Paying Ourselves First

Preview

Paying Yourself First is one of the keys to long-term savings, being able to retire some mythical day, and being able to make ends meet in a pinch. Having the necessary means to survive a rainy day or in some cases rainy months or even years.

Yesterday, I read advice from Suze Orman, who dispelled the notion of having six months worth of living expenses saved up for the proverbial rainy day.  She advises having eight to twelve months just in case.

“You need as much money in the bank that makes you feel secure,” Orman reiterates. “Don’t go fooling yourself, ‘It’s okay, I can charge on a credit card, I can do this.’ You should have at least eight months. Not six months, not three months, I’d like to see you have eight months to one year.”

That applies well to Yours Truly Middle Class Guy, as I work in the field of economic development, which has been in contraction mode in the Chicago area over the past seven or so years since the inception of the Great Recession.

Jobs in this field are relatively plentiful in business-friendly southern states that are not plagued by the overwhelming tax and regulatory burdens that we have here in the Land of Lincoln.  I would not feel so stressed if we lived in Florida or Texas, but we do not and most likely never will.

The economic development function in many Illinois municipalities has been absorbed into other job titles, farmed out to contractual consultants on a year-by-year basis, relegated to public/private organizations or, in some cases, eliminated altogether.

Ironically enough, my plan for eight-and-a-half years from now after hopefully qualifying for my IMRF pension is to be one of these hired gun consultants with a one- or two-year contract here and there.  Who wants to be at the same town trying to accomplish the same thing for as many years as I have?

I take Suze Orman’s advice seriously, along with advice read or heard from many other sources.

That is why, despite my current heightened state of anxiety, I have continued Paying Ourselves First, rather than just Paying Myself First, but it is the same concept.

After today (Wednesday, June 21, 2017), I will be taking the next three work days off.  We get our paycheck stubs for Friday via email the previous Wednesday, so I got mine today and see that I have thirty-seven vacation days on the books as well as over ninety sick days and four personal days.  I would have more sick days than that, but I have cashed quite a few out at 50% pay over the years.  I would have cashed more out, but the limit is six per year if you have not taken any all year.

I showed up to work feeling slightly or more than slightly ill many a time in an effort to not take any sick days all year and cash out my six days at half pay.

My family’s travels will be taking us to the City of Milwaukee tomorrow to visit the Mitchell Park Conservatory, otherwise known as “The Domes” and will take us to the Starved Rock area in western Illinois for a few days following that.

Incidentally, we are renting a car for tomorrow’s day trip to spare us the discomfort of driving for over three hours in one day in the hot and humid Midwest without the benefit of air conditioning, which gave out several years ago in our clunker minivan.

I reserved a car from the local Enterprise location, like I always do.

Visit enterprise.com
YOUR RESERVATION IS CONFIRMED
Thank you for your reservation
Your confirmation number is 1243XXXXXX

Pick-Up Details

Location Middle Class Home
Date & Time Thursday, June 22, 2017 @ 10:00 AM
Address Middle Class Address
Phone (847) 555-1212
Hours Thu 7:30 AM-6:00 PM

Return Details

Location Middle Class Town Enterprise location
Date & Time Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 10:00 AM
Address Middle Class Address
Phone (847) 555-1212
Hours Fri 7:30 AM-6:00 PM

Renter Details

Name Middle Class Guy
Email MCG’s email@yahoo.com
Phone (847) 555-1212

Pricing Details

Vehicle Class Standard
Buick Verano or Similar
TIME & DISTANCE 1  DAILY @ $63.99 $63.99
Taxes and Fees

AUTO RENTAL TAX (12.0%) $7.83
LESSOR TAX $1.00
VLCRF $1.30


Estimated Total $74.12

Since I will be moving offices upon my return next week, I am beyond happy to have these vacation days off.  They would be better off called Mental Health Days, since that is what I need at this point.

Never in my wildest dreams as a young twenty-something-year-old pursuing my master’s degree in public administration did I imagine that I would be reporting to someone who would have been about ten years old at the time, and not the brightest bulb in the package, twenty years later.

Such is life.

So after yesterday’s post, I was thinking today that another thing that relieves my anxiety at least a little bit is Paying Ourselves First.

Despite my previously-posted details about spending $10,000 or more in a typical middle class suburban month, I have continued Paying Ourselves First this June to the tune of $1,400.  That breaks down to $600 to my Roth IRA, $500 to our daughter’s 529 account and $300 to my wife’s Roth IRA.

To wit: I sent a paper check to my wife’s IRA that transacted very early this month.  It is her account, so I never requested that she register it electronically, although it is now one of our two investment accounts, both hers through Vanguard, that we do not access electronically.

That might sound silly or quaint to you and if it does, so be it.  There have been many wealthy investors including multimillionaires who never utilized an electronic account in their life.  Of course, most of those investors started decades ago.

Regarding my Roth IRA, comprised of two funds with T. Rowe Price, I sent additional $300 purchase orders in electronically at both paydays, one near Friday, June 9th and another today for this Friday’s payday.

The transaction(s) completed 06/21/2017 6:45 p.m. (ET).

Roth IRA   (Middle Class Guy)

Account Name Account Number Available Shares Available Balances
Capital Appreciation – Roth IRA XXXXXXX 483.135 $13,870.81
Confirmation Number: XXXXX     Trade Date: 06/22/2017         Investment Amount:  $300

For our daughter, we automatically pay $400 into her Bright Start account on the first of every month.  Because I am the kind of guy who likes round numbers and also resolves to send at least $5,000 to her college account every year, I must send an additional $200 to her account at some time during the year.

I was also prompted to do so by this email from Bright Start a few weeks ago, which, as you can see, projects her account to reach over $70,000 by the time she turns eighteen, assuming 5% average annual growth compounded monthly.

You’re already contributing automatically to your Bright Start Savings Plan. Great! But see what your savings could be if you increase your contribution by just $100 per month.
 Hypothetical value of your Bright Start savings plan at age 18
$71,996
Current Contribution
$77,320
Additional $100 per Month
These figures are for illustrative purposes only and are based on a hypothetical 5% annual rate of return compounded monthly. They are not meant to predict or depict the return of any Oppenheimer fund or your 529 account. This example assumes the reinvestment of any distributions. It does not reflect the effect of taxes, plan fees, charges and expenses and assumes that investments are made at the beginning of the month. If such taxes, plan fees, charges and expenses were taken into account, returns would have been less.

So besides the $400 invested on the first of the month, I sent the additional small sum of $100, so I have now invested $2,500 into her account midway through the year.

For our son, I have not sent any additional money to his college accounts for about a year.  I have already somehow managed to sock away one hundred grand into his college accounts, which still have about eighty thousand in them after we shelled out about twenty-five grand during his freshman year.  We have eighty left for him instead of seventy-five because I “only” withdrew about twenty thousand from his savings this year and paid another five or so out of our own cash flow.

For those of you who pay college expenses with 529 accounts, you know that to qualify for the American Opportunity tax credit, you must spend at least four thousand dollars of non-529 money to qualify for it.  You may not collect two tax breaks for the same dollars.

Let me clearly state here that my family is not becoming wealthy by any means.  Because I saved and still save so much of our income for our children’s college accounts, my wife’s and my IRAs are at lower levels than they should be.

I have read several articles that say people our age (forty-six and forty-seven) should have about four times our annual income saved and five times as much about three years from now at the age of fifty.

As our combined income is now around $112,000, that means that we should have nearly $450,000 saved.  Let me tell you, we are nowhere near that number and have maybe one quarter of that in accounts not targeted for educational expenses.

That does not mean that I will not continue striving toward reaching worthwhile savings goals.  Also, I am working towards achieving a pension, which would be in the $6,500 monthly range if I can succeed in remaining gainfully employed in my current position or a similar one that contributes to IMRF through the end of 2025.

As I have written in my last few posts, I am definitely suffering from a higher level of anxiety than I have for quite some time.  But Paying Ourselves First still makes me feel better every other Friday when payday rolls around.

Anxiety And This Middle Class Guy

Image result for anxiety

I know that one more middle aged Middle Class Guy living in the Midwest and suffering from anxiety is hardly the stuff of front page news.

Perhaps a headline from the Onion, like “Middle Class Guy in Suburban Chicago Suffering From Anxiety Due to Cheese Being Moved!” or “Area Man Anxious About New Boss.”

It won’t make the front page of the Chicago Tribune or even the local newscast.

Since attaining exactly zero minutes of sleep eight nights ago, attributed to work-related anxiety, I have kept a journal tracking my sleep, with details on specific hours slept, in my ideas notebook for this year.

Although my ideas notebook was never intended to be a sleep tracker with notations on when I had to use the washroom, to boot, it has proved helpful to me.  Just seeing it written helps my mental health, although if you Googled “How to Cope With Anxiety,” I doubt that many of the posts would advise to do that.

As luck would have it, in my constant reading of all things printed on paper and online, I have come across two articles related to anxiety in the past ten days.

In Prozac Nation is Now the United States of Xanax by Alex Williams for the New York Times on June 10th, the author writes that “anxiety has become our everyday argot, our thrumming lifeblood: not just on Twitter (the ur-anxious medium, with its constant updates), but also in blogger diaries, celebrity confessionals, a hit Broadway show (“Dear Evan Hansen”), a magazine start-up (Anxy, a mental-health publication based in Berkeley, Calif.), buzzed-about television series (like “Maniac,” a coming Netflix series by Cary Fukunaga, the lauded “True Detective” director) and, defying our abbreviated attention spans, on bookshelves.”

He writes that with two new volumes analyzing the condition (“On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety,” by Andrea Petersen, and “Hi, Anxiety,” by Kat Kinsman) following recent best-sellers by Scott Stossel (“My Age of Anxiety”) and Daniel Smith (“Monkey Mind” that the anxiety memoir has become a literary subgenre to rival the depression memoir, firmly established since William Styron’s “Darkness Visible” and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation” in the 1990s and continuing today with Daphne Merkin’s “This Close to Happy.”

Reading this last week made me seriously consider detailing my own anxiety and how I am coping with it.  I have a goal of self-publishing four eBooks by the end of 2018, and one of them could be about how a regular guy like me overcomes anxiety.  For me, writing about it here helps some, but I have done a few other things too.

Most notably, I have somehow gone nine straight mornings without coffee, after consuming an average of at least four cups per day for the past fifteen years, with the exception of a few times that I was sick and three days last fall when I went for a colonoscopy.

Yesterday, while perusing LinkedIn, I came across an article by PhD candidate Olivia Remes of the University of Cambridge on The Conversation website titled Surprising ways to beat anxiety and become mentally strong – according to science.

Remes writes that most people experience anxiety at some point, but if it starts interfering with your life, sleep, ability to form relationships, or productivity at work or school, you might have an anxiety disorder. Research shows that if it’s left untreated, anxiety can lead to depression, early death and suicide. And while it can indeed lead to such serious health consequences, the medication that is prescribed to treat anxiety doesn’t often work in the long-term. Symptoms often return and you’re back where you started.

Well, I do not think that is Earth-shattering news, either.  If you have ever experienced anxiety, even for a short amount of time, you know as well as I do and PhD candidate Ms. Remes that it can interfere with your sleep patterns, relationships and productivity.

I am working hard at not having my anxiety effect the above three.  I have enough things making my life difficult that I do not need my current work situation to lead to depression or early death.  Incidentally, my blood pressure checked out perfect later the same week that I had major trouble sleeping and concentrating, but that was more due to being on 10 mg of Lisinopril than my coping with anxiety.

So What To Do?

With the thousands of articles that I have downloaded and printed out, only two are about coping with anxiety.  I have many more interests and wanted to write about many different things, but when you are coping with anxiety, it does not make sense two write too much about other topics that interest you.

If you cannot deal with your anxiety, it is hard to think about things like investing, politics, sports, the future of work, being a better person, family issues and the like.  When you are suffering from anxiety, that is the main thing in your life.

Here’s some things that can help:

Getting Better Sleep.  The night after I was sleepless a week ago Sunday night, I took my own form of a sleeping pill, Tylenol PM, and slept about seven hours, which is huge for me.  Once I got a few nights of decent sleep, my anxiety eased a bit.  It is still there, but it is less than it was a week ago yesterday by a lot.

I have been keeping track of my sleeping patterns, not by wearing a tracking device which I would refuse to even if you gave me one, but by writing it down.

How do I know what time I have been waking up?Related image

By looking at my alarm clock.

 

 

Leave Work at Work.  The boss that I have been with for the past twelve years told me that he can barely remember where he works when he walks out the door at the end of the day.  When I told him several times that I was stressed about work over weekends or at home at night, he always urged me to leave work at work.

It is much easier said than done, but when I stay busier at home when my workday is done doing things like yard work, helping with dinner, helping with the kids, walking my dog, watching the Cubs, it helps me transition from always thinking about work to not thinking about it quite as much.

Even if I remain employed where I am at, or elsewhere, through the end of 2025 when I can qualify for a decent pension through IMRF, I know that I will always struggle to leave work at work.

Read.  Although I have not written about what I have learned from books lately, I have continued my avid reading throughout this month, as always.  I have read four books this month so far and am currently working on another that I find interesting, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  Young Ms. Rubin’s book is having a profound effect on me, and might even help me strive for more happiness and fulfillment in my dull Middle Class Guy life.

Whether it is something inspirational, something about finance or investing, something about self-improvement or something about the Cubs, Bears or Bulls, I make sure that I read for at least one hour every single day.

I do not know how many other people could say that, but I think that it is not as many of us middle aged guys as should be reading that amount daily.

I Get Outdoors.  My place of work grants us an hour-long lunch break daily.  It always amazes me how many people sit in our lunchroom chatting about things including work-related matters with the same people that they spend all day every day with.

That is the last thing that I want to do with my lunch hour.

Typically, I bring something like a sandwich or a salad or leftovers in a Tupperware container, get it out of the fridge around 12:15, eat it quickly at my desk, and then use my lunch hour beginning at 12:30 to walk outside.

I do not do it every day, but more than half of the time I walk a mile-and-a-half loop around the small downtown area where I work, which constitutes most of the exercise that I get.

Image result for walk outside

It has been mild weather in the Chicago area the past few weeks, and I have also made it a point to take my dog for nice walks every day after work.

For Father’s Day this past Sunday, my main request was for my wife, two children and dog (she would do it anyway) to walk with me through some local Forest Preserves.  We walked together for several miles, which was by far the highlight of my Father’s Day in 2017.  A close second was my mother taking us all out to Bonefish Grill for a great dinner.

I see many benefits to walking in nature, and it is something that I will expand upon soon.  For now, it is a way that has helped me alleviate my stress and reduce my anxiety level.

Reduce Caffeine

I never thought that I would write this, but I have stopped drinking coffee for the time being.  I am not writing that I am quitting drinking my favorite thing to drink altogether, but until the time comes when I feel comfortable in my new office with my new boss with my new rules and new way of doing things, I am laying off of it.

This past week, I read that caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it takes a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. Have a cup of joe at eight a.m., and you’ll still have 25 percent of the caffeine in your body at eight p.m. Anything you drink after noon will still be at 50 percent strength at bedtime. Any caffeine in your bloodstream—with the negative effects increasing with the dose—makes it harder to fall asleep.

Even though I have still had some fitful nights of sleep since laying off the caffeine, I have definitely been falling asleep earlier, like around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. rather than the 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. that was more normal for me before I started laying off the stuff.

But Oh How I Do Love Coffee.

I am not an alcoholic, but I know what they must be going through.  For now, I am just taking my coffee abstinence one day at a time.

There are many other ways to deal with anxiety, but these are just a few that I am working on at present.

Part of anxiety is not feeling the same amount of motivation to write blog posts that I felt before this transfer was announced.  But I can add this way of coping with it – sharing the details with you, so thanks for reading this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Stock Binder

In a previous post, I mentioned how my Cheese Got Moved and I am in the process of being reassigned to a different department in my place of work, to report to a new boss fourteen years younger than I am, who joined our organization as an intern eight short years ago.

The good news is, my new department is hiring another new intern this summer, and if he too is destined to become my next boss eight years from now in 2025 if I remain with my current employer, I will put in my retirement papers for that December.  But that is eight long years away and I am in no big hurry to fast-forward through those years.

As the father of two children who I love very much, and another fuzzy child who walks on four legs, I am not in a hurry for eight more years to pass.  After all, assuming that I remain among the living through that time, that is eight more years closer to the end.

As Pink Floyd said in “Time,”

And you run and you run to catch up to the sun but it’s sinking; Racing around to come up behind you again.

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older;      Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

So what I have been doing the past eight work days, besides half-heartedly going through my work routine, is clearing out things that have no reason to move into my new office.

By the way, I did go to the top administrator in our organization and request a different office, which would require somebody else being relocated.  I have not heard directly, but I heard third-hand today that my request is being accommodated.

For those worker bee Middle Class Guys like me reading this, I think you would agree that having a window in your office is far superior than not having one, and if I do end up working in the same position through the holiday season of 2025, I would most certainly prefer to do so with a window to the outside world.

I have been a cubicle dweller before in a long row of identically sized cubicles, but have had office jobs with my own office since 2000, or seventeen long years ago.  Take it from me, it does not feel like forward progress being relegated to a windowless hovel down the hall from a young, inexperienced boss with a twenty-five by twenty foot office with a bank of windows, bookshelves and comfortable furniture.

Image result for cubicle hell
Source: www.britishexpats.com/forum/sand-pit-116/whats-your-idea-hell-807076

Back to my story…

I have been cleaning out so many things that could lead to future blog posts, relegating most of them to the recycle bin or my circular file.

One three-ring binder that I kept on one of my office bookshelves for years and years, but have barely glanced at for the past three, is my binder with stock prices.

I have kept this 3-ring binder with stock prices on an office shelf for the past five years.

I once followed dozens and dozens of stocks, looking up their prices regularly while contemplating whether to buy, hold or sell them.  I logged their prices on the printouts from Yahoo! Finance on the first day that I began tracking them individually, and all of them were printed in 2012 or 2013.

I wrote a while back about how I got sucked in by the Money Madman, and watched his show nearly every night.  As he advised, I followed stocks for a while before purchasing them, and most that I followed, I never purchased.

I did purchase many.

There are dozens of examples.  One is that I purchased Microsoft (MSFT) at around $28 per share back in July of 2012.  I sold it the following April for around $30, banking a $200 profit on my one hundred shares, plus $50 or so for the call option that I sold.

I purchased Microsoft for about $28 per share in July 2012.

Today, Microsoft trades at over $70, so I coulda woulda and shoulda held onto it.

I first purchased the iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil TR Index Exchange Traded Note (OIL) in July of 2012 for about $21 per share.

I will note here that I always purchase stocks in lots of one hundred shares unless otherwise noted.

I followed OIL through ups and downs, finally having it called away at $24 per share after selling a covered call option on it, netting a little over $300.

My OIL ETF shares were called away for $24 per share in September 2013.

I should have left it at that.

Instead, I purchased one hundred more shares in the early stages of the downturn in oil prices, and now stand about 70% down on my current one hundred shares, down over $800 if I sold it tomorrow.

I could go on and on about the stocks that I followed.

For those of you who do not know or care a whit about stocks, this may be a good place for you to stop reading this post.

For those of you who have purchased stocks or would like to, the list of the hundred or so that I followed included:

  1. AA        Alcoa
  2. AGNC   American Capital Agency Corp.
  3. AI         Arlington Asset Investment Corp.
  4. ARR      Armour Residential REIT, Inc.
  5. AT        Atlantic Power Corporation
  6. CEL      Cellcom Israel Ltd.
  7. CIM     Chimera Investment Corp.
  8. CLM    Cornerstone Strategic Value Fund Inc.
  9. CRUS   Cirrus Logic Inc.
  10. CSCO    Cisco Systems, Inc.
  11. CYS      CYS Investments, Inc.
  12. DELL    Dell Computer
  13. DIS       Walt Disney Company
  14. DUST   Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bear 3X ETF
  15. ERF      Enerplus Corporation
  16. F           Ford Motor Company
  17. FSC       Fifth Street Finance Corp.
  18. GDX      Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF
  19. GDXJ    Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF
  20. GGN     Gamco Global Gold Natural Resources & Income Trust
  21. INTC     Intel Corporation
  22. IVR       Invesco Mortgage Capital Inc.
  23. JMI       Javelin Mortgage Corp.
  24. JNPR    Juniper Networks Inc.
  25. LUV      Southwest Airlines Co.
  26. MSFT   Microsoft Corporation
  27. MORL   UBS ETRACS Monthly Pay 2X Leveraged Mortgage REIT ETN
  28. NLY      Annaly Capital Management, Inc.
  29. NVDA   NVIDIA Corporation
  30. NTI      Northern Tier Energy LP
  31. NYMT  New York Mortgage Trust Inc.
  32. OIL      iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil TR ETN
  33. PER     SandRidge Permian Trust
  34. VPMCX Vanguard Primecap Fund
  35. PRGMX  T. Rowe Price GNMA Fund
  36. PWAV    Powerwave Technologies Inc.
  37. REM    iShares FTSE NAREIT Mortgage Plus Cp Index
  38. SLV    iShares Silver Trust
  39. SLW   Silver Wheaton Corp.
  40. TICC   TICC Capital Corp.
  41. TWO   Two Harbors Investment Corp.
  42. VIIX    VelocityShares Long VIX ETN
  43. VXX    iPath S&P 500 VIX Futures ETN

NUGT, or the Direxion Daily Gold Miners Index Bull 3X Shares has its own section of hundreds of pages.  I have bought, sold and held shares in this crazy volatile fund off and on for years.  As of now, I have 275 shares, which was actually 1,100 shares as of a few months ago, and was 550 a few months before that.  All without buying or selling one share.

I am not proud to report that I hold these shares, which have fluctuated by more than $5,000 up in value and more than $5,000 down in a single day in my case.

NUGT went up by 25% on June 3rd last year, from $75 to $94.

It is the most fucked up, risky, crazy stock that I know of, and I had hoped to admit owning shares to my readers once I already sold them for a healthy profit.

NUGT is a three-times leveraged daily fund based on gold miner stocks. Not only affected by the daily price fluctuations of gold any given day, it is also affected by the geopolitical issues that determine who can mine how much gold and where.

NUGT plummeted 24% on February 16, 2016, from $57 to $43.

If you want to own a stock that often goes up or down by ten percent or more in any given day, sometimes twenty percent or more, NUGT is about the best one that you can buy.

Image result for NUGT
Source: Clay Trader

As a matter of fact, a trade that I executed last year for two hundred shares that were “called away” after I sold a covered call early last year resulted in a $7,500 capital gain, which was great last summer when I sent some extra money to our mortgage, to my wife’s and my Roth IRAs, and paid for a vacation to Michigan’s upper peninsula with it.

Not so great when I had to pony up nearly $2,000 to the IRS a few months ago, half due to that profitable trade and half due to having cashed out savings bonds to pay for our son’s first semester at a private Chicago-area college.

Being a stubborn middle aged Middle Class Guy, I am determined to hold onto my NUGT shares until I can realize another profit.  I do not know if and when that will actually happen, but it is something that I have dreamed about many a time.  When I write many a time, I truly mean many a time.  Like a thousand times.

Anyhow, I do not see the wisdom in relocating my binder where I tracked the above listed stocks as well as a few others that never made it into the binder, and only its pockets.

Writing this made me realize that I have, indeed, bought and sold a lot of stocks.  Out of the forty-two listed, I have owned over half of them at one time or another.

Some, I made a few hundred bucks on, like Disney, Ford, Southwest, Armour, New York Mortgage Trust, Two Harbors and Cirrus Logic.

Others, I lost money on, like one of my all-time favorites, Northern Tier Energy, which was a master limited partnership, but got sucked up by Western Refining last year and those shares are currently being sucked up by another company, Tesoro.  I opted for the cash buyout, wanting to reduce my $3,500 in debt to E-Trade that was due to purchasing extra shares of NUGT on credit about a year ago.

I would have held Northern Tier Energy LP into retirement. I originally bought shares in April 2013.

Some stocks, like Annally, I have owned for over five years and still hold, perhaps waiting years or decades more for it to climb back up to around $16 per share, where I bought it at after getting swayed by the Money Madman.

I originally purchased 200 shares of Annaly Capital at $16 per share after a strong buy recommendation from the Money Madman.

One of the stocks, Powerwave Technologies, went all the way down to zero, yet I still “own” it in my E-Trade account, where I refuse to pay a transaction fee to wipe it out of my holdings.  When it goes to zero for years, it should just disappear, yet it remains listed to this day when I look at my account.

Since E-Trade has recently reduced its transaction fees to be more competitive, I may just have to pay the extra $6.95 to wipe it off my account, creating another write-off for next year’s tax return.

A Bankruptcy filing notice mailed to me in early 2013 regarding Powerwave Technologies.

After flying on Southwest for many years, and always observing the cattle call boarding and every flight being full, it was one of the first four stocks that I purchased on the night when I opened my account.  I held this thing for YEARS waiting to break even, finally selling it at $10 per share after waiting throughout most of 2011 and 2012 for it to hit that mark.

Image result for luv southwest
Source: Seeking Alpha

Today it trades around $60.  Another instance of me missing out on some great gains due to lack of patience.

The post that I had planned to write in early 2013, nearly four years before I actually started Middle Class Guy was “I do not LOVE LUV.”

I sold my Southwest shares for $10 a pop or $5,000 less than they would be worth today.

I stupidly began purchasing the VIX, or the volatility index about five years ago.  Not just once, but twice.  Stocks were extremely volatile at the time, and I thought that the government might shut down due to lack of a budget a few times.  How wrong I was.

The two VIX-based stocks that I purchased were the iPath S&P 500 VIX Futures ETN (VXX) and VelocityShares Long VIX ETN (VIIX).

In the sense of full disclosure due to my current anonymity, I thought this was an obscure way that I could make off like a bandit unbeknownst to nearly anybody.

How many people do you know who trade the volatility index?  Moreover, I sold call options on my shares a few times, selling a derivative of this derivative.

Did I do well on it?

Fuck no!

One I sold for a loss a few years ago, offsetting my income tax burden by a bit for taking about a $2,000 loss.  Last year, I sold the other one, also for around a $2,000 loss, which offset my $7,500 gain on some NUGT shares sold.

I purchased VXX, following the VIX (volatility) index back on February 1st in 2013.

Then there is my old nemesis, the stock that I love to hate, NUGT.  My holdings in this stock have gone from the $15,000 or so that I invested, up to over $40,000 at one point.  Did I sell it?  NOOOO!

I sure should have sold my NUGT shares last August 10th for $175 per share.

I wanted to sell it when the value of my shares reached $100,000, so truth be told, I probably would not have even sold it if my holdings reached $70,000 or $80,000, waiting for the shares to climb back over $200 per share.

Instead, the shares plummeted early this year, and the stock did a reverse split giving us investors one share for every four that we held at the time.

NUGT plummeted to $8 per share by this past April.

If I sold it tomorrow, I would be down about $10,000.  Talk about major pain for a Middle Class Guy!

Meanwhile, there is some professional out there in New York or London or even in downtown Chicago laughing all the way to the bank.  Perhaps another guy trading on his laptop or the latest iPhone.

Fuck him!

Well, I am being beckoned to help prepare tonight’s dinner.  Next time I mention that I am a great stock picker, but not such a great stock seller, you will have some inkling of what I mean.

I will recycle all of the pages of my years of following those stocks because, after all, it certainly did not seem to help.

But it has been documented for posterity, if not for prosperity.

 

 

 

 

 

$3K More In Than Out

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$3,000 fanned out. Source: www.foap.com

I feel compelled to report that nearly $3,000 more went into our checking account in May than out.  I feel compelled to do so because my two prior posts on our month’s expenditures both detailed more money going out than in.

Just last month, I reported that $11,000 left our account while $9,500 made its way in and back in February, I reported $9,000 added with $10,000 flowing out.  Writing those got me thinking: how can more money always be leaving our checking account than coming in?  Would not logic dictate that eventually your funds would be depleted if that continued to be the case?

That is why I was pleased when I went over last month’s bank statement. For nosy types, exactly $8,322.17 left our account and $11,046.56 went in, a mathematical difference of +$2,724.39.

As my last post reported, we did eat out quite a bit, so we did not really cut back in that regard.  We also made another $2,400 payment to our son’s college, which we blessedly do not have to do this month or next, our next payment due August 15th for the fall semester.

Also, I continued paying myself and my wife first, sending checks to both of our Roth IRAs last month.

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Source: The Financial Profit

Just because of timing, this plus-$2,700 is a little skewed.  It includes two work-related reimbursements for me that total around $900, but not the credit card payment that I submitted early this month or next month’s bill that I will have to pay in early July.  If I do this post next month, we’ll most likely return to the minus category again.  Month-to-month probably is not the best way to measure our family’s cash flow at this point, but calculating it for the whole year would give my brain a cramp.

It would probably show about one hundred and twenty grand coming in, with the same amount going out.  Are we living high on the hog?  Hardly!

I drive a rusty 1998 Subaru station wagon that teenagers, co-workers and neighbors laugh at.  My wife drives a 2006 lemon Chrysler minivan without air conditioning.  We still have tube TVs.  Despite our daughter’s protests, we have cheap pay-as-you-go phones.  We do not travel to any exotic locales, although that is one thing that I would like to change.

What we do is strive to pay for our son’s entire undergraduate college costs.  We shelled out about $25,000 during his first year, and still have almost $80,000 in his college accounts, so we should be able to cover his undergraduate costs without him taking on any debt.  I am getting close to $100,000 in our daughter’s two college accounts as she gets ready to start high school this August.

I have also sent money to my wife’s and my Roth IRA accounts sporadically for years, but now send a payment to one of the accounts twenty-six times per year, every other Friday when we are paid.  This past week was no different and I sent $300 to my Blue Chip Growth account with T. Rowe Price.

     Blue Chip Growth [account #]
     Tele*Access code: 50  Ticker: TRBCX

     Date Description Amount Price Shares Shares Owned
     6/08/17 2017 CONTRIBUTION -ACH $300.00 
     6/08/17 Ending Balance $14,827.33 $88.0300 168.435

It should be noted that I have a similar amount in another T. Rowe Price fund, the Capital Appreciation fund, in my Roth IRA, so my balance is nearing $30,000, not just under $15,000.  Truthfully, that is at least $100,000 short, perhaps $200,000 short, of where I should be at as I near the age of forty-seven.

For many years, my thought was that I should rely only on my pension when I am able to collect it, and we did not have any “extra” money for me to send to my IRA, since I was supporting my family on my income only, as it rose from the forties to the fifties and so on, until it passed the $100,000 mark a few years ago.

So please don’t judge me a cheapskate because of our cut-rate cars, phones and television sets.

My financial goals are to support my family, pay for as much of our children’s educations as possible, remain gainfully employed and save more for retirement.

I realize that it is rare for $2,700 more going into our checking account than out last month, but I sure liked that it happened at least once this year.  I know that six months from now in December, I’ll be singing a different tune.

Probably sooner than that.

 

Ate Out 34 Times

In a prior post, I wrote that the typical American eats out about 18 times per month.

I had been thinking about that for a while, in consideration of the fact that Americans are low on savings, and as a reason why my own family typically has as much or more money leaving our checking account many months than coming in.

Upon reviewing last month’s bank statement, I found it amazing how many charges were made at eating and drinking establishments.  My wife and I also both made several credit card purchases that did not appear on our bank statement, and a few that were paid for in cash.

Contributing to that rather high number was eight meals in a row that I ate in Mad-City while attending a job-related conference including two straight breakfasts at McDonald’s, lunch one day at Qdoba and at Chipotle another, and dinner at a brew pub one night and a bar and grill on Capital Square the next.

One of my two McD’s breakfasts last month in Mad-City.

Most of the month’s food charges read like attendees at an ICSC conference, an organization that I am a long-time member of, where I go to meet with developers and businesses in an effort to recruit them to the community that employs me in an economic development capacity.  Over the course of the month and the thirty-three charges totaling just under $500, we ate at Steak n’ Shake, Jamba Juice, Noodles & Company, Qdoba, Chipotle, McDonald’s several times, Subway, Wendy’s, Jersey Mike’s several times, Panera, Panda Express, Starbucks, Oberweis Dairy and several stops at Dairy Queen.

Local places included Chicago area favorite Portillo’s, a crepe place, a new Jewish street food place called BenJYehuda, our local doughnut purveyor three times, our favorite Italian beef spot, an Argentinian restaurant where we purchase empanadas and a local Chinese place.

Image result for empanadas
We love empanadas.       Source: Bon Appetit

Of course, not all four of us ate out together at every meal eaten outside of our home.  As a matter of fact, in the thirty-three receipts that I could find, the four of us only ate out together twice, once being the most expensive receipt of all at $90, including a $20 tip, at a local sports bar where we went with many other families after our daughter’s eighth grade graduation.  The other was at our local taqueria, where we purchased a variety of steak tacos made to order for the four of us, totaling about $24.

The cheapest receipt in the collection was my wife’s Panera receipt for $4.03, where she met a few of her friends for a Ladies Night Out and enjoyed a drink and a muffin with a dollar or two off due to her loyalty card.

That is how those thirty-three receipts totaled about $485 which, when you think about it, is not so bad for a busy suburban family of four.

Three out of the four of us ate at Bonefish Grill one night when my mother took us out.  Our daughter, who has a busy social life, was out at one of her friends’ houses.  I did not pay for that meal, but the sumptuous meal and desserts for the four of us totaled about $120, so it was a great meal out and did not cost me a dime.

We enjoyed some Thai coconut shrimp at Bonefish Grill.

If I learned anything at all from it, it is that we truly favor quick casual eateries, and that the four of us should really eat out together more often.

Today being June 10th, I can vouch that we have continued at roughly the same pace as last month, having picked up meals or eaten out about ten times already this month.  I am not qualifying it as good or bad, just stating a fact.

Most of all, looking over the list of receipts that I wrote in my idea notebook, it really makes me want to get doughnuts.

Doughnuts are but one of my many weaknesses.

Anxiety, Brokers, Cheese Got Moved, Lack of Sleep, Union League and Yeti

Anxiety, Cheese Got Moved, Brokers, Union League, Lack of Sleep & Yeti – A Middle Class Guy week in June 2017.

Typically, I like to share something that I have learned from reading, or something somewhat inspirational.

This week, I have had to remind myself to take my own advice, or the advice of others that I have shared with my readers via this blog several times.

Although Friday is not technically over, this has already been quite a stressful week for me, even more so than those winter weeks when my cars were not functioning, but not as stressful as when our son was hospitalized with salmonella last fall.

Monday started out typically enough at work, which changed drastically when my boss’s boss summoned me to my boss’s office.  This rarely happens, and I thought that I may be in some sort of trouble.  When you deal with as many business owners, property owners, potential developers and Village residents as I do, it is inevitable to piss somebody off.  No matter who it is and if they are in the right or the wrong, it still demands an explanation.   It is rare, but it has happened that some business owner or resident in the town complains about me specifically.

My Cheese Got Moved

What I was told is that I was being transferred to another department, after being hired by my boss and working for him since May of 2005.  I am very loyal to my boss because he has been very loyal to me and the others within our department.  Every time that I have come under fire, he has come to my defense.  He has taken me out to lunch several times over the years, he always gives me a great annual review which in turn becomes a raise in salary, and he has provided professional advice to me too many times to count, and personal advice, as well.

During the times when loved ones have passed away, including my father, both of my grandfathers and my wife’s mother since I have worked for him, he has always given me the time that I needed for bereavement before asking me to return to work.  He has helped me in many ways, including the one that I am most grateful for, hiring me from the terrible work situation that I was in from 2002 through spring of 2005.  My soon-to-be-former boss is what us Jews call a Mensch.

On Monday night, I had so much anxiety that I could only sleep for about three hours.

Tuesday was worse.

I should explain again that I am an economic development professional and that every municipal employee in whatever capacity they are in either reports to a department head, which I have been before (in the bad work situation 2002-May 2005) or to a Village or City Manager or Administrator.  It is a matter of semantics what they call the top dog of a municipality.

I was told on Monday that I was being transferred to the Administration Department, which makes some sense considering the importance of my role within the community.  That is the department that works directly with the Mayor and Board that governs our community.  I like being in the Community Development Department, but my days there are numbered.

On Tuesday, I was summoned to the Assistant Administrator’s office and asked a series of simplistic prepared questions.  The guy is nice enough, but not the sharpest tool in our community’s shed.  He started as an intern about eight years ago, when I was already a nine-year veteran in the field of economic development.  I taught him some of the basics along the way and have been generally friendly with him.

As the questions continued, “What can I do to make your transition better?”  “Are there any things that you feel should be improved upon?” it dawned on me that this young man was using the word “I” a lot.  Being a smarter than average bear and an avid reader and a long-time economic developer and former probation officer, I am fucking great at reading between the lines and non-verbal cues.

He was trying to look very serious and professional and authoritative in his questions and comments, so it dawned on me after about five minutes that he is going to be my new boss.

Thus my anxiety the past three days.

Tuesday night, I required one of what I refer to as my sleeping pills, not something good like Ambien or Restoril, but Tylenol PM’s with 500 mg of acetaminophen.

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Although you probably would not think of this as a great night’s sleep, I got a solid five hours in a row in, which is damned good for me.  I fell asleep around midnight after watching the end of a Cubs victory, and woke up to urinate around five.

Although I tried not to, I kept replaying this young guy’s words to me of how eventually everyone will work for someone younger than them.  Although it may be true, I was not prepared to go from a very wise boss who will turn sixty-four this September, to someone half his age and far less than half of his experience and wisdom.  My new boss is thirty-two and I will turn forty-seven around Thanksgiving.

My current boss already told me earlier this spring that he was planning on retiring around his sixty-fifth birthday, which will be in September of next year, so I figured that I did not have to worry about having a new boss for at least fifteen more months, and I assumed that it would be his deputy director, who I know well, have a fair deal of respect for, and have already worked with for twelve years.

It should be noted that despite my stressful and less-than-great Monday and Tuesday, I took nice walks during my lunch hour both days and took my dog for long walks after work.

On Wednesday it started to sink in a little more.  It was announced that this transfer is taking place throughout our Village government, and people started asking for my take on it.  It was a strange mixture of shock, words of encouragement, and people coveting my office and seemingly hoping that I fail.

Wednesday is when I told my children about it too, who were surprised to hear that the young guy who was an intern just a few years ago will now be my boss.  An interesting point – in one of my last posts, I wrote about IQ, but not in the typical sense.  I realized that although my new boss’s traditional IQ or Intelligence Quotient is most definitely lower than mine (I would bet ten grand on it), he has a high Implementation Quotient.

He does not question or ponder the orders from above him, which is viewed as a good trait by most but not all people, he just carries them out.  On the other hand, I always question the wisdom of the orders from above and often try to change the minds or strategy.  In some of the cases, they see the practicality of doing things my way, but in many cases they do not.  I have ultimately been proven right more often than wrong.

On Wednesday, I also happened to have been invited to an open house at a new industrial building in the community where I am employed.  I mingled with dozens of industrial real estate brokers who all seemed to be doing well in the competitive world of Chicago-area industrial real estate.

There was not a car in the lot older than two or three years old, and none that did not cost at least $50K.  There were gold Rolexes, Armani and Brioni suits, and shoes that cost more than all of my family’s footwear combined.  Besides industrial real estate, the conversations centered around weekend homes, travel, golf, sailing and other such upper and upper middle class topics.

My New Yeti

I actually had a very pleasant time and chatted with several brokers whom I have previously worked with on projects in my community.  The hosts of the luncheon, with food provided by a taco truck inside the building, handed me a Yeti travel mug on my way out.

Begging off because I already have a travel mug that I have used daily for about ten years now and another in backup, the broker that I was walking out with urged me to take it, insisting that it was better than whatever I have been using.  He said that he uses a Yeti Rambler every day and that it keeps his drink ice cold for up to five hours.  He also mentioned that it retails for about $25.

Image result for yeti rambler

My Mom did not raise a fool, so I am now the proud owner of a Yeti Rambler, which I may never mention again but I do plan on using.

After all, I may have to increase rather than decrease my coffee consumption to exert enough energy to please my new Millennial boss man.

Wednesday night, I took my daughter and our dog to the local town square, where my avid reader daughter stopped into the library to check out four books while I walked our dog.  I bought her a froyo and then got my own, too.  Hers was 8 ounces and mine was only about three.

Image result for menchie's

After watching another Cubs victory, I tried to no avail to not think about my work situation, replaying it in my head repeatedly, despite my best efforts to think about other things not fit to write and also making money some other way besides my job.

Again, I fell asleep sometime around midnight, and woke up just before five o’clock.  My wife and daughter were sleeping together in a tent in our backyard Wednesday night, and when I got up to use the washroom, I heard the door open and my dog run in.  She snuggled me a bit while my wife used our other half bathroom, and my day had started.  I could not get back to sleep, looking at the clock every half hour or so to calculate how much sleep I could get (two hours, one and a half hours, one hour…).

I embarked to work Thursday, where I got hammered on all day fielding phone calls, requests and demands from my current boss and future boss, and spent most of the day filing through my drawers and bookshelves trying to ferret out things that I do not need to move to my new office.

I moved along many personal items, some of which I will detail in upcoming posts, including a notebook where I followed dozens of stocks for many years, my recipe collection from magazines and papers read at work for about the last fifteen years, a file that I kept on a customer service policy that I crafted for my former employer, file after file of architectural renderings and site plans for projects that never came to fruition for a host of reasons.

It is actually kind of a good feeling filtering through some of these things that have no need to reside in the drawers of my new office, which may or may not even have a window depending on where the bosses move me.  They had originally instructed me to move into a tiny windowless office, but I did get my nerve up enough yesterday to request that someone in a bigger and better office with a window be relocated into that closet-like space.  It may not happen, but I know that I would have regretted not asking.  Since I meet with many prospective and current businesses, I thought that I should have a nicer office than someone who rarely deals with the public.  I will be sure to mention it in the weeks to come if my request is granted.

If my request is not granted, I cannot help but feel like Milton in Office Space.

Image result for milton office space
Source: www.hipstercrite.com/2013/09/20/20-signs-that-you-hate-your-job/milton-office-space

The Union League

Believe it or not, I have attended the Harold Washington Literary Award dinner at the Union League Club of Chicago for the past six years.  Someday I will explain why in more detail, but suffice it to say that my $260 ticket got me some wine, a fantastic dinner unbefitting of a thoroughly Middle Class Guy, an even better dessert, and I had the chance to rub elbows with some distinctly upper class residents of Chicago.  These people do not live in the war-torn west side or south side neighborhoods where your life is constantly in danger, nor should they.

The view from my table at the Union League of Chicago last night.

I also attend a two-day conference on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) policies and practices at the Union League every fall, but do not know if that will continue under my new boss.

I took the train in from a suburban Metra station closest to my home, spent several hours at the awards dinner, got a ride back to the train from the “real” published author who I attended with, and then took the train back to the suburban station very late at night, and drove home to my middle class home in my lower middle class subdivision.

Having a lot of ankle pain last night, I took a Tylenol fairly late, around midnight, at which time I also remembered to take my Lisinopril.  I only mention this because after getting only about five hours of sleep each of the first three nights of this week, I figured that I was due a good night’s sleep.  That was not the case.  The mixture of the two large glasses of wine that I consumed, the day that began before five and ended around midnight getting home from a fancy downtown awards dinner, my high level of anxiety due to my new boss being fourteen years younger in age and fifty years younger in wisdom and experience, and the Lisinopril and acetaminophen, damned if I could fall asleep by about 4:00 a.m.

Not bad if it’s a weekend and you can lay in bed until 10:00, but no.  I was up again around 6:00, having attained about two hours of fitful sleep.

If I was not such a borderline workaholic who once went about six straight years without taking a sick day at my current place of work, I would have definitely taken one today.  I have about 94 on the books, and that includes cashing out as many as they would allow me to the last few years, at half pay.

So no, I did not take a sick day today.  I wasn’t really sick, anyway.   The more appropriate term would have been a Tired Day or what I think they should allow us to call it, a Mental Health Day.

I did end up cheating my employer somewhat today.  My body was, indeed, at my desk for the seven allotted hours, not counting my one hour for lunch.  I also admit to purchasing a book during my lunch hour today from the local library.

I might as well have not been there, except that I spent at least four hours digging through my shit, recycling about a thousand pieces of paper.  For once, if there was any doubt as to whether I might need to reference it again or not, I tossed it anyway.

Don’t get me wrong.  My office is by no means clean or neatly organized.  There is just a lot less paper in the drawers and on my shelves.  I took a lot of it home, too, where it will be photographed or scanned for purposes of upcoming posts, and then moved along into the landfill or recycle bin.

The original working title for this post was supposed to be “My Cheese Was Taken Away,” in reference to the famous Who Moved My Cheese? book.   I guess that my cheese was not really completely taken away, since I do remain gainfully employed for the time being.Image result for who moved my cheese

As I told my wife after my third nearly sleepless night in a row this morning, I cannot just write about being resilient, amenable to change, and facing challenges that inevitably come up.  I need to live it, too.  As I share the details of this major change and how I cope with it and ultimately thrive, it will be more compelling for my readers.

Everybody likes to read about how others overcome adversity, and this is my chance to do so.

So here I am at home on a Friday evening.  My daughter, who recently graduated eighth grade, is at Great America for the first time with her BFF and her family.  My wife is watering the many new plants that she purchased this week at the Home Depot and a local, upscale nursery for a total of about $200, and our son is downstairs playing some video game.

I just cranked out this 2,900+ word post in about eighty minutes after taking my dog for a long walk and enjoying a fantastic dinner of stuffed green peppers prepared by my wife and son, and Asiago cheese bread that I purchased at Panera on the way home.  My wife and son also made a home-made cherry pie for tonight although, truth be told, I am not a big fan.  I love pies and when I say love I mean I really love pies.  Just not so much cherry pies.

I’m thinking hard about taking a bath and enjoying the last Schofferhofer while reading a good book.  Later I will most likely pop a Tylenol PM, and then hopefully I can relax enough to get some sleep and be more like myself tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

So You Want to Start Your Own Business

17 Years of Assisting Entrepreneurs

As a long-time economic development professional, I have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and small-business owners over the past seventeen years. Sometimes, it feels as if I remain stuck in the dinosaur age as a local government employee with set hours, a rigid hierarchy of power within my organization, and all policies and procedures set by others, meanwhile working with people who have pursued their own interests in pursuit of controlling their own fate and pursuing wealth.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for successful entrepreneurs, like many people do. Unlike most other people, I know dozens of successful and also dozens of not very successful entrepreneurs. Pressure involved with making their payrolls, dealing with customer problems, problems with their employees, challenges with their families and at home, finding new customers, collecting on accounts payable, paying their bills, dealing with a never-ending stream of sales people trying to sell them unnecessary goods and services, and dealing with the problems that never stop coming are just some, but not all, of the problems that my small business owner friends deal with on a continual basis.

What they are seeking, and some of them are even finding, is greater freedom. After assisting, working with, and even befriending many of these small business owners, I have come to realize that freedom is based on a hierarchy of entrepreneurial needs. Plainly stated, these needs start with control over their own fortunes in terms of making money, and controlling their own time.

I am the type of guy who wouldn’t mind taking a Wednesday off once in awhile, and might not mind working twelve straight hours on a Sunday some other time. However, that is not the way it works for yours truly Middle Class Guy and millions of other middle-aged middle class guys like me.

Realizing that money alone doesn’t result in long-term happiness and satisfaction, control of one’s own time can be just as much or even more of a valuable commodity. You can always make more money, but you cannot give yourself more time.

If you were to ask the twenty or so small business owners whom I have befriended why they started their own business, I would be willing to bet that money, time and a chance to be their own boss would be the top three. I happen to be lucky and have a very good boss, one that understands that a family man like myself sometimes has to leave early or come in late to attend a can’t-miss family related event.

However, prior to the past twelve years of working at my current place of employment, I never had a boss who would grant that type of flexibility to a lowly government functionary like myself. If I wanted to leave two hours early to watch my young child parade through the school in a Halloween costume in the middle of the afternoon, I would have to submit for a half day off well in advance.  Just one of the perils of being an 8 to 5 employee for the past twenty-four years.

Office politics in the corporate and government world do very little to promote the voice of the working class. In an effort to climb the proverbial ladder, coworkers infringe upon each other’s ideas and Innovations.

Managers and department heads frequently disregard opinions in favor of their own ideas, and decisions are typically made by a handful of executives and elected officials who are typically several steps removed from the reality of the situation, or at the tip of the iceberg of ignorance.

Image result for iceberg of ignorance
Source: www.pinterest.com/pin/57561701467544447

Another big reason for becoming a small business owner is due to the entrepreneurs purpose. Many of them love what they’re doing, want to help a Cause, feel the need to be more creative, and the ones who are the most successful tend to be the ones with the greatest sense of purpose.

It is easy for a Middle Class Guy like me to see how the quest for greater freedom in terms of hours worked, and defined by the chance to make a lot of money, to gain control of your own destiny, and fulfill a particular purpose has led millions of Americans like you and me to start their own small business.

Whether it’s opening a craft brewery, a small fabrication shop utilizing the latest 3D printing technology, a local coffee shop, an automotive repair business, many middle-class guys like you and me have taken that giant leap of opening their own small business. Unfortunately, many if not most of these small businesses will fail.

Again, as an economic development professional with 17 years of experience, I have personally witnessed hundreds of such failures.

Data overload

As much as we have become dependent on the Internet for almost everything that we do, the risk of too much communication can contribute significantly to the chaos of running a small business. We are constantly bombarded with requests and questions and if we don’t have a good way of managing our inboxes they will in turn manage us. Some days at work, yours Truly middle-class guy is relegated to reactive mode for half of the day, constantly doing whatever the email senders want me to do rather than working toward the overall mission of my job, which is to increase business investment and private developer investment into our community. It puts us into reactive mode instead of proactive mode, and I’m getting sick of it.

Image result for email overload
Source: www.business2community.com

The internet sometimes provides small business people and entrepreneurs with too many solutions for their business challenges. Moreover, if you happen to search a particular issue, you will be bombarded with advertisements and sometimes even direct emails and even snail males in regard to that particular issue.

Because each business is unique, and nobody else will tackle a particular problem or issue in the exact same way that you would, how can you possibly be expected to know what would work best from a simple Google query.

Instead of just phone calls and letters, we now must manage our emails, text, Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, blog accounts, yelp reviews, and whatever they’ll be coming up with next. The small business that I ate launch following my government worker days May in fact become a social media Consulting business. Someone who will look at and respond to comments criticisms on all manners of social media currently existing and whatever would exist 10 years from now.

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Thoughts

As Clate Mask and Scott Martineau wrote in Conquer The Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy, everything starts with thoughts.

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The authors discuss how you can come to believe the right thoughts about starting a business. You have to rewire your brain and recognize that your thoughts don’t and can’t just happen reactively. We are the creators of our thoughts and if we want to believe the right thoughts we must first create the right thoughts.

They have you asked yourself five questions. One why do I want to be an entrepreneur? Two why do I want to be successful? Three is My Success worth the hard work I put into it? For what success is have I seen? And 5 how can I get more of that success so that my business can become what I always envisioned?

The authors right that if you’re logical or subconscious mind answered any of those questions negatively, play again. See the good in things and work on yourself until these answers are positive, painting a picture of future success for you. It is amazing what getting your mind prepared will do for you. Mental strength is the greatest tool that you have for starting, planting and growing your own business. Mask and Martineau right that mental strength is the greatest tool you have for starting running and growing your business.

Talking With Others

The authors right that they’ve noticed that small business owners feel like they have to be innovative, creative and singular in their businesses. Because their products or Services may be unique, they feel like they must find different ways to manage their prey this rugged individualist mentality can cause entrepreneurs to live in a cocoon, and sail to seek the Assistance or guidance of others as their business dies on the vine.

Most entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of talking with other entrepreneurs all day. They are too busy putting out fires, making sales calls, making sure that orders get filled, and keeping the electric on. As a result many get wrapped up in their own stories and problems and failed to consider that others may be going through or have already overcome the same thing.

The authors mentioned the human tendency to band together. In high school, the jocks hang out with the jocks, the computer nerds hang out with other computer nerds, the burnouts and druggies hang with other burnouts and druggies, and the band geeks hang out with other band geeks. Even the shy and quiet kids have shy and quiet friends. Add search, the authors urge small business owners and entrepreneurs to make an effort to hang out with one another. In the community where I work, this is easily accomplished with a $100 or $200 fee (based on the number of employees) to join the local Chamber of Commerce.

There, small business owners trying to gain a foothold in our community are able to tap into a network of other small business owners, many of whom run home-based businesses, and some of whom have become very successful businesses in the community for many years. By no means is it a cure-all, but it’s a place to start to at least meet some of the people with small businesses in the community.

Positive Thoughts

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These words of wisdom by Mahatma Gandhi should inspire us to keep our thoughts positive.  Positive thoughts become positive words, which become positive behavior, then habits, then values, and ultimately your values become your destiny.

After you proactively come up with the right thoughts, if you pursue them through your behavior, habits and values, ultimately you can achieve what you are destined to.  If you believe in Gandhi’s logic, like I do, you can see the importance of positive thoughts.

Mental strength is the greatest gift that we have whether your goal is to launch your own business, whether it is a retail shop, a professional office, or what I most likely will launch in the future, a business consulting in a field that you have worked in for many years.  In my case, that would be economic development consulting on behalf of municipal clients.

Allow Yourself to Dream

Sometimes the only way that I can cope with the rapid changes effecting me at my place of employment, none of which I truly embrace and think are for the better, is to dream of something better.

Not to belabor the point of my own goals and dreams, but they involve the publication and subsequent strong sales of eBooks.  I know that there are millions of eBooks out there vying for attention, but I plan on setting mine apart from the others mainly by my target audience (middle aged middle class men seeking greater meaning and success in life) and the fact that I am not preaching from high above, like most of the authors who I have read.  Particularly the guru of them all, Tony Robbins.  He has achieved far greater success than any reader could actually hope for.  If you could fully embrace his way of thinking and living, more power to you.  I am seeking to help regular guys, like me, move to the better through baby steps, more positive thinking, setting goals and Resolutions, and investing steadily.  All things that I have been working on, myself, throughout the past eighteen or so months.

Also, a lot of guys my age do not tend to read a lot.  I am sharing some of what I have learned from my avid reading of books by an assortment of authors of books written over many decades.  One could never read and share everything, but I intend to share a lot.

Anyway, my dreams involve providing for my family, spending quality family time together as much as possible, paying for as much of our children’s educations as humanly possible on a Middle Class Guy salary, taking better care of our home and autos, being a better husband, and ultimately actually retiring with a decent standard of living.

Let yourself dream.  Allow your entrepreneurial spirit and creativity to grow, whether it is in a little-known blog like this, or going big with a storefront business that you have dreamed of opening for years.  We can’t all grow up to do the things we dream of as children.  If that was the case, I would have helped the Cubs win their first World Series in many decades twenty years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties.

Unfortunately, I did not possess the skills to become a slugging outfielder for the Cubs, or any other big-league team.  I do, however, possess writing skills as good or better than many published authors, so I need to do better in putting my thoughts and ideas to keyboard, so others can enjoy reading them while riding the train, on the beach, lying in bed, sitting on a bench on their lunch hour, or on whatever device in whatever place people read in the future.

You Can’t Please All the People All the Time

I have written of my seventeen years as an economic development professional.  Prior to that, I spent my first seven years out of college (including four while working my way through graduate school) working in the criminal justice system as an Adult Probation Officer.

Needless to say, I could not please all the people all the time as a probation officer.  Especially the few hundred criminals that I did my job with and got locked up in jail again after they violated the terms of their probation.

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Likewise, I have not been able to please every current and prospective business owner whom I have worked with since 2000.  I have also failed to please every elected official, appointed commissioner and co-worker over these many years.  Despite my best efforts, I have pissed off many people.

If you start your own business, you should never go out of your way to offend anyone.  But on the flip side, it is inevitable that you can’t please everybody even if you want to, and conflicts will arise.  That is just part of being a small business owner and it should not stop you from exercising your rights and responsibilities in running your business.  Stand your ground if need be, and if someone continues having a problem with you, think to yourself what I am thinking at present about a co-worker who does not care for me in general and does not like the way I am working on a map-related project at present: Too Fucking Bad for her.

We Are Creative

You may not feel creative.  There are many, many days and nights when I do not.  But we both are.

Our subconscious mind is always working.  When we have clear minds, new ideas pop into our heads that we never thought of before.  I again advocate here having a place to record those thoughts, because if you are middle aged like I am, there is a good chance that you may not be able to recollect your great idea later on.

I have not written about it, but my memory has begun failing me quite a bit over the past two or three years.  It is not something that I am highly alarmed about yet, but it is not something that I am happy about either.

I doubt that any other self-help authors that you have read have admitted to having a failing memory.  That’s one of the reasons that I write, too.  I can go back later and see what it is that I wrote at some later time.  It is recorded here for posterity, and possibly for future prosperity, as well.

Our creative thoughts are generally products of our strongest passions, experiences and beliefs.  When a major challenge comes up for you at work tomorrow or next week or in the near future, think of it as a chance to push your creativity a bit further.

There is Always More To Be Done

Mask and Martineau write that work never ends and there is always more to be done.

This goes for not only small business owners, but also yours truly Middle Class Guy and most likely for you, too.  Once in a while, when I complete a big project or land a great business, I breathe a sigh of relief, reflect on the accomplishment for a few hours or perhaps even a few days.  But I know that there will be another major thing to work on, another most important project or something else urgent that will need to be done, and the past accomplishment will fade into distant memory.

As the authors write,

He knew better than anybody that work never ends.  No matter how many projects you complete this week, there will be more projects to tackle next week. No matter how far ahead you think you’re getting, there is always an infinite amount of “stuff” to be done.

How true.

 

The Most Interesting Man

We all know the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials.Image result for dos equis most interesting man

What you may not know is that fellow Jewish guy, Jonathan Goldsmith, who portrayed this most interesting man was mostly basing the character on the real most interesting man, Ernest Hemingway.

According to an NPR article about Goldsmith, his then-agent now-wife Barbara suggested he try out for a commercial, playing a “Hemingway-ish character.” It would be improvised and he’d have to end with the sentence, “And that’s how I arm wrestled Fidel Castro.”

An Advertising Age article describes Goldsmith’s character as directly leading to a surge in Dos Equis sales and attributes the surge to the James Bond-meets-Ernest Hemingway character Mr. Goldsmith plays, who is so revered that, as one ad says, “if he were to pat you on your back, you would list it on your resume.”

Largely attributable to my love of reading and borderline hoarding tendency when it comes to books, I purchased and read By-Line: Ernest Hemingway edited by William White last year.  As the cover indicates, the book is comprised of selected articles and dispatches spanning four decades of Hemingway’s career, dating all the way back from February 1920, when the Most Interesting Man was a young reporter for The Toronto Star Weekly to September 1956 as a writer for Look magazine, writing from Havana.

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In the thirty-six years in between, Hemingway absolutely lived the most interesting life, reporting on wars throughout the world, living in Kansas City, Chicago, Toronto, Wyoming, Paris, the Near East, throughout most of Europe, in Africa, Hong Kong, Rangoon, Manila, Cuba, Key West and points in between.

As Goldsmith depicts in the commercials, Hemingway often spent his time consorting with interesting people and beautiful women throughout finer and not-so-fine establishments throughout the world.  His love of boxing and bull fighting is well documented, including throughout many of the dispatches in this collection of his writings.

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Source: www.openculture.com

Suffice it to say, his life was far more interesting than could possibly be depicted by an actor in a series of sanitized 30-second beer commercials, although those Dos Equis commercials were probably the only ones that I actually liked over the past ten years.

By the way, in case you did not know or forgot like I did, Hemingway blew his brains out fifty-five years ago in July 1962 in Ketchum, Idaho, while he suffered from extreme anxiety, constantly worrying about money and his safety.  Much of his anxiety stemmed from his notion that the FBI was tailing him in Ketchum.  Files later revealed that the FBI actually had a file on him and had previously monitored him in Cuba, where he often sailed the waters off of the coast.

My First Hemingway

I was assigned to read The Old Man and the Sea in freshman year of high school, way back in the old days, circa 1984.

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I did not particularly like the book at the time, but years later began referring to my late father as “The Old Man.”  Kind of a running joke, I would call him that when addressing him or referring to him to others, mainly my brother and sister.  My brother never really took to that nickname, but my sister would greet him as “The Old Man” many times.

On many occasions, I would call him “The Old Man and the Sea,” partly because he always loved Hemingway’s writing, and partly because I liked the nickname.  I still miss my father every day, nearly five years after his death.

I never read any more Hemingway for thirty-two years until spotting White’s collection of articles and dispatches a year ago.

A Literary Genius

There is no doubt that Hemingway was a literary genius.  Even for an avid reader like me, who does not wish to read any of his famous novels, reading these articles and dispatches written from parts of the world that I will never see take me to those times and places as if I was there, myself.

The way he describes the scenes and the people he meets and consorts with make you feel like you were there with him, whether it was in prewar Germany or wartime Spain, the fanciest hotel in Switzerland, hunting wild game in Africa or fishing for marlin off the coast of Cuba, or meeting two Russian beauties at a party in Genoa, Italy.

I could not possibly share all of the most interesting points penned by the most interesting man in this nearly 500-page book, or that would be its own hundred page book.

Trust me on this.  I have read thousands of books at a pace of one or sometimes more per week; let’s say six to eight per month for the past ten years or so.

There are other contemporary authors who I consider masterful, Anne Rice and Peter Straub being two that come to mind immediately, but each masterful author has his or her own particular way of writing, and I have never read anybody who described a scene or a person quite as well as Hemingway.

If He Could See Today’s Debt

I wonder what Hemingway would have thought of today’s U.S. debt of about $19.9 trillion which is constantly increasing; it amounts to:

  • $61,365 for every person living in the U.S.
  • $158,326 for every household in the U.S.
  • 106 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product
  • 560 percent of annual federal revenues

Much of the debt is bought and held by individuals, institutional investment companies and foreign governments. The debt is managed by the U.S. Treasury through its Bureau of the Public Debt.

In 1935, Hemingway wrote “Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter” for the September issue of Esquire magazine.

Eighty-two years ago, these were his words:

No nations, anymore, pay their debts.  There is no longer even a pretense of honesty between nations or of the nation toward the individual.  Finland pays us still; but she is a new country and will learn better.  We were a new country once and we learned better.  Now when a country does not pay its debts you cannot take its word on anything.

The rest of this article describes Italy’s desire for colonial expansion in North Africa and describes Mussolini and the hysteria he was raising in Italy.

If you are a history buff with interest in World II, you really must get ahold of this book to read his reports from Germany, Italy and Japan leading up to it.  He very presciently predicted many of the things that later happened as he saw the way things were going in the Evil Axis countries back in the thirties.

Describing the rise of Mussolini and Hitler in the same article, he writes:

A country never wants war until a man through the power of propaganda convinces it.  Propaganda is stronger now than it has ever been before.  Its agencies have been mechanized, multiplied and controlled until in a state ruled by any one man truth can never be presented.

War is no longer made by simply analyzed economic forces if it ever was.  War is made or planned now by individual men, demagogues and dictators who play on the patriotism of their people to mislead them into a belief in the great fallacy of war when all their vanuted reforms have failed to satisfy the people they misrule.  And we in America should see that no man is ever given, no matter how gradually or how noble and excellent the man, the power to put this country into a war which is now being prepared and brought closer each day with all the premeditation of a long-planned murder.

What a genius!  Does any of that sound familiar to you here in America or wherever you may happen to read this today?

The Most Interesting Man on Writing

In the next month’s issue of Esquire magazine in October of 1935, Hemingway writes of what he told to a young writer from Minnesota who sought him out and hung out with him and his brethren in Key West for several months in an effort to learn from the Most Interesting Man.

Because the young aspiring writer who had been brought up on a farm, graduated in journalism from the University of Minnesota, worked as a reporter and many other side jobs could play the violin, Hemingway and his pals called him the Maestro, or “Mice” for short.

In “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter” Hemingway shares what he told this young man, and it is as close as you’ll get to a “Hemingway on Writing” article.

Early in the piece, he identifies the two absolute necessities for being a writer – real seriousness in regard to writing being one and the other being talent.  The Most Interesting Man wrote that his young admirer the Maestro was extremely serious but, unfortunately, lacked talent.

Your correspondent takes the practice of letters, as distinct from the writing of these monthly letters, very seriously; but dislikes intensely talking about it with almost anyone alive…

He hereby presents some of these mouthings written down.  If they can deter anyone from writing he should be deterred.  If they can be of use to anyone your correspondent is pleased.

Did the Most Interesting Man, in his wildest dreams, imagine that these written down “mouthings” would motivate a Middle Class Guy eighty-two years after he wrote them, and then be read again by you?  I seriously doubt it.

Good writing is true writing.  If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is…

If he doesn’t know how many people work in their minds and actions his luck may save him for a while, or he may write fantasy.  But if he continues to write about what he does not know about he will find himself faking.  After he fakes a few times he cannot write honestly any more.

One thing I promise you is that I will not fake it.  I have many years of experience with criminals, in courtrooms and doing home visits as an Adult Probation Officer in Crook County (some call it Cook County) and seventeen years working with developers and businesses as an economic development official.

In addition to that, I am a diligent saver of money, a hard-working home owner, a dedicated family man and a compulsive reader of books, magazines, blog posts, trade publications and nearly anything with words that I can get my fingers on.

You can be sure that if I am writing something, it is something that I have experienced and/or read a lot about.

The more he learns from experience the more truly he can imagine.  If he gets so he can imagine truly enough people will think that the things he relates all really happened and that he is just reporting.

That begs the question, did everything that Hemingway report really happen, or was he getting to the point where he could imagine truly enough?  I would like to think that everything he reported truly happened, but he may have embellished a few things here and there.

Writing long before PCs or laptops like I am typing this on now at my dining room table in a northwest suburb of Chicago in June of 2017, the Most Interesting Man advocated using a typewriter because it is much easier and you will enjoy it that much more.

After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader.  Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it.  That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter.  It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier.

My favorite quote of his on writing as he lectures “Mice” after the young man tells him that his writing technique is not the way they teach you to write in college.

I don’t know about that.  I never went to college.  If any sonofabitch could write he wouldn’t have to teach writing in college.

Amen to that!

The Most Interesting Man Listens

As I have read in nearly all of the self-help type books that I have read in the past year and a half, the Most Interesting Man advocates listening to others.

When people talk listen completely.  Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say.  Most people never listen.  Nor do they observe.  You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that.  If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling.

Little did the Most Interesting Man know that he was dispensing advice that would be often repeated by self-help gurus for decades to come.

Great advice that he gave to Mice, and good advice for the Middle Class Guy and you, too.

There’s Always Danger

In another Esquire article, this one titled “On the Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter” from the April 1936  issue, the Most Interesting Man describes hunting.  He begins by writing of hearing about hunting for fellow men.

You can learn about this matter of the tongue by coming into the kitchen of a villa on the Riviera late at night and taking a drink from what should be a bottle of Evian water and which turns out to be Eau de Javel, a concentrated lye product used for cleaning sinks.

He then describes a good friend to whom all hunting is dull except elephant hunting.

The article goes on to describe fishing for the big one in the Gulf Stream with Carlos, a fifty-three-year-old Cuban mate who has been fishing for marlin since he was seven.

This particular piece later led to my freshman year of high school required reading.  He describes how Carlos described how an old man fishing alone in a skiff out of Cabanas hooked a great marlin and battled it for two days, at which time he was picked up by fishermen sixty miles to the eastwars, the head and forward part of the marlin lashed along side.  What was left of the fish, less than half, weighed eight hundred pounds.

What jumped out at me from this article, beyond the tale of the Most Interesting Man fishing for marlin with Carlos, was what he wrote about the dynamic of being responsible for providing for your family.

When you have a family and children, your family, or my family, or the family of Carlos, you do not have to look for danger.  There is always plenty of danger when you have a family.  And after a while the danger of others is the only danger and there is no end to it nor any pleasure in it nor does it help to think about it.

He goes on to write about the great pleasure in being on the sea, the amount of money that Carlos made for reeling in a good fish (thirty dollars), that a fisherman never starves because the sea is very rich, and other pearls of wisdom.

The Most Interesting Man was right.  As the father of two, there is always danger and there is no end to it nor any pleasure or help in thinking about it, which leads to never-ending anxiety in Yours Truly.  Something that I am working on improving upon, per my last post.

The Most Median Interesting Man in the World

Reading Hemingway’s writing and pondering the Most Interesting Man, it got me wondering where I fit in on the interesting scale.

I came up with the notion of being the most median interesting man in the world – half of the men are more interesting and the other half are less so.

Truthfully, I am closer to the more interesting side than the less interesting side.  There are millions of very uninteresting men.

What makes me interesting?  Good question.

What tips the scales a little more toward the interesting side may include that I am widely read on a very large variety of topics, I know a lot about baseball and basketball, having grown up playing both for many years, and having coached baseball for about eight years.

I attended many concerts that you may be interested in, and not just all rock bands.  I have attended many jazz concerts with my son over the past five or so years.  Some of the groups that I have seen include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, the Who, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrissey, the Violent Femmes, New Order and many others of that ilk.  Some people find that interesting.

I worked for about eight years in the criminal court system, which some people find interesting.  I served as an Adult Probation Officer for six of those years and have many stories about criminals that I had to monitor, including visiting them at their homes in some of the most God forsaken neighborhoods in the Good Old U.S. of A.

Yes, I threatened to and did get a lot of criminals locked up.  Too many to remember.  But I also encountered the full catastrophes of their lives including all forms of disease, destitution and death.

I hated the job, but some people find it interesting.

I have now spent the last seventeen years employed full-time in the field of economic development.  Over those years, I have met with just about every type of business that you could think of from Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods to Kohl’s to Wal-Mart to hundreds of industrial businesses and mom-and-pop businesses.

Over those years, I have made many friends in the industry, including about two dozen small business owners who I maintain contact with on a regular basis.  I have not written about it very much (yet), but I am well-versed in the obstacles and challenges that the small business owners in our nation face.  Take it from me, for every success story that you read or hear about, there are dozens or hundreds of others where the owners bust their tails in an effort to make ends meet.

My knowledge and experience with them is something that may push me toward the 60% bracket in terms of most interesting.

I have invested for over twenty years now, which would probably be the most interesting thing that many people would think about me.  I have purchased individual stocks, savings accounts, mutual funds, ETFs, gold, covered call options, money market accounts, CDs, savings bonds and have begun saving cold, hard cash.

Inching my way up to over a $100,000 salary about three years ago, I have managed to save nearly $200,000 in my children’s combined college accounts, something that I think many people would find interesting.

How did I do it?  Simply put, I automatically contributed to their 529 accounts come Hell or high water for many years.  Meanwhile, I also sent money to their Vanguard Wellington accounts while they were both young, and the value of the account has grown through price appreciation and the magic of dividends.

My 21-year wedding anniversary is coming up in a few weeks and some people may find it interesting in terms of what works if you, too, want to remain married for the full duration.  My own parents were married for over forty years at the time of my father’s death, and my wife’s parents for nearly as long at the time of my mother-in-law’s death.  We believe in staying married.

Also, I have two great kids.  They are both smart, high-achieving kids with impeccable morals.  Sometimes my wife and I wonder how we achieved this, with both of them being more clean-cut than either of us were (well, more in comparison with me), both get great grades including our son making Dean’s list both semesters of his freshman year and our daughter pulling straight A’s through three years of middle school, and they are very compassionate.

I cannot say that it is all due to our great parenting skills, but my wife and I make a great team together when it comes to raising our children. Ironically, although I was a probation officer for nearly eight years, she has always been the rule enforcer between the two of us.

Finally, although only my wife and two children know it, I write the Middle Class Guy blog.  It is moving toward the self-help type of blog, but not in an in-your-face do as I say, not as I do sort of way.

It is as much my own self-improvement blog as it is for others, and I use it to decrease my book hoarding tendencies since I am better able to let a well-loved book go after I have shared the most important points of it in my view here with you.  I loved By Line: Ernest Hemingway so much, I do not think that I will be able to part with it in the near future.

There are a few more interesting things about me, like some of the people who I grew up with.  Some are multi-millionaires and others have been deceased for several years already, although that may be fairly typical for a thoroughly Middle Class Guy going on forty-seven years of age.

My three friends, besides the business owners who I met through my job, are a computer analyst for the Evil Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois, a school principal and an engineer/executive with an aerospace company.

My family members are my real best friends, as is my faithful hairy companion.

Altogether, I am probably a higher than median interesting man, but still not at the two-thirds mark.  I will keep working at that.

Signing off,

The more interesting than average Middle Class Guy

 



 

Finding Serenity Now

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Whenever stress and anxiety builds up too much in me, when everyone is talking to me at once or asking or even demanding something, when the horns are honking at me and when something that I need breaks or is lost, I say “Serenity Now!” like George Castanza’s father, Frank, in one of my all-time favorite shows.  I do this at home around my family, not at work.

Modern Life is Stressful

Although modern middle class life has largely removed immediate physical dangers from us, like those living in the ghettos of Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and the other most dangerous U.S. cities, if you are anything like me, you still experience a great deal of stress.

We are confronted with uncertainties about our finances, careers, relationships, national politics, foreign policy, unsafe drivers, food and air quality and other issues.  For some of us, these stresses become chronic anxiety.

If anxiety is caused by perceived threats to our family’s well-being, then why do so many Middle Class Guys like myself, who have enjoyed job stability and a loving family for years still experience it?  For me, it is the potential loss of that stability that causes most of my deepest anxieties from time to time.  If I knew for a fact that I would remain gainfully employed for the full duration of time that I intend to, it would remove a great deal of stress in my life.  Not all the stress by a long shot, but a great deal of it.

Discomfort Zone

Despite its comfy sounding name, your comfort zone can become your discomfort zone.

Some discomfort zones limit how much money we will ever make, if we can ever get into better shape or lose a few pounds, how well our relationships work or perhaps do not work, or how much money we owe.

For me, my comfort zone has been becoming more and more discomfortable over the past few years.  I am full of ideas that go well beyond my job purview, yet I remain stuck in place at work for year after year, waiting for the two-and-a-half percent raise and hoping to hang onto my job.

My house and vehicles remain in need of repair year after year, and my “stuff” continues to accumulate even though I strive to rid myself of some of it.

I need to shake up my comfort zone a bit, and have been trying to do so by trying to accomplish the Resolutions that I set forth for myself at the start of 2017, and I plan on expanding upon those for 2018 and beyond.

Stimulation and Sedation

While out picking up a lunch from Panera with some colleagues a few months ago, I mentioned that I do not drink pop.

Truth be told, I do drink it occasionally, but I often go weeks without any.

What I told the guy at the counter is that I only drink water, coffee, and beer.  I also drink a lot of juice, but did not say so.

A Millennial colleague of mine uttered a great line, “something to wake you up, something to help you sleep, and something to keep you alive.”

This stimulation/sedation cycle has become all too common in our modern society.  Half of the people that I work with or more drink coffee after coffee in the morning, and then talk about what alcoholic beverages they are going to consume later that night or over the weekend.

It sure is not a healthy pattern to push yourself to the limit all morning with caffeine, like I have been doing for about sixteen years now, and then vegging out in front of the TV at night with chips and booze.

If that is your typical pattern, you may want to think again before you have that third or fourth coffee of the morning, or reach for that second or third drink in the evening.  I’m not going to preach about stopping, because I certainly cannot cease my consumption of coffee in the morning, but besides my recent trip to Mad-City, I almost never have more than one beer at night.

Toxic Vs. Natural Anxiety

In Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety by Robert Gerzon, the author writes about the difference between natural anxiety and toxic anxiety.

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Natural anxiety is what I felt when my son was hospitalized with salmonella last November as the Cubs won the World Series.  Natural anxiety is what I felt for a year visiting my father in hospitals and nursing home facilities as the cancer destroyed his body.  Natural anxiety is what I felt when one of the Trustees in the Village where I work had it out for me, blaming the slow pace of development on my efforts and a perceived lack of rah!rah! enthusiasm on my part.

Toxic anxiety is what I feel when I worry about losing my job year after year while I still work there.  It is what I feel when I drop my daughter off at a friend’s house whose family I do not know.  Is there a Chester Molester uncle or older brother living there?  Do they keep weapons unlocked in the house?  I feel toxic anxiety when I worry about my son’s mental health following the break-up with his girlfriend.

Gerzon writes that toxic anxiety is rampant with false alarms, overreactions, denial, blame and inner psychological conflict, while natural anxiety is triggered by real problems and real issues.   It does not represent a real external threat, and we must use this equanimity to look within and begin to resolve our hidden inner conflicts.

America the Anxious 

Our lives, our families, our neighborhoods and families and neighborhoods throughout the U.S. of A all float upon a sea of cultural anxiety.  We are losing faith in our elected leaders, in corporations and schools.

Many feel that attaining the American Dream is getting harder and harder, and many younger people feel that it is becoming unobtainable as student debt goes into the trillions and American jobs are sucked away by cheap foreign labor or replaced by technology.

For many people, the American Dream is already dead.

Many Americans no longer seem to believe that they will ever be financially secure or stable. The belief that you can succeed financially with hard work and determination has been a core tenet of the American Dream. Now more than three-quarters of all Americans believe that downward mobility is more likely than upward mobility.

Are the foundational elements of our collective dream and middle-class lifestyle – owning a home, having stable employment and retiring debt-free and financially secure – now out of reach for most of us, especially the young?

And has the problem of the vanishing middle class now reached a group that had seemed entrenched, suburban white Americans like Yours Truly Middle Class Guy?

What about the prospect of the President repealing the internet privacy act so the providers can collect and use data on your web browsing history, app usage and geo-location.?  What about the growing possibility of war with North Korea?  How about a Secretary of Education set to dismantle the public education model or the head of the EPA set to dismantle environmental protections?

Gerzon writes that the cases of the anxiety epidemic, which remain largely the same, only more so since this book’s publication in 1998, can be found across a wide spectrum – biological, social, economic, political and spiritual.

Government and the political process appear unable or unwilling to provide solutions for these real concerns.  Instead, the acrimonious, divisive, and indecisive conduct of politics increases the public’s anxiety that no political party really has the answer.

Especially here in the Land of Lincoln, where the budget stalemate 50% attributable to billionaire Governor Bruce Rauner and 50% attributable to the King of the State, Mike Madigan, has made our state the laughing stock of the nation, even resulting of another downgrading of the state’s bond rating this past week.

Bloomberg reports that Illinois had its bond rating downgraded to one step above junk by Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings, the lowest ranking on record for a U.S. state, as the long-running political stalemate over the budget shows no signs of ending.

Let me ask you, would you rather purchase an Illinois bond or purchase an FDIC-backed CD instead?  Are these people that we should trust to turn our state around, or are they just burying us deeper and deeper into the hole?

Ticket Out of the Comfort Zone

Since half of Gerzon’s book, and numerous other books, articles and blog posts have more than proven that we suffer from anxiety for a number of reasons, what are we to do?

Gerzon offers the A+ formula for turning anxiety into awareness and action.

The five A’s consist of Acceptance, Awareness, Analysis, Action and Appreciation.  He goes into greater detail on the five, but the down-and-dirty of them is:

Acceptance: accepting the anxiety or problem as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Awareness: stepping back and gaining more self-awareness by compassionately observing your physical sensations, emotions and thoughts.

Analysis: telling yourself the highest truth about the situation.  Develop a clearer picture of the situation and decide on the next step strategy to deal with it, one that is both goal-achieving and anxiety-relieving.

Action: actually doing something about it.  Putting your next step strategy into action toward a goal and channeling your anxiety into something tangible and constructive.  Gerzon does not write this, but this is far easier said than done and this step is where I always hit the proverbial wall.  I am great at identifying and being truthful to myself about anxiety-inducing stresses and also pretty good at analyzing it.  Not so great at taking action, but that is certainly the next logical step.

Appreciation: reviewing what you have learned and accomplished. Appreciate what you have achieved and who you are.

Using Anxiety

The second half of Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety provides numerous tips and examples of how to use anxiety to your advantage, and to overcome it.  There are many examples, but I am not going to detail them here.

The book helped me at least stop and think of ways to reduce my own anxiety, and I have moved in a more positive direction in that regard in the past year or so since reading it.

Success is not a distant goal, but a continuing process, a state of mind, and way of living your life.  We need to forge our own paths and not necessarily what our parents, spouses, bosses, co-workers and neighbors expect us to be.

As Gerzon writes, “each of us deserves to be the author of our own life.”

As my son reminds me every time I shout out “Serenity Now!”, it does not actually work because in the episode where Costanza’s father embraces the phrase, it turns out that the Lloyd Braun, who coined the phrase, was actually insane and never sold any computers (one of the three plots in the episode) due to his phone never actually being plugged in.

At the end, George tells Frank to say “hoochie mama” instead of “serenity now.

That’s one of the Middle Class Guy’s ways of coping with anxiety.

 

 

 

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Image result for sgt pepper album cover

Fifty years ago, one of my and millions of other middle aged Middle Class Guys’ favorite albums, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released.

For Yours Truly, I acquired my vinyl album of it, listened to hundreds or perhaps thousands of times, about thirty-four years ago.  My one aunt (not great-aunt, I had many of those) married the one person who I consider my uncle (I have an uncle by blood who I see once every few years).

Long before iTunes were even a thought in someone’s head, and long before CDs came out, people owned records.   My aunt and uncle had similar tastes in music, and when they tied the knot all those years ago, I received their “doubles” at the age of about twelve or thirteen.

Already a fan of the Beatles, having listened to them on the radio and on my mom’s 8-track tapes throughout most of my childhood, I was happy to receive vinyl records of Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s, Meet the Beatles, Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour and more.

Image result for 8 track tape sgt. pepper
For any readers who were born after the 70’s, this is an 8-track tape.

Not to mention receiving albums from a band that I grew to love even more than the Beatles and still do, the Doors, but this is not about them. In the interest in further disclosure, I also received Rolling Stones albums and some by The Who.  I grew to love these groups so much that I continued to purchase more albums by them, and then purchased most of them again on CD.

I have a decent collection of Beatles records and CDs, all listened to many times.

I have read five articles on the fifty year anniversary of the album, so if you want a history of the album, there are many other sources.  I would suggest articles by the Guardian, Rolling Stone magazine, the National Review or NPR, where I heard about it while listening to the radio.

I just had my mind blown as a nearly thirteen-year-old in 1983 when I put this album with the famous cover on my turntable.

This wasn’t like “She Loves You,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” or “Twist and Shout.”

This was a psychedelic cacophony of samples, spliced together sounds, roosters crowing, circus calliopes, orchestra music and lyrics that I could not make heads or tails of.

Between making out with lovely Rita on her couch, Mr. Kite topping the bill, reaching the ripe old age of sixty-four (which sounds older than dirt when you are twelve and your parents are about thirty-six), picturing myself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, my young mind was blown.

Image result for tangerine trees and marmalade skies

When I reached A Day in the Life, I do not know if my young mind could handle any more, but then there it was.  Mind blown over and over.

“He blew his mind out in a car; He didn’t notice that the lights had changed; A crowd of people stood and stared; They’d seen his face before; Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords.”

“A crowd of people turned away; But I just had to look; Having read the book.”

Even then I was an avid reader, and the notion of having to look because you had read the book already resonated strongly with me then, as it does now.

“Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire; And though the holes were rather small; They had to count them all.”

I then pictured myself having to count four thousand tiny holes.

The Wall Street Journal, which I read three days in a row a few weeks ago when I took a credit analysis course in Mad-City, had a great article about the fifty year anniversary, written by Allan Kozinn.  He describes A Day in the Life as a dreamlike finale, punctuated by aleatoric orchestral crescendos and ending with a grand, crashing E major chord played on massed (overdubbed) keyboards.

The best line that Kozinn used to describe the album, hitting the nail on the head, is that “Sgt. Pepper” sounds as vibrantly imaginative now as it did in 1967.

All that said, I will not be spending one dime on the deluxe remixed edition produced by Giles Martin.

I loved the album the way it was as it was released fifty years ago, the way it sounded on my long-gone record player when I was only twelve, I love the album now in June of 2017, and I will love it as long as I am alive.