All posts in Live Lean

How To Prefer What You Have.

By Brad Beckstrom

Years ago I had a vision for what I’d like my future home to look like. It included stylish mid-century modern furniture, expensive rugs, artwork, and beautiful lighting. It doesn’t look like that and I’m happy about it. Instead of replacing and upgrading furniture over the years, we decided to keep the furniture we had. This included things like our original coffee table that’s been destroyed by kids, dogs, spilled beverages. I kept my furniture from my college dorm room, now in my son’s room and still going strong. We kept various IKEA classics from my various bachelor pads and wife’s early post-college years.The IKEA dressers had to be repaired and in one case reassembled. A few years back, we had a fun day running down to IKEA to dig through the parts bins for pegs, knobs, and brackets. I also grabbed a few Swedish meatballs. We’ve received a few pieces of furniture from relatives over the years, proudly displayed next to the IKEA stuff in the living room that we repurposed as a library.

With all this old furniture populating our home, something interesting began to happen. The furniture began to develop its own personality. Chew marks from pets that are no longer with us, wild rings, marks, and divots in our coffee tables that come along with raising two boys and having pets. I guess you could call them scars, but the good kind. We’ve actually created that distressed, weather battered look the people pay for. I like to think of it as sort of a slow motion destruction. Read more…

Are You Paying a Sucker Tax?

It may surprise you that most taxes and fees people pay are voluntary.

By Brad Beckstrom.

Did you know the sales tax rate in the city of Chicago as of Jan 2017 is 10.25%. The 10.25 percent rate includes sales taxes assessed by the state, county, city, and local transit agency.

I felt like that was high compared to taxes where I live, until I took a closer look. The state of Virginia has a 5.63% sales tax, then Arlington County adds an additional 1.07%. Not too bad until you look at the personal property tax of up to 5% that you pay every year on personal vehicles including cars, trucks, boats, RVs etc. for as long as you own them. You pay the tax even if you’re leasing them, based on assessed value determined by the state. This is separate from property tax on real estate which in my county in Virginia is about 1% of home value annually.

I’ve always thought that kind of sucked until I took it look at the total tax burden by state. The folks over at Wallethub put together this cool sortable chart, with tax burden by state based on personal taxes, property taxes, sales, and excise taxes as a percentage of income. That’s where things really get interesting. As it turns out, Virginia is ranked 40th in total tax burden. That means people in 39 states may have it worse than we do when it comes to state tax burdens. See how your state ranks. Read more…

Living like a Lightweight.

By Brad Beckstrom

You still hear it occasionally. “That guy’s a lightweight.” When I was a kid, it may have meant you couldn’t hold your own on the playground. In college, this term was often used to describe someone who was a sloppy drunk or couldn’t hold their liquor. In business or politics, lightweight may be used to describe someone who can’t take a little heat, or bails out when the going gets tough. Today the word lightweight implies something very different. If you’re a lightweight who can compete or dominate above your weight class, then you have something. If you’re talking about a boxer like Roberto Duran, a legend like Bruce Lee, or the UFC fighter Conor McGregor then lightweight can take on a whole new meeting.

Look at any sport in the racing world, “lightweight” is the hottest thing going. Carbon fiber tubing is used to make incredibly fast racing boats to compete in the America’s Cup, and superlight racing bikes that weigh as little as 13 pounds. In a competitive world, lightweight can have great advantages.

If you’re not a professional athlete, or in the market for a $9,000 bicycle, you can still live like a lightweight. Let’s apply this term in three areas: Health, Life, and Work.

Health, Physical and Mental.

There’s a memorable scene from the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. The movie is about Joe Cross who lost 100 pounds juicing. You hear stories all the time about people losing tremendous amounts of weight. What Joe did differently is he that he visually demonstrated how much weight he’d lost by carrying around six professional bowling balls to represent the weight. This really clicked with people and helped him kick start the green juice trend. Most of us could not imagine carrying around even one or two bowling balls all the time.

The bowling balls Joe carried around are a great metaphor. Think of all the excess stuff we carry around, garages and closets full of stuff we don’t use, those extra pounds, guilt and regret about things that happened in the past, huge SUVs to haul all this around, while sitting in traffic. It’s time to start looking at the benefits of becoming a lightweight. Read more…

Stop filling your mind with random stuff. It’s time to go on a high-quality, low information diet.

knowledge Tree

By Brad Beckstrom

I thought I had this all figured out. A few years ago, I decided to get on a high quality low information diet. I would avoid traditional news sites and only follow a small group of highly trusted writers, using a RSS feed reader. I would update and pare back this list regularly and categorize the writers I followed by interest. The feed reader I use is called Feedly and allows me to group my favorite writers into categories like business, family, personal development, photography, comedy, sports etc. The feed reader is very effective at stripping out distractions, especially all of that click bait, and fake news, you see at the bottom of many websites, even on many major news and network websites. My plan worked well. Each evening my feed reader presented me with a personally curated news stream from a group of writers I trust with very little distraction. No clickbait, no banner ads, no fake news.

Then two things happened. Apple launched an app called “News” that I started playing with after a recent iPhone upgrade. Then the election cycle began. This news app is comes set up like a feed reader for the big news sites. I found myself following multiple networks, major newspapers. Any spare moment I had, standing in line, having some lunch, I started filling up with this news app. Then I felt I needed to share things on Facebook or Twitter which led me to click on more stories shared by friends. There was so much garbage out there about both candidates, I’d quickly spiraled into a news consumption addiction. I’d gone from high quality, low information to just information and way too much of it. Not only did my other feed reader start to fill up with unread articles, I also found myself thinking less about what I wanted to create.  I was too busy absorbing all of the news to think about much else. As a dieter might say, I fell off the wagon. Read more…

Is that purchase worth it? Consider the cost per use, a simple strategy to help you decide.

 

panosmartappcomingjapanjt

Technology can be a pain in the ass. Smartphones, Game Consoles, DVRs, digital thermostats, talking cars, and home appliances. A lot of this technology is designed to improve our lives, give us more free time, maybe even help us save a little money.  Most of it falls short. In fact, when multiple technologies are combined, they can often have a negative impact on our time and quality of life. Multiply this by a family of four or more, and all this stuff can make you its bitch. Constantly beeping, demanding upgrades, presenting you with unrepairable failures, offering multiple support options, mostly paid ones, none of which actually solve your problem, and all of which require your time.

smarttv

Planned obsolescence has become a science, hurling consumers into a constant cycle of upgrades and repairs on items that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago, taking time and attention away from more important matters. It in an affluent society we often just throw money at the problem, replacing the defective item with the new shiny model, while the old one often ends up in a landfill.

It’s possible to step off this treadmill, embrace simplicity or minimalism. I believe these are viable approaches that can change people’s lives. The problem most people have is that they been on this hedonic treadmill so long they are afraid to step off.  It’s the transition from having your life managed by stuff to a simpler path. That is the challenge for most people. I’ve been working to simplify my life for over three years: writing about it, working on it, giving stuff away, but still have a long way to go. Some progress is forward progress, and that’s what I’m focused on.

Something I found that has worked is evaluating any purchase, item you want to replace, or something you’re having trouble parting with, on a cost per use basis. Here’s how it works. Cost Per Use is the price of something divided by the approximate number of times you use it over the life of that item. So something you use many times per day may be a better investment than something inexpensive you use infrequently. Based on this formula, my iPhone is one of the least expensive things I own, and after I finish with it, I’ll give it to a family member, lowering the cost of use even further. As an added benefit, my iPhone replaced about 20 other items helping me lighten the load getting rid of everything from music CDs to handheld GPS units.

Some other cost per use examples

frug classic car

It’s best to start with the big stuff, so let’s start with automobiles. If you buy or lease a new SUV every three years you’re absorbing all of the depreciation and increasing your cost per use of that vehicle substantially. That vehicle loses most of its value in the first three years. If you buy a larger vehicle your cost per use is also higher based on gas and operating expenses.  To lower the cost per use, it would make sense to buy your next car like it’s your last. Purchase one high quality, fuel-efficient vehicle and keep it for at least 10 years. You can lower your cost per use even further if you know exactly the vehicle you’re looking for and can purchase a low mileage version just coming off lease, and keep that vehicle. Once those car payments end, you’ll find the maintenance costs required to keep the car in excellent running condition are a lot easier to swallow. I’ve also found that keeping a car in excellent condition, including the occasional carwash or detailing, makes me less apt to even think about replacing it. Read more…

Load More