All posts in Live Lean

Beat Last Year.

How hacking away at the unessential reveals the path to financial independence.

By Brad Beckstrom

I thought I’d always been good with money, but in 2008, things were starting to hit the shitter. Stock market declines were on their way to a 40% drop. Real estate was headed in the same direction. I was running a small business and weaving my way through the craziness.

Just like I learned in 2000, there’s not much you can do about paper losses. In fact, the more investment moves you make during a correction or bear market, the more damage you can do. It’s far better to be prepared and have a strategy, before a bear market, helping you avoid bad decisions.

Why am I talking about 2000 and 2008 in 2018? Well, we know that recessions and bear markets come along with some regularity. Now is the best time to make sure you’re prepared for the next market decline. The good news is there are only a few very important steps in this process.

  1. Track every dollar that comes into and goes out of your life.
  2. Give yourself a pay cut and invest the difference every month.
  3. Build up a 1 year emergency fund that allows you to ride out the storm, and avoid selling off investments. 

I was fortunate enough to stumble across the book Your Money or Your Life around 1993. After reading it a couple times, I had a deep understanding of the importance of tracking my expenses and investments with the end goal of financial independence. A few years later, I upgraded my computer and received a demo copy of Quicken. The difference between Quicken and some other home budgeting applications at the time was the availability of downloads from both my bank and my brokerage. This was a game changer for me. I’d been far too lazy to enter transactions in the past and absolutely hated reconciling my checking account. Read more…

Life in Spendy Town: Can Living in an Expensive City Sabotage your Dreams of Financial Independence?

By Brad Beckstrom

Who knew?  That’s what I keep telling myself. When I was in my 20s, I drew a circle around the Washington DC Metro area including Northern Virginia, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, and surrounding areas. I said, “This is where I will live. This will be my zone of influence.” (I actually said that. Not sure why, maybe it was business related, or I was reading some Dale Carnegie books at the time). Little did I know that red circle I drew encompassed 4 of the 5 richest counties in the United States and 6 of the top 10.  Literally, all within a one hour radius of Washington, DC. This area really does make San Francisco and Silicon Valley look like chump change.  LA, New York, Honolulu, forget about it. Washington, DC is where (a lot) of the money is. Not convinced? Just take a look at the U.S. Congress and the money machine that supports it.  

There are some advantages to living in a wealthy part of the country:  jobs, great schools, museums, sports franchises, bays, lakes, rivers, beaches, mountains all nearby. So, it’s a great area to live right? Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that way. So, not only are we beating LA and New York in spendyness, we also regularly beat them with some of the worst traffic in the country. Real estate is equally ridiculous, along with property taxes. High-paying jobs and expensive real estate spillover into everything. Most restaurants are fancier and more expensive. Real dive bars and affordable local spots are getting harder to find, often being priced out of their locations even in the close in suburbs. Everybody, grocery stores, retailers, parking garages, jacks up their prices because they can (or need to.) Good deals become harder to find.

When I start comparing Arlington, Virginia to cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, Tampa, Florida or Boulder, Colorado using online calculators (links below), I start to see a trend. Housing is really driving the majority of cost-of-living differences on these these calculators. I’ve tried to use other online comparison calculators (see list) but once they add housing, it throws everything off. For instance, it might say something like a $100,000 salary in DC is worth $170,000 in Raleigh, but this has very little to do with the price of milk or taxes and everything to do with the fact that house in the DC area will cost you 3X.  

Arlington, VA. vs. Raleigh NC. From CNN Money, Cost-of-living calculator.

Real Estate Read more…

How to Banish Worry and be Thankful Everyday.

By Brad Beckstrom

Everybody’s got stuff. Not the stuff you might be thinking, like knickknacks, or closets full of junk. I’m talking about the stuff in your head. It’s something we all have. Those thoughts and worries that creep in. They can keep you up at night or distract you during the day. This stuff is not unique to people based on age, race, marital status, or station in life. In fact, it can be argued that the healthy and the wealthy often have even more of this stuff. As rapper notorious B.I.G. famously said “Mo Money = Mo Problems.” He had them both, and he was dead at 25.

Sometimes I’ll be on a great walk listening to a podcast or an audiobook and find that I missed entire parts of it as my mind wanders off and goes to this “stuff.” Sometimes other people’s stuff creeps into my head. Things I have absolutely no control over, but there they are, pissing me off.

One thing that makes me feel better is understanding that everybody has this stuff in their head, worrying about a family member, their health, some work-related issue, or something that popped up in a random tweet.  You know the feeling, “WTF, that can’t be true, how can they do that! Let me see that link, let’s dive in so we can worry more about this. Read more…

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…

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