 1,291 square foot condominium in an “upscale gated community” for a mere $44,000.  Keep in mind that I would never pay asking price, like nobody would, and would make an offer for something like $36,000 or so before settling for $40,000 on a nice condominium like that.  I looked up the previous sale, which prior to the listing that I printed was $188,000 in 2005.  The taxes were $1,025 at the time and the HOA payment was $336.

Image result for 832 camargo way
I wanted to purchase this condominium in Altamonte Springs in 2011.

The cheapest ones that I found were in Orlando; however, I soon learned that those were the properties in the sketchiest areas.  More like homes for meth dealers and gangsters than Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.

Why I Never Bought One

My wife had something to do with why I never bought one, but truthfully I was and remain too financially careful and fearful to throw caution to the wind and purchase a second home.

During those recessionary years, and to this day, my job status feels precarious sometimes.  How stupid would it be to purchase a second home when I can barely support my middle class suburban household as it is?

I do not exactly have an extra few hundred or more per month to pay for a home that we would be lucky to visit two or three times per year.  Also, those two or three visits would entail purchasing airline tickets during high demand times of year like around Christmas, spring breaks or maybe around Thanksgiving.

The obvious thing to do would be to rent it out and let someone else make my mortgage payments for me, as they say.

My wife brought up some of the challenges of being a landlord, such as the broken toilets, paying for mowing and the inevitable problems that go along with having tenants.  For instance, if they did not pay the rent for a month or two, how would I collect from a thousand miles away?  Would I pay a property manager, like my brother does for his former house that he now rents out?  Their typical fee is one rent payment out of twelve, which can have an impact on your cash flow.

Would I want to pay a licensed real estate attorney to initiate eviction proceedings? Would I even want to evict someone if it was a single mother or an elderly person or someone who could not pay due to losing their job to outsourcing or a robot?  Or to their crystal meth habit?

I also joked with my wife that I would end up being jealous of our tenants on those winter days when I had to shovel, drive through a storm, work long hours and come home to cold, darkness and more shoveling while someone else was living the Sunshine State lifestyle that I so coveted in a condo that I own.

Also, with college for two children looming, I thought it more prudent to sock away money in their college accounts and send a few hundred here and there to my own and my wife’s IRA than to invest it in a condominium a thousand miles away.

I currently pay about $2,500 per month toward our son’s private liberal arts college tuition, room and board instead of paying $500 to $800 of that toward maintaining a condominium that we would rarely use and that might be wiped out by a hurricane, while making our son borrow that same amount.

Hello,
Installment amounts for your payment plan have changed to reflect new charges and/or credits. If you have set up automatic payments for this plan, they have been automatically adjusted to reflect these new amounts.

Payment Plan Name:  5 Month Aug-Dec NON-AUTO PAYMENT PLAN 

Changed Payment Plan Installment Schedule:
1 Installment: $2,671.40 amount due, $2,671.40 paid
2 Installment: $2,471.40 amount due, $0.00 paid
3 Installment: $2,488.07 amount due, $0.00 paid
4 Installment: $2,488.07 amount due, $0.00 paid
5 Installment: $2,488.06 amount due, $0.00 paid

I may as well admit here and now that my wife was right.

Irma

As Hurricane Irma moves closer to Florida, it is depressing to see lines of people trying to leave the area, some of whom have little to no wherewithal to relocate and many of whom do not have flood insurance to cover their impending losses.

Image result for hurricane irma

Our daughter asked us the great question of what if someone is unable to leave.  I emphatically told her that people must leave the area, no excuses.  It is a life or death situation, and there is no upside to sticking it out with a category five hurricane bearing down on you.

She asked again, but what if you can’t.  I told her again that you would have to no matter what.  Spend your last dollars on gasoline and water if you have to, but if you do not leave, you would most surely regret it and could potentially lose your life.

She did not like my answer and told me so.

I guess that the answer is, if you cannot leave and get stuck in a major hurricane and ensuing storm surge that you could drown, you could be stuck on the roof of your home or a building for days, you could be injured or killed by flying or floating debris or you could wait around for the government to save you with a helicopter or boat.

With the forecasters issuing dire warnings and the State issuing evacuation orders for days, there is no excuse not to leave.

Had I purchased one of those homes and had renters in it, I would fully expect them to abandon ship and never return and never send me another dime.

My Future Southern Home

Somewhere out there, I do not know exactly where or what town or even what State, there is a home that either exists now or a piece of land where one will exist and I will purchase or perhaps rent a property.

As the major avid reader that I am, I know many people at the library in the town where I reside and where I work.  One older lady librarian who I had been friends with recently retired to Myrtle Beach.  She quoted the earlier reason of Florida being filled with crazy stuff, and her and her husband both retiring on modest government pensions, they could not afford the kind of place in the nicer areas of Florida that they would like.

She told me that they were purchasing a single family home about a mile and a half from the beach in Myrtle Beach for about $150,000, a very affordable price after selling a paid off home for twice that amount (with six times the tax bill) in the northwest burbs.

After she told me that, I once again began looking at second homes or future homes if you will in Myrtle Beach.  Trulia, tracking every property that I look at, then started sending me new listings every time that a new property came on the market in Myrtle Beach.

For example, this lovely 2,100 square foot home built in 2008 has a reasonable asking price of a dollar under one fifty, to make it into my search results, a low HOA fee of $78 per month and property taxes are only about a hundred per month.

          $149,999                   Est. Mortgage $738/mo

       709 Austell Ct Myrtle Beach, SC 29588

3 beds   2 baths  2,100 sq ft  7840 sq ft lot size  Single-Family Home

Image result for 709 austell ct myrtle beach

I cannot write that I intend for us to move there, neither of us having ever even been to the state of South Carolina, but I like what I see. It definitely seems like a better area for a modest Middle Class Guy like me and my family than most of the areas where I looked for properties years ago throughout Florida.

It is a 500 mile journey, or seven and a half hour drive, from there to Disney World.  Close enough to drive there in a day, yet far enough away from the general nuttiness of Florida.

Map from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, FL 32830

I am sure that South Carolina has its share of crazies and those who would not approve of my Jewish heritage, but it seems like a place that I would like to visit in the coming year or two and then dream about purchasing a place for the next ten.

As the area rebuilds from Irma, and then maybe Jose, and perhaps even some unknown future calamities, I will strive to improve upon my situation in life including financially, and will dream of purchasing a beautiful property in a place where it does not snow, where crime is not a continual part of life, where taxes do not take every extra dollar that I can possibly earn and perhaps even somewhere where we could walk to the grocery store, a library, a coffee shop and maybe even a beach.

But for now, I can only pray for the best for those who live in the path of tomorrow’s hurricane and say goodbye to my collection of real estate listings from the Sunshine State.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhat Frugal

Thought I Was Frugal

This post had originally been intended to write about how frugal I am and to urge you to embrace the concept of frugality.

After reading a book, numerous blog posts and articles, and taking a quiz, I now realize that I am partially or somewhat frugal.

The Frugal Millionaires

Thank you Middle Class Guy for taking the Frugal Test.

Your Frugal Test score is 56. We recommend you print this page for your records.

The Frugal Test Ratings:

0 – 20 Uh-Oh…you really need to learn from those more frugal than you.
21 – 40 You have some frugal traits but they are overpowered by your non-frugal traits.
41 – 60 With just a few more tips and tricks about how to be frugal you can improve your frugal state of mind and your financial state.
61 – 80 You are close to being in the frugal zone but you have a bit further to go until you will see any significant financial results.
81 – 100 You are clearly in the frugal zone… but do you know all the tips and tricks of the frugal millionaires? Not even they know every tip and trick.

I actually checked two books about frugality out, but one of them talked about things like making your own clothes, building your own things, purchasing everything in bulk, raising your own food, cutting the cord, raising your thermostat to 80 in the summer and 60 in the winter, and other things that my family and I would not actually embrace although we should.  Especially cutting that ridiculously expensive Comcast cord.

Image result for cut the comcast cord

With painful lessons from two recessions in the past sixteen years, dwindling prospects for those without highly marketable skills, and with the threat of robots and AI taking over many jobs, those of us in the middle class have learned that job and income insecurity has become a way of life.

This is where frugality comes into play, accepting the wisdom of managing one’s finances with a margin of safety in mind.  Basic things like creating a rainy day fund for those unexpected expenses that we should actually come to expect, spending less than you earn, paying off credit cards in full every month and saving for retirement should not necessarily be considered being frugal in my book.

If you are spending your income on unnecessary things like gadgets, new clothes or the most frivolous thing in my book, a new iPhone, then do not complain when you have to keep working into your late sixties or your children have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to obtain an undergraduate degree or you have to wait until the first of the month to do your grocery shopping.

A healthy household’s balance sheet should allow one to pay for what you need, plus a few unnecessary but important things like we are currently paying for (two Disney World trips for our daughter in three months) and still set some money aside by Paying Yourself First like I do with every paycheck come rain or shine.

As the primary breadwinner for my family, it is incumbent on me, with the support of my wife, to plan for our family’s future and know when to be frugal and when not to be.

I would like to say that we always or usually are frugal, but that would not be entirely accurate as I have learned by thinking hard about it for a few months.

The more I think about it, the results of the frugality quiz that I took is accurate.  I scored a respectable 56, with points gained for things like spending on education, purchasing things only when I need them, paying some extra principal toward our mortgage and driving our vehicles into the ground, replacing them less than once per decade.

I was docked for things like our family eating out five times per week, constantly buying bottled water, tipping twenty percent when we eat out, not having a will or a trust and struggling with living on less than we take in every month.

I took a few other quizzes with similar results, the U.S. News quiz calling me “not too frugal” on six of the eight questions and the Your Money Mind quiz correctly identifying me as a Protector, with a primary goal of seeking security and safety, making personal sacrifices to maintain said security and over-emphasizing delayed gratification.

Things We Are Not Frugal About

When I tell you that we have sent both of our children for weekly private music lessons for many years, you may think of us as not frugal.

Ditto with our daughter’s periodic horse riding lessons, our son’s fencing lessons for years when he was younger, and sending our daughter to Walt Disney World for a marching band trip this coming December, then again in February with her poms team.  Having my wife and son go to Florida to also stay at Disney World to see her march and hang out for four days this December at a tune of nearly $3,000 also would not qualify as frugality.

Speaking of Disney, taking your wife and children there six times during a period of seven years, staying on property at Port Orleans French Quarter for a week every time with six day park hopper passes and spending plus or minus $5,000 every time is probably not considered the most frugal thing in the world.

Purchasing $400 to $500 in groceries per week for a family of four plus one small dog would not seem overly frugal to many people, especially the single mom frugality bloggers who would spend that much or less in a month. Our son has taken up cooking and if he is making something that requires fresh basil, white wine, shrimp, pine nuts, multiple spices or whatever, we will buy it.  We figure that no matter how much the ingredients cost, it will be less than going out to fine dining, and some of the dishes that he has prepared of late would rival or exceed what we would order at most places.

Eating out thirty times per month, or an average of once per day, between the four of us does not smack of frugality.  We typically dine at quick casual places like Panera, Jersey Mike’s, Panda Express, Portillo’s and Chipotle rather than full-service restaurants, but it still adds up when we go several times per week.  Add in the one or two good restaurants that we go to, and we typically spend another $500 and up per month dining out.

Not very frugal.

One could argue that paying our son’s entire undergraduate college costs in excess of $100,000 is not very frugal.  Or I could flip that notion on its head and claim that by forsaking vacations and most every luxury and saving money for our son for many years, I was very frugal being able to save up that huge amount considering my salary and while supporting a family of four on it, to boot.

Paying Comcast about $175 per month for cable, home phone and Internet does not feel particularly frugal, considering that neither my brother nor my sister pays for that and both have higher incomes than we do, considering my sister’s husband’s income as well.

My brother makes more than the four of us combined and does not have cable or a home phone and runs his law business mostly with his iPhone and a laptop.  For him, his iPhone is a necessity since he is not just using it to text, surf the web and watch TV shows.  I would not call him very frugal, as he makes two to three times as much as I do but also spends two to three times as much.

Frugal About Many Things

Now that I have made a case for my and my family’s lack of frugality, let me share some of the ways that we are frugal.  Probably more frugal than you!

Case in point, our cars.  Not too proudly, I drive a rusty 1998 Subaru station wagon to and from work every day and to the many other places that a middle aged Middle Class Guy like me would drive.

Not exactly a chick magnet.

Going grocery shopping?  Drive the rusty old Subaru.  Picking up my daughter after poms practice?  Old Subaru.  Picking my son up from his private college?  Park the rusty old Subaru in between a new Mercedes and a new BMW.

I say that I am not too proud because I know some people look down on me due to my old beater.  Heck, I have seen teenagers point and laugh at me, a middle aged guy in business causal clothing driving home around 5:00 p.m. in the kind of car that a sixteen year old with $500 to his name would drive.

Oh well, what I want to tell those who judge me for driving it is that  I doubt that you have saved up $200,000 to help put two kids through college and are saving for retirement with every paycheck.

The car that my wife drives is not much better.  I leased a new 2006 Chrysler minivan back in that year, made lease payments on it for thirty months, extended the lease by another year, and then purchased it off of the lease with another three-plus years of payments.

After paying that van off in 2013, we have not made a car payment in over four years now.

Even though I earn a six figure salary, I am fairly content to be driving a hand-me-down rusted out station wagon from my mother although I am formulating a plan to upgrade and replace our cars this coming year.

I figure that twenty years out of the old Subaru is enough.  It leaks almost all of its fluids out every three to four months, but it would probably run until it hits a million miles if I let it.

Darned if Chevrolet or Chrysler can make a car like that!

Do you know anybody who still watches tube TVs?

Even though most others in our neighborhood do not send their children to college or, if they do, do not contribute much toward the payments and have their kids borrow tens of thousands of dollars, they sure do have great TVs.

I see their TVs flickering in their living rooms when I am walking my dog, and I see the empty boxes outside for garbage pickup for their fifty- and sixty-inch plasma “smart” TVs.  The same people typically have cars in their driveway that are five years or newer.  Two of our neighbors purchased new BMWs this past summer.

For all I know, these folks embrace the Millionaire Next Door philosophy and choose to live in humble 1,000 square foot ranch homes in a lower middle class neighborhood that has been populated mostly by Polish contractors and Islamic immigrant families and a few young white English-speaking couples since the Recession.  But I suspect otherwise.

They all drive nicer cars than we do, so call me frugal when it comes to cars.  I just want something that will transport us from Point A to Point B and then back again safely.  We have not had working air conditioning in any of our cars for at least five years.

Image result for tube tv

Yours Truly may be the last owner of tube TVs even in a very modest neighborhood.  I do not really care, although sometimes when I am watching a movie with great effects or an exciting sporting event like the Cubs playoff run last year, I did lament not having better than a thirty-two-inch tube TV.

So call me super frugal when it comes to our TVs.

Image result for tracfone verizon

The four of us have pay-as-you-go phones.  They are all Samsung phones purchased at Walgreens along with Tracfone cards.  Not an iPhone among the four of us, although our daughter wants one very much and I am inclined to get her one.   “All her friends have one” and she has trouble messaging them from her phone because they all use iMessenger, which excludes her.  Not to worry, she messages them quite a bit from home using our iPad.  No, we do not boycott Apple products; we just do not have iPhones.

It is nice not paying Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile even one dollar ever.

Sometimes it takes me over two months to use up the $30 card that my wife purchases for me, but I am obviously not a guy who uses my phone a lot.  Our son does not use it much, either, except for when he is away at his college and calls us most nights.  But I would still rather pay for more minutes as we need them than to pay $120 to $200 for unlimited talk and data for four people, like many families that we know do.

So call me frugal when it comes to phones.

Everything that I am wearing from my underwear to my shirt came from Kohl’s.  Ditto for our son and my wife.  Our daughter, being somewhat more fashion conscious than we are, has about a third of her clothes from places more “upscale” than Kohl’s.  Like all other Kohl’s shoppers, we use our 20% or 30% off coupon, plus the Kohl’s bucks that my wife accumulates, thus “saving” a significant amount of funds when we shop for clothing.

We are frugal when it comes to purchasing clothes.

Things that round out my own frugality are my shoes, my watches and my briefcases.  Shoes are all Croft & Barrow from Kohl’s, my three watches are a ten-year-old Timex Ironman which I wear about ninety percent of the time, a Seiko that was given to me by my aunt and uncle upon receiving my master’s degree in 1998 and an Armitron that my grandfather gave me more like thirty years ago.

The briefcase that I use every day was given to me by my father-in-law and the two that I do not really use were both given to me by my parents over twenty years ago.  They are fairly nice and one could even be considered an “upper middle class” briefcase, having a combination lock, but I have not used it for about fifteen years now.

I have yet to spend a dollar on a briefcase, although I would not mind buying a nice soft brown leather one someday if I ever make the extra income that I read, think and write so much about.

I would like to get a fancy soft leather briefcase someday, but it is below a low priority.

Call me super frugal when it comes to my shoes, watches and briefcases.  You could probably replicate every one of them that I have for about $500.

I am a frugal traveler.

As a matter of fact, I have only left the Land of Lincoln twice this year, and both times only to Wisconsin.  One time, I spent three days in Mad-City, including a night out drinking with two Millennials, and another time was just a short day trip to the Mitchell Park Conservatory and the Mars Cheese Castle before we headed to Starved Rock for three days.

If you were looking for a travel blog, you came to the wrong place.

I am not saying that I would not like to travel more.  I have had some years when I went to Disney World for spring break, Las Vegas for the big retail convention, Michigan’s upper peninsula in August, and training in various cities throughout the country in a year, but that has not been for a few years.

We spent a week in Arizona for spring break of 2016, but did not travel as a family this past spring because our two children’s spring breaks were separated by a week.

I do have plans to visit New Orleans with my son in January if our calendars can sync up.  Also, even though I am not going, I am certainly paying for my wife and son to go to Disney World this December, and am getting ready to pay off the balance on our daughter’s band trip.  We are also making a deposit for her to go there again in February for a national poms competition, so even though Yours Truly Middle Class Guy is not going anywhere exciting, at least I get to pay for others to go.

Being home by myself for three days this December might not be so bad, anyway.

Somewhat Frugal

As it turns out, when it comes to being frugal I find myself and my family in the middle of the road, just as we do for many other things. We could most definitely be more frugal when it comes to these multiple Disney World trips, eating out thirty times or more per month, and the upper middle class horseback riding and private music lessons that our daughter takes.

When it comes to my super frugality with cars, phones, TVs and lack of traveling, it would probably behoove me to loosen the purse strings a little more.  The problem is, we have not exactly been living below our means this year.

To me, being frugal is a combination of your mindset when it comes to spending versus saving or instant gratification versus delayed gratification and your family’s income.  I believe that a family that earns $400,000 and spends $350,000 is more frugal than one that earns $50,000 and spends $52,000.

Although things may vary a bit from year to year, my wife and I will earn about $115.000 this year with about $82,000 take-home pay after taxes, insurance, pension contributions and social security.  A fair amount more than that will be going out, primarily due to paying our son’s college tuition, room and board.

Should we eat out less?  Probably.  Should our son work a few hours per week to help pay his own way through college?  He should and he will.  Should I keep Paying Ourselves First come Hell or high water with every paycheck?  Most definitely.  Should I bite the bullet and buy or lease a new family car next year?  I suppose that depends on one’s own definition of what constitutes being frugal and what constitutes being too cheap.  There is a difference.

What do you think?  Are you frugal?  If so, then why?  If not, then why not?  Are you somewhat frugal like my family is?  Do you plan for how much of your income to spend or do you just go with the flow, doing your best to pay for everything while squirreling away some funds for the future like I do?

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Source: Market Chess

 

A More Ideal Me

The Ideal Me

Somewhere  hidden away deep inside me but screaming to come out is a more ideal me.

Perhaps you are already at the point of organization, happiness and wealth where I will spend years reading, thinking, writing and planning to attain.  If so, kudos to you.  Many of those whose blogs I read, like those Samurais, Ninjas and Zenmasters have attained the attitudes and practices that I can only dream of for the time being.

Yes, somewhere inside Yours Truly Middle Class Guy is a well-organized, less worrisome, friendlier, more efficient and successful guy who could become part of the twenty percent if he could truly adopt a more positive attitude and learn how to convert his talents into something marketable that could benefit others.

It would also make for more compelling reading if I could share some success stories that come as a result of my constant reading, thinking and striving toward self- improvement.

The ideal me is a prosperous enthusiast for life, well prepared for obstacles that are placed in my way and a believer and recipient of the abundance of wealth that exist in today’s world.  Someone who profits from new technology and ideas instead of one who is manipulated and controlled by those who do.

The completely ideal me will most likely never fully emerge, but I fully intend to move closer to being that guy in this coming year, so I can look myself in the mirror next New Year’s Eve and tell myself that I gave it my all in 2018.

Uncertain Times

We are living in uncertain times.  One hundred years ago, those who were living at that time were also living in uncertain times.

Do you think that those preparing for World Wars or those who lost everything in the Great Depression or those in Texas who lost everything they own in Hurricane Harvey last week feel like they lived in uncertain times?  You know it.

Ten years from now, twenty years from now and even a hundred years from now if the world still exists as we know it, it will remain uncertain times.

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The stock market is going well today, but will it go well next week?  Next month?  Next year?  There are always those that are predicting an imminent crash but, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice per day.

Eventually, there will be another major Recession or even the Great Depression part two.  Wouldn’t it be something if the stock market crashed again on October 29th in 2029?  Perhaps a worse crash will come sooner than that.

Perhaps North Korea will launch a nuclear strike on the U.S. Perhaps President Trump will start a war with Russia.  Perhaps another major terrorist attack like 9/11 will succeed on U.S. soil.  We simply do not know what the future holds.

I point this out because I have read at least a dozen books, all written in different years and decades, that all make it a point to describe the uncertain times that we live in.  Those words ring true whether written in 1990, 2002, September of 2017, in 2025 or many years later.

The times may be uncertain and beyond what a regular old Middle Class Guy like you or I can control.  We can cast our votes in elections and vote with our choices of what businesses to patronize, but beyond that the future of what transpires in the world is beyond our control.  But something that you and I can control is our own actions and decisions, and that is something that we must strive to improve upon this new year and beyond.

I cannot save the world or the country or even help my lousy State of Illinois much or change the troubles, crime, corruption and high taxes that plague Cook County and the Chicago area.

But I can utilize my own talents and abilities to a greater extent.  I can learn something new, and I have room to improve upon being a good son, husband, brother, father, cousin, nephew, uncle, friend, neighbor, homeowner, employee and writer.

Use Our Gifts

It is my strong belief that it is my responsibility to work hard and be a good provider for my family.  Call me old-fashioned and I will agree, but as a husband and father of two, I feel that this is my primary role in our family’s success.  I know several other middle aged guys who do the same, and some with far greater success than my own.

God granted us an ample set of gifts, talents and work ethic that should be used for the betterment of ourselves, our families, our places of work and our communities.

Wealth and success is not something that I ever expected would be handed to me, but in the spirit of remaining truthful through my current anonymity, I did assume in my younger years that opportunities would present themselves more clearly and that I would become very wealthy by using my strong analytical ability, writing talent and speaking talent.  Perhaps writing advertisements and later owning my own advertising firm.  Perhaps trading stocks and options for someone else before striking out on my own. Perhaps writing a book or several books that were heavily sought after by big publishers and then sold millions of copies.

But did I have an actual plan or ever pursue becoming an advertising executive, trader or author?  Not really.  Thus, none of those opportunities or any others that would make one wealthy have ever come my way that I am aware of.

It took me until I reached my forties and had met with many successful business owners, read a hundred or more self-help and financial books and read another ten thousand blog posts before I realized that I already possess the talent to make great things happen, but that nobody is going to make it happen for me.

I must accept responsibility for where I am at in my career and my life, just as you must, and then embrace the concept of doing rather than talking or writing about doing, and put my thoughts and writing out there for purchase in order to chase some of the abundance that exists in this world for those who add value to others.  I know that there are people who could and would benefit by my writing, so long as they commit to making changes, although just baby steps, to better themselves along with me this coming year.

Wealth to me goes beyond just making additional income, but that is the place where I intend to start.  Living more fully, being more charitable, taking more time off to spend with my family and traveling beyond just the old familiar places is all easier accomplished with a greater amount of income.

In fact, I cannot accomplish any of the above without it.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts, ideas, challenges and motivations for us middle class guys.