A Year of Working On You

Image result for no instant gratification

No Instant Gratification Here

In our joint quest for self-betterment, let us concede that we were not, are not and never will be perfect people.  Our journey through 2018 will be one with hardships, mistakes and flaws, but we must strive to minimize those and especially try not to repeat mistakes made in past years.

There will be times, and early in the year, when we will want instant gratification and attainment of our goals and resolutions.  By their very nature, many of our goals will take the entire year to achieve, and then we will seek to achieve them again and again.  If you have a goal to launch a business in 2018, your goal may be to continue or grow it in 2019 and then seek a profitable year in 2020.  If you seek to take baby step goals like I do, perhaps ending the year five pounds lighter than you currently are, you will most likely want to repeat or exceed that goal next year.  If you resolve to end 2018 with $10,000 more in savings than you currently have, you will also want to repeat or exceed that amount the following year.

There will be many times this year when you and I are ready to throw in the towel, admit that we are who we are, and that it is too hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  Well, this forty-seven-year-old dog is still trying to learn some new tricks or, in some cases, re-learn tricks that I used to know but have forgotten.

I still struggle with wanting instant gratification and success on a daily basis.  During the week as I grind my way through my difficult job and family-related obligations, I come up with grand plans and schemes for the weekend.  Over the weekend, I mostly dream, read and write about what it is that I intend to do, and many times I cannot find the time nor the inclination to follow through on those plans.  “Oh well,” I think.  “I’ll work on my eBook or research starting an e-commerce site next weekend.”  Or the next break or vacation day or whenever.

As it turns out, I take so little time off for myself that I never seem to get around to many things until I am forced to.  A prime example of this is being forced to obtain a new vehicle in a matter of hours a few Saturdays ago.  I am fairly pleased with the results, but it was not so much on my terms as I would have wanted it to be.  Is it ever?

The self-improvement that we seek in 2018 and beyond is not something that you and I will attain by this May, August or December.  It is a continuing modification of our thoughts, habits and actions and will not be easy.  It will take hard work and patience.

But there is a lot of good news, too.  We can improve our lots in life in many ways if we set our minds to do so.  No matter where we currently are, if you read and think about this in a meaningful and sincere way, both of us can take a hard look at where it is that we are now and can resolve to be in a better place when 2019 rolls around.

These changes that we will make begin with thoughts and ruminations on where we are and how it is that we got ourselves there, facing some hard facts, finding the right methods to motivate ourselves and then making concrete plans on measurable actions to take.  Then we’ll have to actually do it!

I’m Just a Jealous Guy

A challenge that I face all the time is measuring my progress, or lack thereof, against that of others.  The others may be relatives, family friends, colleagues, former classmates, other economic development professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs who I work with, developers and property owners, and many others.

I cannot help but notice that they are traveling to Hawaii while I am taking orders from a young boss and shoveling my driveway before and after work.  I cannot help but notice that they are purchasing second homes after renovating their primary residences, while my small house is very cluttered and in need of many repairs.  I cannot help but envy their new cars (although now we have one too) and their social media posts of attending Cubs playoff games, weekends in Vegas or spring breaks in the Bahamas.

Do I admit to being jealous?  Hell yes I do.

But I recognize that I am not going to magically transform from my Steady Eddie Middle Class Guy existence to traveling the world, adding to my home, purchasing luxury vehicles or growing my own business in one short year.  Never having started or owned my own business yet, that last one would be tough to do.

But could and should I increase my vacation time to more than the total of fourteen days that I will have taken in 2017?  I should and I plan to.

Could and should I have at least one home improvement completed all year?  Yes and yes.

Could and should I self-publish three eBooks on Amazon (including this one)?  Yes and yes.

Could and should I treat my wife better and strive to rekindle some of the old romance during our twenty-second year of marriage?  Yes and yes.

Could and should I write shorter yet more powerful and useful posts?  Most definitely.

When you reach the prime age of forty-seven as I have, you should know yourself pretty well.  I know that I am risk-averse, that I worry a lot, that I struggle with remaining patient and that I have physical ailments that will not improve with age.  I know that I struggle with borderline hoarding of books and papers, but I sincerely desire to improve upon that shortcoming.

That is why I am taking stock of where I am right now, this very instant, and you should too.

This is a year of working on you, not your sibling, best friend or someone that you graduated with years ago.  Just as you and I may know many others who are doing better than we are in many ways, there are just as many, if not more, people who would love to be in the position that we are.  I recognize that, but it does not mean that I am satisfied with my place in life.  I know in my heart of hearts that I should be doing better, and not just by a little.  If you have read this far, I suspect that you feel the same.

Beyond Mere Survival

So much of my existence seems to be geared toward mere survival.  Not that it is not great to continue surviving, but there should most certainly be more to life than my everyday hustle of waking, getting ready for work, going to work, shuttling our children to and fro, helping around the house, walking our dog (of course I am the only one who walks her), paying bills, picking up things at the store…only to sleep fitfully before waking up and doing it again.

To quote Ray Davies of the Kinks,

And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again.

Where are all the people going?
Round and round till we reach the end.
One day leading to another,
Get up, go out, do it again.

Making resolutions and setting goals for the New Year should include several dreams that need to be dusted off and brought out of the cobwebs in the back of our minds.  How many dreams did you and I once have that never came to fruition?  For me, it may be too many to count.  I am sure that I cannot remember them all.

I did not pursue many of these dreams due to a lack of the finance to do it, the fear of failure, the lack of confidence, the lack of knowledge or someone to provide guidance and sometimes just due to sheer laziness.  It was easier to turn the TV on or read a book for a few hours than to try something new.

2023 Is Sooner Than You Think

Although this book’s purpose is largely to inspire you and I onto greater things in the New Year, it is the longer-term roadmap that we must always keep in mind as well.  Where do you see yourself in 2020?  In 2023?  In 2028?  These years will come to be and if you and I are so blessed as to be among those who live through them, they will be no less challenging than the present.  Chances are, those years will present even greater challenges than you and I currently face.

I admit that it seems hard to plan for 2023 when our primary challenges might be just how to survive your next workweek or the current month.  But I do not let a day, week or month go by when I am not thinking about 2023 or some other year.  If you and I do not work toward permanently improving our lot in life, saving for the future and guiding our children in the right direction, 2023 or any other year could be a miserable one indeed.

Selling a book focused on 2023 is obviously not what this is about, but what it is about is striving to improve your outlook, focus and actions over a period of the next five years by taking one baby step at a time.  Trust me, if you weigh more or have more debt or worse relationships at the end of 2022 than you have now, it is not going to be easy for you even to return to the point where you are today.  Once you acknowledge and truly accept that concept, you will embrace the notion of starting your self-betterment journey in early 2018, with plans to continue it over the next five years.

What does that all mean, you ask?

  • You and I must make a list of meaningful and measurable goals for this coming year. Nothing too grandiose, but things that will move us in the right direction.
  • It is time to get serious about Paying Yourself First if you have not yet done so. Even if you start with fifty measly bucks per payday, you will feel better about your financial life and I am sure that you will increase that number over time.
  • Do not start the next fad diet or lose some gigantic amount like Oprah would only to gain it right back. Start by trying to lose five pounds and keeping it off.  Then do the same thing the next year and the year after that.
  • I would bet that you have at least one personal relationship that you could improve upon with greater effort on your part. I have about ten, but will strive for three big ones this year – with my wife, my mother and my best friend whom I have ignored for quite some time.
  • I desperately want to create more and consume less.  Create what?  Blog posts, eBooks, maybe an ecommerce site, maybe design some tee-shirts, perhaps help my children with their artistic endeavors more.  Consume less of what?  TV, surfing the web, sweets, alcohol and coffee.  Are there things that you could consume less of and are there things that you would like to create more of?
  • I have a ton of crap. Well, to me it is not crap, but to you it probably is.  I have piles of books, magazines and more paper than I know what to do with cluttering my home and my office.  I have not yet quite decided on the exact amount of items to discard, but am leaning toward an even one hundred.  Moving the useless things out of our homes, work areas and our lives can improve our mental health immensely.  I feel a small amount of anxiety every time I see one of my piles of books.  My wife is none too fond of them, either.
  • I must remain gainfully employed at my current position or a comparable one to keep my family in the middle class lifestyle that we have become accustomed to. While working hard at an office job is hardly the stuff of excitement, there is no shame in working hard at a job where you contribute to your organization’s mission and support your family by doing so.  It is not as sexy as making millions by investing, creating a business or flipping properties, but it is the thing that most of us do in one capacity or another.  Nothing forces families out of their middle class lifestyles faster than the loss of the primary breadwinner’s job.
  • I must also increase the amount of passive income that I make. Via eBooks, selling crap on eBay, editing stuff on Fiverr or whatever.  No middle class guy or gal ever made it too far ahead without earning income beyond his or her day job.

These are only a few preliminary thoughts, and they apply to most everybody besides the most successful of us.  If you are already doing well in gaining passive income, losing weight, maintaining and enhancing your relationships, creating more value and not wasting time or money consuming more and more, then I want to read what it is that helps you achieve these things.

For the rest of us, we must continue contemplating and planning for ways to improve ourselves so that we do not continue allowing the days to turn into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years where we fail to improve our positions in this life.

For the umpteenth time, I repeat that our to-do lists have to consist of specific actions toward realistic outcomes and that our progress toward achieving them must be measurable.  That is what will convert our dreams of self-improvement to actual goals.

Writing this in December prior to my repackaging of similar posts into my first eBook since one that I began about twenty years ago and published ten years ago, The Probation Officer, I will put the goals and resolutions that I have been ruminating on down for myself, my readers and anyone in the world to read.

I may not be a manager of anyone else at my place of employment, but I have always been and always will be the manager of my own life, and nobody is going to hold me more accountable than myself.  For better or worse, you too are the manager of your own life.  Instead of spending the New Year remaining in place spinning your wheels or, worse, moving backwards, make sure that this is the first year of many that you move forward in terms of your progress.

If you are reading this then, like me, you do not want to spend your life worrying about debt, regrets and feeling dissatisfied.  God created us to do more than just work, worry and try to survive.  My Goodness, we are not cave people.  This is 2018 we’re talking about and we are hard-working, honest, tax-paying Middle Class Americans!

There are many ways to go about investing in relationships, building upon our strengths, creating more and consuming less, becoming grittier and living fuller lives.  I intend to pursue some, but not all, things that have held me back from  leading a fuller and more content life.  Bit by bit, piece by piece and baby step by baby step.

I know that you will too.

 

Please No Tom Hanks!

Every day now, some powerful man in the movie or television or music or political business is outed as an abuser of some sort or another.

Guys who try to get their assistants, fans and fellow actors and actresses to perform oral sex, guys who grab asses, guys who attempt to trade professional success for a quickie and in some instances try or succeed in raping someone.

I must report that I had never, not even once, watched the Today show with Matt Lauer so truthfully, I don’t give a shit about him.  I know who he is from all the news about him, but I would not have known who he was if he walked right past me the day before the news broke.  I am not completely out of the loop; quite the opposite.  I just do not happen to have the time or inclination to watch garbage like the Today Show, Oprah or other gossipy shows that air while I am waking up in the morning or at work.

Likewise, I would not have known who Harvey Weinstein is had you asked me a day before the news broke about him.  I suppose that I had heard of him as a producer, but he’s not exactly Tom Cruise or The Rock, someone who you see in movies, commercials, on magazine covers and in every Internet news feed that exists.  I had never seen Weinstein’s ugly mug prior to the story about him in October.

Since Weinstein was accused, thirty-four additional prominent men have been likewise accused of sexual misconduct.  Al Franken, Louis C.K, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Garrison Keillor and many others have been outed for their past misbehavior.

Even old George H.W. Bush has been named as a groper.  I am sure that the accusations will continue.  They are probably just getting started.

Last week, I thought hard about how much of this is the way of the world: powerful men wanting to and usually having their way with subordinate women.  Heck, I believe that the current President of the U.S. is quite possibly a rapist.

I also thought hard about who I would be surprised about if he was to be accused of sexual misconduct.

Nothing against many, many other male celebrities, but would you be surprised to learn that Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Wahlberg or Johnny Depp forced themselves upon a woman at some point?

I posed the question to my wife, who said that with many of today’s stars, it would be surprising if someone like Matt Damon or Brad Pitt did anything like that in the past ten years or so, but who knows what they did in their twenties?

There were three names that came to me after ruminating on it for a while, the three being Tom Hanks, Will Farrell and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  If one of those three is accused, then I might never like an actor again.

He’s not nearly on the same par as those movie stars, but Neil Flynn plays my alter-ego, Mike Heck, on a TV show that I sometimes watch with my wife, The Middle.  I would be shocked if a woman (or man) accused him of sexual misconduct.

Of course I realize that the roles these actors play are entirely scripted from word one to the end.  None of the actors are as great and honorable as they are portrayed on screen, but if Tom Hanks is a molester or harasser or rapist, then I will never trust a Hollywood star again.  I’m not saying that I would leave my daughter at one of those three men’s homes overnight, but I would be shocked if any of the three were accused.

Just as shocked as learning that Bill Cosby was a serial abuser.

It will be interesting to see who is named this week.

For regular guys like me and you, it reminds us to be careful what we say in the workplace.  I am certainly in no position to wield my influence or power over a subordinate woman, having no subordinates or favors to grant like a powerful movie producer or morning show anchor would have.  That does not mean that I would behave like one of these accused men, because I simply would not.  My brother would not and my son would not, either.

My parents raised me better than that!

 

 

 

Trading Knowledge for Dollars

Trading Hours For Dollars

Many years ago, about seventeen to be exact, I was a thirty-year-old newcomer to the field of economic development and worked for one of the biggest and most inefficient and politically-driven bureaucracies on planet Earth.  That’s right.  Crook County government, referred to by many as Cook County.

My first mentor in the field was a political appointee from the south side Democratic political machine who did not hold a college degree.  Nothing against those who do not hold degrees, but I sure did wonder why I went through so many years of schooling only to be out-earned by a guy with only a high school diploma.

He was and probably still is a terrific guy who took me under his wing and always told me the way things were done at the county.  Who was who and what was what.  Who’s applications should be moved to the top and were slated for a quick, painless approval and which ones would be lost in the sludge pile never to be seen again.  What companies to call when we had to contract for services, and which ones to conveniently lose track of.  That sort of thing that helps keep the wheels of bureaucracy turning.

I recall him telling me many a time that he was sick of trading his hours for dollars and that is all that we were doing.  We would never get ahead of the curve just by trading the hours of our days for hourly pay although we were both salaried non-union employees.

Going on eighteen years later, I have discovered just how true that is.  Because my family’s expenses always seem to exceed my income by five to ten percent, no matter how many small annual salary increases I receive, it is never enough.  When I made eighty grand a year, we spent like I made ninety.  When I made ninety, we spent like I made a hundred.  And now that I make $108,000 and my wife makes another $7,500, we spend like we make $125K instead of $115.

What to do?

As I have previously written, common sense tells us that there are three solutions.  One is to spend less money.  Another solution is to make more.  The best solution is to make more and spend less.

Because our expenses, including keeping our teen aged daughter fully outfitted and engaged with her many activities, and our son the same at his college, I do not foresee curtailing our family’s spending in the future.  As a matter of fact, with us recently having obtained a new vehicle and needing to replace our phones, electronics, furniture and even some musical instruments in the near future, there is a good chance that our spending will increase significantly this coming year.  Not to mention that I did not even leave the state for more than a few days in 2017, only making it as far as Cheese Land.

On a side note, while spending over seven difficult years as a P.O. out of college, I took notes on some interactions and later put them into a somewhat fictionalized account called The Probation Officer under a pseudonym of George Kawalik.  It is not exactly Shakespearean or Stephen Kingian, but I have yet to find a more realistic account of what it is like to be a big-city probation officer anywhere.  I did not edit it very well, but the writing is sincere, gritty and realistic.  It sold a dozen copies last month.

I mention that because it is always a pleasant surprise to see the $30 to $100 in any given month deposited into our checking account from Amazon.  True enough, it will never earn me enough additional income to take my family on a Hawaiian vacation or purchase a Honda minivan, but I would rather make the extra dough every month than not.  Especially considering that I have not added a word to it for over ten years.

Thus, my point.

Even though over ninety percent of our income is derived from exchanging our hours for dollars, my wife and I receive another four thousand dollars or so per year the past few years, three thousand or so from dividends and capital gains, and another thousand or so from eBook sales.

Those dollars collected not from trading our hours for them are my favorites, and the ones that I dream of growing from four thousand to forty thousand or four hundred thousand.

So I Finally Know What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Next May, should I remain gainfully employed at my current place of employment or somewhere comparable, I will hit the quarter century mark of full-time employment, all with local governments.  I recently wrote of the quarter century since the completion of my bachelor’s degree, so I am always a few months behind that date when it comes to the tenure of my employment.

I spent nine years as a Crook County employee, seven as an Adult Probation officer and another two as an economic development planner.  Following that, I worked for a fairly shitty municipality as its economic development director for three years.  Ever since May of 2005, I have worked for my current place of employment.

A worker bee since ’93.

I have received a paycheck on alternative Fridays since that time, and, believe me, my family relies on it to pay for everything from food on our table, clothes on our backs and a roof over our head.  We routinely spend and invest ten thousand or more per month with no end in sight.

That leaves me to wonder what it is that I can do to launch our family into the upper middle class realm that we seem to subscribe to already without the requisite income.  What could help launch me into increasing my income by ten, twenty or fifty thousand.

Eureka!

What I possess that is marketable and valuable to others is my extensive knowledge of self-help that I have gleaned from reading thousands upon thousands of words written by gurus like Tony Robbins all the way to the mommy bloggers seeking their voice in the world.

I also possess an extensive knowledge about investing, learned by reading works from the greatest financial minds to posts on Yahoo! Finance discussion pages to newsletters from a dozen or more institutions that I invest with or follow.  I have about as much knowledge as one could possess about economic development, although the market for that knowledge is fairly limited and applies only to a specific set of practitioners.  The field is very interesting, but the keywords lack the appeal that things about money, self-improvement, celebrities, sex or shopping do.  Hey, there’s a great string of keywords for you: “Self-improving celebrities shop and have sex for money.”

Finally, I am an extremely dedicated father and have shared just a small bit of my philosophy on fatherhood.  I, myself, enjoyed the benefit of having had a great father and always strive to be one for my own children although it is certainly not always easy.

An Infopreneur

Not so long ago, it would not have been possible for me to share these words with you.  Without the ability to share one’s thoughts and ideas electronically with anyone, nobody would have been willing to publish random thoughts like these due to their scant commercial value.

Nowadays, a slightly above average Middle Class Guy like Yours Truly can not only share my thoughts with you via a blog on a website, but I am also in the process of repackaging numerous New Year resolution-related posts into an eBook that will surely sell a few copies. I could record my thoughts via podcast and share them with the world.  I could publish “classes’ on websites where customers pay to access them.  I could sell crap made in China or Taiwan or that I purchase at the local Walmart on a eCommerce site.  I could call myself an “expert” editor or copywriter and market myself for hire on numerous sites.

This is not about me, by the way.  You, too, could and should engage in one or more of the above.  Perhaps you know something that others find interesting and could put together an eBook about it or assist someone else who wants to learn from you.

The businesses that I work with in my professional day job open operate in brick-and-mortar locations.  They have to spend a significant amount of capital to open their places including the many applications, permits and licenses that our community requires, the physical space to purchase or lease, equipment to purchase or lease, employees to hire and pay, legal formalities to complete, inventory to stock, manufacturing costs to incur, utilities to pay and much more.

Combining these huge start-up and operational costs with the startling statistic that over 90% of small businesses will fail within three years of launch, the low set-up cost of starting a blog, publishing an eBook, hiring yourself out on upwork or setting up an Amazon seller account is negligible.

Therein lies the reason that I want to become an Internet Infopreneur.

There are dozens of reasons why I am going to become an Infopreneur this year, now that I have reached the prime age of forty-seven.

As much as I would like to write how I will replace my entire income, including health insurance for my family, by becoming an Infopreneur, I know that I will not.

I realize that many folks make far more than I do completely online, but I honestly do not possess the high level of knowledge on technical matters that they do, and I am not technologically savvy enough to design my own websites and come up with new, original and exciting ad copy that makes people want to buy.

Of course, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so perhaps instead of a tagline like “Awesome Gear For Awesome People” that LSDMan.com uses, I could use something a little toned down like “Cool Stuff for Cool Folks” or “Great Stuff at a Greater Price.”  Whatever works.  There are only so many catchphrases that exist in this language, and I am sure that I can think of one.  If it does not work, it can always be changed.

So one of the things about my becoming an Infopreneur is that I will not be thinking about replacing my full-time income with my online endeavors.  Eventually, I hope to supplement my income in a huge way by creating informational products.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, you can sell an eBook, plates or toys online twenty-four hours per day seven days per week.  When you are sleeping in bed, when you are at your day job, when you are making love and while you are enjoying dinner with your family.

Creating a steady income stream above and beyond what you are paid for trading your hours for dollars is the only path to financial freedom, whether it be income derived from collecting rent, copyrights or patents that produce royalties, goods produced and sold, investments that produce dividends and capital gains, or words typed on paper or in the virtual world that customers will pay to access.

What you and I need is some thing, tangible or intangible, that can become a source or multiple sources of steady income for years and years.  Back to my little $25 in royalties for The Probation Officer last month.  As paltry as that is, I wonder if I had ten newer, more compelling eBooks out there for sale, if each of the new ones would sell twice as well as that one and produce about $50 each per month on average, which would help me attain one of my goals and resolutions for this coming year, which is to earn $500 online in a month during 2018.

I would bet that you have some skill and knowledge greater than what I possess.  The question is, are you going to keep them to yourself, continue toiling for others as I do, or figure out a way to convert them into some extra dollars this year?

 

 

 

 

 

New Car, One Vanilla and a Ton of Food

Hello there.

My mind and my life has been a fast-moving whirlwind on my five days off, this being the fifth and final day of Thanksgiving break for Yours Truly.

It started off nice enough, with a relatively relaxing day on Wednesday after picking our son up from his college Tuesday night.  I took my thirteenth vacation day of the year on Wednesday.

Since that time, we have had two enjoyable family gatherings with my mother, siblings, children, nieces, nephews, aunt, uncle and cousin, have done a gift exchange, spent hundreds on food, hundreds more on a OneVanilla card, and then thousands yesterday.

Funny, when our checking account nearly hit the $12,000 mark last Wednesday, my original post was going to be on how despite all the months spending and investing more than we took into that account, we were basically down “only” $5,000 from early January, where we nearly touched the $17,000 mark.  Not bad, considering that I just sent over $3,000 to my wife’s credit card after nearly $2,000 the previous month, paying for things like an upcoming Disney World trip and a new air conditioning unit.

My ready-made list of excuses was going to center around the fact that I have sent $400 on the first of every month, plus an additional $200, to our daughter’s Illinois Bright Start 529 account, for a total of $4,600, with one more payment to be made this year next Friday (December 1st), and $250 per paycheck to either my wife’s or my Roth IRA accounts, raised to $300 upon my receiving a raise this past May.  I have not calculated it, but we have sent nearly $7,000 to our retirement accounts.

I have no intention of ceasing contributions to our daughter’s college savings account, nor do I intend to stop Paying Ourselves First every payday.  However, I want to point out that we would have earned more than we have spent this year if you did not count my investing.  I know that many families in similar situations to ours do not invest, for whatever reason.  I suspect that many find it more important to own the latest iPhones, go on great vacations and drive great cars.

Speaking of a great car…

My 1998 Subaru finally bit the big one.  Without every detail, the short of it is that it died yesterday with a rattling engine noise that could be heard for blocks.  I was happily driving my sweet baby to a nearby lake where I love to walk her on nice days.  The engine suddenly made the worst noises that I have heard on a car and began sputtering horribly.  I’m no car guy, but I knew that it was not good.

I realize that the guys at Jiffy Lube are not the top mechanics, but I was hoping that it was just a belt that gave out.  They had warned me at the last oil change last month that both belts were ready to give out and that there were two major leaks and one minor one.

“Thanks for the information,” I told the guy.  “Just change my oil.”

I have been saying that for years instead of spending the hundreds that they would like me to every time I bring a car in.

The same guys took one look yesterday, showed me all the problems that they saw with a flashlight, and truthfully told me that this is beyond their capabilities and that I should bring the car to my mechanic.

I realized, of course, that my mechanic could keep the trusty rusty old Subaru going for a few more months for a few hundred dollars, but I had had enough.  I did not pay a dime for that car, my mother having given it to us a few years ago for our son to drive, but I have made up for that with about two grand worth of repairs.

Our 2018 Outback

The short of it is that I decided to replace our 1998 Subaru Outback with the 2018 version of the same car.  I stroked a check for $3,166, which is $2,900 plus the first monthly payment of $266.  Thirty-five payments to go.

One positive is that Subaru makes a $250 donation to charity for every purchase and lease of a new vehicle this month and next, and I selected a great one, the Make a Wish Foundation, for mine.

Us Subaru buyers have something of an ethos.  I do not wish to describe it here, but like many brands, those of us who love Subarus would rather have one than nearly any other type of car.  I would love to own and drive a Porsche, but if I had one, I would still mostly drive a Subaru.

It took me five painful hours from the time that I pulled the old van up to the local Subaru dealership, less than two miles from our home, to the time that I drove it home.

I have purchased and leased cars before, but it never took this long.  As a matter of fact, our new Subaru was the fifth car that I negotiated for.  The first one was a great and reliable Nissan Sentra that I bought used for about $10,000 in the early nineties.  I had my own car, given to me by my parents, prior to that, but that was the first car that I bought.

The second was a slightly used Subaru Forester that I bought a few years after our son was born.  I think it was around 2000 and I recall it being in the $16,000 range.  A few years after our daughter was born, I leased our current Chrysler Town & Country touring edition minivan in 2006 for a period of three years.  I purchased it off of the lease, which has since proven to be a mistake, but one that I fess up to.  I paid it off after another four years or so, and that was the last car payment that I made about four years ago.

Because of my former love of Nissans because of the first one that I owned and drove forever with almost no problems, I bought a used 2001 Maxima with over 60,000 miles for about $6,000 in cash about five years ago.  It ran well for about a year before it became nothing but trouble.  I could list out all the problems, but you will have to take my word for it.  I must have spent another $4,000 in repairs over the five or so years that I owned it and only drove it about 35,000 miles.  It never even made 100,000 miles before I donated it to the American Cancer Society this past July.

So yesterday around 1:00 p.m., I made my way over to the local Subaru dealership.  I was loaded for bear and assumed that salesmen would descend upon me like sharks sniffing blood.

Imagine my surprise when I walked the lot for at least a half hour and not one salesperson approached me.  As a matter of fact, the few salesmen that I saw were all showing other customers cars.

When I made my way over to the showroom, I was once again ready to fend off the sharks.  All previous times that I have gone car shopping, that had been my experience.

Again, nobody even bothered to say hello.  There were about eight salesmen and one saleswoman, and all of them were sitting at desks doing paperwork with customers.  My God, I thought.  These Subarus must sell themselves.  All nine salespeople were writing up contracts.

I spent about ten minutes poking around a brand new, black 2018 Outback in the showroom.  I wanted it, but the sticker price was about $29,000.  I am not stupid and know that $29K is probably the median price of a car these days.  I know guys who spend two to three times that amount for new Mercedes, Bimmers, Honda Pilots, Lincoln Navigators and the like.

My mother, brother and sister all drive Toyota Prius’s in addition to their family cars.  My brother’s family car is a decked out Honda Odyssey.  My sister’s is a Honda Pilot.

After five hours at the dealership, I drove that very showroom model with 18 miles on it home.

This is not a minute-by-minute summary, but below is how you spend five hours leasing a new Subaru Outback:

Hour One: poking around the lot, seeking out a salesman

Hour Two: traveling to a remote lot where the car I wanted to test was parked and going on a test drive

Hour Three: haggling back and forth about money until an agreement was struck

Hour Four: going over the user guide for the vehicle while they prepped the car, stripped the stickers off, washed it, filled it with gas, etc.

Hour Five: a painful hour spent with the finance guy going over payment information and contacting State Farm to transfer the insurance on my 1998 Outback to our 2018 Outback

Three things about the sales manager that helped him close the deal, although all three were attributable to his many years of doing this.  The guy is in his mid-forties, like I was until last week, and he had a weariness about him that I could relate to.

One, when I sent him back to “crunch the numbers” and “do a little better,” he returned and quoted one of my favorite lines from one of my top five movies and said that he was going to make me an offer that I could not refuse.  Even though I recognize that he probably says that twenty times per day, I still told him that I appreciated him quoting the Godfather.

Second, when he came back before sealing the deal, seeing my Bears hat (I never did get chance to shower and wash my hair prior to going), he told me that it was time for me to punt or go for it.  Being the kind of guy who likes to use sports metaphors, myself, I appreciated that reference.  I suspect that he sensed my need to get a car yesterday, so of course I elected to go for it rather than punt.

Third, he mentioned something about making a trip to Einstein’s Bagels.  Now, I am a Jewish guy but it is not readily apparent.  I actually found the reference slightly insulting, not knowing if that was a remark about my religion, my appearance or whatever.  He looked slightly Jewish himself, but I did not catch his last name until later.  Even though I have reached a prime age, I cannot always tell, myself, by someone’s last name if it is not something like Goldberg or Weinstein.  I have never been done a solid by another Jewish person who was not a relative before, so I was wondering if he was trying to insinuate that he was doing me a solid by knocking the sales price down from twenty-nine grand to twenty-seven and some change so that I could afford the lease.

Speaking of affording it, I was forced to apply for credit through Subaru Finance, which is of course through JP Morgan Chase Bank.  I shared my social security number, which I am loathe to do, but I do not think that you can avoid it when applying for automotive credit.   Curse it that I am not wealthy enough to stroke a check for the car!  Technically I could, but that would leave us dangerously low on savings.  So low that although we would own a nice new car, we would be in danger of falling way out of the middle class in just months should I lose my job.

So writing that I make $9,000 per month and pay “only” $800 per month on our mortgage, plus my credit score is over 800, makes me look great on paper financially.  I do not suppose that they want the information that I pay $2,500 per month to a college, spend half that amount on groceries every month and also spend over $500 per month dining out.  I will admit here and now that the amount spent dining out this November is more like $1,000, including over two hundred for one dinner out a few weeks ago at Bonefish Grill.

A few months ago, I came to realize that my wife and I are not exactly frugal.  Even though I have saved a prolific amount for our children’s college accounts considering how much I have earned over the years, we are not exactly frugal these days.  We have spent first of late and looked at the statements later.

Speaking of overspending, my wife and son are going on a trip to Disney World next month.  At first, only my wife was going to go so she could be nearby and keep an eye out for our daughter, who is going on a week-long trip with her marching band to the Sunshine State.

Our son had a rough freshman year of college and a rough summer as well, so we thought that he could use a trip out of the area this winter, especially somewhere warm.  He is doing well these days, but that is how it came to pass that he will also be spending four days at Disney World with his mother during the most expensive week of the year to go there, from Christmas to New Year’s.  Their little joint to the Happiest Place on Earth will be costing Yours Truly about  three grand altogether.

The bright spot is that I have four days on my own where I can eat whatever I want, watch whatever I want on TV, and do not even have to wear pants if I do not feel like wearing them.  Well, after work that is.

So I began yesterday by purchasing a OneVanilla prepaid card for our daughter at Walgreens.  I was originally going to put $200 on it, but made it $220 because I wanted her to test out using it a bit before she embarked on the trip.  She was going shopping with one of her friends yesterday, and I urged her to use it for her lunch.

I put $220 on a OneVanilla card for our daughter yesterday.

Her lunch ended up being a BOGO deal at Subway, so she and her friend each chipped in a few dollars for lunch.  No need to charge it, but I wanted her to make her first purchase with plastic anyway.  Incidentally, I will give her at least a hundred in cash, too, so I will be sending her on her week-long trip with a majority of her meals already covered with about $300.  We already paid nearly two grand for her to go on the trip, and she will be going again with the poms team in February.

So there I was earlier yesterday morning thinking that the $226 purchase would be the focal point of the weekend’s spending, after the same amount on groceries to get us through (ironically, I did buy Jewish food of bagels and smoked salmon this weekend) and the $300 that I Paid Myself First on Wednesday.

The almost-$12,000 that was in our account four short days ago is down over $4,000 already, with a similar amount going out of the account again in the next ten days.

As the old saying goes, Easy Come, Easy Go, although the money does not really come easily for us.

Speaking of making money, our family’s Thanksgiving gathering is held at my wealthy aunt and uncle’s home.  The uncle that I am closest to is retired from his job as a finance executive for a software firm and now teaches two accounting classes at a local community college “for fun.”  He is also a proficient guitarist and jams regularly with some other retired executive types.

Part of the Thanksgiving feast at my aunt and uncle’s house.

By the way, my uncle bought a 2017 Subaru Outback for my aunt last year, and she loves it.

My brother is doing well financially, having recently settled a small class action suit for a bigger payoff than I make in a year.  He has a bigger class action that he recently filed and was sought out for after the client read about the first settlement.  He also purchased a new house last week, but that is a story for some other time.  I regret that we did not have a chance to visit him at the mansion that he rented for the past year-and-a-half, but I am basically a working stiff and have not taken much time off since then.

A home in my sister’s Uptown New Orleans neighborhood.

Our sister travels extensively and is doing very well.  She and her husband purchased a lovely house in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans a year after Katrina.  We all thought they were crazy at the time, but they both moved there to help build up the charter school system that has grown immensely since that time.  The house that they purchased for under $300,000 has recently appraised at over twice that amount.

Although gentrification can be a dirty word and is not always embraced, especially in NOLA, people have been purchasing homes in their neighborhood, even right on their block, for over $500,000 and some go for over $600,000.  Their block is lined with Mercedes, Bimmers, Land Rovers and the like.  With their Prius and Pilot, my sister and her husband probably have the most humble cars in their neighborhood.

My brother-in-law recently landed a new position as an educational software consultant and is doing so well that he, too, will soon be joining the millionaire club.  I say good for him, good for my sister and good for their two daughters.  He is a hard working and industrious person who recently obtained his MBA from Tulane in addition to his master’s in education and BA from Northwestern, where he and my sister met.  He is a prime example of someone who worked himself up from a decidedly working class Louisiana family to a successful man through the pursuit of higher education.

Three last things to share for today:

  1. I had started off writing a ton for NaNoWriMo, using the organization to help me put together a 50,000 word book based upon this blog.  I started off with a bang, slowed down and have stalled at about 38,000 words for the past week.  Including today, there are only five days left in the month.  I think that I will get to the 50,000 words, mostly just by coping and pasting blog posts related to New Year’s resolutions, but even that seems too onerous to me now.  I have lost steam for sure, but I will try to make that number even though all the words will not be as great as I would want them to be.
  2. My wife is going to make a quasi-Thanksgiving dinner for us tonight including a turkey breast that she is about to get into the oven.  We are going to have cranberries, stuffing and I will make some veggies.  Tonight will conclude our five days of non-stop eating and then one of us will return our son to his college tonight in the new Subaru.
  3. I acknowledge that the Bears and Bulls both suck.  Because our family will not be together at Hanukkah this year, we did a gift exchange among the seven cousins at a family party on Black Friday.  Some family friends who recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary were there, and they always come bearing gifts for children when we invite them to family gatherings.  They gave my son some Bears socks, not realizing that he does not give a crap about the Bears, the Bulls or the Cubs.  Thus, I am now the proud owner of some Bears socks, which I will be putting on shortly to watch them get crushed by the Eagles.  I am predicting a seventeen point loss.  The Bulls are also scheduled to lose this afternoon, to the Heat.  They lost by nearly fifty points a few nights ago and I subjected myself to watching much of the game.  There’s not much more to say about the Bulls than that.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the last week of November!

 

 

 

Thankful and Paying it Forward

I begin this post in a local library during my lunch break on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2017.  While my coworkers are enjoying their lunches at local restaurants and in our Village Hall’s break room, I decided to write some words rather than walk like I sometimes do or read, which is both a blessing and a curse to me.

Upon reflecting on my final accounting for my 2017 resolutions while I simultaneously work on crafting my 2018 resolutions and publishing an eBook about them, I hereby confess that I have fallen off of the book wagon, and hard.

I have fallen off the book wagon of late.

One of my resolutions was to net minus fifty books from my considerable hoard this year.  This seemed like a breeze four months ago, as I had already donated ninety-one and only purchased an additional thirty-eight through the end of July.  I had already accomplished my goal for the year and had five months to go.  As you can see by my notes, I amended the goal to net minus seventy-five, which I thought was too low of a goal when I wrote it, even noting that I “expect to exceed this,” but wanted to play it safe just in case.

Notice that I have not updated the numbers since the end of August, a month when I purchased five additional books and did not donate any.  I could tell you that I am plus ten or a dozen since the beginning of September, but that would be untruthful.  I have probably acquired thirty or more books since September 1st, and have only moved a handful along since that time.  My wife has noticed used books that I purchase once or twice per week starting to pile up again, and I have a dozen more in a box in my office and another twenty or so new ones in my car.  I know, I have a book problem.

That does not stop me from once again resolving to net minus fifty in 2018 and again in the following years.  The one caveat is that should I ever succeed in creating a new, significant and sustainable source of additional income, I would still like to purchase a bigger home for me and my family including room for more bookshelves.  I know, I know.  This contradicts all the anti-clutter and simplify your life advice out there, but what can I say?  I have recently reached the prime age of forty-seven and must acknowledge that one of my greatest weaknesses is my fondness for books.

As my wife has said a few times upon my admitting that, it is better than being an alcoholic, drug addict, gambler, abusive husband or father or having affairs.  There is certainly some truth to that, although I am thinking of seeking out a storage unit simply to house my growing book collection.

So here we are with Thanksgiving this week and I was thinking about things that I should be thankful for.

It’s not just all about stress and anxiety about my job, money and family.  Looking at things from another perspective, I and my family have much to be thankful for.

First of all, I remain gainfully employed, thus allowing me to continue supporting my family and I am also thankful that I earn twenty paid vacation days per year, conferred upon employees with my municipality upon their ten year anniversary, which I achieved two and a half years ago.

With payday tomorrow, I will be at home helping prepare for Thanksgiving and will be taking only my twelfth vacation day of the year.  I originally planned to take at least eighteen or perhaps twenty vacation days, but my new work assignment has rendered that not possible.  With tomorrow’s paycheck, I will be hitting the thirty-nine vacation day number which actually compels me to either take one or to cash one out.

At my place of employment, we are permitted to “carry” twice the amount of vacation days that we accumulate in a year.  Thus, I cannot accumulate more than forty.  I could “sell” days back to the City for the amount of around three hundred dollars and some change per day, but at this point in my life, I value the time off more than I value the extra cash.  I recognize that could change, and my family could very much use some multiple of $300 with the super-expensive holiday season that we have lined up, but for the time being, I could use the day off for mental health purposes.

Anyway, as I embark on five days off in a row, I am thankful that I will be picking our son up from his college tonight.  His one last professor canceled his 9:00 a.m. class Wednesday morning so he, too, can enjoy an extra night sleeping in his own bed and an additional day with his family.  Even though we have many family gatherings scheduled for this weekend beyond our Thanksgiving dinner, it will be enjoyable and relaxing nonetheless.

Our family’s Thanksgiving gathering is always at my wealthy and successful aunt and uncle’s million dollar home with ample room for everyone and an abundance of food and drink.  I should note that my uncle made millions through his professional endeavors as a financial executive for a software firm, while my aunt was and remains the ultimate homemaker, doting mother and most incredible chef that I know of.

I am not only thankful to be able to spend three days with my aunt, uncle and cousins who we mostly only see for Thanksgiving and perhaps Hanukkah, but my brother and his children will be in town from Ohio, as will my sister, her husband and their two children from New Orleans.  I am extremely thankful for that.

While I dream and aspire to become an Infopreneur and begin generating income above and beyond my day job, I am thankful for my job.  Even though every day is a challenge and I have been unwillingly transferred to a new, young and inexperienced boss and new department four months ago, I am very thankful to remain gainfully employed.

Our family’s middle class suburban lifestyle is not cheap, and without this steady job with the accompanying steady income, we would not be able to enjoy the middle class lifestyle that we do.  Also note that, while our lifestyle may approach upper middle class status in some regards, our income does not reach the top twenty percent.  We are knocking on the door, but we are not there.  If you saw my car, my phone and our TVs, you would consider us very much working class, but remember that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Speaking of judging a book by its cover, I have not written much about how very expensive it is to have a daughter on a varsity poms squad at a high school that caters to many upper income families.  As it so happens, without reviewing every family’s financial documents, I strongly suspect that ours is the lowest income family out of the twenty poms girls, with the possible exception of our daughter’s closest friend on the squad.

We spend hundreds per month keeping up with the Joneses on the poms squad, purchasing new outfits for various events that they do, paying for a Disney World trip in February for the UDA competition, giving our daughter twenty-five bucks a pop for food at all-day competitions and for going out with the girls after games and more.

Again, you cannot judge a book by its cover, but the other families are all dressed impeccably when we see them, they drive new imported luxury vehicles, their homes dwarf ours, they fly to Florida or Las Vegas or Mexico for long weekends, some of them casually mention going to their second homes and they basically exude wealth compared with us.  All of their daughters attend private dance studios, while our daughter and her best friend on the squad came up through the local park districts.

Which brings me to the part about paying it forward.

Our daughter found out last Thursday night at around 10:00 p.m. that she would be expected to wear a dress to school the next day to represent the poms squad prior to their competition.  Of course, the two poms “coaches” never told the freshmen girls; the other girls did via their messaging system.

My wife and I were getting ready for bed, but due to our daughter’s distress, I agreed to take her dress shopping at that late hour.

Not being a guy who has ever gone dress shopping, let alone late on a Thursday night under duress, I figured that I would take her to Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and a store that is open 24/7.

The staff at the Walmart basically laughed at us when my obviously beautiful and striking daughter asked if they carry dresses.  They had them on the Walmart website, but the store only had one, which my daughter dismissed as an “old lady dress,” and she was right.

So right that an older lady standing near us agreed.  I chat up people frequently in public, much to my children’s dismay, and I told the lady that I was taking my daughter out to do emergency dress shopping, having just learned of her need for a dress at ten o’clock that night.  It was about ten thirty at the time.

Witnessing our ridicule by the Walmart staff when my daughter asked where the dresses are, the kindly woman told us that, if we hurry, we can make it to a nearby Kohl’s that would be closing at eleven.

Duh!  Nearly every single thing that we wear comes from Kohl’s, so I should have thought of that first.  Plus, the Kohl’s is closer to our house than the Walmart.

So we made it to Kohl’s at about 10:40ish.  My daughter scrambled as fast as a high school freshman could, trying out four or five dresses in a matter of minutes as a woman announced the store’s imminent closing over the intercom.  In case we did not hear that, a woman working in the women’s clothing section made sure to tell us a few times.

We were both desperate for a decent dress at a few minutes before eleven as the stressed out and tired employees looked at their watches.  I certainly could not blame them.  Working at a Kohl’s until eleven at night is one of the last things that I would want to do.

Another woman, this one quite a bit younger than myself, perhaps halfway in age between my daughter (fourteen) and me (forty-seven), which would make her thirty-and-a-half years old, sensed our distress.  She was a petite Asian woman, probably half my weight, which remains exactly 200 pounds.

I smiled to her as my daughter tried on what ultimately became one of the two dresses that she selected, trying to convey that I was not some dirty older guy standing outside a women’s dressing room at 11:00 P.M.  I was sincerely trying not to creep her out.

She approached me tentatively and I instinctively moved out of her way, hoping that in my frayed state I was not standing in front of a dress that she had interest in.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but are you a Kohl’s member?” she asked me.  I noticed that her diction and vocabulary was more proper than most native English speakers.  I am not assuming that she was not brought up in the U.S., but her accent hinted at a foreign upbringing.

“I’m not,” I replied.  “My wife is, though,” I added, wanting to convey that, despite my haggard appearance, a woman agreed to marry me at some point and remains married to me.

“Here, well maybe you can access her account and use this,” she explained as she handed me one of the coveted thirty percent off coupons that you get every third time that Kohl’s mails a sales flyer to your home.

I explained that I am not on the account with my wife, but thanked her and told her that I would try to use it.

Right at eleven, I asked one of the cashiers if I could use the thirty percent coupon because my wife has had a Kohl’s account for over twenty years.  They explained that unless I am also already on the account, that I could not use it.  I could instantly apply for a card of my own, which I declined.  I would rather pay thirty percent more than have a Kohl’s card.

The young Asian woman observed me speaking to the cashier and again came to my aid.  I handed the coupon back to her, telling her that she should use it for herself.  At that time, she handed me two slips of paper “Kohl’s cash” and insisted that I take them.

I know what Kohl’s cash is, since my wife often uses it when we all go clothes shopping together.  Basically, at certain sales, Kohl’s hands you “Kohl’s cash” in ten dollar increments based on every fifty dollars that you spend.  Thus, if you spend a hundred bucks there at certain times, they will give you twenty bucks in Kohl’s cash.

I told the young lady that I appreciated her very generous offer, but that she should use the Kohl’s cash herself.  As I handed it back to her, she shook me off, explaining that she does not mind giving it to us to assist me in purchasing a dress for my daughter.

I did not really know what to say to this besides “thank you.”

We got behind the young lady in the checkout line and my daughter had picked two dresses, both “marked down” from forty dollars to twenty each, plus a cute scarf that cost about three dollars, “marked down” from eight.

After handing the cashier the two Kohl’s cash vouchers, the total of nearly forty-five dollars was down to less than five.  I handed the cashier a five spot and got some change back.

Dress purchase success!

We drove home just after closing, marveling at the generosity of the young woman for having given us forty dollars worth of Kohl’s cash, considering that she rang up a hundred dollar purchase of her own right before we checked out, discounted down to about seventy with her coupon, that she could have just paid thirty for had she not given me the vouchers.

“Why did she give us that?” my daughter asked while we began our drive home.

“I don’t know,” I honestly replied.  “Perhaps she is very wealthy and thought that we needed it more than she did or maybe she isn’t wealthy and just did something very generous for us.  Whatever her reason was, I’m glad that she did it.”

As we walked back into our house around eleven thirty, both of us dog tired from a long and stressful day, my daughter and I were laughing pretty hard.  So hard that we woke up my wife.

“What are you two laughing so much about?” she asked.

I explained that the after striking out at Walmart, we made it to Kohl’s where a young Asian woman had given us her forty dollars in Kohl’s cash, essentially purchasing two dresses for our daughter since she could not decide between two.  Moreover, my daughter had suggested that because I was so haggard looking late that night, wearing my favorite well-worn plaid shirt, my tattered jeans, my twenty-five-year-old Bears hat and my “garbage taking out and gardening shoes” inherited from my late father, that I looked like a bum.

In the past I might have found that observation insulting, but I told my daughter that while she was trying on dresses, I was looking at myself in the full-length mirror and thinking the same thing.  That if I did not know any better, I would have thought myself a down-and-out bum judging by my appearance.  Again, I may be a pauper compared to many people who I know, but you should not judge a book by its cover.  I would hardly miss another forty-five bucks out of the twelve grand or so that we’ll probably spend this month.

My daughter told her mother that I looked like a poor single father trying to buy his teenage daughter a dress for the first time late at night, which is partly truthful except that I am decidedly middle class and married.  I reminded our daughter that I told the woman that my wife is a Kohl’s member, but she still noted that my appearance probably led her to give us the Kohl’s cash.

My mother did not raise any dummies and I learned never to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I was and remain grateful for the young woman’s generosity.

My wife agreed that it was an extremely generous gesture and suggested that I seek out an opportunity to pay it forward.  Then we went to sleep, her instantly and me hours later as I dreamed of ways to make more money and wondered about the young lady who gave us the forty dollars.


Four days later, I found myself among a group of six economic development professionals spending an afternoon in an executive conference room interviewing local marketing and branding firms to hire for a joint corridor initiative.  Back in my element and dressed in business casual, the young woman might have had second thoughts about giving me Kohl’s cash had she seen me Monday afternoon.

While driving home from another community’s City Hall, I found myself driving past my family’s favorite donut shop after stopping by Walgreens to purchase several bottles of Martinelli’s for our Thanksgiving party.

There was an older African American gentleman who allowed me to step in front of him to purchase a dozen donuts.  I was very decisive – three pumpkin spice donuts, three apple cider, two coconuts, two mint chocolates and two sour creams.

The total was eleven and some change.  Breaking fifty dollar bills daily now in anticipation of accumulating cash to give my family for their Disney World trip next month, I paid with a fifty and received nearly forty dollars back in change.

I looked at the man who had let me go in front of him for a few moments, wondering what he was doing exactly.  I did not want to be intrusive or offensive in any way, but I did hover about.

After I was given my change, he approached the cashier and asked her to run his card again.  I watched for a few seconds as he tried handing the cashier a BMO Harris Bank debit MasterCard with the Chicago Bulls logo on it.

“I already tried that card,” the cashier explained.

I shook my head, thinking how rough that must be to have your plastic rejected at a donut shop.  That’s when it struck me.

“Excuse me,” I said to the cashier.  “But I’d like to buy this guy his donuts.”

Dumbfounded, like maybe she had never encountered such a situation, she told me that it is the same price as mine, eleven and some change.  I told her that’s fine and handed her a twenty as I noticed that the guy had a cup of coffee and an additional bag with some cookies in it.

“Add the coffee and whatever’s in the bag,” I told her.  She rang it up at $13.65, and I waited for my change.

Like I felt at the Kohl’s late Thursday night, the recipient of the donuts, cookies and coffee was nearly speechless.  He thanked me sincerely and shook my hand with both of his hands and I could feel his deep gratitude at this unexpected generosity.

I shrugged it off, said “enjoy” and headed to my car as if I do something like that every day.  Doing that not only made my day.  It made my entire week.

I imagined him telling his own wife or coworkers or whoever he was sharing the donuts with about how some random guy paid for his purchase on a Monday afternoon after his MasterCard did not work.  Perhaps he’ll hand a few bucks to someone who needs it more than he does soon.

I realize that I am still twenty-six bucks ahead when it comes to random generosity this past week, but there is no statute of limitations on me helping someone out with more cash here and there as opportunities arise.

I just wish that I would have thought of paying for a stranger’s baked goods without that young lady having paid for my daughter’s dresses.  But her generosity is something that definitely took me by surprise and that I will not soon forget and that has now been memorialized on the Middle Class Guy blog.

May we both remember to give thanks and look for those opportunities to pay it forward.

 

 

A Soldier’s Advice

I have a friend who was a member of a special forces unit of the Navy during the Vietnam War.  I call it  war rather than a conflict because what else could you call it if he lived outside, slept in foxholes, fought battles in the jungle, watched many a fellow soldier die and killed more Viet Cong than he could count?

It was definitely a war.

My friend will tell some stories, but does not wish to share any gory details.  He is a great guy, not doing so well these days physically as he is seventy-two years old and suffers from numerous health problems, but he is still the toughest guy that I know.  He has nine medals in a case and receives two monthly pension payments for his efforts in Vietnam.  He also collects two additional pension payments, one from the Carpenter’s union, which he spent about twenty years in as a foreman after the war, and another from IMRF, Illinois’ municipal pension system that I currently contribute to and which he contributed to for twenty-five years.  I met him at my current place of work and we became very close following a rough start to our relationship, but in the spirit of forgiveness and wanting to get along, I let bygones be bygones.

I should add that he and his wife raised not six, not seven or even eight, but nine children.  Six are biologically theirs and three were adopted from my friend’s wife’s sister who was incapable of raising her own three children for reasons unknown to me and none of my business.  I have heard a lot about his children and grandchildren but have never met any of them.

I should have called him on Veteran’s Day or at least texted him, but I did not and now it seems rude to thank him for his service a week later.  I’ll take him out for a cup of coffee instead, since he can no longer eat most foods.  He is not dying, but he is not in great shape either.

Image result for the reason you're alive matthew quick

I mention my retired friend because I recently read a book whose main character reminded me quite a bit of him.  The book was great and is titled The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick.

Although I read about a hundred self-help and financial books in a row, having shifted from reading nothing but fiction for many years to reading nothing but How to Change Your Way of Thinking/Become Wealthier/How to Become More Successful books for most of 2016 and 2017, I have read about ten works of fiction throughout October and November.

I still read self-help books, but not quite as many as before.

Ironically, some of the best advice that I read of late was from the point of view of David Granger, the protagonist in Quick’s novel.  After sixty-eight-year-old Granger crashes his BMW, medical tests reveal a brain tumor that he readily attributes to his wartime Agent Orange exposure.  He wakes up from surgery repeating a name no one in his civilian life has ever heard—that of a Native American soldier whom he was once ordered to discipline. David decides to return something precious he long ago stole from the man he now calls Clayton Fire Bear.

The novel goes from there and we follow along as the opinionated and goodhearted American patriot fights like hell to stay true to his red, white, and blue heart, even as the country he loves rapidly changes in ways he doesn’t always like or understand.

The inspirational words are given as the narrator explains that, despite his cursing, fighting and politically incorrect way of doing things, he became a highly successful millionaire banker in the years following his return stateside.

“When you have watched your friends die in your arms, felt the flesh rot off your feet, and gone nose to nose with pure evil, going the extra mile with an investor – laughing at his dumb jokes, having that extra late-night drink when you’d much rather be home with your family, and sniping the in-house competition by inserting the right word at the right time into the boss’s ear –  it’s like R&R in Hawaii compared to wartime Vietnam.”

Wow!  I began to view my own stress and anxiety in a slightly different light after reading that passage.

The narrator continues, “I used to just laugh when my fellow bankers complained about their imaginary stress.  I was the apex predator in any jungle or boardroom, and I made sure everyone was damn sure aware of that fact…People in power take care of the apex predator.  Always.  Doesn’t matter if we are wearing suits or camouflage.  The rules are the same.”

I make no claim as being the apex predator in a room.  As a matter of fact, my new boss’s bumbling, dumb but aggressively and loudly stated questions and statements somehow led to his being rapidly promoted through our bureaucracy.  He is far from an apex predator, but his size and aggressive manner tend to make sure that the powers that be take care of him always, as the above quote attests to.

Reading the fictional account of how Granger rose in the banking industry after taking out dozens of Viet Cong for weeks in the jungle with a bloodthirsty Cambodian partner named Tao, I must concede that my own worries pale in comparison with something like that.

In the book, which I suggested that my wife read even though she may be offended by the narrator’s blunt description of gays, Blacks, Asians and other minorities, the narrator is sent to a psychiatrist following his MIA days in the jungle.  She suggests that both the killing spree and his partner in crime were just figments of his imagination, attributable to the stressful situation that he was in, not wanting to consider that his story was true.

The story reminded me of my friend’s account of being MIA with three other soldiers for three months, detached from the rest of their unit in a major battle where only a handful lived to tell of it.  When they finally reconnected with other Americans, they were well over one hundred miles away from where they had been ambushed and had been living off of the foliage for ninety days, killing anyone or anything that moved.  The four of them had lost most of their body weight.

He has never given me an approximation, nor would I ask, but he has told me more than once that he and his two other buddies from New York who he was stranded with lived by their wits like animals in the jungle, just trying to survive.  One of the four was horribly injured and could not walk at all, and the biggest of the three remaining soldiers carried him the entire way for weeks on end.  Talk about owing someone your life!

I told my friend that he should record his experiences with Story Corps, but his reply is that he didn’t know why the fuck they were sent there in the first place, he was happy as hell to get the fuck out of there after an eighteen month tour, and he never wants to think about it again but is okay with collecting the pension payments.

I can’t say that I would feel any differently.

But the next time that I am feeling a high amount of stress and anxiety, like I was today at about 10:30 a.m. when I simultaneously had my boss, a local business person, a sales person and a broker looking for me at the very same time, I should remember what true stress is.

Compared to what my buddy went through fifty years ago in the jungles of Vietnam, dealing with a young boss walking in while two people are calling me and another person is dropping in is like a vacation in Hawaii.

 

 

Entering My Prime

I’m a numbers guy.

Although my profession is not as an accountant, trader, financial advisor, engineer, mathematician or someone who you would associate with numbers, I am nonetheless a numbers person.

I found math fairly easy until multilinear calculus, which I totally bombed in college.  I made the mistake of scoring nearly perfect scores in math on the SAT, ACT and college placement test administered by the UW back in the late eighties, and thus placed into a 500-level math class my first semester.

At the age of seventeen, I bombed out on multilinear calculus.

While my roommate, who was later admitted to the business school and has since become a low-level executive with Cisco Systems, was solving for X in the algebra, something that I had mastered in eighth grade, I was attempting to calculate three-dimensional shapes with Asian math majors in their sophomore year and above.

Even though I struggled to earn a five-credit D in that course, setting up my first semester for a horrible GPA, I muddled through and eventually graduated from the UW with a degree in communication studies.  I later became a P.O., slogged my way through graduate school at night while working as a P.O., then making a career turn into the field of economic development two years after obtaining my MPA, back in fall of 2000.

All the while, I have remained a numbers guy.

In my current profession, I deal with numbers all the time. However, they are relatively simplistic and revolve around square footage, property taxes, rental or purchase prices, pricing out contracts for consultants and advertisements, and other similar things.  Nothing that takes multilinear regression analysis, let alone trigonometry, geometry or even simple algebra.

But when faced with turning a crooked, prime number in age this month, I could not help but consider the number.

Now, 48 is a number that you can sink your teeth into.  It is divisible by many numbers besides 1 and 48 including 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, and 24.  It is a number that I like far better than the one preceding it, although I am in no hurry to fast forward until next November.

So as I turn forty-seven this month, I pause to think and write about where I am in life.  Much of it is good.  Some of it is bad.  Some of it is downright ugly.

 

Two years ago, I began a “45 things that I have learned in 45 years” post, as numerous other bloggers have reflected upon previous to me.  Two things stopped me.  One, I did not yet have a blog although I had been thinking and overthinking about starting one for about four years prior to actually starting one.  Two, I started writing things down and realized that most of what I have learned was so trite and written so many times before that it started boring me to death.

So instead of boring you with my current list of forty-seven truisms that I have discovered while being a keen observer and participant in many things for 4.7 decades, I have instead begun writing down some less overplayed things that I have learned in anticipating of a self-published eBook revolving around the “50 things theme” that I will most likely work on throughout 2020 in anticipation of launching it that November.

I do not expect it to become a best-seller, but I would anticipate selling a few hundred or perhaps few thousand copies to other fifty-year-olds although most of them have likely learned the same things that I have.

So here I am, turning forty-seven around Thanksgiving.  Much of what I have learned has been learned the hard way.  Much has been given to me over those many years, and much has been taken away from me too.

As a lifelong learner, I have never stopped learning new things and new skills on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis.  As a professional economic developer, if I fail to keep up with the latest and greatest best practices, I will get left behind.  Not only are there some people around town coveting my position, some of them even work in my new department, and they were raised on the Internet and apps the way that I was raised on printed books, magazines and newspapers.

Not Really My Prime

Despite the title of this post, I am really far beyond my prime when it comes to many things.  Without going into great detail, I would put my athletic prowess as having peaked about twenty years ago in the late nineties when I was at a nicely divisible age, twenty-seven.  I had become a much better baseball player in my mid- to late-twenties than I ever was during high school and college, despite having already become a full-time stressed out employee who also went to graduate school.

In 1998, the summer after I obtained my master’s degree, and during which our son was born in July, I put up massive hitting numbers as a hard-hitting left fielder for the semi-pro baseball team that I played on.  My father had been a member of the team for decades, and my brother and I followed in his footsteps.  My brother was and remains a better player than I am and was freshly out of having been a college baseball player.

Despite barely sleeping at all that summer, I batted over .400 and was whacking home runs at a record pace, about twenty in forty games.  My father had bought me a Louisville Slugger “Air Attack” bat that has since been outlawed in college baseball due to its light weight and pressurized “bladder” within the bat that would help make the ball absolutely explode off the bat, and stroke the ball hard I did game after game.  Let me tell you, it is a good feeling to fully connect on a fastball with a bat like that and watch it sail through the air knowing that it is a sure home run.  I have not had that feeling since my baseball prime nearly twenty years ago, but it is a feeling that I will never forget.

I still have the bat and it is 35 inches long but only weighs thirty ounces.  I could swing the bat like a whip and frowned upon other teammates borrowing it, although some of them did anyway.  It has sat unused in the laundry room in our basement for many years gathering dust.

Against the same level of competition today, I doubt that I could make contact with a pitch, let alone crush an 80 mile per hour fastball or hanging curve over a fence 370 feet away.  Obviously, I am long past my baseball prime.

When it comes to my running prime, that was more like thirty years ago as a high school junior and then senior, when I could run a mile in under 4:40 and could come close, but not achieve, running three mile cross country races in under sixteen minutes.

I would be lucky to run a mile in under nine minutes now and I am not sure that I could run three miles if my life depended on it.  I could walk three miles, but definitely could not run that distance.  Partly due to a chronic ankle injury that makes me feel more like a prime number sixty-one year old than a forty-seven year old, and partly due to many years of office jobs, overeating, drinking more beer than I should have and not running for several decades.

This is mostly a PG-rated blog, but I must admit that my libido and prowess was far better at seventeen, twenty-seven and thirty-seven than it is at forty-seven.  The desire is still there, but the performance leaves something to be desired.  I have been too proud to “have that talk with my doctor,” preferring nature to take over rather than the miracle of modern medicine.  But in the interest of remaining forthcoming with my writing, I have to admit that by my next prime number birthday (fifty-three), I will just bite the bullet and start paying for “performance enhancing drugs” that should help me feel like a twenty-seven or thirty-seven-year-old again.  I realize that I am not a kid anymore, but asking a doctor to prescribe little blue pills sure does not make you feel young and vibrant.

My drive and ambition does not seem as strong as it once was.  As recently as five or so years ago, I still considered myself an up and coming economic development official who could determine my own future where it comes to where I would work next.  I knew that I was good at what I do and would be a prime candidate for the best positions in the area as older practitioners retired and these towns sought out new economic development leaders.

Well, my dream job became available at about that time and I eagerly applied for it.  To make a long story short, the final two candidates boiled down to Yours Truly and my best long-term friend in the field.  They chose him over me, and he has gone on to achieve great success, attributable as much to the town where he works as to his own efforts.  My efforts have likely been greater, yet my results have paled in comparison to his.  I spend a lot of time squeezing lemons into lemonade while he spends his time choosing between steak and lobster.

Two years after that, my own hometown’s economic development official retired after a long, distinguished career and I threw my name into the hat.  Once again, I was a finalist for the position, but ultimately lost out to someone more like my new boss’s age (thirty-two) than middle forties, and his salary was about $25,000 less than the $100,000+ that I had quoted as my desired income.  He, too, has done a fine job at the position, although I would have done better.  But he costs far less than I do, did not demand an extra week of vacation per year like I did (three instead of two) and his energy level at least appears higher than mine.

So in late 2017, I am taking orders from someone with little to no knowledge of economic development, someone who favors a quick nickel over a slow dime as I do, and someone who fits the “boss” moniker far better than “leader,” like my former boss was.

In short, I have passed my prime when it comes to being an up-and-coming economic development professional.  I have slowly been forced into becoming more bureaucratic, often favoring politics, expediency and appearance over what is the right thing to do.

Hitting My Prime

So is all lost?  Am I hopelessly past my prime?

In some ways Yes, but in others it is a resounding No.

For one, I have now worked with so many businesses in my seventeen years as an economic developer, learning a little bit from every one of them from the richest and most successful multi-millionaires to the lowliest shopkeepers and restaurateurs whose businesses never made it to the six month mark.

I suppose that a “What I have learned from working with a thousand businesses” would be a better-selling and more compelling read than what I typically write, but it would be a monumental task for me to go through my notes and recollections to embark upon such an endeavor.  I would not want to go half-assed about it and a project like that would take me several years of night and weekend writing.  It is just too much for me to contemplate at this point.  Furthermore, much of it would repeat things that have already been written to death, namely the importance of focusing on a missing niche in a particular market, offering memorable and interactive customer service, and always providing goods and services at a fair price.  For the most part, the successful businesses that I have worked with in whatever capacity have always naturally done those things.

I am spending much of my time these days contemplating launching my own e-Commerce business and, although my customers may never interact with me face-to-face, I still understand the importance of providing timely, courteous service and providing the goods at a fair price.

When it comes to launching my own business, I could do so far better as a forty-seven-year-old or older than I could have ten or twenty years ago.  I understand the value of a dollar more than I did then, I understand the power of social media more with every passing year, and I have learned to value relationships and customers more with every passing year.

Experience is a great teacher, and I have a world of experience now that nobody in their thirties could possibly have, although their tech skills could blow mine out of the water.

I am also hitting my prime when it comes to regaining my former level of grittiness.  Having fallen into a routine of eat, sleep, work, repeat, I have now decided to regain some of my chutzpah or moxie or whatever you want to call it.

The closer I get to attaining retirement status, the more that I am able to worry less about getting let go from my job due to political pressure.  Not that I want to fast forward to my fifties, but once I hit the Big Five-Oh, I will be a mere five years away from a decent retirement package.  I can’t even imagine how I would feel at the next prime number age, fifty-three, if I am still working for local municipal government in Illinois.  I would have only two years to go and, while nobody wants to be downsized at that age, I would be very close to being able to say “F You” to the asshole powers that be, at least in my mind.

So while it is true that I could be happier with my career trajectory, and could be happier with my boss and department and co-workers at my place of employment, I am going to continue being myself this next year of my life, only more so.  As I have told my boss in relation to a very difficult situation that I recently worked on: I thought to myself about how a particularly well-known and admired economic development official who served as one of my mentors would handle a particular situation.  I have called him a few times to ask, and he has always dispensed great advice.

Then it dawned on me like a lightbulb going off over my head: However I would handle it is the way that a great economic development practitioner would handle it.  I have been doing this for seventeen years, have become certified and always engage in best practices, take my ethics very seriously and have them posted on my office wall just a few feet from where I sit, and there is no reason that I cannot formulate a plan to handle things the right way on my own.

So while I may not be viewed as an up-and-coming economic development practitioner when it comes to competing for a job with a younger, cheaper competitor, the only one stopping me from being even better at what I do is the man in the mirror.

So Yes, I am striving to break out of my mental malaise of viewing every day, month and year as a grind to be survived just to move onto the next one.  I am so looking forward to 2018, not in the sense that I will be magically transformed into a vibrant, energetic new person soaring to great heights of success, but in the sense that I intend on taking actual, measurable baby steps toward being the kind of person that I strive to be.

I concede to more than my fair share of regrets, unfulfilled dreams, guilt, disillusionment and missed opportunities.  But at the prime number age of forty-seven, does that mean that I should just pack it in, slogging through the days, weeks and months until death takes me?  Fuck no!  There is no rule or law that I have seen or heard that says one cannot improve him or herself in your late forties.  Many a person has done so, and I plan on becoming another.

For too long, I have buried my writing and business aspirations due to having a demanding, stressful full-time career that I often feel that I am holding onto by a mere thread.  I always do my best to contribute to my family life, whether it is tending to the yard, doing dishes, preparing an occasional meal, schlepping kids to and from school and other activities, and trying to assist my widowed mother as much as possible.

I have gladly accepted my roles as a good son, a good husband, a good father and a good provider and, let me tell you, that is not always such an easy thing to do.  Just ask the millions upon millions of people who do not have a good son, husband, father or provider.  Many men are none of the four.

So beyond losing a large amount of my physical prowess, which is hardly unique to me among middle aged men glued to desks over forty hours per week and who do not work out much, there are many other things that I am good at and intend to improve upon.

Money is not the only thing in life but, like it or not, the need and desire for more and more of it is not going away.  As much as I yearn to become financially independent, like many of my favorite bloggers and writers have already achieved, I recognize the ongoing need to keep making more and more of it to continue feeding our middle class suburban lifestyle.  So long as I can keep on top of the economic development game, I should remain gainfully employed for the foreseeable future, and the only person holding me back from becoming a better earner and supplementing my income through my writing and business ideas is me.

As is the case with so many other things, thinking, writing and saying something is just like a fart in the wind.  Doing something concrete, that’s where it’s at.

So when it comes to doing new things, even uncomfortable things with a certain amount of risk, so long as it helps me become a better, more likeable and more successful person, I am ready to hit my prime.

Minding My Own Business

As the weekend rolls around, I inevitably begin dreaming about something that many, if not most, of us do: starting my own business.

Nearly thirty years ago, as I was embarking for my college career, I recall my late father’s best friend giving me the excellent advice to start my own business and work for myself instead of spending a career toiling for others.

Not having any business sensibility at all at the time and not being the type of dude who wanted to sell anything, I would not say that I ignored his advice, but I certainly never took it.  It was the late eighties and, although the Internet may have existed in its infancy for some, it was not something that anybody I knew had ever heard or dreamed of.

Following my four-and-a-half years of liberal brainwashing, drinking and partying at UW-Madison, I emerged with a largely useless degree in Communications back in December 1992.  Incidentally, the UW was ranked the top party school in the country when I attended, just as it was ranked again last year.

I know that the current generation of recent college grads think that this is the worst economy ever and that they will forever be relegated to temporary gigs and jobs that do not require college degrees, but it was much the same back in the early nineties.  Between my three closest friends at the time and myself, I was a court clerk and then later became a probation officer, my best friend worked at Blockbuster and tried his hand at selling shoes prior to pursuing certification in computers, my tallest friend and basketball buddy worked as a customer service representative prior to obtaining a master’s in education, and my college roommate spent years in the Peace Corps.

I somehow ended up becoming a long-time economic development professional, my best friend has now spent twenty-two years as an IT professional for Blue Cross, my tall friend has been a school principal for quite a few years after becoming a teacher, and my college roommate is an executive with Cisco Systems.  They have all attained upper middle class status, while I toil away an economic rung below them.

I have spent nearly a quarter of a century working in office jobs, answering to many bosses less knowledgeable than I about many things, dressing in various degrees from casual to formal, attending night meeting after night meeting, writing an endless amount of staff reports, sending and receiving hundreds of emails per week and all the other stuff associated with office jobs.

What I have never done is worked for myself besides writing blog posts and self-publishing one title so far with more to come.

Like many other people, what I dream of more and more is starting my own business, in particular something online that I can work on during evenings, weekends, holidays and off days and perhaps even during my lunch break.


This dream was reinforced to me several times this week, the first time being during a long conversation with a fellow economic development professional in a nearby community.  I have become very friendly with this guy and have learned that besides being a very capable and professional economic development professional, he is a partner in a craft brewery in Chicago and also brews out of his home.

Besides getting myself in line for some of his upcoming batches, which he makes available to friends and family, we chatted about the age of fifty-five.  Now, depending on your perspective, you may think that fifty-five is way too old to work for the Man, you may think that it is a very early age to retire or, like me, you may think that it is just about right.

Image result for double nickel 55

For us municipal employees in Illinois, we can retire at the age of fifty-five at the earliest, and if you work for an employer that participates in IMRF, like I do, you will collect a defined-benefit pension based upon your years of service and your highest average salary over a period of forty-eight consecutive months.  If I can survive eight more years of Illinois municipal employment at my current or comparable level of income, I would be in line for about a $6,500 monthly pension at the age of double nickels, an amount that would increase three percent per year for as long as I live.  Should my wife survive me, she would collect exactly half of what I would.  Also, we pay into social security, which is not effected by IMRF.

The point is that, while some public officials have gigantic salaries and more than a few taxing districts in the Land of Lincoln game the system to boost pension payments for politically connected employees, the vast majority of us will collect a pension that will allow us to cover our basic needs but not much more.  Thus, that is the reason that so many colleagues my age and older are planning their exit strategies and their next careers or jobs to get them through ten years, from the age of fifty-five to social security age if that will still exist in the coming decades.

I always loosely planned on going to work heading up a private/public economic development partnership at the age of fifty-five.  I was recruited to head one up a few years back and at a salary higher than what I currently make.  Making a decision that made me feel like a bureaucrat at the time, something that I resolved never to become, I declined submitting myself for consideration, explaining to the organization that I already had twenty-two years in IMRF and was aiming for thirty-three, which I would have at the end of 2025.

Jokingly, I told them that I would be interested in the job in eleven more years.  Who knows?  A guy nearly ten years younger than I am took the job and perhaps he will be ready to move on to bigger and better things when I am looking to go into the private sector, as many a long-time government official has done.  By then, they probably will not want to hire an out-of-shape guy with thinning gray hair even though I would have had a quarter century of hard-fought economic development experience by then.  I have already suffered blatant age discrimination at least once, and I am sure that will not lessen as one becomes older.

So where does that leave me?

If I do not plan on working for a local government past the age of fifty-five and if a public/private partnership in the area does not see fit to hire me to head up their economic development organization, how can I make the extra money that my wife and I will undoubtedly need to get by when 2026 rolls around?  Our insurance and medication costs will probably run us two thousand a month alone before we pay for anything else.

Also, our daughter will still be of graduate or professional school age and I suppose that she will also want to get married at some point, although I really don’t want to think about that yet.  The point is that the need to continue fueling the spending of a middle aged middle class family in the Midwest will not cease to exist upon New Year’s day of 2026 if I am no longer employed full-time in a municipal job.  We’ll likely require as much, if not more, income than we currently have.

The idea of launching my own business was double reinforced by two articles I read this past week.

I hate these titles of how young go getters make millions, yet they achieve their purpose by getting me to click on them, ultimately running ads that make the websites a few bucks, and then making me feel like an utter failure in comparison.

The first article on CNBC  is titled “How a 33-year-old turned $200 into $1 million in 92 days selling Kevlar pants online” which says it all.  In a nutshell, young Trevor Chapman now travels the world and lives a life of leisure after launching an e-commerce site called LDSMan.com through which he sells products sourced from China at great mark-ups.  It is an inspirational read and caused me to, once again, contemplate launching my own online store.

At first, I grappled throughout the week wondering what kind of crap I should sell online.  I could not think of any tangible objects that I have a particular affinity for besides books, and that industry is very well covered.

So here is my list, and I will continue thinking a lot about it.  Knowing myself as I do, I will undoubtedly overthink it, but I am sincere in wanting to launch an e-commerce site.  It will not necessarily become one of my resolutions for 2018, but I may do it nonetheless.

The things that I like besides books are shirts, music-related items, and cool things for my pet.  When I say shirts, I mean shirts for dudes, not high-end dress shirts for lawyers or fashionable men.  I mean the kind of tee-shirts and plaid shirts that dudes like me and the fictional Mike Heck wear.

What do you think of a site that sells books, shirts for men, music-related items and toys for pets?  Perhaps with a name like “Dudes Who Love Dogs.”  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Not so great.  Especially considering that women shop and spend more online than us dudes do.

My other idea for a site name would be a play on the buyer/seller relationship, like “Buyer’s Cellar” or “Discount Cellar.”  Just brainstorming here.  Or perhaps brain farting.

 

The second article that I read in that vein is “This 28-year-old’s company makes millions buying from Walmart and selling on Amazon.”  Well, who couldn’t do that?

I’ll take that one step further.  In my highly suburban lifestyle, living in one northwest suburb and working in another, I drive past Walmart, Target, Menard’s,  Kohl’s, Home Depot, Ross Dress For Less and dozens of other big box and discount retailers every day commuting to and from work.

I would gladly troll the discount and clearance aisles at any or all of the above retailers for closeout items and would purchase them if I could resell them for profit.  Especially considering what the return policies may be, you could always return an item within sixty or ninety days or whatever if they did not sell.

If I could purchase one thousand worth of goods at Walmart this weekend and sell them for $1,200, I would do it.  Wouldn’t you?

It would even behoove me to spend several thousand dollars purchasing these goods before I file the FAFSA, showing less money in our family’s coffer.  I never saw any line for reporting inventory of crap to sell as an asset in the form.

The article about young Ryan Grant got me seriously thinking about doing what he does, too, which I suppose is the point of the article besides selling the ads that scroll by while I read it.

I already suffer with my own clutter problems, and our house already severely lacks space for additional “stuff,” but if I could sell things here and there for profit, I think that my wife would be okay with it.

Ultimately, the goal is to make some additional money, which my family, like yours, could certainly use.

We just notched our sixth month in a row where more money went out than came in, which makes me nervous with the holiday season coming up.  Besides being the most wonderful part of the year, it is our most expensive part of the year, too.

$11,400 out last month and $10,800 in

To our defense, upon reviewing our bank statement today, about half of the money that flowed out is due to the $2,500 monthly payment to our son’s college, and my wife’s $3,000+ credit card bill included $2,450 for a new central air conditioning unit, something that you can hardly live without in this day and age in the Midwest.

My own Visa bill was $600 for the month and I Paid Ourselves First to the tune of another $1,100 and contributed $400 to our daughter’s 529 plan, as we do automatically on the first of every month.  Our mortgage payment is adjustable and increased to 4%, so I need to refinance that, as well, to save a few bucks.

Still, you do not need to be a CPA or hold an MBA in finance to know that you cannot continually spend and invest more than you take in month after month.  There are three ways to address this: (1) spend less; (2) earn more: or (3) spend less and earn more.

What I would like to do, but is unlikely, is spend less and earn more.  Unfortunately, spending less does not seem like a likely scenario.  My best alternative is one shared by millions of other Americans and people beyond our country, and that is to pursue more of the Almighty Dollar.

So how to start?

Although I have worked with hundreds of businesses throughout my seventeen years of working in economic development, I have primarily worked with businesses with storefront, industrial or office locations.

I have little to no experience working with online businesses, although many of the businesses in my community sell more items online than in their brick and mortar locations.

But when it comes to sourcing items from overseas or seeking out items to profit by arbitrage, I am at a loss.  Just like you, marveling at how others have done it, experiencing more than a little bit of the green eyed monster and wondering if I might also grab a little bigger slice of the American Dream, myself.

Speaking of being a long-time economic developer and sourcing items from Asia, indulge me in one last quick story.

Originally intended to be a post on its own, I unwittingly forged a connection to producers of various goods in Hong Kong and Taiwan about ten years ago.

I was working for the same community that I currently work for, and our successful and expanding business park was still in its earlier stages.  In 2006,  I was contacted by a well-known Chicago area industrial broker looking for a large tract of industrial land in the Chicago area, but not within Crook County, on behalf of a Taiwanese-based manufacturer of furniture.  They would continue fabricating the components in the Republic of China, which I later learned is the same as Taiwan, ship them by cargo ship and rail to our community, and then assemble the items and ship them from their new location.

Two acres of chairs that I snuck a photo of before this company left our town.

Speaking of Walmart, they were the primary purveyor of furniture-related goods to the biggest retailer in the world.

Due to the Taiwanese holding economic development officials in high esteem, they invited me and my wife, along with the Mayor and his wife, to a State-sponsored dinner celebrating Taiwan’s 100th anniversary in Chicago six years ago, in 2011.

Take it from me, nobody anywhere has ever enjoyed a better dinner of Chinese, albeit technically Taiwanese, food.  I could describe the plates, but you will have to trust me on this one.

We were placed at a table with Taiwanese government officials including trade representatives, economic development representatives and even a few ambassadors.  The distinguished Taiwanese man who sat on the other side of my wife was quite taken by her, and I was wondering what the etiquette was for sitting idly by while a Taiwanese dignitary complements your wife’s hair, physique and manner.  I demurred, acknowledging that my wife was a fine American lady, which she was and still is.

We all exchanged business cards, including with several from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Next thing I knew, I began receiving print and electronic materials from the Hong Kong trade office on a regular basis.  As a recipient of over seventy emails per day in my personal Yahoo! account and even more at work every day, I marked the constant Hong Kong emails as spam, yet they still worm their way into my inbox on a regular basis.

I also receive their full-blown catalog of all of the State-sponsored companies that produce and sell the kind of stuff that we Americans purchase in stores and order from online businesses.

For the first few years, I would send the catalog straight to the recycle bin, but the past two years I have looked through it with a high level of interest.  You may or may not know it, but when you purchase some product, say a lamp, at the Home Depot or Target, you may pay $19.99, $29.99, $49.99 or even more depending on how nice it is.  You probably never thought or cared that the product cost the Home Depot or Target about one-fifth of the price, with even more having been spent to get it from where it was produced overseas and onto the shelf in front of you, and another one-fifth or more to pay for the real estate where it sits waiting for you to purchase it, and another fifth or so to pay for the friendly retail employees there to assist you.  Target may book ten percent or so of the sales price as their profit, thus satisfying shareholders and helping make the retail world continue going around.

What you may not know is that you can purchase that lamp that retails for $49.99 yourself for $5 or $10 directly from the manufacturer, but they are not necessarily interested in selling one lamp to you when they can sell 50,000 at a time to a retail store.

But if you could establish a link to one of these producers that makes more than lamps, like additional household goods, and will ship them directly on your behalf – well, now you’re in business.

I don’t know if you will ever see a CNBC article titled “How a 48-year-old middle class guy made a few extra bucks shipping some crap from Taiwan and reselling some crap from Walmart,” but it sure would be important to me and my family.

According to America’s Kauffman Foundation, the average and median age of US-born tech founders is 39, with twice as many over 50 than under 25.

The Kauffman Foundation further reports that in every year from 1996 to 2013, Americans in the 55-to-64 age group started new businesses at a higher rate than those in their twenties and thirties. And the trend is building. Those ages 55 to 64 started 14 percent of all new businesses in 1996 but nearly 24 percent of them in 2013.  I do not know what the percentage is now, but I suspect that it is the same or higher.

Whatever my own business is to be, I sincerely plan on launching it prior to turning fifty-five.  It may only sell a pair of socks to my mother, but it will most definitely sell something to somebody.

So while it is clear that age is by no means a barrier to startup success, the question then turns to the advantages and disadvantages  –if any– of starting your business at a particular age in life.

In the January 2016 issue of Entrepreneur magazine, Neil Petch wrote that while the young may appear to have less to lose, the slightly older entrepreneur has a more stable foundation from which to launch. Having already spent quality years within the workplace, older entrepreneurs tend to be more financially stable and have a clearer vision of exactly what they want to achieve and how they plan to achieve it. They also have the added benefit of having been able to learn valuable business lessons while employed– in a sense, they have been able to learn from their mistakes while on the payroll.

In my case, I have learned more from the mistakes of others while assisting businesses in the community where I work.  As previously written, they are in brick and mortar locations, which often proves to be the primary source of stress and failure on their part: failing to be able to cover their overhead costs including rent or mortgage payments, property tax, utilities, payroll and all of their vendors.  Most of those businesses do little to no marketing, citing that they have to pay their rent before they can spend anything on advertising or marketing, and they are too busy trying to survive to take a step back and assess the bigger picture.

The successful business people make it look easy and seem to do things naturally.  Furthermore, when you commend them or note that they do things better than other business owners that I know, they act dumbfounded and cannot understand why others would not do things the right way.  In the case of restaurants, I am no Robert Irvine or Gordon Ramsay, but the combination of good food, good service, good location and fair prices always seems to do the trick.

But I have no interest in cooking food for others or opening a service business.  Given the chance to do it all over again, I might consider becoming an accountant, attorney or dentist, but late forties is about two decades too late for that in my book.

No, I want to launch an e-selling business with some combination of outsourcing from overseas and reselling marked down goods for profit.  It could even help me obtain a new car, since I would need a larger car to transport the crap that I buy from the big box stores and sell for profit.

The source of a future post, many of the great business-minded gurus including Rich Dad and many others offer the advice to incorporate yourself as much as possible.  After all, if I use a portion of my house to store this stuff, and I use my car to drive to and from Walmart, Target and other retailers, than is not a portion of my home and vehicle tax deductible?  The computer and software that I use to track inventory?  Fees for domain registration, website design and ads?  Yes, yes and yes.

The further beauty of it is that if it earns. let’s say, $10,000 in a year, instead of jacking up my personal income tax by another $1,500 to $2,000, it should be almost nothing because corporate taxes on a business that earns $10,000 but spends $5,000 is zilch.

I am not yet ready to make “Start an e-commerce business” a resolution for 2018, but I am going to do more research, consider a proper name for it, consider where to incorporate it (anywhere but my home state), consider how much to invest in it, research how to connect with producers in Hong Kong or elsewhere, and start taking a hard look at the clearance aisles in local retailers instead of walking past them as fast as possible.

After all, the crap that is sitting on some shelves a few miles away from where I type this may be just the things that you are willing to buy from the Discount Cellar.

 

 

Reclaiming Our Purpose

My Purpose

It is no secret that those who feel their lives have an important purpose believe that their lives are meaningful and more satisfying.

Those with purpose are more resilient, grittier and motivated to accomplish their goals and achieve their resolutions, not just their New Year’s resolutions like I am obsessed with and you are reading about, but long-term goals and resolutions.

Purpose involves making a contribution to the world.  It has an external component that goes beyond just seeking your own comfort and happiness, but contributing to matters larger than yourself.

In my case, my purpose has primarily become to support my family the best that I can, and not just financially.  I want to help them thrive and achieve the most that they can with the gifts that God has bestowed upon them.  This includes an abundance of moral support, encouragement and helping them with a never-ending list of little things.  If my children or wife need something from me, it is my intention to provide it.

As an economic developer employed by a municipality in the Chicago suburbs, I sincerely work on a daily basis to help businesses, developers and property owners thrive and contribute to a vibrant and expanding economy.  Given the time, I could write over a thousand pages on the subject of economic development, but for those of you unfamiliar with what economic developers do, we are typically employed by government entities work to expand and diversify our communities’ tax bases. We recruit new businesses, retain existing ones and assist businesses when they can expand operations locally.  Wisegeek.com has a fairly accurate synopsis of what we economic developers do.

As a certified professional in the field and having worked in this capacity for over seventeen years now since working as a P.O., as detailed in my book The Probation Officer, I have come to realize that not only can I do well in the eyes of my employer and support my family in the suburban middle class lifestyle that we have become accustomed to, but I can truly help those who wish to open their own first business in my town or perhaps expand into a second and third business.  I enjoy working with single proprietor business owners the most because those are the entrepreneurs that I can relate to the best.

Anybody could work with Starbucks, McDonald’s or 7-Eleven.  Those corporations have attorneys, engineers and architects on staff who can apply your community’s set of Zoning and Building Code regulations to their projects with little to no help from municipal staff.  Fortune 500 companies including those three have been among the easiest companies that I have ever worked with.  Not so easy is explaining to a former teacher or someone who worked for other restaurants for decades how to select the ideal location, how to best negotiate with a landlord or seller, and how to navigate our community’s complex approval process.

Besides my primary purpose of supporting my family and striving to be a better person, my secondary purpose is to assist aspiring business owners and to bolster the economy of the community that employs me.

Your Purpose

You undoubtedly have different strengths, talents, insights and experiences than I do.  Things that you have done, that have been done to you, and that you have learned about and worked hard to accomplish differ from my own experiences.  Taking that a step further, some things that I have done may seem nearly impossible to you, while others are too mundane to mention.  By the same token, if you have ever repaired a car engine on your own, built a structure or composed a great song, then I am in awe of you.

Seeking your purpose requires a great deal of reflection and knowledge about who you are.  You have to consider what kind of person you are and what type of person you want to be.  It may change from year to year, so it is not static.

When you reach middle age, as I have, you begin to question what type of person you have been and whether you are okay with that.  You begin to consider your purpose beyond trying to be a good employee and striving to support your family.  Those are fine purposes, but there must be something else.

Through my considerable amount of reading, thinking and writing about a wide variety of topics since early 2016, I have gained a keener insight into my own true self and have sought a more meaningful life than I had been living.  Writing this is part of that, but only a small part.  I would be better off not writing about it at all, but doing more of what I write about and being more of who I aspire to be.

Do you know exactly who you are, where you came from and where you are heading?  Now is as good a time as any to reflect upon that, gain a firmer grasp of your own identity, core beliefs, values, life goals and, of course, your purpose.  I know and you know that we both could serve a greater purpose than we currently do.

Even though I realize that I jump from one concept to another and it can be difficult enough to achieve things like a list of resolutions, becoming more creative while consuming less, getting more organized, becoming wealthier, gaining grittiness and learning to better appreciate what you have and coveting less material goods, I think that reminding yourself of your greater purpose on a regular basis is an important component of improving yourself that you should never let stray too far from your thoughts.

We Are Storytellers

In The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, author Emily Esfahani Smith draws a distinction between redemption and contamination stories that we spin about our lives.

What she means is that the same thing could happen to two people and, depending on how they internalize and interpret what happened, they could have two very different stories of what transpired.  Positive individuals tend to craft positive identities and tell stories of redemption and what they learned, how they grew and overcame obstacles.  They craft a positive identity for themselves and feel more in control of their lives.

On the other hand, those of us who generally feel stagnation, regression and anxiety when confronted with life’s difficulties and let-downs craft very different stories.

I could tell you a story of feeling like a pawn in a power game earlier this summer after having been transferred from a department where I fit in well, had a boss who I admired and worked my ass of for and felt that I had found my place in our organization to a young, inexperienced and less tactful boss who I do not admire or respect a lot, who urges me to work mostly by email and dropping in my office when I am in the middle of doing something, and where I have to feel around for my place every day.

There are some schools of thought that keeping your employees uncomfortable and on edge is the best way to drive them to greater productivity.  I even agree that that managerial style may, in fact, work well for many workers.  It just does not work well for me.  It makes me feel like instead of being a self-starter and diligent employee who thoughtfully and strategically plans my next move to the (highest) benefit of my community’s economic development, I am now ordered to storm the front lines like the proverbial bull in a China shop in the hopes that we can mow something down.

Nevertheless, I have come to realize that how I interpret the story matters almost as much as what actually transpired.  Someone else in my shoes may interpret the transfer as being wanted by another department, working for a forward-thinking new breed Millennial boss who is ready to do everything in a new way, and that moving from a highly rules-and-regulation-oriented department to a more results-oriented department is a good thing.  Also, that our stress on digital marketing and information processing is the way things are being done now and those who fail to do so will get left behind.

I am sure that you, too, have stories that you tell about your lives, both good and bad, and that they reveal how you understand yourself and how your life has unfolded.

Sometimes I stop and ask myself, “How the fuck did I get here, working for a young boss who was in grade school when I was a grown man, working in a suburban community that fights new development more than welcomes it, yet always wants more and more?”

I ask myself how we ended up living where we live, how I ended up driving a piece of shit car when I always wanted a Porsche, and how can our family be the only one in our community that does not own iPhones and still watches tube TVs?

Well, I can answer all of those questions when I think back to what I have decided my purposes are.  Long ago, I decided that it was more important to me to support my children both emotionally and financially to the best of my ability, which entailed me saving up a whopping number for me, $200,000, or one hundred grand per child, toward their college accounts.

I can assure you that, as a college sophomore attending a highly-ranked private college known for its music programs, our son is more grateful that we pay his way for him than he would be with an iPhone and nicer car.  As a high school sophomore, our daughter would prefer the phone and car for the time being, but I think that may change when she, too, is a college student and hears about the massive debt being taken on by her fellow students.

I do have a lot of stories.  As a matter of fact, there are few situations that I have not encountered along the way.  Some good, some bad and some downright ugly.

Personally, I am striving to overcome my tendency to dwell on negatives and the “woe is me” stories that nobody really wants to hear, anyway.  People prefer to hear and read stories about overcoming adversity, contributing to others and, ultimately, becoming more successful.

That is why you are reading this.  Not to hear about how unhappy I am about my transfer.  I realize that I should be more grateful for what I do have, and I am resolving to improve my outlook not only about the future, but what has already come to pass.  By reframing some of our personal narratives, both you and I will live more purposefully.

Baggage Claim

We all have some baggage to claim, but we must not allow that baggage to hold us back from striving to achieve our purpose.

Our emotional baggage brings fear, guilt, hurt feelings and insecurity.  For most of us, there is at least one major source of pain that impacts the way we view the world.  The baggage can come in many forms, from having suffered abuse, having been bullied, the loss of a loved one, the trauma of having been assaulted, the helplessness with not being able to help someone or yourself with a physical ailment, mental ailment, addiction or incurable disease.

By the time you have reached middle age, as I have, you may have even experienced many or all of the above, and those types of adversity cannot help but breed cynicism, unhappiness and feelings of anxiety or depression.

Although these traumatic experiences can make us feel helpless and leave wounds in our psyche, they make it even more imperative that we show resilience, perseverance and the grittiness to overcome these setbacks, thus making us wiser and strong enough to continue pursuing our purpose.

I could detail all of the baggage that I claim, but it would be boring to read and painful to disclose.  It includes the painful deaths by cancer of several loved ones, having been assaulted and attacked by two thugs who tried to kill me soon after graduating high school, losing out on job opportunities to less qualified and, in one case, a much younger candidate, a painful injury to my ankle in June of 2013 that has become permanent, and my recent unwanted transfer to a young, inexperienced and pushy boss, just to name a few.  I am sure that I could list out dozens more given enough time.

The idea that we can grow to lead deeper and more meaningful lives by overcoming adversity is hardly a new concept, but it is definitely easier to read or hear about someone else doing it than doing it yourself.

Tomorrow

So, tomorrow is Friday, November 10th in 2017.  You may read this soon thereafter, in 2018 or years from now, but what does it mean for tomorrow?

For one, I was going to take a much-needed day off tomorrow, which would have been my twelfth vacation day of the year.  Nothing to exciting about that.  Just another middle aged Middle Class American white male taking a day off to rest his mind and body a bit.

In my quest to take twenty vacation days this year, or at least eighteen, I am going to fail miserably.  I had to cancel my planned vacation day, where I just would have hung out around the house, relax a bit, read a bit, write a bit and take care of some menial home-related tasks.  The reason is that I have too much work piled up, and even if I work on it eight or nine hours straight  tomorrow, I still will not be able to finish everything that I have to do this week.

Am I going to stay until 7:00 PM?  Come in on Saturday?  Take some work home with me?

Hell no!

It’s bad enough that I have to cancel my twelfth vacation day of the year, and with one planned for the day before Thanksgiving on Wednesday the 22nd, and only two planned for the month of December, it seems as if I am going to finish this year having taken a mere fourteen vacation days, well short of my goal.

So tomorrow as I drag myself into the office for yet another busy and stressful day, I am going to remind myself of my purposes.  Tomorrow is a payday, so I will be Paying Ourselves First in the form of a check to my wife’s IRA, and then I will be paying bills and paying for wants and needs for my family as part of my purpose of supporting them to the best of my ability.

One of the bills that I will pay when I get home from work is our monthly $2,500 to our son’s college.  There are more after that, but that is obviously the big one.

Two or possibly three of the projects that I will be working on tomorrow instead of reading in the bathtub and making myself a great lunch will be small things, although not so small to the businesses that ultimately benefit from them, that will boost my community’s economy by small increments.

One of the projects that I will be working on should ultimately result in a multi-million dollar transit-oriented development (TOD) that will become rental housing for upwardly mobile Millennials and empty nesters.

Thus, instead of lamenting my lack of a vacation day, which would in reality be a mental health day in my case, I will take some small measure of comfort in knowing that I am working toward fulfilling my purpose.

My young and inexperienced boss who severely lacks tact may not appreciate it, but you and I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kick More Ass and Kiss Less

This endeavor that we are entering into this New Year is ours alone.  Although I am the king of comparing myself to others when it comes to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the jobs we have, the money we earn, the homes we own and the amount in our investment accounts, we should no longer measure ourselves in that manner.

Instead, we should judge how much we have accomplished or what we are able to accomplish in 2018 and beyond based upon what we have achieved with the gifts that God has gave us including our intellect, our drive and ambition, our work ethic, our conduct and what we have to offer to others.

Neither you nor I are going to magically transform in the course of 365 days just because we want to and think that we can.  We must set measurable goals of things that we have the ability to accomplish or can gain the ability to do so.  You should think about those goals on a weekly basis, if not a daily basis like I do.  Sure, we will let some things slip here and there but, overall, we must consistently strive to accomplish the things that we set out to do in a consistent and methodical way.

For far too long, you and I have both found ourselves trying to claw our way to happiness.  We are always reaching for something else that we believe will bring us closer to true happiness.  In some cases it will, but in other cases it will not.  Me, I would be happier had I remained in my former department and then received even a small promotion when my former boss retired.  Instead, I got transferred to another department and now report to a young, inexperienced, crude and harder-driving boss.  I would be happier if I could make some consistent income above and beyond my bi-weekly paycheck, although I am grateful to have a solid, if difficult, job with a steady paycheck.  I most definitely want a newer car, bigger house and more time off to spend with my loved ones.

I realize that that sort of thinking has held me back from attaining happiness for quite a few years, and perhaps you feel the same way.

Before we take further steps to plan for self-improvement in the coming year, we must take responsibility and acknowledge that we have landed in the jobs that we have, married or divorced the people whom we chose to, live where we chose to live and pursued the things that we do out of personal choice.  We all know relatives and neighbors who grew up in similar circumstances, but one sibling went on to great success while another floundered, or your neighbor who grew up in the same neighborhood and attended the same schools went on success and fortune while you have not.

I could name or describe people on both sides of that coin all day long.  I know one guy who lived in a cramped apartment with several siblings and a single mother who fought and clawed for every single thing growing up, made it into the University of Indiana and now owns a tech firm that provides mobile location-based advertising services to Fortune 500 companies and makes millions. I know another guy who grew up on the north shore and lived in a multimillion dollar house on Lake Michigan, traveled the world before high school ended and never had to lift a finger who grew up and just basically takes drugs and has never held a steady job in his life or done anything worthwhile.

What I am striving for this coming year and am urging you to is to be the best you and me that we can be.  We may not become as successful as our bosses, our neighbors, or the more successful former classmates that we have, or even our siblings, but that is okay.

But can we be better than we are now as I write this and you read this?  Absolutely.  We should make more money, lose some weight, spend more quality time with our families and other loved ones, create more and consume less than we currently do, increase our grittiness, move out some unneeded clutter and increase our overall happiness.

When put like that, it seems like a very tall order.  However, there are baby steps that can be taken to improve all of the above incrementally.  I’m not talking about going from a $50,000 income to a $200,000 income, but if you are making $50K, a good goal may be to make $60K from a small raise at work plus some hustling income from a gig.  If you weigh 230 pounds but dream of getting under 200, you may be able to succeed in doing that in one year, but if you end the year at 220 you have still made good progress in my book.

And if you have gone this entire year and have only taken a handful of vacation days and have not gone anywhere notable, like me, with better planning we should both be able to increase our time off and our travels.  In terms of creating more, I have my own goals set but I am sure that there is something more that you could be doing to create something new instead of watching some sitcom or surfing the net for an extra hour here and there.

If you have dreamed of starting your own business like I have, start your business while you are still working, if you can.  It takes 18-36 months to break even in a small business. If you start before you quit your job you’ll be closer to making money before your cut off your paychecks.

If there are skills or connections you need to learn to operate your business such as computer skills or gaining key industry contacts many times you can get those from your current employer.  Plan your escape from the rat race.  With me, I have been thinking more and more about launching some type of eCommerce site, although I continue mulling over the details.  Like anybody, I do not like failure and want to make it a smashing success, but feel that I will fail if I do not have a solid plan in place and the knowledge of how to go about building it up.

The first thing, and maybe the most important one, is that I have not yet decided exactly what products or type of products that I would sell.  I am not exactly the kind of guy who likes “things.”  The main things that I do like are books, and I do not plan on seeking my fortune as one out of a gazillion online booksellers.  No, I have much more to offer the world than that, but am just not quite sure exactly what that is besides writing things like this.

Our goals may not be accomplished in a one-year timetable and that’s okay.  You and I do not have expiration dates unless, God forbid, we are stricken with an incurable disease or something happens that renders all goal setting moot.  Barring an unforeseen disaster of that nature, our common goal upon me writing this and you reading it is to think hard about ourselves and where we are, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and how we can better utilize our strengths and address our weaknesses to become better, happier, healthier, wealthier and more loving and productive versions of ourselves.

When we ultimately do take those steps and achieve some of these resolutions that we are setting, 2018 will truly be a year that we kick more ass and kiss less of it.