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.

Done Getting Ready to Get Ready

Over the past few years, I have continually put off working on the projects that I really wanted to, including writing this.

The day-to-day challenges of surviving and thriving at a difficult and challenging job, contributing to my family’s well-being and chipping in around the house, and juggling a dizzying amount of bills and payments while trying to Pay Myself First, become grittier and create more while consuming less has made it seem impossible to pursue something above and beyond survival mode.

For a long time, I have awaited that mythical day when everything is going smoothly, things are good, my stock portfolio rises, my family is healthy and happy and things are going so well at work that I can concentrate on pursuing my personal interests to a greater extent.

After waiting for that day to come for many years, I am still waiting.

Well, the wait is over.  I am done getting ready to get ready to self-publish an eBook, sell some of my excess stuff on eBay and perhaps even launch an eSelling business.  The letter E being the key to all three.

 

I have suffered from analysis paralysis, overthinking, excessive worrying and endless internal debate over what, if any, avenues for greater personal fulfillment and additional income to pursue.  Because I enjoy and am fairly decent at writing, I have settled on becoming another voice out there while I continue with my day job.

I have come to realize that even though I cannot preach to you about how I have already achieved an enormous amount of success and wealth, like the best-selling gurus have achieved, if I can deliver thoughtful, actionable insights and help you achieve some positive results, then my credentials are not as important as the gurus’ and I can better myself as I detail how my readers can, too.

I cannot make you improve yourself just by writing these words, just as having read dozens of self-help books over the past two years does not automatically improve my life.  But I have learned a lot, and I happily share what I have learned here.  Besides helping you, writing about it helps reinforce it in my own mind.  I have gone from reading helpful information to owning it.

It is hard enough for me to make myself consistently pursue self-betterment, let alone making you do it.  But I strongly urge you to take what I write to heart and think how you may implement the excellent advice garnered from an eclectic variety of sources from Coach Lou Holtz to the Rich Dad to Dr. Laura.

They all urge their readers to get off their duffs, create plans of actions and then make themselves follow through, as do I.

You and I are done getting ready to get ready, and are ready to start doing in 2018.

 

1,020, $3K, $100K, $102K and $450K

1,020

I am hardly alone in receiving more emails than I can possibly handle.

I have been getting absolutely slammed with them at work, averaging nearly a hundred per day, and not just the typical newsletters and real estate listings that come at me every few minutes 24/7.  I have been getting about twenty per day from actual businesses that exist in the town where I work and from brokers and service providers from every corner of the economic development market in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

So here I am on Saturday morning, November 4th, after a long, difficult and stressful workweek and want to check on my personal Yahoo! emails, and there you have it.  1,020 more unread emails in the past two weeks since I last cleared them.

1,020 unread emails since two Saturdays ago

I actually received about ten more than that, since I have looked at and responded to about a dozen or so that were from actual people like my wife and mother, the two people who email to me the most.

Ninety percent or more of these emails are newsletters of some sort, some which I subscribed to and some that just began showing up without me asking for them.  The consistent number of receiving about 500 emails every week or 1,000 every two weeks in my Yahoo! account averages out to around seventy per day.

1,020 in fourteen days is about 73 per day.

My wife says its no big deal.  She gets about the same amount per day and typically clears them every week or so, saving a few and then tapping the handy “delete all” button, erasing hundreds at a time.

I receive so many things that I want to read and so many things that I feel I should keep for future reference, so I have about twenty folders that I put many of these emails in.  Of course, I have folders with hundreds of emails in them that I never look at and probably never will.

One of my many resolutions for this coming year is to unsubscribe.  My preliminary goal is to “unsubscribe from thirty-five.”  It has a nice ring to it, but considering how many emails I get slammed with at work and at home, I may be better served to unsubscribe from forty-five or, better yet, fifty-five because that averages out to at least one per week.

$3K

Just sharing a bit of my financial pain today.

Did I mention that our bills have been high for this Middle Class Guy?  If not, I am writing that here.

Going back once again to the many articles detailing how many families would struggle to pay an unexpected $500 or $1,000 or $2,000 expense, I previously wrote how it is rare for my family to go a month without that type of expense.

It seems odd writing about this as the temperatures in the Chicago area plummet to the forties, but there was a string of days in early September when the temperature was in the nineties.  That is when our central air unit finally gave out after having been nursed along for the past four or five summers by our great HVAC guy.

This time, after fixing it with yet another new belt, it gave out a day later and he could no longer just keep patching it together.  The good news is that we now have a brand-new energy efficient air conditioning unit that barely makes a sound when it is on and cools our home quickly.  The bad news is that I just had to pay my wife’s credit card bill that is due next week, to the tune of over $3,000.  $2,450 of that goes to our HVAC guy, and we do not get one mile or point for it.  We had about $9,000 in our checking account this morning, and one-third of that has been transferred to Bank of America.

I paid B of A $3K out of our $9K in checking this morning.

$100K

In late October, there was a spate of articles questioning whether a family making $100,000 is middle class.  One in the Washington Post and another on the CNBC website point out that Nationwide, the average American family currently makes about $74,000 a year before taxes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the median American income is $59,000 a year.

The articles also acknowledge that it’s also situation specific. “The more people in a family, the more money they typically need to live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle,” writes the Post. Likewise, the more expensive your area, the more you need to make to qualify. Overall, “America’s middle-class ranges from $35,000 to $122,500 in annual income, according to The Post’s calculation” approved by the Pew Research Center.

As the primary breadwinner in a family that clears a little bit more than $100K, likely approaching $120K this year, I can report here and now that we are extremely middle class, perhaps even the epitome of it.  Notice this blog’s name.

Although we pay for our son’s private college and I am also paying for several upcoming Disney World trips, we drive old beater cars, watch tube TVs and use pay-as-you-go phones.  We have an HMO that basically sucks, and my wife has to fight to get them to cover several healthcare bills from an episode this previous summer.

Most months, more money is going out than coming in.

Twenty years ago, I would have thought that with an income of over $100K that we would have it made in the shade.  That is hardly the case.  I will not bore you with the details of our typical suburban middle class lifestyle, but suffice it to say that considering our property tax bill of a Benjamin per week, paying for our son’s private college, sending money to our retirement accounts with every paycheck, eating out far too much but really just an average amount for a middle class American family, all the additional expenses of our children’s activities, our income does not stretch so far.

Is $100K a middle class income for a family of four?  You betcha!

$102K

After contributing to several accounts with T. Rowe Price for many years, this is about the last month that over $100K will be in our accounts.  A bit over $102K to be exact.

For many struggling middle class families, accumulating six figures in an investment account would be a major accomplishment.  For many others, having only that amount when approaching the age of forty-seven would be highly embarrassing.

Using the many formulas of how much money one should have accumulated by a certain age, that is somewhere between one-fourth and one-fifth of how much I should have saved by now.  My wife and I do have some other investment accounts which altogether have another seventy grand or so, but the bulk of our eggs are in this basket.

Our son’s College 2018 portfolio is included in this amount, and I have been drawing about $2,000 per month from it most months.  With November upon us and the upcoming transfer, along with another one thousand dollar transfer for some much-needed travel funds from my GNMA “savings account,” this will dip back into five figures by the end of this year.

When I Pay Myself First, I am sending money to my Roth IRA account, which is held in this and split between two excellent funds that I would highly recommend: The Capital Appreciation fund and the Blue Chip Growth fund.

Just over a year ago, I had nearly $150K with T. Rowe Price, but after having to pay quite a bit in tuition and having repaid some money previously withdrawn from the Cook County pension fund, this account has dwindled month after month and it pains me to report this.  But I am proud to say that we intend to get both of our children through their undergraduate years with little to no debt.

I would love to tell you that I have half a million or more in this account and then tell you how I accumulated so much but the truth is that I have $102K in it and when 2018 starts, that number will be below $100K for the first time in years.

$450K

A few mornings ago as I dragged myself to a long, stressful and rainy day filled with meetings and assignments from my young new boss, my wife told me that she was reading an article on her phone about the GOP claiming that families earning up to $450,000 should be considered middle class.

The Tax Policy Center defines the middle class as people earning between $48,300 and $85,600 a year.

The GOP made the announcement as part of the rollout of the tax cut plan, saying they would cut tax rates from 39.6 percent to 35 percent for those $450,000-earning middle-class members

WTF?!

Isn’t $450K in one year about nine grand per week?  Isn’t that amount about eight times as high as the median household income in the U.S?  Isn’t that more than a typical engineer married to a school principal would make?  Or most lawyers and doctors?

$450,000 is a very high upper class income in my view.  Through my work, I  know several business owners who make that much, some of them higher.  Some  much higher.  These people travel the world extensively, own multiple homes, luxury vehicles, watches that cost more than my entire family’s wardrobe and cars with wheels worth more than my car.

I have an uncle who earned in this range and above for many years, and their home and lifestyle could definitely be viewed as upper class.  Most middle class families cannot take their family of five, plus a fiancee or two, through Europe for six weeks while lodging and dining at some of the top places.  Some years my uncle made considerably more than $450K.  By the way, I love my aunt and uncle.  They would be offended if you called them rich or upper class, but even they would have to admit to being fairly wealthy.

Another thing about my uncle.  He is a CPA and an MBA and worked his ass off, many weeks over eighty hours, as a finance executive for a software firm.  Like me, he is Jewish and his parents pushed him and his brother to pursue higher education as a means to greater success than they enjoyed.  His father owned and operated a gas station.

As the Middle Class Guy blogger, I read every article defining the middle class that I can find and, let me tell you, $450K is more than three times as high as what most would consider the highest middle class income.  Fewer than ten percent of all United States households have an income higher than $150,000 – and the nation’s median household income is just over $50,000.

I can only dream of earning $450,000 in one year.  It would take me nearly four years at my current pace to earn that much.  I certainly would not waste my time blogging if I could earn that much.  I either would not have the time, working at a law firm or successful medical practice, or would be so busy running my own business that why would I waste the time?

I’ll tell you one thing: an income of $450,000 is about twice as high as I would consider the top middle class income.  My wife and I have several friends where both the husband and wife earn right around one hundred grand.  They live good lives, but they are still middle class, albeit upper middle class.  Nice cars, nice vacations, good restaurants, nice clothes but nothing that would kick them into upper class status.

One question for you since I do not know who you are or your own circumstances.  You may have a half mil in investments like I would like to and you might make twice as much.  Or you may still be just thinking about investing or working on your first twenty grand stashed away or just scraping by on thirty or forty thousand per year.

My question is at what income would you consider a family to have moved from middle class to upper class status?

Looking Back a Year From Now

With the New Year upon us, I am reflecting back upon 2017 and feeling that, while I accomplished some of the things that I had resolved to, including some important ones, I am spending a great deal of time considering what 2018 will look like looking back on it at the end of the year.  I would like to become less stressed out, more successful, happier, wealthier and more productive in 2018.  I bet that you would too.

Since I am currently experiencing my fair share of frustration, unhappiness and anxiety, and I suspect that you may experiencing the some of the same things, let us consider what some of the things are that must occur between now and the end of the year so that we may both reflect back upon 2018 a year from now and feel that we made some forward progress?

So I ask, what people and events will have made us the happiest one year from now?

Would it be if you finally make amends with a loved one or reconnect with an old friend?  Will it be if you have a different job than you have right now?  Would it be having a steady job at all if you do not have one now?  Would it be if you improved at something, started something new, or stopped doing something that you currently do?  All of the above?

I realize that happiness is far from the only key metric with which to judge ourselves at the end of a year.  But to better integrate people and experiences in our personal and professional life is a powerful thing worth pursuing.  I know that it can be done, having borne witness to many successful people who made enough time for their family, friends and other loved ones while still showing dedication to their jobs or running their own businesses.

Sometimes the elusive perfect balance between work and life is not achievable.  When that is the case, you might need to simply view your work as a means to an end.  With the amount of pressure that has been dialed up on me with a new, young and inexperienced boss in a new department, I am a prime example of this.  Months ago, my primary focus was on better handling my worries and coping with anxiety on a daily basis, but that has been improving steadily week by week and month after month.  I have come to accept that I must step up my game although it was already stepped up, but if I do not get better at my work and consistently improve the value I deliver to my clients, I’m toast.

If I simply took the common advice of doing what I love and the money would come to me, we would be homeless or at least staying with my widowed mother and my family would suffer tremendously.  I do not think that there is a market for paying me to walk my dog, drink beer and read in the tub, go to my children’s concerts and sporting events, hang out with my kids at the forest preserves, grocery shop and prepare nice meals for my family, take naps, travel around the country visiting relatives, watch sporting events, go to movies and make out with my wife.  It is too bad, because those are all things that I love to do and am really good at.

I have come to realize that the marketplace does not care one whit about what I love to do.  You will read this on a blog post or eBook because it can provide some value to your own marketplace.  These words can add some value to your own life as well as mine.

If you, too, can alter and improve your way of viewing and thinking about things, as I have been doing, then we can make important strides in those things that we likely both resolve to do year after year: lose weight, make more money, improve and perfect our relationships, and right everything that is wrong with our lives.  There is nothing wrong with wanting those goals, but what is wrong is simply resolving to do them year after year without any actual action plan or measurable goals.

You want to lose weight.  How about five pounds by the end of the year by cutting down on some sweets and exercising once in a while?  You want to make more money.  How about selling some of your old crap on eBay, doing a few gigs on some platform like Fiverr or self-publishing your own eBook instead of watching some stupid reality shows?  Want to improve your relationships?  How about taking some time to get together with an old friend or visit a relative or neighbor that you have been meaning to.

There are plenty of things that may be wrong with our lives, but there are defined steps that we can think of and hold ourselves accountable to that can help alleviate some of our problems although they may be painful for us to actually do.  I have a few of those, myself.

From all my reading of books, articles and blog posts, it appears as if the amazingly low percentage of people who achieve their New Year’s resolutions has little to do with the lack of making these vague goals, but everything to do with our lack of discipline to convert our ideas and best intentions into sustainable actions that will ultimately result in positive results.

We know that we need to do something different to extricate ourselves from our self-imposed ruts and shortcomings.  What we are not as good at is going all in to actually make changes in our thinking, actions and performance.

Let us right here and now, as I write this and whenever you read this, begin 2018 by making a commitment to bettering ourselves.  Not everything about ourselves and not all at once in a rapid burst of being a New Me or New You, which would soon fizzle out, but in a sustainable, determined, gritty and consistent manner.  Let’s make the commitment to adding value to yourself, your loved ones, your employer, your customers and your community.  If you are of a religious nature, make the commitment to your faith, whatever it may be.

Commit to doing things the right way, as displayed to me growing up by my own father and two grandfathers.  Honor your commitments, whatever they may be.  Let’s commit to being honest and to working harder at everything we do.  Let’s turn off the TVs and phones once in a while when we otherwise would not have so that we may spend additional time with those we love and care for.

It’s true that I am asking a lot of me and you.  That is part of this self-improvement deal.  If we are content with how things are going and feel that we have little or no control over what happens with our lives, I may as well stop writing this and you should flip on a reality show on TV or check your Facebook feed again.  But if you and I can take the first step, which I believe is changing the way that we think, and getting our minds right, then the sky is the limit and we will both learn how to invest our time, energy and money in the things that matter the most to us.


P.S. I wrote this on Wednesday night after a fucking long, difficult day of work even though I did not feel like doing it.  It was about 1,240 words prior to this postscript, about four hundred words short of my daily goal for cranking out a 50,000+ word book for NaNoWriMo.  I’m not seeking praise or anything like that, just wanted to mention that I really did not feel like writing tonight, but did.  Now I’m going to spend some quality time with my wife and then read another Grisham novel, The Rooster Bar after completing Camino Island over the weekend.

Ciao!

Great Friday Night, $500, NaNoWriMo and 2K

Great Friday Night

After a difficult and stressful week that had me on the brink of madness, I finally made it through last Friday.  It was also payday, so $3,300 was added to our checking account, 3 K from me and an additional $300 from my wife’s part-time gig.  I know, she is not necessarily Ms. Money Bags, but every little bit helps.  For over ten years, her income was a big fat zero, so compared to that, she is raking it in now.

Last week, I worked on some blog posts, I attended many meetings including with a potential popcorn and candy shop, a potential brew pub, a pet store supply company, a semi-truck dealer and a would-be hookah lounge.  I cannot say that my bosses or I would appreciate a hookah lounge coming to town, but to each his own.  Maybe you, yourself, enjoy sucking on a hookah.

Also throughout the week, I fretted over my wife’s huge $3,050 bill from her Visa which showed up this week.  Last month, our long-time central air unit finally gave out and we had to replace it, so we did.  The entire $2,450 charge went on her credit card.  We also got her Kohl’s bill, but at about $300, that is peanuts in comparison.  I paid insurance on one of our cars, I paid our electric bill and lots of other stuff that, together, will make it look like we spent a lot this month.

I also paid myself $400 on payday due to making some extra money from eBook sales, although there is really no such thing as “extra” money.  Let’s just say that I made more money than usual in October.

It’s just that after posting how much went out last quarter as opposed to how much came in, I cannot help but wonder how we are going to keep spending and investing more than what comes in on a consistent basis.  Even though we do, somehow we get by.  Oh, and by the way, I am paying for three Disney World trips next month in December and another one in February.

As my father often said, “There’s always room for more at the poor house.”

So this past Friday night, when my wife informed me that our son was spending the night at his college due to having an orchestra pit rehearsal on Saturday night and that she and our daughter were going to attend a musical performance that she assumed I did not want to attend (she was right), I made four stops on the way home to lift my evening.

First, I stopped at Dollar Tree, where, among other things, I purchased bubble bath and Epsom salt.   Yes, it’s true.  Although I am a very manly man, a Man’s Man if you will, I love to soak in a bubble bath.  Because my bad ankle always hurts, especially at the end of the day, I figured that I would splurge and spend the extra buck on the Epsom salt.

My second stop was at a local liquor store.  I am friends with the owner, not because I drink so much alcohol because I do not.  It is because I brought him to our town many years ago, encouraging him to open up in our downtown area and helping him apply for and obtain his liquor license and sign permit.  I send customers there occasionally and I am occasionally a customer, myself.  I do not often want to be seen walking out of a liquor store in a town where I am well known, but on a Friday after a long work week, I do not think that anybody would disparage me for purchasing a six pack.  He went into the back and got me a six pack of Shock Top, although they are cans and I thought that he was getting me bottles.  No worries, it still tastes great.

My third stop was at a new sandwich shop, Which Wich, which I will not go to great lengths to describe.  The cool thing about it is that you select what type of sandwich you want by selecting a bag under the menu board and then you check off what toppings you want on it, and then they make it.

I wanted to get a guacamole sandwich because, like many young people, our daughter is heavily into the avocado craze.  Since my wife made chili for dinner, I did not want to overdo it with the sandwiches, so we split one large between the three of us in addition to the chili.

My fourth stop was to our local library, where I had John Grisham’s book on reserve.  Throughout October, I had taken a few steps backward.  I purchased several books, losing count because it is setting me back from accomplishing my goal and resolution of net minus fifty books this year.  I had surpassed that number as of July first, but have purchased more books than I have moved along since that time.  In October, I probably purchased ten new books but, to be perfectly candid, I have not really counted.  I have resumed reading fiction, which is enjoyable, but does not improve one’s lot in life.

A Grisham book, bubble bath, beer and a sandwich made it a great Friday night.

With my son at college and my wife and daughter attending a musical, I laid in a bubble bath filled with Epsom salt sipping on a Shock Top while reading Camino Island.

A little slice of heaven for me.  Consider it a few hours of vacation.

$500

I had previously written about how I reached the amount of $4,250 in cash saved as of two months ago.  I had started with the intention of saving up ten grand in cash and then stashing it away in a safe deposit box for use on the eventual rainy days that always arrive.

I had been in the habit of paying $500 per child automatically on the first of every month for four or more years, and then reduced it to $400 per month when our son needed braces, and then our daughter needed braces too.  It became hard to keep automatically deducting $800 on the first of every month in addition to our many other expenses, but I did it anyway.

When our son enrolled in college in August 2016, it felt weird to me to stop investing in his college funds after having done so for the past fifteen or so years.  So what I did was withdraw an extra $400 in cash from the bank for about seven or eight months in a row after that, sticking it into an envelope under my underwear in my bottom drawer, one of the first places that a thief would look.

I changed the amount withdrawn from time to time, eventually amassing $4,250 and then stopped doing the withdrawals this past summer.  Because I did it in a continuation of investing on my son’s behalf, I felt that the money was his.  Because of this, I decided to re-deposit one thousand dollars per month for four consecutive months beginning in September so that I could transfer less than two thousand per month from his College 2018 fund for those same four months.

Image result for so what do you do?

When I deposited twenty fifty-dollar bills in September, the young, flirty teller at one of the U.S. bank branches that I use casually asked, “So what do you do?”

Nothing against flirty young female bank tellers, but what I wanted to reply would be very rude, along the lines of “None of your fucking business.”  Even though I have been a law-abiding taxpayer for my entire life including eight tough years as a probation officer right out of college.  I was already a hard-core big-city P.O. when this girl was in kindergarten and have since toiled for seventeen years as an economic development official, but did not feel compelled to share that with her.

“I’d rather not discuss that,” was my reply.  In her mind, perhaps I just made a cool grand selling drugs or a weapon or doing God-knows what.  Something less savory than telling her that it represents two and a half months worth of cash withdraws after I stopped contributing to my son’s 529 account.

So in September I transferred $1,100 from my son’s 529 account, deposited another thousand in cash, and the remaining $400 for his monthly college payment came right out of our checking account.  I paid the $2,500 monthly bill like I always do.

In early October, I repeated the same thing, stopping at another branch with another twenty fifty-dollar bills to deposit before I transferred another $1,100 from his 529 account to pay another $2,500 to his college.

This time, when I demurred on telling the male teller a few years younger than myself what it is that I do, he explained that federal law now mandates that he do so for cash transactions of one thousand dollars or more.  He explained that my bank, U.S. Bank, has a policy lowering that amount to five hundred measly dollars and handed me a form explaining as much.  Can you imagine?  Many of my friends and colleagues carry that amount or more with them at all times.

Anyway, I admitted to being an economic developer, which seemingly impressed him and the other teller.  Being that they are both of Indian descent, I think that their culture holds government economic development officials in greater esteem, since they wield far greater power in their native country than we do here.  Although I serve as the gatekeeper for businesses in my community and am typically the first person whom they encounter when inquiring about doing business in our community, I have little to no say as to what can or cannot go where.  That is for the “Powers That Be” to decide, and they often go against my advice because, after all, what do I know?  They received a few votes, so they know best.  I have only done this for seventeen years and am one of about forty certified economic developers in the state.

The teller typed “economic developer” into his computer, which any government records or Google search of my name would divulge, anyway.  But I am not very happy about U.S. Bank entering that information into their archives for some future asshole to wonder why I deposited one thousand in cash two months in a row.

I won’t be doing that again!

NaNoWriMo

As I confessed in a recent post, I am using National Novel Writing Month to spur me to complete a book of 50,000 words or more, but it will not be my Pretty Good American Novel.  Depending on the book, that amount of words translates to a book of about 150 to 200 pages.

I came up with the book title today, and it is pretty good.  I’ll share it here, hoping that one of my few loyal readers does not decide to crank out a quick book with the same name.

As a true believer of new starts in new years, and an avid maker of resolutions and setter of goals, the book will have a title reflecting the new year, and I have a nom de plume picked out that I spent several days anguishing over.  Much of it will be a compilation of my New Year-oriented posts, but with less of a stress on being such a Middle Class Guy (even though I am) because I want women to purchase it, too.  I am changing some of the resolutions that I made late last December to updated versions for 2018 and beyond.

You do not have to buy it, of course, but I would appreciate it if you would.  The minimum price to collect a seventy percent royalty is $2.99 on Amazon, so that will be the price.  I will collect about two bucks a pop per purchase.  I do not know if you knew that.

So while I will not technically be cranking out my much thought about novel idea this month, I will be working diligently on creating an original work that will enter the eBookosphere next month in mid-December, when those of us who think about improving ourselves in the New Year may be looking for such a book to read over the holidays.  Especially if they are staying with people that they would rather not be with.

Besides the few bucks that I will undoubtedly make by self-publishing this book, I sincerely hope that it helps readers improve their lives in 2018 and beyond, just like I will be striving to do.  I am not writing it from a lofty height of multi-million dollar success like Tony Robbins or Suze Orman.  I am writing it from the trenches of being a middle aged workaholic Middle Class Guy trying to make it in this world.

When NaNoWriMo ends in thirty days, I will be glad to post the final tally of words in it right here.  More important than the sheer number of total words written, I want the words to be meaningful and have some power.  No New Agey bullshit, just thoughtful insights about how to achieve more and become better versions of ourselves next year and beyond.  I always add “and beyond” because it would be no good for any of us to make great strides in 2018, only to fall back into our old habits or revert to bad ways or lose our way in 2019.

NaNoWriMo

I want my own self-improvement to be continual from New Year 2018 and beyond, and NaNoWriMo will help me achieve three of my resolutions right off the bat, which are to create more and consume less, to earn more income in 2018 than in 2017, and to self-publish three quality eBooks.  Even though I will hit the “publish” button on my Amazon account in mid-December, I will count it as a 2018 goal and resolution.  Cheating?  Hell no, I call it getting a little bit ahead of things.  If I wait until January first to hit the “publish” button, I would be missing out on those buyers thinking about improving themselves during those cold mid-December nights.  Perhaps you are one of those people.  I know that I am.

2K

Eighteen years ago, everybody was worrying about Y2K.  Would all the computers crash?  Would airplanes fall from the sky?  Would all of our online investments disappear, with the servers thinking that it was going back to the year 1900 again?

I cannot recall all of the worries about Y2K, but there were plenty of them.

I was still a P.O. at the time and living in the City, taking the el to and from work and with my young wife and baby boy at home.  We lived in mouse-infested condo at the time.

But I am not talking about Y2K.

 

I am talking about the two thousand in cash that remains in my possession, but have just decided to spend down.  Not by depositing it twice in thousand dollar increments so that I must disclose my profession to nosy bank tellers.  Spend it down in the sense of giving my wife five hundred of pocket money for her Disney trip next month and laying another two hundred or so on my daughter, who will be traveling with the marching band.  My son is nineteen and can withdraw some of his own money if need be.

Maybe I’ll just give him a hundred or two hundred this coming weekend, so he has some pocket money for the next few weeks.  My own father used to give me that much back in the late eighties and early nineties when I was a college student.

Maybe I’ll go out to lunch five days in a row some week and pay cash.  Perhaps I’ll splurge on Starbucks a few times.  Maybe I’ll go out with my long-time best buddy soon and casually plop a fifty or hundred down when we’re splitting the bill, like he does.

I am not sure exactly what will happen with every one of the two thousand dollars, but I do know that none of it will be left by the end of this year, and I will no longer have to worry about someone stealing cash from my underwear drawer when we’re gone for the day.

If you knew me personally, you might think that I need my head checked.  I am a diligent worker and saver and have been for many years.  Taking my wife out for a night on the town and spending at fancy restaurants is very unlike me.  As a matter of fact, there is a fancy restaurant near us that she has wanted to go to for years.  Why not take the wife and kids there for a holiday dinner?  It is certainly not as responsible as utilizing the cash as part of this month’s payment to our son’s college but, heck, I have squirreled away so many nuts for that for so long, my new mindset that there is more abundance in the world and ways to make money, like my eBooks, that I do not want to always just be saving, saving and saving some more at the expense of enjoying life more than I do.

Knowing me, I’ll probably regret not just telling a bank teller that I am an economic developer again and contributing the cash to next month’s college installment payment.  Maybe I’ll just deposit four hundred twice and spend the remaining $1,200.

Old habits are hard to break.

By the way, happy November first!