Thursday, April 30, 2015

Eating Up That Budget: What to Do About Food?

I'm just finishing up our budget for May. Stace and I had a good, but challenging conversation about one particular line item in our budget that always seems to present problems for us: food. We both like to eat, which I think is a good thing. We have a modest restaurant budget and go out on occasion, but the part that always gets us is groceries. Admittedly, we go over every month. We aren't crazy food snobs, though I respect all those folk who post their organic, farm-raised, chicken made sous vide on Instagram. We do, however, like foods with fewer additives, fresh produce, and higher quality meats; we are, in fact, Millennials and have as one of our highest priorities fitting into that stereotype. Remember, I'm the one who typically sets the budget, though we do have "conversations" around it. Tonight we were at an impasse and didn't really know which direction to go.

You may find yourself in the same spot as us if you haven't already. Whether you budget or not, you most likely know that the largest personal expense you most likely have after housing (and perhaps debt payments) is food. Now, if you are just starting to budget, you will also most likely be surprised just how much you do spend on food! Crazy, right? Though it's not the largest expense, it proves to be much more challenging to manage than housing because it's not predictable. The bottom line is you have to eat food to live, but you have a wide range of choices as to how you will accomplish that magnificent reality. Additionally, the changes in food costs can have an impact.

I thought it might be helpful to share with you what we decided to do and point you in the direction of some aides as you start to control your money instead of it controlling you.

Decide What Kind of Food Person You Are
This is going to look different for everyone. You might be the frugal single person who's been convinced that manna is just the Old Hebrew bible word for ramen. Some of you believe you are actually a reincarnated founder of Portland, summoning all the foodiness of that city, naming your food and making sure that it's treated more humanely than most humans. You might be a newlywed couple, both of whom just have hourly jobs at Starbucks, or a family of six. You might love to eat out a lot or just once or twice a month. The two factors to take into consideration are really 1) what kind of food do we think is best for us? and 2) how big is our family?

Do Research
This is something I hadn't done until tonight. I had been setting our budget based on some past months and the limitations of my income. This can work, but if you are running into issues monthly it you are either not being responsible with your spending or you're not budgeting the right amount. Budgeting against your past spend doesn't help a ton here, so this is where research comes in. We thought it'd be helpful to ask, "What is the average budget for a family of 3 in Chicago?" So I looked at a few websites and found a bunch of helpful aides, mostly coming from this Lifehacker article. I'll break them out a bit more below:

  • Percentage of budget: Dave Ramsey gives quite a big range of 5-15% for food, which includes both groceries and restaurants. In the article I read, it can range from 9-14%. If you are using the new EveryDollar app provided by Dave Ramsey, you will be able to see the percentage calculation of your planned food budget, which I found convenient.
  • Compare yourself: There are actually quite a few resources out there that allow you to compare yourself and your situation with the rest of the country. An older article in Mother Jones allows you to enter in your information in a calculator, which then spits out some results for you as an individual, comparing you to others in the country and your area. Additionally, here's a handy table that shows the average spending in major metropolitan areas. Lastly, the one I found to be most helpful was from the USDA, which comes out with a monthly food cost chart for groceries, based both on family size and four cost plans, which tend to be based on the type of food you buy. So, for example, in March 2015, a family of four with a thrifty plan could be between $563.90-$648.00 while a liberal plan could be $1102.50-$1287.80. These numbers were a bit shocking at first glance, but again, aren't you a bit shocked once you start tracking your food costs just how much you spend?
With both the percentage of our monthly budget and the USDA chart provided, I decided tonight to increase our food budget and adjust some other items instead.

So tomorrow we're having filet mignon...

You got any other tips or tricks or hacks or recipes???

*On a side note, Americans spend a ton more than I realized eating out. JAM.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mad Men: The One Observation No Review Is Making

SPOILER ALERT!!! I am going to give away a good bit of Mad Men in the second half of this post. If you don't watch the show, the first half right below is right for you, but you should stop there and then forward it on to all your friends who do watch the show so they can read my unique observation that no reviews have made.

I am going to make a case for why you should watch Mad Men without giving much away. The main character of the show is Don Draper, who is introduced in the first episode as a strong, independent, creative, powerful storyteller who uses all of those skills in the space that he may have best been suited for: advertising. Why? Because advertising boils down to controlling the story of a product to convince you of its value to you. The advertising industry knows with complete confidence that buying that product is only the natural response to believing the narrative surrounding it.

Now why would Don Draper be best suited for this? Because that is what he attempts to do over and over and over again with his own life throughout the drama of Mad Men. Don Draper tries to control his story, convincing everyone around him to believe his narrative, not necessarily to buy him, but to find him valuable. And just like with any product being sold, the audience matters, so thus the story changes. Such is the case with Don, and such is the case with all of the characters on the show, which is one reason for you to watch.

But here's the main reason why you should watch Mad Men: In so many ways we would hate to admit, Don Draper is just like you and me. I'll leave it at that.

This past episode, Time and Life, was by-far-the-best of this second half of season 7. There have been some excellent reviews of this show. I've read about half a dozen, but the two I found most insightful can be found here and here.

However, and much to my surprise, none of them made this observation: Every one of the partners in this episode has someone significant to turn to except for Don. First, I am saying "partners" here, which means I'm leaving out Peggy, but a case can be made there. But Ted, Joan, Pete, and Roger all have someone to turn to in this time when SC&P is facing its biggest crisis. The episode ends with the partners all standing next to each other after the entire office, upon hearing that they're being absorbed by McCann Erickson, wigs out and walks out on them. Not even Don, the master weaver of tales himself (who's already failed once that day), can control the situation and wrangle them in with a whimpering, "It's not the end."

Watching them all stand there together, but alone, made me realize that it was still Don standing alone. We've seen that theme in all the episodes prior to this one: Don alone at the restaurant; Don alone in his apartment; Don alone outside his apartment. And now we have the illusion that Don is standing beside his partners.

But throughout the episode we all got a glimpse that those partners could depend on someone else outside the office. First, we see Pete reunited with Trudy over the issue of Tammy's admittance to the prestigious Greenwich Country Day School, which plays out a crazy 300 year-old grudge held by the headmaster hailing from the MacDonald corner against poor ole Pete from the Campbell corner. While nothing romantic happened, there was enough defending, flirting, and sparks flying to make everyone watching wonder just what will happen between them. Then, we see Joan on the phone with her new beau, Richard, who's out in Cali getting tanner each episode. She opens up to him and he's immediately empathetic, meeting her emotionally and even physically, booking a red-eye flight to New York. Then there's Ted, who confides in Don after his confession about the Cali mistake, that he's found someone; well, he's rediscovered someone, an old girlfriend from college. He tells Don a bit of background and ends with, "neither one of us could remember why it didn't work out." In other words, "we're perfect for each other." Finally, there's Roger, who finally admits to Don that he's been hooking up with Marie Calvet, Don's ex-mother-in-law. But in this episode it shows that Roger and Marie have moved beyond that to something deeper as Roger has to leave the office to go see her.

And all we have left is Don. Don, who, at the beginning of the episode, received two calls from the mysterious Diana, who left and then took back her messages. Don, who, in the middle of the episode, goes to her old apartment seeking her out, only to find that she's left her furniture to the new tenants and fled the city. Don, who, at the end of the episode, is standing dead center with his partners, but is still completely and utterly alone.

We see a man who spent his whole life trying to control his narrative in order to be, or at least feel, valued, lose it all, unraveling bit by bit as each of these last episodes begin and end.

And I can't wait to see what happens next.

Monday, April 27, 2015

We Got a New Car! And Then...

We bought our new car today!

I wrote just two days ago about how I had gone and looked a really great Honda Accord. It had a single owner, was in very good condition, and she kept immaculate records on everything done to the car, which was just basic maintenance because Honda.

So today, after lots of driving around, visiting two banks, hitting up a currency exchange, calling the insurance company, and leaving the old Civic at Stacy's parents, we are now the proud owners of a 2006 Honda Accord with FOUR FREAKIN' DOORS! We are also digging it because it's an EX-L, which comes with some other features our Civic doesn't have, like a moon roof, heated front seats, defrosters for the side mirrors, a 6-disc CD changer, and a sweet faux leather interior.

Of course we had to commemorate the moment Stace got to put Asher in his car seat without having to get all Cirque du Soleil like she used to in our old car.

Now if you look closely, you'll see Asher being very content with his little pouch-o-liquid-fruits-and-veggies. He spent hours in the car today, so hooking him up with snacks on the rush hour car ride home was the least we could do for him. I should have just saved the half a box of Cheerios that I dumped from every crevasse of the seat when I transferred it over from the Civic to the Accord, but I guess he just had to settle for the pouch.

The ride was long on the way back and he cried a few times because the sun would penetrate his little blue eyes and make him feel as if the whole world disappeared. But he was placated with toys and his pouch, which he tossed to the side every now and then.

We finally found some street parking near our house (the car didn't come with a driveway unfortunately) and took a deep breath knowing it was all over. Right as we parked my mom called so I jumped on the phone while Stace went to get Asher out, using the NEW BACK DOOR OF OUR FOUR DOOR!

As I'm getting out of the car while talking to my mom, I hear Stace say something like, "Oh no!" Immediately I thought something was wrong with the car that I didn't notice when we bought it. I run around to the back and see her holding Asher and he's covered in what initially looks like poop. It was on his hands, his pants, and even his shoe. "This was an other-worldly poop," I thought. Then I look at his car seat and the whole butt region of the seat is also covered in this it. I ask Stace, "Is it poop?" and my mom's on the phone like "What???" Stace kindly assures me it's not poop, but it was close enough; it was that devilish pouch-o-poop that he squeezed All. Over. The Place. It wasn't just on him and on the seat, but all over the seatbelts and our beautiful faux leather and probably some innocent car that passed by us on the way home.

Mind you, Asher has had a lot of food with him in the back seat of the Civic and not once has that ever happened. But, because life, Asher decided this would be a good time to test it as a paint gun instead of grubbin' like he normally does. I'm thinking it was the fact that this pouch as a sweet potato/carrot/oatmeal concoction, revealing that this was not even close to Asher's fault, but an utter #parentfail from the start.

I was too crushed to take a picture of it, so I'll leave you (and me) with the memory of the joy we had when we first got in.

Nevertheless, it's a lesson that no matter how much we may get pumped about new shiny stuff or in our case a used, semi-shiny, car, we can't hold on too tightly to any of it because alls it takes is one 17 month old with a sweet potato shotgun pouch to remind you just how quickly it can all crumble.

And that's okay.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Your Most Important Meeting of the Month

Alright, so I'm back on the budgeting kick. How's the progress so far? Some of you have talked to me in person, but I'd love for you to share below so others can see and be encouraged or, if you have questions, then we can all share the answers.

I am turning these into weekly posts, and may just call it "Mondays are for Money" or something like that. It's probably a good thing because Mondays are a fresh start to the week. Chances are the weekends can be the most tempting to break the budget, especially when you're out with your friends and you haven't cut that plastic up yet.

So, now you can wake up bright and early to some budget goodness.

Monday is April 27th, which means the new month is coming up. If you've been keeping up, you should have a buddy and a quick budget set. If not, catch up on the blog right quick starting here and join folk who are changing their lives for the better.

The quick budget is a good start, but in order to get serious about budgeting, there are two more tools for your arsenal:

  1. Monthly Cashflow Plan: Cashflow is an important concept to understand, but one that many of us fail to grasp. In short, cashflow is how money comes in and out of our accounts. It's typically broken down into income and expenses. Most of us get paid twice a month, but we have expenses many more times than twice a month. The monthly cashflow plan is a high level approach to how your cashflow will go for the month. The goal is to have a big fat 0 at the end, meaning that ever dollar that comes in has a planned spot for going out. This helpful form even gives you a suggested percentage of spending for each category that's fairly in line with general financial advice.
  2. Everydollar App: When I started with Dave Ramsey, it was just the forms. I created PDFs and would type in the numbers on my computer. I then moved to Excel. Well I learned that just recently Ramsey came out with an online budget tool and an app to go with it! It's called EveryDollar and you should sign up so you can budget through that. You have to enter manually all of your transactions, which is good, because you own your spending that way. It apparently costs money to tie your bank account to it, but I wouldn't recommend that. If you're budgeting the right way, you shouldn't have to tie it your account. Stace and I starting it this month, so we'll all be doing something new together!

The last week of the month is important for budgeting. If you're like me, you have a ton of meetings throughout the week and I'd say about 5% of them are actually needed, but there's one meeting that's most crucial and thankfully it doesn't even happen at work and you only need it once a month. It's a meeting of the minds, a clashing of wills, and a great gathering to plan joyously the month ahead.

It's the budget meeting!!! (Hooray Hooray, Clap Clap, Cheer!)

So here is how the budget meeting should go down:

  • Same day every month: Make your meeting consistent and throw it on the calendar. Stace and I typically have done the last Thursday of every month. 
  • Make it as fun as a budget meeting can be: We've called it "Family Night" and have tried to make it fun. Yes, sometimes she has fallen asleep on the couch, but other times we've gone to a coffee shop, enjoyed some treats, talked, done the budget, and even planned our calendar of events for the following month. We would celebrate the small wins, like staying on budget for certain hard items like eating out, and we would get pumped when we saw our debt going down because of our commitment to the budget. It's awesome to see that progress, so don't downplay that and have fun.
  • Come prepared: This is for you Nerds. You should come prepared for this time. That means you have to do a little bit of work ahead. If you are a Nitpicky Nerd, you may want to reconcile all your expenses with your budget. If you've been tracking throughout the month, this shouldn't be an issue, but some people like to do that reconciliation. I've done it a few times, but it isn't wholly necessary. As long as you know throughout the month where your money is going and how much you have left, you're good to go. Also, have next month's budget as ready as you can have it. It shouldn't change too much from month-to-month, but if you're just starting, these first few months will take a little bit more work until you get the hang of it.
  • Communicate & Collaborate: Talk about how the last month went. What went well? What was hard about it? What changes need to be made? This is an opportunity to give the Free Spirit a chance to really speak into how the budget should look for the following month. You guys may want to shift some money around to have a fun date night or you may need to set aside additional money to go get some mani-pedis together (you know, if it's two friends doing this together).
  • Own it. The meeting should end with both of you agreeing that the budget is good to go. If you are two friends with two separate budgets, sign off on each others' budget. At the end, it's something you have to own and stick to. Set it for the month and be done with it.
Once May hits, you should be money. The great thing about a budget is it gives you confidence with your spending for the month because you actually have a plan. If this is your first time, you will actually begin to see how empowering it is.

Let me know if you have questions or need more help. And tell me about your progress!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Some Things Are Just More Important

This day has flown by and the window of time to write has been small.

I stayed up quite late last night shopping on Craigslist for a new family car. We are currently sporting a 2003 Honda Civic. It's the car I bought when I moved back from Italy in 2005, so I'm coming up on close to 10 years of owning this sweet ride with funky wave graphics on the side. I'd keep it for another 10 or whenever I'd run it into the ground; the only downside is that it's two door and the climb into the backseat for Stacy and me (but way more Stacy than me) is just not going to work for us whenever we have two kiddos.

So today I had a great prospect for a car and drove a little over an hour each way to see it. If all things go well, by Monday we will be the proud owners of a very well-maintained 2006 Honda Accord. Honda 'till we die, yo!

When I got back, Asher napped, which allowed Stace and me to take advantage of some time to do the glorious stuff people always dream about when they think about getting married: creating shopping lists and working on bills.

Then, as soon as Asher got up, we decided to all go to the store together. Sometimes Stace likes that time to herself, but today we all thought it'd be great to do it as a family. We made an extra stop at a pet supply store to let Asher explore all the birds, fish, and crawly creatures. This might be tough to understand, especially if you're not married or you don't have children, but these are some of the best times we have as a family. Those times of going to the park, going to the store, or just walking -- all of them giving us time to talk while watching our boy explore and grow and interact with other people -- are some of the most joyful and memorable. I'm sure those with multiple kids reading this are thinking, "No, Andrew, you really don't understand. Just wait..."

We got back. Asher ate. We played. I got to put him down with a modified version of our typical routine. And now Stace and I get the rare chance for a night on the town. We're just 10 minutes away and I've got to finish dolling myself up.

So what's the point of this blog?

Some days are just like this. And some things are just more important.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Put Yourself Out There and See What Happens

You never really know what will happen until you take the risk and put yourself out there.

I am not sure if it's the scientific method or if people have always been this way, but many of us tend to hold back from saying or doing something because of all the "what if" scenarios we conjure up in our heads, analyzing them with countless angles.

Now, there are two kinds of "what if" scenarios. The first are the "what if" scenarios developed as contingency plans of action in case the original plan doesn't work. "Let's do a picnic date" says the thoughtful husband. "But what if it rains?" he thinks and decides, "well, we'll do the picnic indoors" or "we'll go to the movies instead." The kinds of "what ifs" that have an "instead" are good and healthy and show thoughtfulness.

But there's a second kind, a "what if" that keeps us from taking any action at all. Here I'll just draw from personal experience. I've been writing in various ways for 18 years now. But I have always been afraid to take it seriously enough to put my words and thoughts out there on a regular, consistent basis. I would say thing things like, "Yeah, I'm a writer and I'd like to blog, but what if no one really reads it," or "what if my blog doesn't take off?" When I was in school writing research papers on tough historical and theological subjects I would hold off from pursuing other writing opportunities because I'd say, "what if they all see I don't know what I'm talking about." The kinds of "what ifs" that hold you back from doing anything are fear-based imaginings that have no rooting in the real world.

As your feet hit the floor getting out of bed and as your eyes look out the window to gaze at the morning sun and as your hands grab that glorious hot cup of coffee in the morning, so too are your desires and aspirations meant to take place in the world in which you wake up everyday. And you're never going to know what will come of them until you actually try.

This is not a guarantee of success, but it's also not a guarantee of failure. You truly don't know. And it is almost always what you don't expect.

This experiment of writing everyday is teaching me this again. I am talking to people who regularly tell me that this blog is having an impact on their lives. People are telling me they read it everyday, some of whom I've never actually even met in person. Are you serious? Some have told me that the few budgeting tips have been inspiring them to take action (and yes, I will be picking that back up next week). Others are saying that it's encouraging them to take a deeper look at the way they view the world. I love that! Who knew this small crumb of a blog could have that kind of impact on the real lives of real people?

There are challenges and disappointments, moments when it feels like I'm wasting my time or being foolish. Some people make light of what I'm trying to do. That's okay. It's part of what I'm trying to do. So I hope this encourages you. If you're reading this, you know that I don't have a massive platform. I don't have thousands of people reading. I'm not making a living off of my writing. But I'm making a big difference in the lives of a few people, all because I'm finally past the "what ifs" and putting myself out there everyday.

I hope you'll take that step with me, put yourself out there with your writing, your singing, your improv, your budgeting -- whatever it may be -- and see what happens.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Questioning Conversations

Question asking. It is an art. It is a science. And it’s something that most of us suck at in everyday conversation.

I’m a fan of this book called Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, where the author tries to explain a complex theological concept known as total depravity. This post isn’t about that per se, but part of this concept is the notion that human beings by nature are deeply selfish and find a way to turn everything toward themselves. The compelling analogy he uses is the way in which we talk to each other. For example, say a friend asks you, “How’d your day go?” Instead of responding with a typical, “It was okay,” you actually open up and say, “Yeah, John, today sucked. The calls I made didn’t go the way I wanted and I’m not too sure how I’m gonna move forward with some hard feedback I got from a client.” Then your friend responds, “Yeah, I know what you mean, I had a super hard day too. My boss went on a rant about how we’re not producing like we should and I thought I had been doing really well over the past several months, so I’m not too sure how all of that is going to affect my performance review and then that means I don’t know if I’ll get the bonus we need to go on our vacation, which would stink because we really need that time because the marriage has been struggling as of late and I thought a vacation could really help, but now everything is just kind of up in the air and I don’t know what to do.” Yikes. What happened there? Or you tell someone at work that things are rough because you just found out your mom has cancer and the person says, “I know how hard that is. My great aunt’s sister had cancer and I heard it was really hard on her family too.” That hardly seems relevant to your situation, but you graciously respond, “yeah, it’s hard.” 

Have you ever been in conversations like that? You know you have and you know you hate it when you feel like someone isn’t listening to you, especially when you open up like that. And, if you think hard enough, I’m sure you know (but might not be willing to admit) that you’ve also been the person on the other side of the conversation. I have. We say something like, “I do it because I want to relate or connect,” but have you ever felt like someone was really connecting with you when they simply talk back and either dump their issues on you or trivialize your experience? In reality it’s not a conversation, but two people just talking at each other. There’s a shadow of a connection, of a relationship, but it all false very short of what we’re all seeking in one another. I believe there are a ton of motivations for why we won’t take the risk of asking questions, some of which I shared, but too many to get into in this post. Just for fun, try a little experiment next time you talk to someone — see how long it takes for a question to be asked once the conversation gets started. You might be surprised how long we can go just making statements to one another without every really engaging deeper.

But also try another experiment in the conversation after that one. Instead of responding in statements, consider asking more questions. If this isn’t already a regular practice for you, you will most likely find that it is extremely more difficult. You will be concerned about asking the wrong question. You might be afraid the person will think you’re getting too personal. There are no real guarantees because when you ask questions you allow the other person to have a sense of control over the conversation. So yeah, you might get a weird look, or get told that it’s too personal. But you may also find that the person will open up, that he or she will feel heard, and that you will gain trust. 

You might be asking, “How do I ask good questions?” That is a good question :) I’ve found that the best place to start is just by asking any question even remotely relevant to the conversation. For the hard day at work, “How did you want the calls to go?” or “What was the feedback?” For the friend whose mom has cancer, “How is she?” or “That sucks, how are you doing?” If at any point genuine caring or curiosity sets in, you’d be surprised at how perceptive your questions can become.

Don’t you want to be heard? Being heard starts with listening and the best way to listen is by asking good questions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yo Sales People - Get in the Game Early!

If you're in the world of sales these days, you will soon come across a stat that's used to highlight the massive change occurring in the buying world, especially for B2B sales. The stat not only highlights this change, but is used to frighten you, challenge you, and convince you that somehow you're doing the wrong thing. It will beat like a loud drum in your mind because it's everywhere.

What's the stat? It's that a customer is 57% into their buying journey before they ever connect with a sales professional.

First, what's funny is that no one can truly agree on the actual percentage. I'm at a conference in San Francisco this week and I heard 57%. I've read elsewhere it's 68%. As Abraham Lincoln said famously, "you can't trust 90% of statistics people tell you." But the point is still made.

Back in the day, people used to depend on sales people much earlier in the buying cycle to get information and learn more about their purchase. This process gave more control and power into the hands of sales. Now, because Internet, customers can do hordes of research before they ever reach out to a sales person. They come armed as experts and they now have control over the buying cycle. The stat is meant to reflect that major shift in the last 15 years.

What is the market's response to this shift? Well, it's this concept called "We're watching you." Of course no one would call it that outright, so there's a cool businessy term called web activity monitoring or something like that. The idea is that we will use technology to track your activity on our website, learn what pages you've visited, track any papers you've downloaded, etc. Since you're unwilling to call us and ask for our help, we'll at least watch you so we can be better informed when you do. This is all marketing's role and then there is a handoff to sales when the time seems right (I'm oversimplifying this part).

On the one hand, this is brilliant. I have nothing against it and I utilize the information we've gathered whenever I'm starting to engage with someone for the first time because it's helpful to understand areas of interest and it can make the person feel heard. I'm all about that experience.

But on the other hand, I hate this idea that the sales person needs to wait until marketing passes it off. If the concept of the "power shift" is true, and it definitely is regardless of the percentage, why should I wait until someone gets to that point to reach out or wait for that collected information?

What if sales folk get in the game and engage early? Now I know what you might be thinking: "I don't want to be sold to that early, especially if I'm just starting." I totally agree. This is where sales people need to shift their thinking from selling something to providing value. Concede the power (which I'm sure might be hard for you) and actually help people in their journey. What if we go where the research is being done and provide early value without trying to sell anything? There's no clear ROI here and if you consider staring a sales cycle from this place it may be a looooong time before you ever see a close.

But, and this is why people like Gary Vaynerchuk are thriving in this new world of buying, you are showing that you are willing to give before making an ask, you are establishing yourself as an authority in a space where people are looking for one, and you are building credibility and trust at the time it is most crucial. This all ties back into value and if you're willing to engage early with this, there will be much less resistance when that value is tied to a dollar amount.

It requires hustle and may feel like there's no real payoff because it doesn't fit in the conventional pipeline, but all it takes is one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

This is the Most Important Lesson to Learn...and Learn...and Learn

One of the most important insights learned in life is also one of the hardest in to follow.

A beautiful house with ornate design and detail, countless bedrooms and bathrooms, large enough to fill hundreds of people for an extravagant party is nothing without a solid foundation.

A world-class weightlifter never relies on sheer muscle to break records in the deadlift of the clean and jerk; he or she must depend deeply on proper form or risk horrible injury.

Sometimes the most intelligent mathematicians can be reduced to rubble when stumped with an equation because they overlooked the basic fundamentals of addition and subtraction.

Foundation. Form. Fundamentals.

None of them are pretty in their own right. When's the last time you looked at a foundation and praised it's beauty? All require time, patience, and a ton of practice to get it right. And when they are done right, it's almost as if their forgotten. And that's part of their inherent purpose; they are all intended to deflect and lead you to praise the house, the weight lifted, or the problem solved. Their absence can be deadly; their presence can lead to great things.

Yet remembering this fact and living it out is so hard for me and most of us. Don't you just want to see the walls go up and get past the boring stuff? How big of a deal is that introduction to lifting when all I want to do workout, get big, or lose weight?

There are very few of us in the world who know that putting the heavy time in at the beginning ends up paying the biggest dividends later. It's what separates the masters from the rest of us.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Question Your Passion

Which is the more important question: should you be searching for your passion so that you can give all you got to it or should you give all that you've got to something until it becomes your passion?

Depending on how you answer, what does that say about your motivation and character?

And I'm just curious, but what does having a "passion" mean? It's a popular word these days and I see a lot of books being written about "following your passion." Does this mean that everyone has a passion they should be following and if they aren't they aren't being true to themselves? Or what about those who can't identify a passion; are they somehow second-class citizens?

Can a passion be created from what was once a passionless endeavor?

I might be giving away my hand, but I believe on some level the whole "follow your passion" theme is in the same book where "you can change the world" is found. Different chapters, but all a part of some kind of narrative (and I venture to say a very Western narrative) that magnifies the individual in a hyper-grandiose fashion that we feel the constant pressure to live up to because it's the voice that says this is all about you. The threat is that if you don't follow the storyline, you won't find yourself a part of the story and if you're not a part of the story, you're nothing. That can be scary.

But the truth is that this isn't the only story out there, nor is it necessarily a true story.

It is possible to live in this world meaningfully without ever having a passion that you pursue. It's possible to do work that no one else sees as valuable, work that others think they're above doing, and be more satisfied with life than they are. Why? Because some people in this world have learned that you can actually love what you do simply because you get to do it. It could be stuffing envelopes, working at 7/11, fixing boilers, whatever. And most of the people I know who are content like this have one thing in common -- they know the story of "it's all about you" is a flat out lie.

I'm not saying to stop following your passion. But be suspicious. Ask what it means and who it's all about. Don't let the prevailing narrative of this generation dominate you. There's a much better story to be told.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Please Stop Trying to Change the World

Have you seen the new commercials? The first one aired several weeks ago, during the Academy Awards, I believe. Each ad features Jeff Goldblum as Bill Bellflower, the "Silicon Valley Maverick." Perfectly casted, he's rocking the rimmed glasses and slick hair, looking like what all the future hipsters might be like. His attire is all black, including a black turtleneck reminiscent of Steve Jobs, and each time he talks he sports a Brittany Spears mic acting as though he's giving the type of keynote speech we've all grown accustomed to with Apple, Microsoft, and TED Talks, using visionary terms like, "Web 5.0" and the "Apartminternet."

It's blatantly obvious and brilliant.

The best part of it all is the tagline that's like a supersaturated sponge dripping with satire:
Change your apartment. Change the world.
Every time I watch some new version of the ad, I crack up at that consistent tagline coming out of Goldblum's mouth in that nerdy nasally tone, almost like an older, slightly mellowed Steve Urkel, "Change your apartment, change the werrrld. 

I love this ad for two reasons. First, even though Stace and I already have an apartment, I visited the site. It made me want to check it out and see what's offered. All in all, it's a clean, simple website with a good number of features that make the apartment hunting experience as pleasant as it can be. These ads would be an utter failure if it didn't accomplish the purpose of getting traffic to the site.

Second, and more importantly, is that it accomplishes providing the same experience for us all. Even if you aren't looking for an apartment, when you hear those words, "Change your apartment, change the werrrld," you crack up and say, "Oh silly Jeff Goldblum, that's absurd, almost as absurd as you being a scientist who turned into a fly or you being a scientist at a park with real-life dinosaurs or you being a scientist period!"

It goes without saying that when you change your apartment you are not changing the world. If you do believe you're changing the world with that decision, may I suggest a place that has nice padded walls? But this is the beauty: when it actually is said, it calls out all the other silly ways we've been convinced that basic, everyday decisions, are changing the world.

It seems like we can't go a day without being told that this product, that decision, this action, that donation will change the world. You and I are harassed and bullied into this story and get crushed with guilt when we aren't making some kind of impact. Unless you aren't somehow changing the world your life is meaningless. So you decided to buy that all natural shampoo or you start eating cage free eggs or your company purchases the software has "revolutionized" the industry, yet those storytellers will somehow convince you are that you aren't doing enough.

Please stop trying to change the world.

Can I ask you something? What would happen if you rejected that narrative, that story telling you that you have to be a world-changer in order to be human? What if you were just an ordinary person and found contentment in that?

Maybe you'd stay in your apartment forever...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturdays Are For Suggestions

Bottom line: I really love writing. I love crafting sentences, communicating thoughts, and sharing stories. I really love the dialogue that can come from a good article or blog, whether I've written it or not. I've committed to writing this blog because I wanted to stop making excuses. I also did it because I wanted to take on the challenge of building a strong base of readers. 

I'm two weeks into this thing and I think I want to build into my daily rhythm, a bi-weekly rhythm of reflection and feedback. I think it'll be huge to consider what has gone well, what hasn't, and what can be done to improve. 

My goal is not only to write, but also to get readers. And I would love your help. I am shamelessly soliciting feedback. If you read this specific post, I simply ask that you take an extra 2-5 minutes to share your thoughts in the comments below and provide any suggestions you can (please don't tweet them to me; I'd like others to see your awesome suggestions). Don't concern yourself with whether you think it's a good comment or helpful or whatever. Just share :). Here's what I'm considering so far:

I actually started blogging back in 2003, back when it was still called a "weblog." I didn't have enough foresight then to know just how big this form of content delivery would become. The space was much less crowded then; today, there have got to be hundreds of millions of blogs out there. It's crowded and people aren't just going to stumble upon this blog like they may have at one point. The word has to get out and I haven't done much in the past two weeks, other than tell my wife and people at work and share the blog on Twitter and LinkedIn from time to time. So here's what I'm thinking should be done over the next two weeks:
  • Send out to all my e-mail contacts. I've got a ton of contacts, many of whom have read my writing in the past. I think I could get a handful to subscribe.
  • Send specific blogs to friends, family, or whomever could benefit. This is just a hustle play. Often there are people I talk to who mention a topic I've written on. It'd be great to follow-up via twitter, LinkedIn or e-mail and send that specific blog.
  • Word-of-mouth. This is still by far the best way for word to spread, period. It's the best in business, it's the best in restaurant recommendations, it's the best for doctors. When someone we trust tells us we should check out something we've never heard of, there is an implicit trust that connects us to the unknown, regardless of it's own quality. For those of you who read this, you have really have no idea just how powerful your voice really is.
  • Guest bloggers. Inviting others to write on this blog gets exposure because they have a following that'd be willing to read some stranger's blog if they've written on it. I just have to think through who would guest blog and how that would all work.
  • Photos for every post. I've read over and over again that photos increase the quality of a blog. Yet, I often find myself completely uninterested in them, unless they are for a food blog and they help me see what is being written. Rarely are photos that contextual and rarely do they provide value. What do you think?
  • Better font. I love clean and simple. I've been very intentional about the black and white design, minimalistic in the experience because I want the words, the stories, the sentences to speak for themselves. But I also think there can be cleaner more simple items that can enhance that value. Perhaps a better font?
  • Better mobile experience. Currently, the mobile interface is subpar. If you've ever tried it, don't you agree? I'd like to figure that out more, but for now it is what it is. Ideally, I want that experience to be as much in line with the computer experience because that dissonance can be distracting.
  • Video. What do you think about the mix of writing and video? I've tried both in the past. I'd be curious what a "Thirty Minute Thought" would be like in video format. I don't think 30 minute videos is the answer. 
  • Shorter posts with more solid content. This one is huge. I appreciate writers who can say so much using so few words. Seth Godin is the perfect example of this. The idea behind this blog is that I spend 30 minutes writing, but I want the content to be quality and leave an impact on my readers that lasts longer than the 30 seconds after they finish reading. I know - this specific post isn't a good example of what I'm aiming for, but I'm aiming for it, right?
  • Themes. This week I wrote a lot about money and budgeting. That theme provided continuity and built expectation in my readers. Is themed writing the way to go? 
  • Read the "experts" who have built a following through their blog. There is no shortage of people who are now self-employed because the blog they once started for fun turned into a legitimate source of income. Jeff Goins is the first one to come to mind for me. Though I don't read much of his stuff, his story led to being one of the seeds planted for this blog, in particular the commitment to write everyday for a year. Another is Brett McKay and the Art of Manliness blog. Are there others out there? Is it worth it to go this road? I'm always skeptical to blindly start following the advice of "experts," but that may just be the way-too-strong contrarian in me.
  • Grow in writing better titles. Again, this is a hack more than anything. I've seen too many articles out there on the formula for writing a good blog title. And we all know what those are: "How to..." or "8 Ways to Transform Your..." or "33 Proven Methods for..." Again, part of me feels sleezy heading down that road, but truth is that even though we know these are clickbait, they hook us all nearly every time.
What other suggestions would you have? Hit me up in the comments below.

Friday, April 17, 2015

On The American Dream...

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. -Ancient Hebrew Proverb
For most of us, the act of budgeting accomplishes two things. First, it destroys the myth that we have more money than we really do. When you started budgeting and began to categorize your spending, weren't there a few categories, perhaps restaurants or clothing, where you just said, "I can't believe I (or we) spend that much!" Budgeting opens our eyes and forces adjustments; and if you stop depending on credit cards you realize that you just don't have as much money as you thought. I think these adjustments can give you a huge sense of freedom because you finally know the truth and have a plan. Part of that plan is that you are choosing to limit your experience of the American Dream -- for now.

But budgeting accomplishes a second thing. The limitations you place on yourself now is intentional preparation for your future. Instead of traveling the world now, you're establishing an emergency fund; instead of buying your dream car now and making payments, you're paying off debt. All of this is setting you up for the rest of your adult life to live the American Dream in a worry-free way. As Dave Ramsey puts it, "You live like no one else so you can live like know one else."

In short, if you actually stick with this, there's a real solid chance that you could be a millionaire by the time you retire with plenty of to spend and give away!

However, whether we have little or much now, or little or much later, my hope is that in this journey we are not only wise with our finances, but deeply loving with one another. This Proverb is a reminder, a smack in the face for those who pursue the American Dream believing that money actually solves our problems. We should all be challenged with the thought of a family happily sitting around the table with only a pea to split because love is the foundation of that fellowship. And we should all be convicted when we are tempted to believe that if we "had it all," but there was no love present, that it would be a fine life to live.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Sweet Tip and a Fun Lesson From Our Cash Journey

As you jump into the budgeting and saving experience, I thought I'd share two stories from our personal journey that highlight what can happen as you take these steps. Highs, lows, and a great bit of laughter:

Put That Cut Up Card On Display!
Dave Ramsey is a major proponent of stopping the use of all credit cards. He makes a compelling case that our current financial system is built on the false promise that you'll have the money later, so just pay later. We experienced this first-hand when we not only stopped using credit, but cancelled all our credit cards. We started running into some walls later when we needed to run credit reports for certain purchases. Like I said, our society is a plastic society, but more than that it's a credit society. The great irony is that you may be perceived as less trustworthy if you have no debt and no credit than someone who has a ton more debt, but a higher credit score. You could pay cash for a car, but could get denied a credit application. JAM.

I think that until you are completely debt free and develop a really solid handle sticking to a budget, you should rock the cash envelope method and, in the absolute very least, cut up your credit cards. You don't have to cancel them; just cut them up for now.

But don't just cut it up and throw it in the trash. Here's an idea that Stace and I took from some good Old Testament. One of the biggest themes in Scripture, but especially in the Old Testament, is remembrance. You thought I was going to say "God is angry" didn't you? Nope. It's remembrance. God continually calls his people to remember all that he did for them because it's the memory of his goodness, kindness, mercy, and love that was meant to sustain his people when they felt as though he was distant or that he forgot them. Isn't that great and so true? Don't you have to sometimes lean on the memories you've created with your parents or your friends or your significant other to carry you through the tough times when you doubt their love and acceptance? I think that's a gift from God!

Anyway, one way that these memories were grounded in reality was through the creation of physical memorials, usually some set of stones or marker that would conjure up all those thoughts of the past.

Stace and I decided to do something similar. If my external harddrive wasn't being such a punk, I'd share a picture. Instead, I'll just have to tell you. We decided to take one of the credit cards we used to use and cut it up. It was zebra print so you know it was mine...I mean Stacy's - Stacy's! We decided to frame it and add the Proverb "The borrower is slave to the lender" as a caption. It served to remind us -- especially when cash was tight and we just wanted to grab some ridiculously good thai food and pay for it later -- that if we have any debt we are always slaves to someone else. We hung it up by our desk for those times when I would actually sit there to do the budget.

Disclaimer: If you do this, and if you haven't canceled the card, just don't put them numbers up there for some sneaky creep to steal that info!

The Envelope System Requires Calculus?
Not gonna lie here: the cash envelope system can be a pain. If you have a lot of categories you're using, it's hard to keep track. Sometimes you want to exchange money from one for another; sometimes you have to deposit some because you used your debit card on Amazon to purchase socks. And sometimes it can be just like calculus trying to divvy out all that dough from your paycheck into envelopes. At least that's what it might feel like for the Free Spirit. Let me explain.

Fooled my teacher a few times, but definitely got caught!
I got the bright idea to ask Stace to start taking our cash out of the ATM and putting it into the respective envelopes. I thought I had helped her as much as I could to make this happen. One day, I came home from work, whistling. I'm sure I was whistling a tune. All Stace had to do was go to the ATM, take out the cash, and do her thang. Now was her time to shine in getting that cash in right. As I was whistling "My Girl"I walked to the bedroom. There I found my lovely wife hard at work. As I got closer, I saw that all the envelopes were on the bed, cash was in piles, and she was pounding away at the calculator trying to figure it all out. But this was no ordinary calculator. This was the vaunted TI-83. You remember that bad boy? It has like 6,000 buttons on it and I'm pretty sure you could launch a rocket with it or at least program it so you could play Super Mario Bros. or Drug Wars in Chemistry class. I think she thought I was an angel when I walked in because she was so relieved. Somehow $60 vanished and my memory might be a bit off, but I believe she had pesos.

Moral of the story: Don't give a Free Spirit a Nerd's job.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Budget Tips: Cash, Savings, and Needed Motivation

By the end of this blog post, you should have a good enough understanding to start laying The Foundation. You should feel comfortable enough to start budgeting, save $1,000, and change some behaviors.

Where You Should Be
Before jumping into specific tactics, let me recap where you should be at this point. If you're not here, check out my other blog posts here, here, and here, so you can catch up. You should:

  • Be motivated to make a change. This is about freedom. It's time for you to start controlling your money instead of letting it control you. You work too hard (most of you) to let money be your master when it's supposed to serve you.
  • Understand it may take a long time. Budgeting and changing deeply engrained habits takes time and shouldn't be considered. If money has been your master for a long time, you will feel tempted to go back to the only life you knew. Budgeting is a new sense of freedom that can be strange to most and at first glance seems like it's not freeing at all. Don't let that freedom scare you. To remind you -- look at your debt or the debt of your friends who dig deeper into the hole just to have another "experience" that's forgotten the next day. You're in this for the long haul. Be patient and trust the process.
  • Have a buddy. Freedom is best experienced in community. One of you is a Nerd and the other a Free Spirit. Find someone who wants to take this journey with you and is in a similar boat. You will need each other. 
  • Begin the Quick Budget. Take a stab at this. You may want to look at past bank statements, but don't worry about tracking your spending. Just get a good idea of what a full budget may look like for you.

Now here's one major tip I want you to take into strong consideration for when you start following your budget.

Envelope System Using a Foreign Object
We live in a plastic world. Gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants -- wherever we go, they all accept plastic. There ain't near one damn one of us (what did I just type) that hasn't gotten red all over when some place "only takes cash" and it's usually one of those uber-hipster joints that's the "hottest in town" and if you've never been you're anathema with your friends. And with new technology like Square and Apple Pay, it's getting even easier.

But can I make perhaps one of my strongest recommendations on this budget stuff? When you first start, use cash and use envelopes. In case you're unsure of what cash is, it's this odd substance made of paper or metal. It's tangible and you can exchange it for goods or services. It can have a funny smell and you shouldn't eat it, but you can use it to buy flowers or food, so there you go.

I would say for at least the first 3-6 months, use the envelope system for the following:

  • Groceries
  • Restaurants
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Personal Spending
Why am I strongly recommending this and why these categories? Well, I think it's necessary in order to change bad spending habits. Using a card is easy and you never really see the transaction; you only see numbers on the screen and you don't feel the pain of handing over cash to someone else, even if it's for something you like. As for the categories, I recommend them categories because these tend to be the largest spending categories for most people. If you have other large spending categories, I'd recommend going the envelope route for those as well. 

So, and I haven't said this yet, but stop using your credit card immediately. Use cash envelopes for the larger categories and use your debit card for the rest. "But what about emergencies you ask?" Great question.

Baby Step #1: Get 'Er Done Pronto!
Baby Step #1 is to save $1,000 toward your emergency fund. Why? Well, for one, so you stop falling back on the "I need a credit card for emergencies" excuse. Imagine a world where you can actual pay for emergencies that will inevitably arise because you planned for them by stashing some money aside? It's crazy, but possible and awesome!

You should be able to finish this step the fastest. I would recommend taking whatever tax return you got or will get (Happy Tax Day!) and throwing $1,000 in a "high-yield" savings account. These don't yield as much as they used to, but look for something in the 0.75-1.00% range. We use CapitalOne360.

If you didn't get that kind of return, start selling stuff that you bought with your credit card to make up for those mistakes (you know at least a few of those were mistakes). Whatever it takes, get this one done super fast and start cutting up those cards! I'm sure there are objections, so let's chat about that. Also, if you need any further help with any of this, just write in the comments below and we can get down to brass tax.

Last, I'm realizing that this will take time for those of you who are reading this and actually taking it seriously, so don't be surprised if I take a break from the budget theme for a week or so. I'd hate to write about topics and steps that you're not ready to take yet. If someone did that, and I were in your shoes, I'd stop paying attention.

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Budget Tips: Financial Peace, the Buddy System, and Go!

This little series has started to get some traction. I've talked to a number of people who want to know more about budgeting. All are younger folk. One co-worker, for example, said that this is perfect because all her friends are the YOLO-type and will just blow money on a Thursday night binge. I have no problem with blowing money from time to time or even sometimes yelling "YOLO", but it might be harder when you're broke at 75 with no teeth and no way to pay for new ones.

Zero to 1
Starting is the hardest part. I've seen posted in several places this line: "Zero to 1." To be honest I think it's a book and I'm guessing at the premise, but if I follow and perhaps might even co-opt it, the big idea is that this is the hardest step to take, the scariest step to take, but also the one that gets all the others going.

So, to mix the metaphor just a bit more, let's get to The Foundation.

Get Some Financial Peace!
As I shared a few nights ago, the most vital component to the Lisi Home of Budgeting Practices is The Foundation. We discovered the best foundation in Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. It started off as something I got for work. I was the Executive Pastor at a campus of a large church in Seattle and we were looking into the idea of running these classes at each of our locations. I decided to take it home because Stacy and I had yet to establish any kind of working budget. Here's a high level of where we were at by end of December 2012:

  • Single-income family: We were in the $50-75K range.
  • A couple hundred dollars in a savings account.
  • Roughly $10-20K of debt.
  • "Tracking" expenses, but not closely at all.
  • No real plan for the next 3-5 years financially.
We started watching Financial Peace University at home together and going through the workbook that comes along with it. What I plan on doing here is taking some of the highlights of that, but I strongly recommend finding a class and joining. They are usually out of churches. In full disclosure, there are elements of teaching from the Bible, but I wouldn't necessarily call it all biblical. Much of it is just practical wisdom found in Scriptures (which may also help disarm those of you who think the Bible is some ancient, out-of-date book, but that's for another time). If you can deal with that, then get into a class. 

Baby Steps
As I wrote earlier, the hardest step is Zero to 1. Ramsey understands this and thus calls the entire process he lays out "Baby Steps" to Financial Freedom. We're only on number 4, so that's as far as I can remember and that' all you're gonna get. Only the information you need, right? Boom:
  1. Save $1000 to start an emergency fund
  2. Pay off all debt using Debt Snowball
  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses for emergency savings
  4. Put up to 15% into pre-tax retirement funds, like an IRA
Ramsey is super strong on making sure to follow all of the Baby Steps in order. I will spend time on Baby Step 1 tomorrow.

Also, he works in the framework of the average American income, which at the time of recording was about $55K. Some of you make more, some less, but that shouldn't deter you. The best way to get a grip on any level of income is to still follow as closely as you can the plan laid out, especially with budgeting. 

Here are a few more practical areas of consideration and one piece of homework.

The Buddy System
You will not be able to do this alone. Lone soldiering budgeting works only for the rarely, supremely disciplined person. If you're married or engaged, it's an easy choice, especially because your financial decisions are or will be joint and affect one another. If you're single, you will want to pair up with someone who's a little different than you. How should you pair up? Well, Ramsey says that in every pair there will be a "Nerd" and a "Free Spirit." The Nerd likes the budgeting process, crunching the numbers, can sit in front of it all for two hours and not get tired, and is strict with the decisions. The Free Spirit can spend about 17 minutes AT MOST looking at the budget before he or she starts getting the shakes. They should be allowed to make some changes, open up possibilities, and provide a little freedom. 

As I'm sure you can tell from the blog, I'm the Nerd and Stace is the Free Spirit. For the first two months of this, she fell asleep on the couch! In each pair someone will always be the Nerd and someone else will be the Free Spirit, even if you aren't super strong or weak for either type. The point is that you just own your role because both are crucial for balance, accountability, and consistency. 

Every Month
The key behind it all is the simple, but powerful tools of the budget and the monthly budget meeting. It typically looks like the Nerd reviewing the previous month's budget and preparing the following month's budget while the Free Spirit dances with fairies or watches TV (trust me, you don't want that person doing anything close with the budget at this point). Then when you're ready, invite the Free Spirit in to look over it all and blow up some parts.

Quick Budget
The first bit of homework for you is to fill out the quick budget form that Ramsey provides on his website. It is a one-page budget, a quick overview for you to get an idea of what you will need to take in each month. I love this because he isn't calling for you to track your expenses for a month before doing this like so many others. That's where I would always get discouraged because no matter how hard I tried, and even with something like Mint, I sucked at straight tracking of spending. The idea is that if you maintain a monthly cadence you will be able to make adjustments as needed. 

Time's up! 'Till tomorrow...

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Two Simple Reasons Why YOU Should Budget

As I wrote about yesterday, I'm going to be focusing on budgeting for the next several days. Tonight I initially wanted to get into The Foundation, but as I typed, I saw that we actually needed to do a bit of digging first. Here's where we're going:

First Things First: Why Budget?
The "why" questions are perhaps always the most important to answer because, as I've said before and will scream on the rooftops in the future, why questions get at purpose. And purpose leads to action. If we don't see the value in budgeting or have a compelling reason to change our behaviors, none of us will change. It takes too much work and most of us, if we're honest, would rather waste time dreaming about the easy life or settle for instant gratification than work hard and sacrifice now for a better life later. 

Retirement Has Folk Living in Wiggsville!
So what's the compelling reason? Well, I think two stats that are easily found will help. First, a Gallup poll conducted just last year showed that the biggest financial worry American's have is that they won't have enough money for retirement. This concern, which is the consensus among 59% of Americans, has topped all others since 2001, so in times of both prosperity and recession, American's have remained consistent about this worry. Additionally, the age group that this worry affects the most is middle-aged people. For ages 30-49 it was at 70% and 50-64 it was 68%. Basically 7 out of every 10 people in an age group ranging 35 years are say having enough money to retire is their top financial concern. They have all moved into the town of Wiggsville, wigging out together about retirement in a little cul-de-sac somewhere, while the other three travel the world together. Does that strike you as a problem? Are you concerned you financial future? Are you living in Wiggsville with countless others? So what are you doing about it? 

You Probably Ain't Budgeting
Chances are you aren't budgeting, and that's the crazy thing. If I came from the future and told you that had no money and kept hitting me up because I could help, wouldn't you want to change something now? Well, another Gallup poll, conducted in 2013, reports that just less than one-third of all Americans "prepare a detailed written or computerized household budget each month that tracks their income and expenses." The stats reported are pretty even across the board, regardless of political ideology, education, or income, though the the percentage is slightly higher for those with more education and an income over $75,000. Yet still, it is the inverted percentage of those who worry about retirement. 

This is sheer speculation, but could it be that the majority of people who are freaking out about retirement also do not budget? In other words, most people who are super concerned about the future are doing nothing about it in the present. Again, is this you? 

Young, Single, Naive -- You?
Perhaps you're reading this and you're saying, "Well, Andrew, I've got you because I don't really budget, but I'm also not worried about retirement. What say ye?" I say, you're either really young, really single, or really naive -- probably some combo of those. I spent a good bit of time working through budgeting with some young folk who had just graduated college, so I understand how that feeling can be strong. I see the same thing in late 20-something, early 30-something single folk who have more purchasing power through more established jobs, but are all over the place with how they spend. And, sadly, I know all too well the deep financial challenges retirement-age individuals who didn't use those earlier years now face.

The math is pretty basic: each day that comes you are either alive or you aren't and each day that comes in which you are alive you either have the finances to support yourself or you don't. And as you get older, it tends to get more complicated with spouses, children, a house, a car, school, clothes, etc. If you don't get ahead of it now, regardless of your income, you are missing out on some of the best years to establish good principles and practices and also make some of the best contributions toward your financial future. 

Let this all sink in a bit. You probably aren't prepared for retirement, are living in Wiggsville, and see now way real way out. Is this "why" compelling enough for you to start making some changes? If so, we can get started tomorrow. If not, don't say I didn't warn you and the future you best not hit me up for dough later.

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Lisi Home of Budget Practices

Weekends are nearly always fun because I get more time with Stacy and Asher. I've already written about how electrifying Mamma Mia was with Stacy. But this weekend, in particular, I got to spend a lot of time with Asher. He went with me on a run, we walked in the square together, went out to eat a few times, and chased pigeons in the park today. While all of those moments were great, the highlight to my weekend was working on our budget!

Since I did spend some significant and generally peaceful time working on our budget, I thought I'd share some practical tips on how we budget that might be helpful to you. Why? Because the majority of people I know don't know where their money goes each month or they do "track their spending" with a tool like Mint and call it budgeting. Just for the record, that's not budgeting, that's just watching yourself overspend more closely. I wish I knew in my early-to-mid-20s what I know now about budgeting; I would have been saved from a lot more headaches and a lot more money also would have been saved!

The Setup
When Stacy and I got married, some debt was brought into the marriage. I can't quite recall how much, but I think it was somewhere between $10-20K. That debt included some of Stacy's student loans and some credit cards between us. We also had no real savings, perhaps a couple hundred dollars.

My job was the main income for our us. Unfortunately, Stacy couldn't get her teaching license in Seattle on time because she moved there late summer, so she rocked some substitute teaching to help with additional income and because she enjoyed it. Neither one of us were serious budgeting folk before marriage, though I had a tried a ton of different ways, including Mint and so on. We were starting from scratch. I had just turned 30 and she was 27. We started taking budgeting seriously just over two years ago. And in full disclosure, I received a hefty raise at my previous job that helped a lot, but more on that later.

In the interest of time, I am going to share The Lisi Home of Budget Practices and then delve deeper into them in future posts. Maybe, because this is the week of Tax Day I just write all week about budgeting and money? What joy! What bliss! Okay, so the three main  to budgeting for the Lisis are:

The Lisi Home of Budget Practices
The three main parts to The Lisi Home of Budget Practices are:

1. The Foundation: Dave "The Rabble-Rouser" Ramsey
As the foundation for a house is the most important, most time-consuming, and least pretty, such is the work needed to get a budget right. But there's no better way to build that foundation than with Dave Ramsey. His book, The Total Money Makeover, his training, Financial Peace University, and his budgeting tools can help literally anybody at any stage of life get their financial lives in order and with, for the most part, the right motivation. This was the absolute key for Stacy and me.

2. The Walls: YNAB
YNAB, or otherwise known as You Need a Budget, compliments Dave Ramsey's work nicely. I'll liken it to the walls of a our house here, but there's probably a better analogy. The unique teaching here is budgeting for next month off of this month's income. This simplified many of the challenges Stacy and I faced with budgeting and helped us feel the freedom to use credit cards again (which you will learn with Ramsey is a big "no-no").

3. The Personal Touch: Good Ole Excel 
Like with any home, there are some customizations that just make it feel like yours. I didn't feel like a needed another app, which is what YNAB is really all about, but we needed a better way to track our budget and monthly spending. I combined some of Ramsey's budgeting tools with some cloud-based Excel goodness (Google Spreadsheets) and crafted something Stace and I can use pretty easily.

I look forward to sharing more on each of these in the days to come. I'm basically repackaging the thoughts and teaching of experts, so don't freak out if you think I'm actually giving financial advice. If you know folk who this could help, tell them to tune in. 

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Three Questions on Value We Should All Be Asking

Tonight I want to combine several thoughts from this week into one. Three posts from this week each contain a major theme that is worth exploring, just a bit more.

Here's the big idea: The best value is often provided through consistency and story.

What is value?
A few nights ago I wrote about my core motivation for work, which is providing value. A good question to ask then is, "what is value?" In a very simplified way, value is anything that might be perceived as beneficial to one or more people. It might be the kiss I give Stacy when I come home for work after she's had a long day with Asher. It might be excellent food and service at a Michelin-rated restaurant. Value might be writing on a topic that provides the words and clarity for someone else who's just never been able to say it quite the same way. There a billions of examples of value in this world. If you are someone who seeks the good of others, wants to serve, or even wants to be in the business of making a ton of money because the work done benefits others in tangible or intangible ways, you are thinking through value.

How do I improve at providing value?
This may be a question you ask yourself and I sure has heck know I'm asking it all the time. So even if what follows only helps me, I'm cool with that. This question hits on my post on hustle from last night. I believe the only we can improve how we provide value is through hustle and if someone asked me to define hustle in only one additional word, I'd say it's consistency. By this I mean the day-in, day-out dedication and hard work in whatever we are trying to accomplish. In my life it is my family, my work, and most recently this blog. Consistency helps us improve because we don't stop, we're always evaluating, always experimenting, always trying to find what works best, and never giving up. That can't change. And too often we assume that for successful people, those who both seem most valuable in this world and the best at providing value, it just comes easy to them, or they were born with it, or whatever. To be honest, I am more convinced than ever before that those people just hustle more than me and you. Period. And the only way we can even dream of coming close is consistently seeking to provide value to others.

What's one of the best ways to provide value?
Just as I've grown convinced that the best value providers are great hustlers, I strongly believe the best way to provide value is through story. We are, as someone I know puts it, a "story-formed people." Our entire lives are shaped by story and stories are the best at getting at purpose -- at the why? -- than anything else. The best teachers, sales people, parents, musicians, etc. find a way to talk about life and shape how we think without ever telling us directly what to think. They simply show us through stories. I know this well because when I actually tell a good story, people are moved in some way. The best feedback I got on the blog this week was on my post about the bedtime routine I have with Asher (well, maybe "had. Ever since I wrote that post he's gotten more fidgety before bed and we get less and less time together. Such is life with a toddler. Gots to mix it up.). I think this is because it's a story that is familiar to others who have similar childhood stories or it connects to the longings of hearts of people who never had something like that. And when we're moved, we've benefitted from the story, and that means we've received something very valuable.

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Won't You Join Me in The Hustle?

It's 10:22 pm and I'm just getting started. We finished watching Mamma Mia! about 15 minutes ago and the most dominant thought in my mind after that is, "I really love my wife." Full disclosure: I totally fell asleep, but for those wakeful moments I pretended I lived in a world where husbands got points for sitting through movies like that with their wives and I ended up coming in first place this Friday night.

It's Friday night. I'm still tired from a long day and a long week. My eyeballs are burning and in need of a good massage. Since I started blogging regularly again, I've noticed that I'm going to bed closer to midnight.

Just five days ago I set out to write everyday. On the one hand I knew what that meant. I knew it wouldn't always be convenient or fun, that sometimes I would just have to hunker down and get something out there. But in the zeal of the moment and the thought of what it could be, I resolved to push through.

And now I'm on the other hand, the Big Fat Hand of Reality. The BFHR is Friday night at 10:30; it's wondering what I'm going to write about; it's 4 people who've subscribed to this blog so far, two of whom include my wife and me; it's the questions and doubts of a venture like this that start to creep in. The BFHR can be a crusher, squeezing me out of ever getting up to open my computer; it can convince me that I can skip writing "just this one night, especially since no one will fault me for that." The BFHR has always pretended to be a friend (is BFF too much here?), acting as if it is looking out for my best interest. I confess that way too many times I've followed the BFHR's direction and I've been crushed nearly every time. Don't you hate it when the BFHR gets the best of you too?

This time, I'm choosing to hustle. I'm choosing to freaking run away from the BFHR and do what I set out to do. Instead of glamorize the times of discipline and hard work, pretending they will be easy and admirable traits of future pursuits, I choose to live in them now and rely on them to destroy the BFHR.

I'm a writer and I'm choosing to write. I am hustling like no one is watching because that's when it matters most. I'd love to have a huge audience of people who read this, but there's no way I will ever be able to write for an audience of 4,000 or 4,000,000 if I can't hustle for the 4. And back in the day I would let the fact that I have a small audience discourage me from continuing. That's just the BFHR and I say that's silly and immature. This is the hard work that needs to be done and doesn't need to be praised or acknowledged. It just needs to happen.

So if you read this, I first want to say thank you. You could be reading a million other blogs or articles and for some reason you are reading this and have found some of it to be valuable. Keep doing that and, if you have a little more time, share it with a friend or two on the FB or Twitters. But second, I know many of you who read this are like me and have let the stupid BFHR stop you from going after something in your life that means so much to you. I hope you'll join me in doing everything you can to stop it. I hope you'll join me in the hustle.

Good night.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

My Core Motivation for Work

What's your core motivation for work?

The first legit job I ever had was in nearly 20 years ago, when I was 13 years old. I say legit because I had to fill out paperwork to get the job, but I don't know if it was legit to hire a 13 year-old. I'm outing myself on the Interwebs here, but that's fine (statute of limitations?).

It was the summer of '95 and I was visiting loved ones in New Mexico for a month. Everyone thought it'd be great if I got a job at the restaurant my sister-from-another-mother was working at. I remember so much from that job:
I loved the fact that I got to eat the restaurant's food on breaks. For some reason the crisp of the lettuce and ranch dressing dominate my thoughts. 
I learned how to fold linen napkins in the way that makes them stand up on the table like a triangle. I can still do it. 
My job was to bus tables for the light lunchtimes and get the restaurant ready for dinner service in the evenings. 
It was out in the middle of nowhere. Lamy, New Mexico, near the train station. Look it up. You should see dirt and tumbleweeds on Google Maps. 
The name was Legal Tender. 
My shirt was a "this should be for Shaq" button-down jean shirt. 
I worked a double-shift on my third day. 
I worked there a total of four days. 
I felt like a millionaire when I got my check for $127.50 -- net pay baby! 
But the memory that's the strongest is that double-shift. I not only worked my normal late morning/early afternoon shift, but also the evening/night shift, when we were the busiest. Everything was fine and normal, until I was asked to do a task I never thought I would have to do or ever thought I could be prepared to do.

They asked me if I could serve coffee to a patron.

Can you picture this? I'm only a generous 5'7" now and I don't think I had a growth spurt since I was five or six years old. I was a little punk kid who could barely stand even with an adult sitting at a table and now they were asking me to serve coffee? Weren't they afraid someone would call the police to report child labor laws being broken?

I freaked out and asked everyone and anyone I could for help, but all they did was tell me to do it. I'm sure I actually had to have someone pour the coffee into the mug for me because I couldn't reach, but I might be exaggerating here, probably not though.

Now here's the best part. I rightfully put the coffee mug on a saucer and grabbed a spoon, but then I put all of it on a massive servers tray. "This is how they do it, right?" I asked myself. I wanted to do this thing and show I could serve like all the growns up people. Baller.

So just picture this tiny little guy carrying a tray that's probably only half the size of him just to serve coffee. The table was outside, so I had to walk from the kitchen through the dining area and head outside. I turned left and found the table. A gentleman had ordered the coffee and he was pleased to see it arrive, though I'm sure the look on his face was one of shock and perplexity when he saw who was delivering it. I just kept telling myself as I was shaking, "don't drop it, don't drop it, don't drop it." Thankfully, I didn't drop the coffee, but here's why. When I got to the table I realized I couldn't hold the tray and take the coffee off at the same time; the tray was too heavy and I couldn't balance it. After deliberating for what felt like an eternity I did the only sensible thing I could think of: I asked the guy I was serving if he'd be willing to hold the tray so I could take the coffee off for him.

I was mortified. The next day ended up being my last day. I reasoned that there was no way a 13 year-old should spend his summer vacation working like that. Totally valid.

Why am I telling this story? I see now that, for nearly 20 years, ever since that night I fumbled my way through serving coffee, I've been attempting to do one thing for people in all my work: Provide value. In so many ways I am still that shaky, nervous, unsure kid who's called on to serve someone and tries so hard to get it right, but my intentions are just as pure and I think I'm getting better at it, especially now that I hit that growth spurt.

I want to get a delicious cup of coffee in your hands. I want to serve because when I boil it down, the world we live in should be about the value we can provide others. It happens in a myriad of ways and models, but strip all of those components down and we should always be coming back to this one question: "What am I doing that provides value?"