Let’s Clean This Mess Up.

What you can learn from a minimalist lifestyle even if you’re nowhere close to adopting it.

By Brad Beckstrom

Minimalism is hard. After five years of working on it, I’m not even close to my original goal of a vastly simpler lifestyle. I’ve worked on applying minimalist ideas in everything I do. I’ve slowly realized that for me there is not some ultimate minimalist goal or destination. The reason is that there’s always stuff coming into our lives. And it’s not just our stuff, it’s our family stuff, our work stuff, stuff related to our home, our hobbies, our kids. The average American home has 300,000 things in it.  So, I guess my family’s making progress — we’ve gotten rid of about 50,000 of these things over the past five years.

I think part of the reason adopting a minimalist outlook is hard is that many of us have lived our lives doing the opposite. It’s only much later, after decades of accumulating stuff, that we realize it’s all really just weighing us down. Given this, it’s going to take some time to unravel all that.

One of the interesting things I’ve found is that you can apply minimalism to a lot more than just cleaning out closets and garages. Over these past five years I’ve developed everything from minimalist investing strategies, work habits, and exercise routines.

As I’ve been working to apply minimalist principles, I look around and notice people adding more more more. Like spending 30 minutes driving to and from a CrossFit Gym to spend hard-earned dollars on increasingly complex workout routines. Constantly bringing complexity into life with high-tech toys often built into expensive new vehicles and smart appliances. Using social media, news apps, and productivity apps to create more and more urgent notifications. Complex volatile investment schemes involving everything from crypto currency to weed stocks. Utilizing multiple tools and technologies that were designed to lighten the load, but instead end up adding hours to the average workday.

Let’s simplify this stuff.

I don’t think anyone will ever look at me and my home or family and say “Oh, that guy is a minimalist”. For me it’s not about that, it’s about applying minimalist principles to one part of your life at a time and making small improvements. So, in the spirit of minimalism, if we could apply just one idea across everything we do it would make a big difference. Here’s one idea I use: Read more…

Knowing Things Instead of Buying Things.

By Brad Beckstrom

What if every time you thought of buying something, you decided to know something instead?  You’d probably build up a pretty good “store” of knowledge. You’d constantly be refreshing that knowledge whether you’re in a grocery store, online or shopping for a large purchase. I’ve used this strategy on large and small purchases. Something simple like “that health bar has more calories than 2 whole eggplants.” Now whenever you look at those 240 calorie health bars you’ll think about the equivalent of eating two entire eggplants.

Knowing things can impact larger purchases.

I’ve been putting off replacing our old car. We probably should’ve sold it a year ago but that time has not been wasted. Since then we’ve been learning about:

  1. Making 30% more by selling a used car on craigslist instead of to a dealer.
  2. How new cars lose 20% of their value just 6 months after you drive them off the lot.
  3. You can find some really great cars using an app like Carvana once you know what you’re looking for.
  4. Whether an electric car or a hybrid car is a better fit for our daily driving.
  5. All of the benefits of having a car that’s paid for and skipping the commute.

You can even apply this thinking to investments. When you pay high annual fees on your investments, your spending money. Years ago I used to sell off underperforming mutual funds and search for up and comers. I stopped doing this and took a few years to completely revamp my investing strategy. I learned that many funds I had been buying had high fees of around 1% per year. I also came across a study that Fidelity had done about the most successful individual investment accounts. The winners were investors who were dead or had not touched their retirement accounts for years.  After some research I decided to buy and hold ultra low-cost index funds with fees less than 0.060% and exchange them only when I needed to rebalance my portfolio. This one change has saved me thousands of dollars every year, and will continue as long as I hold these index funds.

Often when I’m interested in something, I decide to research it and by doing that I delay the purchase. I believe that delaying purchases is one of the best ways to cut your spending. Even a delay of one or two days to do a bit more research (learn something) can make you rethink that impulse purchase. I also have a simple rule of not replacing something until it is completely worn out or, in the case of perishables, gone. When you run out of something and stay out of it for a few days sometimes you realize you don’t really need it. If it was really amazing you’ll remember to replace it. (sorry kale snacks)

Here are some tried-and-true ways of knowing things instead of buying things. Read more…

Start, Stop, and Continue.

The big things I started doing, stopped doing, and continued to do on my journey to financial independence.

By Brad Beckstrom

A few months after I started my first real job, some nice folks from HR came to our regional meeting and did some “break out exercises” with our office. One of the exercises I remember was called: Start, Stop, Continue.  We sat around in a circle and everyone discussed things in the office that they’d like to start to happen, stop happening, or continue to happen.

I’ll always remember this particular session because some people in the office obviously wanted to get some things off their chest and saw this as a great opportunity?! One of the recommendations was a certain manager stop yelling at field employees using the speakerphone on his desk, with his office door open. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed that this was great thing to stop doing. Or I think some people just hoped it would be a good idea to pick up the receiver and close your office door (back when people had actual offices).  

Just when we were ready to move on to the next item our regional manager said “Wait a second, you’re talking about me! If you’re going to call me out on something why don’t you just say who you’re all talking about!” Our HR facilitator immediately intervened to smooth out the situation and then recommended we all stretch. I remember these times fondly, but don’t miss them. Our office really was “The Office” with meetings, weekly numbers, HR, late reports, managers, drama, all of it. The stop list was the longest list by the end of our exercise. The exercise had a big impression on me personally, well, hey I was 26. Ever since then I’ve always tried to look at things that I can start doing, stop doing, or continue doing in life.

For those of us pursuing financial independence and freedom from the corporate grind, offices, commutes, managers, and meetings, it’s important to keep those start, stop, continue ideas coming.  Whether you’re looking to achieve financial independence through starting your own company, or aggressively saving and retiring early, it’s important to look at your own habits first.

Here are the most important things that I started, stopped or continued doing on my journey to financial independence. Read more…

It’s An Emergency.

For investors, the time is now to put together an emergency fund that’s more than just cash.

Preppers be Prepping

Just before I left the country with the family on vacation I reflected on how fortunate we’ve been, saving and investing during a bull market. Index funds including; S&P 500, International, emerging markets, real estate investment trusts, and bond indexes; have all grown during the second longest bull market in history. 2009-2018

This growth over the past 9 years can make investors complacent. 401K millionaires feel like geniuses, what they’re really experiencing is the power of compound interest during a sustained period of growth. I also realize the market could enter bear territory at any time (a correction of 20% or more), which many believe it’s overdue for. The fact is, no one can predict when these market downturns occur. This always seems to be the case. Past summer holidays have included front row seats for Brexit and the EU debt crisis. It turns out these were both distant, false alarms and the bull just kept on running.

The sky was not falling. Would I be ready if it did? 

Through all this I stayed heavily invested in low fee total stock market index funds, letting it ride, reinvesting dividends. Even though I’m financially independent and working less than full-time, I hold only about 20% of my total investment portfolio in bonds and cash. Which is considered aggressive by many common allocation models. I keep a 30% allocation in low fee bond index funds, in my retirement accounts where dividends can be reinvested and compound tax free. 

It seems odd that I’d take an aggressive stance at my age (56!) especially since I I’ve lived through several large market declines and recessions including 2001 and 2008. During those periods I stayed fully invested in the market as well, and have benefited. This includes the period some called “the lost decade” in investing 2000 through 2009 when the S&P 500 recorded its worst ever 10 year performance. However, that poor performance only hurt you if you were pulling money out of the market during that period.

For those that stayed fully invested and purchased stocks and bond funds in the market during these years, they’ve done well, but could say they have some battle scars. Read more…

Prestige Syndrome and the Startling Difference between Vertical and Horizontal Wealth.

By Brad Beckstrom

If you read enough, eventually you come across some big concepts. Whenever I see one, I like to jot a quick note or clip entire articles in Evernote. Sometimes these ideas just sit there and I later come across them accidentally when searching for something else. One of the things I’ve been thinking about for a while is prestige or, more specifically, Prestige Syndrome. Syndrome is defined as “a group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms”.  So, just for kicks, let’s take a look at something I like to call “Prestige Syndrome”.

Prestige Syndrome

Prestige Syndrome can be caused by earning more money and then feeling the need to spend that money to exude prestige, to do what rich people do. Continually upgrading your home, transportation, entertainment, and clothing choices to be aligned with that certain level of prestige that comes with your new higher-paying job.  Sometimes this lifestyle creep can be very subtle, spending away our discretionary income on luxuries that suddenly seem more affordable to us.

An even larger problem, especially in our country, is spending money you don’t have to exude prestige. This is also more commonly known as “ Keeping up with the Joneses”.  

We don’t have to look far to see examples of Prestige Syndrome. McMansions with three extra bedrooms and four extra bathrooms “just in case”.  Massively oversized SUVs primarily used to run to the grocery store and sit in traffic. Prestige Syndrome can occur at all income levels.

The interesting thing about Prestige Syndrome is that there is no top. If your friends and business associates own Gulfstream jets than Prestige Syndrome tells you you should own one. You’ve earned it, and you believe people do things differently at this income level. The spending levels simply increase with the career ladder. The McMansions, vacation homes, yachts, limo services, security, valets, and private jets are all just steps on this ladder.

Vertical Wealth

This ladder is what we call vertical wealth. Spending goes up as your income increases, often surpassing your income. This is how debt-fueled spending is created. Read more…

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