Financial independence is not designed for you

I am tired of listening to shows like Dave Ramsey and hearing people call in with six figure incomes wondering what they should do with their surplus cash. These are not the people dealing with hard times, barely making it with little to show for their work. I will take this one step further and say that if you have a college education, a six-figure income, and you still can’t figure out how to manage your money then you deserve to fail and we should let financial natural selection take its course. This blog is not for the wealthy idiots out there playing with index funds and credit default swaps. This blog is for the 40-hour work week, car payment, house payment, no retirement, no savings, ex wife stole half of my 401k, why is my mortgage payment still going up, kind of guy.
I have read several books on finance, FIRE, debt management, and the millionaires next door. One thing these books have in common is leaving out the lower middle class writing them off as too poor to work with and not worth helping. We make up the majority of our population and to write us off as not worth helping shows a lack of imagination, in the meantime Wall street takes our money in the form of 401ks and 403bs balancing out their books, throwing any of their losses our way. We are stuck not knowing any better, happy for a 1-2% increase in our portfolio while all the gains made with our money is shifted elsewhere. This is where my lack of trust stems from. I saw what happened in 2009 and knew from that moment on I would never trust any of those sons of bitches.
I’m not here to say people can’t find some kind of independence. I have met people over the years who do fairly well for themselves on very little money. Is it ideal, no. Is it better than that paycheck to paycheck life, yes. There are many things people like Dave Ramsey got right. In some ways everyone got something right, what is wrong about these books, talk shows, blogs, and podcast is that they leave out the little making them think there is no hope. Finances are not just a game for the big players. Keep in mind, even professional bowlers make up to $30,000 a year. It’s not much but its not nothing.
I was lucky back in 2005 when I initially bought my house. When the mortgage company told me I could buy an $85,000 house with a $700 a month payment I told them they were out of their minds. “But the computer says.” Lucky for me I had seen the Terminator movies and knew that computers were out to get me. These suits weren’t looking out for my best interest and I knew that. I ended up with a $65,000 house with a monthly payment that was the same as the rent I paid on a one-bedroom apartment. On $10 an hour I could barely afford that.
The years passed and the hospital I worked for continued to screw people out of their raises, my insurance company continued to jack up the rates on my coverage until my monthly payments were one hundred dollars more than when I bought the house. In 2008 the economy went to shit, my wife left, I was stuck with a house payment, car payment, thousands of dollars of debt, and a job that had not given me a raise in several years. Like the rest of the country I was being bent over a desk, no lube applied, waiting for the ride to end. Then I decided to no longer play the victim.
The credit cards were the first thing I paid off. The monthly payment was a meager $50 on average, I threw hundreds at it and watched the balance shrink. When that was paid off, I cut the cards up and went to work on the car loan. I tore out payment slips from the book, sending in 2-3 at a time. The car was paid off two and a half years early. Looking back, my only regret was stopping there. I had money in the bank, I was able to life something resembling a life, and for the first time was able to do things when I wanted to. Ten years later I wonder what my life could look like if I just went to work on paying the house off. Now it’s time to find out.

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Project 2020

I have to admit that I tried this a few times before. Sometimes it worked and other times the project was abandoned. In 2009 I found myself divorced, in debt, and feeling disenfranchised with life. Something had to change. Ten years later I have a similar feeling, now at forty with years of debt ahead of me, again I thought to myself “something has to change.”
My house was refinanced back in 2009, setting the clock back to where it started, $65,000. Today I owe just under $48,000. This is less than it should be since I have made payments over the monthly amount desired. Still, I’m not happy with this and the more I think about it the better off myself and my family will be if I just pay the damn thing off.
Looking at some calculators available online I discovered a big difference in how much I will actually pay for the house depending on when it’s paid off. If I were to speed up the process and pay it off in ten years, I will save $6000 in interest over the life of the loan. However, if I were to pay off the house in five years, I will save $20,000 in the end. That is a huge difference over such a short period of time and I wonder how much I will save if I do it in less then that.
There are many advantages to not having a mortgage payment. That large chunk of your paycheck is finally yours. You can now invest in things like retirement, that thing you should start when you are in your twenties but you have no money, no health insurance, student loan debt, and of course rent or a house payment. How anybody is supposed to get ahead in this world is beyond me, but I do know “they” like it that way.
There are a few aspects to this project. For one I will be paying all other bills first before paying the mortgage. Whatever is left goes toward the monthly bill. This means, no eating out, no luxury buys like books, no spontaneous purchases, no more typewriters, no more wine. This isn’t all bad. I have, through a side gig, over 350 beers saved up from work I have done over the years. Alcohol is taken care of. I have more books than I could read in a year. I have more projects sitting on a shelf that I know what to do with, including this blog. Needless to say, I have more than enough things at home to keep me occupied, ensuring I don’t need to spend any money throughout the year.
My income is set, I have a job that pays by salary and therefore I know what I can expect to bring in throughout the year. Currently, I make between 35-36k a year, before taxes, insurance, healthcare plan, and Union dues. In the end I might bring home 25k but I would rather not think about that. My bills are a small percentage of my income and therefore I know I can pay more on my mortgage if I want to. At the moment the house is crammed, there is too much stuff, and the last thing I need is more stuff.
The goal is to see how much of a dent I can put into my mortgage by the end of the year. If I am just under 48k as of Dec 2019 my goal is to be under 40k by this time next year. It’s not a huge amount but I figure it is more reasonable than saying I will pay it all off only bringing in half of what I owe. There are things about this that will suck. An inability to do what I want, missing out on good food, picking up that good deal on that thing I don’t need but really, really, REALLY want. Yes, this will suck but it can’t be any worse that how I felt in my 20s.
In the near future I have more money coming my way. My cell phone will be paid off and I can put that extra money towards the mortgage. My car payment is paid off six months in advance. During the summer I am considering walking to work instead of fighting over parking spots, saving on gas.
I would like to write book reviews for this blog, it seems to the only thing that isn’t censored these days. A few weeks ago, I started writing for Rotten Tomatoes and a week later my reviews started to disappear. There wasn’t an email, no notifications on my profile, they just vanished.
So, follow me here for uncensored content, learn how to pay off your house early, and maybe listen to me bitch about movies and bad TV. Never mind the last one, the internet needs less of that.

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Living in McNation

There was a recent squabble on the internet about the changes made to the Christmas display in our downtown park. Since I was a child, the walkways have been covered with large candy canes tilted over the path almost like soldiers raising their arms over royalty. This year those old candy canes were replaced with new ones, bolted into the concrete, standing upright with lights dangling overhead. The uproar was immediate. A petition was made. Emails went out to the local government officials. News stories were pushed out of the way for “candy cane gate.” Some of the candy canes that had gone to auction were removed and put back into the park to hold back the hostile crowds but in the end more people signed the petitions to have the original candy canes put back than had voted in the last local election for mayor. This is where our society has gone, voting with emails, tweets, Facebook post, and YouTube videos instead of the voting booth.
We shouldn’t be surprised about this, finding something like candy canes more offensive than politicians blackmailing foreign allies. If we look at our most recent history nobody could have predicted the most recent cultural phenomenon, from “Cash me outside” girl to “what does the fox say?” Brexit turned out to be a total disaster and the same people who didn’t bother to vote because Hillary had it in the bag were surprised when Donald Trump became our president. The history of our country is no longer measured in decades but instead by news stories and what the public can be the most upset about at a certain time, and the whole process is exhausting.
History is disappearing around us and is being replaced with new cheap fabrications that have no life, class, or artistic merit to justify the cost. The courthouse downtown is scheduled to be turned into condos and there is no way of knowing how much of the original structure will be left standing. I worked in there for a year and even I was impressed by the marble floors, brass elevator doors with intricate designs, and the copper door handles and chandeliers. Towards the end of my short career I found myself in a new 20-million-dollar courthouse with leaking windows and floors that would flood if there was water outside on the lawn.
There is history living in the walls downtown. Our surroundings, the buildings we walk by everyday give us a sense of belonging. When someone drove into town from the west and looked at downtown, the Kalamazoo Building stood out telling everyone where they were. Now that painted sign is covered up by high priced apartments and of course a bank. Just what the world needed, another bank. Even our most recent landmarks are being attacked. Wings Stadium, a venue that once had large acts come through every summer was looking at being torn down. One of the churches that stood across the street from the art museum was demolished because it would have cost too much to preserve. I am waiting to see if the land is turned into something useful, like a parking lot.
I watched a video on YouTube with the writer Will Self walking through Prague seeing the places that Franz Kafka once lived. All the buildings were the same. Hundreds of years old and while walking those streets one could imagine what Kafka was seeing when he too passed by those buildings. This was a time before cars, when people rarely traveled more than five miles from where they lived during their lifetimes. There are places where people feel like they belong, they share a history with the place they live and those that came before them and that feeling, that tradition, is slipping away. I can understand why Europeans hold onto the pride of where they come from. Cathedrals that took several generations of work to complete still stand reminding people of what can be accomplished. You can visit a spot where Napoleon once stood, stay in the hotel that Hemingway drank frequently, or see the pillars of long-ago empires. Here, we lose our minds when we see a stage that Jimi Hendrix once played and even those are disappearing. The Ambassador hotel, the last place that Bobby Kennedy was seen alive, has been torn down and replaced by… oh who cares.
We should rename ourselves McNation. Build it cheap, build it fast, and heaven forbid if it doesn’t make a profit. I try to find things that I can share with my daughter from my own childhood and that list is disappearing. I hope when she is old enough the Coney Island downtown, one of the oldest in the country, is still open and hasn’t been turned into a Subway or Taco Bell.
I have to wonder if this is why the younger generations coming up have so much to complain about. Maybe if they felt like they were a part of the place they lived instead of receiving all of their information from Apps and social media maybe they would realize how good they have it. Crime is down, poverty is almost erased from the planet, healthcare is better than ever and yet I can’t open my phone without seeing an article about somebody being oppressed because their coffee was made wrong at Starbucks or their name was spelled wrong on the cup.
We drive in our boxes to sit in boxes and go home to boxes filled with our stuff and only see the world through the window of a cellphone and wonder why our priorities are screwed up. Nobody voted in the last election and I can not recall a single story that popped up in my news feed about it, but some old candy canes are taken down in the park and the city is on the verge of a riot. Maybe this shows that there is hope. When people notice something they like is missing, we see they really do care about their local history. I could remain optimistic about this but it only goes to show that it is only the petty and small things that people are willing to get pissed about. However, I will add that even I did not like the new candy canes. Why they chose the new standing designs over the archways I could not say. Maybe had they bought new candy canes and simply installed them like before nobody would have noticed or thanked them for updating an old tradition. Now we will never know. We will have to wait until next week when more buildings are gone to see what we throw a fit over that truly doesn’t matter.

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The coming recession

I thought I was the only one that noticed. For the longest time I wondered if I was the only one that cared. Things have changed in the last couple of weeks. With GE being at the forefront of becoming the next Enron, I can’t help but notice that things are starting to fall apart all around us. Locally there are signs of something coming our way. A local brewery, restaurant, and Sears have closed their doors. Not to mention that our local hospital is on a hiring freeze. Across the country farmers are depending on federal aid to keep their farms due to tariffs and a crappy planting season.
Last week it was announced the five largest economies in the world were facing a recession or about to go into one. Trump’s denial of this gives me a feeling of Déjà vu as I watch another republican president say one thing while discussing what to do in the back room of the White House. I try to spread the word, telling people not to spend their money, invest in something tangible, stop buying that $7 coffee in case you don’t have a job a few months from now. It would appear I don’t have to say anything.
Last week a board meeting at work almost came to blows as tensions rose and voices yelled in a small room about numbers and budgets. Last I knew things were going well and we had a surplus of cash. It would appear that some people see what is coming down the tracks and know that we can’t keep running things the way it has been for the past decade.
In my own life I started making cuts, cooking more food at home, buying silver with spare cash after my bills are paid, and putting my house in order. Last year my father in law died. It has been a lot of work but there was a house of items to go through and while a lot of it went into the trash due to mold, the rest saved us some money by not having to buy new things we might need in the future. I started to eat out less, only drink beer that is already paid for from a deal I made with a local brewery owner to clean his place in exchange for beer, and I drive less. I would say that my belt buckle with tighten but let’s face it, in this country the poor become fatter.
There are three bubbles that will likely pop during this time and any of them could send the country into a total shitshow. There is the housing bubble, something that was fixed until laws were overturned and the prices on houses skyrocketed again. The student loan debt is an obvious problem, if we head into a recession most students will stop paying on their loans in order to keep a roof over their heads. Then there is the new car loan bubble, horrible POS models sold to naïve customers with 7-year loans for cars that might last them a year or two. The economy, if compared to ten years ago, is officially FUBAR.
It pisses me off that the talking heads on certain news channels keep telling their viewers that all is fine and the experts don’t know what they are talking about. Meanwhile these people plugging their opinion are nothing more than experts in talking, vomiting out whatever their dark overlords tell them to. It’s rather pathetic.
If you haven’t been saving money, start now. Make sure you are a valuable part of your department at work. Keep your car running. Fill your pantry. Buy durable clothes. Protect your money. Protect yourself. Ignore the talking heads on television and look at the world around you. The writing is on the walls and only those that choose to be blind cant see it.

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Yang Gang Party in the Greenhouse Loft

I wasn’t familiar with the Greenhouse loft, a wedding venue that was being used for the rally in Chicago. From the outside it looked like a small place but had enough parking for the people coming from out of town. I assumed from the people who were attending the rally that most of them used public transportation, uber, or walked. As I pulled into the garage, I could see a long line of people being checked in, using their cell phones to show the ticket issued to them while I had my tree killing piece of paper.
Being the odd ball at events like these I stuck out like a sore thumb. Wearing a long beard for the purpose of hunting as opposed to the well-groomed hipster crowd I appeared to be the low-class outsider with a cowboy hat on. My North Face Jacket had seen better days and my leather shoes were covered in mud, something the people of Chicago had not seen in a long time.
As the event hall filled up, I kept looking at my clock wondering why it was already running an hour late. Then I was reminded that Chicago is an hour behind and my phone had not adjusted for the time change. A staffer came over and told me the restaurant next door was serving food and drinks for the event. A person could buy a beer at a Yang Rally. Bernie was never this cool. For $5 I picked up a small IPA and slowly sipped the hoppy beverage wondering if it was a good idea if I was driving afterwards. Still time was on my side and I waited.
In the lobby a table was set up where they sold Yang merchandise. Shirts, posters and books were on display and although I had already read Yang’s book the sign said “have Yang sign your book.” I knew one of two things would happen. I would be face to face with hang with nothing for him to sign or I would buy the book and wouldn’t be able to get close to him. On the off chance of a third option I bought a copy and considered it a donation to his campaign.
The crowd waited. The room was packed. The body heat from the crowd hovered over the room and pulsed down on us like a heat lamp in an incubator. Impatience like an egg was about to crack when a girl took the stage asking us to be patient. More people were still coming into the building and the overflow rooms were filling up fast. The man in charge of the Chicago Yang Gang could have passed at a Chicago version of Zach De La Roche with bushy hair and having the crowd chant Yang’s name gearing us up for the main event.
A local teacher took the stage to talk about Yang’s policies, hands shaking and voice stumbling over words I could tell he wasn’t used to such a large crowd of adults paying attention to him. Then came the head of Yang’s campaign, a young man who had been in charge of his schedule from the beginning. He was stalling. The unprepared gibberish lasted long enough for Yang to come out on stage and the crowd forgot about the waiting that had taken place for two and a half hours.
“Andrew Yang, Andrew Yang, Andrew Yang!!!” the crowd hollered as the man took stage. Yang gave high fives to the crowd before saying “Andrew Yang, Chant my name.” It was at this point Yang had the full attention of the crowd. He moved through his talking points like a professional while cracking jokes along the way. At one point, Yang said “I was told I had to go outside of DC to make this issue big enough for politicians to pay attention to. It sounded like a challenge to me so you know what I said, I accept your fucking challenge.” It was this kind of honesty that had drawn me to Yang from the beginning. His no bullshit stance on what was happening across the country and not lying about how to fix it. I finally learned that day what MATH stands for now, Make America Think Harder. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. If there is one thing that I know about blue collar America its that the last thing they want to do is think more about anything. Put a television in front of them, have a talking head tell them what they want to know, and make sure their bills are paid. That is all they want while people stay off their lawns, anything else is too much for them to bare.
Yang left the stage and disappeared for a bit. The crowd wasn’t sure where to go as we were promised the opportunity to meet Yang, shake hands, and have our books signed. For twenty minutes we hung around the entryway and waited, then the crowd broke and flooded into the overflow room where Yang was standing against the wall surrounded by bodyguards, large black bodybuilding linebackers who could crush a watermelon with their bare hands. I stood to the side hoping to weave my way inside but the crowd was too dense. Phones flashed, books flew through the air, Yang’s MATH hat disappeared and reappeared in the crowd as the minutes passed. Then like, a Kardashian leaving an abortion clinic, Yang was ushered through the crowd, the bodyguards creating a plow tossing people aside and moving Yang to the back door for the fund-raising dinner organized immediately afterwards. I waved my book around, tried to catch his eye but it was a lost cause. Time and luck had run out and my chance was gone. Yang disappeared and the only option I had was to go to my car, find the Old Town Ale House and wallow in my pity about an over-priced book and never being able to shake his hand. Alas, there was still more to enjoy.
To be continued…

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Reading the Classics

A few months ago, I purchased a set of the Harvard Classics, also known at as the five-foot reading list. When the books are stacked, they are five feet tall. So far I have read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and the Dialogues of Plato. There are 50 books all together but well over a hundred titles that fill the volumes.
There are two books that cause me to cringe when I think about reading them. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Origin of Species by Darwin are some of the longest titles in the series and could be some of the dullest reading I will ever experience. Did Adam Smith consider how to make economics fun when he wrote his book, I doubt it. Stuck on a boat in the Pacific Ocean would be the best place for someone like Darwin to write about some birds out of boredom and accidently write a classic.
I always hated required reading when I was in school but I will point out that having high school students reading old English isn’t the best way to introduce the classics or good literature for that matter. I could not stand The Scarlett Letter and As I Lay Dying was only readable to those who were familiar with southern white trash. I met some of these characters later in life and had moments where I thought “oh I get it now.” I remember thinking to myself that no one could be that dumb and then life proved me wrong. As for the Scarlett Letter I saw more than my fair share of affairs over the years and the only thing missing was the culture of shame that didn’t exist. This kind of behavior had become a new normal in certain work environments.
In order for a great book to have staying power it has to be written in a way that it will hold up a hundred years after it was written. I often think about Gatsby for an example of this, having known men to fake their lifestyles in order to attract women who were not really into them. Since the Harvard Classics were printed in 1909 Gatsby is not on the list along with all the other classics written during the 20th century. I’m sure I can find a list for those later on.
Some of the classics I am having a difficult time with include poetry and plays, something I always considered separate from literature. I can think of a handful of writers who were successful play writes during their lives, A.A. Milne, Tennessee Williams, and Oscar Wilde all paid their bills by writing plays and having them be a success in the local theaters. For most of these men their fame was later remembered from other literary works like The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Winnie the Pooh series.
When I recently read The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, I learned how Tolkien and Lewis used poetry as a mental exercise for writing. Publishing such works was still common and people could make a living at it if they had talent. These days the readers don’t exist and writing such things is viewed at the intellectual version of writing rap lyrics in the ghetto, except less successful. While I say all of these horrible things about poetry I will admit there is an advantage to those who do it. It will expand vocabulary as you search for the right word for a line. There is a sense of rhythm that is missing from todays books and the only writers who still have this skill are slowly dying off. The symbolism and descriptions used in poetry is something that is missing from todays books. When a person writes a line such as “that morning he was dehydrated and his pee was the same color it would be an hour after taking a multivitamin” they could use a course or two of poetry.
I will eventually read The Wealth of Nations but I will always have in the back of my mind knowing that Smith lived with his mother, without a job, and was catered daily by her as he wrote. He was living the life of royalty with a serf caring for his needs while writing about capitalism. It would be like Ron Jeremy writing a book about celibacy and having it become a huge hit. The most interesting thing about Adam Smith’s book is that it is regarded as the standard for economics, and it would appear he was very bad at it and this was the only beacon of success he had in his life. I’m sure at some point an adult man still living with their parents, playing World of Warcraft or Minecraft, could write the next big book on relationships or personal responsibility. It could happen, I suppose.

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Liar, Liar, pants on F.I.R.E.

If you are one of the people who are surfing the internet looking for information on how to retire early then you have found articles and websites dedicated to the F.I.R.E. movement, Financially Independent Retire Early. Most of these stories feature people who saved a good portion of their income and had enough after a certain period of time to leave their jobs and tour the world or live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere while typing their financial manifestoes.
The biggest lie these websites love to pass along is that anyone can do this. This is the same mentality that had Mitt Romney telling reporters that he thought middle class started at $250,000. The people who have accomplished this goal are in the upper middle class and those who do something similar under that threshold are referred to as bums, no debt but living in poverty.
The other aspect of these stories that people tend to overlook is the obvious advantage that these people have over the majority of the population, inherited wealth, no student loan debt, six figure salaries, or households with two six figure incomes. The message is always the same afterwards, anyone can do this. Not everyone is like you.
I fall into the category of people who make around $35,000 a year. I have good benefits and no debt except for a laptop and a house. The laptop will be paid off in a few months. I am on schedule to pay off the house in 5-6 years, but when it comes to savings there is about $10,000 in various accounts and other assets far from what would be needed to retire early. On my income, the odds of having enough to retire even at 65 is about 1 in a bazillion. The sad reality is that 52% of Americans don’t have enough in savings to pay an unexpected $500 bill and only 62% of the population that can work does work. That means 38% of working age individuals are either retired, disabled, unemployed, or choose not to work. Translate the numbers into what it really means and most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with no future in sight.
Is early retirement truly feasible for the average American, no. to say otherwise is to feed hope to those that are already seeking answers to a better life. Does this mean that Americans shouldn’t try to better their situations and live a more meaningful life, no. There are resources available to live a financially secure life even on a lower income. It takes some work, but if one really tries hard enough, they can get out of debt and take control of their lives where others have failed. Dave Ramsey has his famous book Total Money Makeover that is very effective if one follows the principles in it.
Stressed caused by finances can cause people to make bad choices and spiral further into debt instead of climbing out. So, making changes to better one’s situation or finding a solution to that feeling of hopelessness is important. This article isn’t saying there isn’t something to learn from these people that retired early, good for them. What I am saying is that here and there we can find things to take from their experiences to make our lives better. For example, Mr. Money Mustache was able to retire early, at the age of 30. While this is impossible for most of us, what we can learn is how he is able to live on only $25,000 a year with a household of 4. He rides a bike to work and other places around town. His house is paid off, something most of us neglect doing because payments are “low.” He eats at home most days and the wife and him rarely go out for drinks or dinner.
While it may appear appropriate to blame others for our situation, there is one thing we all can take away from these stories, the responsibility of our personal situations comes down to us and how we handle it. We should, under no circumstances, wait for some financial messiah to come save us. We are the masters of our own choices and when we eat out, buy some luxury item we can’t afford or buy a house that is out of our price range we are the ones who put ourselves in that situation. We can’t blame the realtor for telling us we can afford it, or the car salesman for telling us that a seven-year payment plan is really good for an automobile. We are the ones who should know better. Let’s face it, if we really wanted to stick it to the man we would live frugally and watch as the stock market took a big dump in everyone’s portfolios and laugh as people in three pieces suits applied for part time jobs at the local Starbucks and asked if they have benefits for new employees.

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