Monthly Archives: February 2015

One Month Unemployed – Is This What FIRE is Like?

calendar-jumbleThe first month of my unemployment has come and gone faster than I would have thought. Sure, it’s February, technically the fastest possible month that could go by, but the fact remains. A month of not working, with my days my own – my first such month in the better part of a decade. While I am tracking my spending more than ever, I can honestly say that I didn’t really reckon with the financial implications of being unemployed. Is this a taste of the FI life? Is this bliss?

First things first, despite the lack of a job, mine is not exactly a life of FIRE. Most prominently, I would not be spending hours each week in the pursuit of a job, exploring the market, drafting and sending off cover letters and resumes. And I am aware that this month was more of a “break” from reckoning with long-term finances than any sort of permanent release from it. I still haven’t deposited the last checks I received from my working days, which are sitting in their envelopes a few feet away. The mental break will end and pressure will begin to slowly mount to find something – at a certain point, exploration and pursuit won’t be enough. Finances will have to be taken off the existing auto-pilot and reexamined, then stabilized, for where I am today.

However, I have had a month, and during this month I’ve made exactly the kind of effort to set my own priorities, accomplish my own goals, and own my days that I think I would have made if I truly were FI. My “free” days were perhaps crimped a little with job-related activities, but the overlap is substantial. It’s time to take stock of how that went.

It seems fair to go back to the goals I spelled out when I began this blog to start framing my answer.

1) This Blog. I never give myself a chance to write, and I miss the reflective power of journaling more in my youth (aka, the last time I wasn’t working). I also think blogging here about my goings-on will keep me honest.

Writing in this blog has been a good experience – as with most personal writing that I do, even when it’s hard to drag myself to my desk, I’m happier after I’ve done it. That being said, I haven’t posted a ton lately, which means I get less of the exact happiness I just referred to. I’m happy with my start here, and will be happy to continue it (and more) next month.

2) Other Blogs… One will be geared towards creative writing… I’m also planning to start a blog in [the e-commerce] vein… if I can find a way to approach it that feels honest and not soul-draining. If all goes well, these blogs might earn me a buck or two.

Oof. I get no credit here. I have not started either of these blogs, and I can’t even blame it on burning out from posting here every day. I have thought about both of these blogs, what I’d put in them, how I’d run them, but there’s hardly any visible results. I need to reexamine this goal and see if maybe it isn’t actually so important to me, and if it is, I need to figure out how to, and then commit to, begin getting it off the ground.

3) Home Stewardship… I’ve already begun keeping a sharper eye on my household costs and cooking a lot more. Without being tied to my computer for eight hours, I am now free to take this to the next level. If I do this right, I anticipate I can slash thousands off our yearly home budget, chiefly through the cooking of delicious food.

This one’s gone pretty well. I’ll have the final numbers in a couple of days but there’s no doubt that our food/grocery bill is lower this month than last month. I’ve really enjoyed cooking more, including baking cookies from scratch just for the fun of it, and am further integrating bulk shopping into my routine. I think my main goal is still just to get even better at this.

It’s helpful to look back at these goals because it’s easy to wonder just what I’ve been doing with myself. It’s been a month! As I continue to wrestle with the distractions that prevent me from being as focused – and happy – as I’d like, I have to admit that it’s a work in progress.

A month feels like a long time, but in the scheme of things, it’s not, not for a significant lifestyle change. I’m still doing some paid editing, all that job-seeking, all the extra dishes and cleaning that comes along with doing more cooking, reading more, and slowly decreasing our expenses. I know I could be doing more, but that’ll pretty much always be the case, and it’s key to let that thought feel inspiring, rather than dreadful.

So how’s it been living a life of faux-FIRE? I have been waking up far more often excited by the possibilities of what I will do with my entire day, rather than by trying to remind myself of what I might be able to squeeze into my night after work. I have had more time to spend on things I enjoy, and am much less interested in ever “getting through” a day of my life ever again. I still need to intentionally remind myself to align my actions with my desires, a task not made easier by simply having more time on my hands… it’s hard to say whether I’m doing better percentage-wise on that score than I was when I was employed, and that’s an area of continued focus.

I imagine that would be my central challenge in a life of FIRE. Though I’ve come to realize how good they can be for me, I’ve never been particularly successful at getting routines to stick.

One month in, and though I am a long, long way from FIRE, it’s interesting to reflect on this time as a bit of a case study. It’s not without its challenges, but unsurprisingly, I think I’d like it. That’s going to take getting back to work and building the ol’ stash up though, because it’s a marathon, not a race. We all just have to keep moving as steadily as we can.

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The Refreshing Value of a Good Walk in the Cold

crossing-walk-signI often find there are times in the day where I habitually slow down. Usually this is when I’m feeling warm and comfortable, like when I’m laying in bed in the morning or have just finished a big meal. Sometimes I’m inspired enough about the next thing I want to do that I can just hop to it, but at times when I can’t seem to get moving, I’ve found it helps to, well, get moving – physically. Just get the body in motion, most effectively by taking a walk outside. It works even better when it’s cold.

This may be especially effective for me – I like to move when I think. I pace when I get on the phone, and I similarly do laps around my home when I’m working through an idea or a problem, much like  Scrooge McDuck used to do (though I always associated it more with thinking than worrying –  but I definitely recall the inch deep wear in the floor). I could never sit still as a child either. Motion has always been good for me, or at least a very natural inclination.

When I slip on my boots and head out into the cold for a walk, even a short one, I find a world of focus opens up almost instantly. By freeing my body from wondering what it’s to do next, I simultaneously free my mind to stop dealing with my (at that moment) lazy body’s complaints and reconnect with ideas that excite me. I can organize my thoughts and come up with a plan I feel good about.

A side benefit of it being cold out is that it takes away my body’s innate desire to refrain from changing a warm and cozy situation. I get back home after just ten minutes, too little time for me to feel cold or like I don’t have time to do exactly everything I had time to do before I left, with my blood moving. Despite having returned to a warm home, for the first few minutes my body is now convinced that motion is its normal state, and it wants to keep moving. I can then launch into whatever’s next for my day.

I’ve always wanted to stay moving after a walk – Many times I’ve walked home after work and entered eager to move around, make dinner, get things done. If, on the other hand, I’ve been sitting around for a while, the mere fact of having finished a day’s work inspires no such flurry of activity. Not everyone will be like that – I know people who just come home and want to crash. But for me, I know that setting myself in motion is a good way to keep me going, rather than tire me out. By keeping an eye on myself over the last year I’ve identified times I tend to slow down, and often insert a walk afterwards as a matter of routine. With that refreshing ten minute excursion, I can often head off a half hour or more of unpleasant procrastination* – that’s a pretty fantastic value in my book.

*Note that not all procrastination is unpleasant – a favored alternative method is to simply get up and do something I “factually know” I will be happy I did during that time, often household chores like laundry or dishes, but sometimes “fun” things like reading or a game. I may not get back to work as quickly, but I’ll still be happy with how I spent my day as whole when all’s said and done. The trick is to be aware of what “factually” is on your good to do list – a subject for another post.

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Financial Independence – Just another Get-Rich-Quick Scheme?

stock-market-risingI have a soft spot for get-rich-quick schemes that promise to generate you passive income. I have to admit it. Passive income is that most ultimate of incomes, where your previous investment of time/money pays off endlessly into the future without requiring any further investment from you. Always, though, when confronted with such a scheme, I pull myself back from being sucked in. I didn’t buy a Bitcoin mining rig. I didn’t sell life insurance to my friends, though I was briefly licensed to do so. Despite working in marketing, advertising and I maintain a fairly cool relationship – I see that it powers the internet, but that wins it only grudging acceptance into my life. I once earned a payment of around $1.24 for an article of mine about bowling on a now discontinued rev-share site, which took several years to accumulate enough the necessary views to hit that payout. That’s the only time I’ve received payment from ads.

In each of these cases, a rational look behind the curtain made it clear that it wasn’t worth my time or interest.

But as I watched the views trickle in for that article five and ten at a time, I thought to myself, oh boy, this is the start. The passive income is a-comin’. If I just churned out an article this successful every day, the sky’s the limit! Of course, while I like bowling and enjoy writing, I do not enjoy churning out content for content farms and had no actual interest in turning myself into a content farm. So it didn’t happen, and I’m not sad about that. Still, the dream of finding a way to generate passive income remained with me. It’s the holy grail for someone who wishes to eventually free themselves from a financial obligation to work.

Last fall, I discovered Mr. Money Mustache and it changed my relationship with money. Suddenly the dream of passive income was attainable, and in fact near certain, thanks to a magic elixir of Vanguard index funds and compound interest. Yet one of the reasons I kept away from the other tempting ideas was that they seemed to appeal primarily to my emotions, providing a great boon to my hopes and dreams of being in control of my financial destiny without it really being very clear that they would actually succeed or make me happy. As someone close to me said when I first talked with her about index fund investing, “if this really works so well and so reliably, why isn’t everyone doing it?”

If you had asked me last summer about investing in the stock market, I would have told you that was risky behavior, that most people lose money and that it’s not something I’d do without tons of excess money laying around. Mere months later, I was advocating plunging every spare dollar not required for a safety net into these funds. Even now, with one of the “unlikely” safety net situations met (ahem, I am unemployed), I am still doing my best to grow my stash, even if just incrementally. While I feel extremely confident about doing this, it occurs to me I might be too confident… am I just clinging to a dream? It’s time to pull back the curtain and take a good long look at my plans for FIRE, and determining if it truly makes logical sense.

MMM and others have gone into this at length – here’s a link to a do-it-all MMM post you can take a look at for his take, some of which I will probably be repeating. Rather than trying to explain everything from the ground up though, this post is an effort by me to convince myself – and perhaps you, possibly skeptical reader – that my plan, in addition to being incredibly attractive, is actually realistic. This is my take from my perspective, but it should easily work for others.

The plan, in short, is to amass savings in low-cost Vanguard index funds. These funds have historically reliable performance over time because they essentially track the overall market at large, which over long time horizons, has never done anything but go up. Aside from generally investing in well diversified funds, I will continue to help myself thanks to the low fees that passively managed funds charge, the availability of tax-advantaged retirement vehicles, and a reduction in my overall expenses. Based on fancy math, when my portfolio is equal to roughly 25 times my annual expenses, I’m done, and more or less set for life. Projections based on my previous and not particularly large salary imagined I could hit this in 25 years, or likely less.

Let’s test these assumptions. Does my story check out?

Low-cost Vanguard index funds will perform well over time. This is the key assumption, allowing me to view investments as a safe and reliable vehicle for retirement. The stock market is well known for its volatility, full of sharp rises and falls, yielding more losers than winners. In fact, even when people choose good funds like the VTSMX, the behavior gap causes many to sell low and buy high, and they never enjoy the rather excellent 8%+ rates of return. However, the fact of the matter is that the market as a whole really has always risen steadily over time. Go ahead and input any years you want into the excellent IndexView, and you’ll see the S&P 500 has an excellent track record. It’s a great place to park your money, and it’s even better when you include reinvested dividends, which is an easy aspect to forget about, and will usually add 2%-3% to your returns annually.

But is investing in one fund truly diversified? What about stock/bond splits, mutual funds, REITs, junk bonds? In one sense, the answer is simply yes. A fund like the VTSMX is designed to broadly represent the entire US market, consisting of holdings in over 3800 stocks across a wide range of industries. Many individual companies have come and gone, but the market remains a solid bet over time, and funds like this make it easy to invest broadly in the market for as little as $3000. Traditionally a higher allocation of bonds has been recommended as people get closer to retirement, since they offer less volatility at the cost of less growth. While there’s nothing wrong with holding a small percentage of bonds as a hedge during the accumulation phase, over extended periods of time – even through stock market crashes – a 100% equities fund comes out on top. You can test this at the spiffy calculator cFIREsim, easily adjusting the percentage of bonds or equities in your theoretical holding. For an investor like myself who is early in the accumulation process, I have no qualms about investing in just one fund like this. As my assets grow, I intend to do more research about diversifying into global markets (as a hedge against America losing economic super-power status, and a corresponding shift of growth to international markets) as well as into REITs, as I’ve heard that’s another good way to broaden your exposure. As I near retirement I will probably add some bonds into the portfolio as well. For now though, all that’s on the back burner.

Ok, so we’ve determined that a single equities index fund can be a safe and smart starting point for an investor seeking FIRE. Still, why Vanguard? The primary reason is the fees. Head back over to that VTSMX page and notice the expense ratio of 0.17%. Amble your way up to $10,000 in investments over time and you can upgrade to “Admiral Shares” and invest in VTSAX, an identical fund with a miniscule 0.05% expense ratio. The expense ratio is essentially a fee the fund managers take right off the top of your investments. Many actively managed mutual funds recommended by financial brokers charge 1%-2% or more, but when you study their returns over a long period of time, they usually fare no better (or sometimes worse) than the market as a whole. On top of that, many brokerages will charge you annual fees and other nonsense just to hold your cash for you. Vanguard, so long as you are ok with getting your statements via tree-saving email, doesn’t charge you a penny to hold your investments. I’ve gotten good support from Vanguard and it’s been simple to set up recurring investments online with little fuss. There are other good places to invest in quality index funds – a trusted friend invests with Fidelity – but I use Vanguard.

As for the tax advantaged accounts, I currently make exclusive use of a Roth IRA (though I did contribute to a 401k when I had one). Given the length of this post and the fact that I have considered dedicating a post of its own to the subject, I’ll just say I love it as a place to start because your principle is 100% liquid, so it lowers the risk for investing even if you lack large reserves and are concerned about possible expenses that your safety net won’t cover, while still netting you tax-free growth. If you have said reserves, it’s more debatable whether it’s the “smartest” place to put your money from a tax perspective. If you’re new to tax-advantaged accounts, I wrote a longer article describing them all on HubPages a while back.

Now, what about the fancy math part of this? If you looked at the charts and calculators I’ve linked to above, you can see that over time, the market has reliably grown. An oft-cited paper called the Trinity study analyzed seventy years of stock market history, including the Great Depression, and found that a withdrawal rate of around 4% would have been a safe withdrawal rate for an investor over a thirty year period. This study was authored in the 1990s, but looked at more recently by an economist named Wade Pfau. I am stealing this idea directly from MMM, but here is a handy chart made by Wade that details the historically safe rates of withdrawal for a balanced portfolio.

Wade-Fig2_1

As you can see, the chart never dips below 4% – much of the time it’s actually higher. The 4% rule has come under fire in recent years, including by Wade himself, citing all-time-low bond returns. We have several advantages over the Trinity study however that may leave it intact – for instance, we’re not robots and know how to adjust our spending during down years, and the Trinity study also assumes you never earn another dollar in your life, which is probably not the case for virtually anyone, even if it’s just what’s left of social security. Still, maybe 3.5% is the new safe withdrawal rate. If that’s the case, instead of needing 25 times your expenses, you need about 28.5 times. If we assume that by the time you’ve hit 25 times, you’re generating average returns equal to just under your expenses, plus still investing your income, it’s likely this will only add another couple of years to your working life. I am 100% in favor of playing safe and saving beyond any imaginary “minimum lines,” but for me this is all still a long time a way. I’m focused on getting the snowball rolling, and the exact size it has to be when it’s all said and done is a debate I can settle a little later. The point is, as a rough estimate, it is reasonable to think a withdrawal rate between  3% and 4% should last through retirement, and probably quite safely. This is based on all the best estimates of very smart economists, and on the fact that I am not a machine and will be able to adjust to the times as needed.

Lastly, was 25 years ever a realistic timeline? As I start to answer this question, I want to pause and recognize that it’s a distinct privilege to even be able to contemplate the idea of early retirement. While many may be able to reach it and don’t know it, many others face unique challenges that make this goal particularly difficult if not impossible to achieve. I am fortunate in that I am a relatively young, healthy person who had two loving parents and a good education, from which I retain no debt. I originally began to assemble data from the US Census and other places, hoping to speak broadly of averages, but while that research may find its way into a future post it quickly began to feel off topic. The point is, I looked at calculators like cFIREsim and FIRECalc, and based on my income and expenses, 25 years checked out as realistic. Buoyed by the hope of a steady annual raise and plans to chip away at my expenses, I was optimistic I could make that number look safer and even reduce it. Though the pink slip changed that, I remain optimistic in the long run. (By the way, the very short version of my research: Take the per capita disposable income of an American, reduce the per capita expenses by about 15%, and this average person can retire in just over 25 years too. Pretty crazy.)

At the end of the day, even after all the math and research, one of the reasons not to be wary of the emotional pull of this plan is that it is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Even in a best case scenario, hitting financial independence is a process that takes years, if not decades. But it is possible, and given that the alternative is even more decades spent under the obligation to earn money from someone, it still has a bit of a magical feel. Despite that, a look behind the curtain reveals not a wizard but a slow-turning gear, rotating consistently, that I’ll be able to watch and care for along its dependable path.

It works for me.

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The Revolution of Seeing Money Accumulation as Freedom, not Materialism Incarnate

feet-upGrowing up, I never really wanted money that much. Part of this is sheer luck – I had parents who were financially stable and quite excellent providers for me, so I didn’t need to equate money with survival, which surely would have made me want it quite a lot. From my advantaged position though with my basic necessities (and then some) taken care of, I saw money as designed for the accumulation of more. Better clothes, bigger cars, fancier toys and games. I suppose I enjoyed turning up my nose as the mainstream notion that I just had to have all that stuff. If the cost was to consume my days with burn-out levels of work, I just thought… I’ll pass.

The tragedy in this is how I thought I would get away with passing. Part of my philosophy involved enjoying what I had and not working more than I needed to be happy. Yet by my own actions I was condemning myself to a lifetime of presumed middle-income labor. Sure, I dreamed about having a million dollars, investing it in the 1-year bank CDs that paid 5%+ from my youth (alas, those days are long gone), and living quite merrily on the $50,000 in interest. But I didn’t really think that was going to happen, short of winning the lottery.

Because I couldn’t see the long-term benefits of having money, I worked for reasons like beer money, rent payments, a basic sense of responsibility and a desire for independence. In that way I thought I was avoiding the long-term harm of wasting time and energy working for toys I didn’t need, and I never accumulated much for retirement or otherwise because I couldn’t see the ultimate motivation – a realistic shot at earning my freedom.

Back on my first post, I admitted how, while there are things I’d like to do, I’ve kind of wanted to not “work” for a long time. But it’s only in the relatively recent past that I’ve come to understand it’s truly, genuinely possible to buy my freedom with a reasonable sum of money, just by doing the things I already do. My teenage-self already knew I wanted to turn my money into little green workers who could free me from toiling, and that same self already knew I didn’t want to overspend or waste money. I just never put two and two together.

There are several strategies for hitting financial independence to retire early (ie: FIRE) that I like, but my current model is that championed by Mr. Money Mustache, who I recommend you read if you’re interested in the topic. It involves optimizing investments in surprisingly reliable (over the long term) and low-cost index funds, which will probably yield an average of 7%-10% annual growth over time. At the same time, optimize your expenses by reducing a surprising amount of unnecessary costs, ideally living on a fraction of your income and investing the rest. A much longer, dedicated post can explain the nuts and bolts of all this, and I’ll get into that another time to do it justice.

The main idea is that, according to a widely cited Trinity Study, you can expect to safely live on about 4% of your portfolio over a 30 year time horizon. That means you need to own investments equal to 25 times your expenses. For many people, that means something closer to $500,000 than millions. The other key cog is the insanely powerful magic of compound interest. Head over to any compound interest calculator and find out what happens if you can save $500 a month for 30 years at a conservative 7% growth rate. Odds are that sum will cover most if not all your needs if you get your expenses in order, and if you can start saving when you’re in your twenties, you’ll already be retiring before many of your peers. If you can increase your contribution, so much the faster. The MMM people generally estimate that if you can live on 50% of your paycheck and invest the rest, you’ll be in the clear in around 10 years.

None of this is set in stone or without other complications, because it’s investing, and I’m no financial advisor – but the idea I wanted to get across is that thinking about this has fundamentally changed my perception of money. Every dollar I earn is a dollar that can be put to work, investing in the hard work of others, and lessening the burden of forced labor on myself. I’m not about to go out chasing dollars at all costs because that’s not me, but I’m not about to miss out on the glories of compounding what dollars I do earn either. Getting laid off won’t do any wonders for my FIRE timeline, but this approach will stay with me through unemployment and into my next job.

Essentially, it’s just me being more of who I already was, paired with the knowledge that doing so can get me what I really want – the freedom from labor that I have not chosen for myself. It’s a revolutionary thought, and if you’re anything like me, one that just might turn around your relationship with your money as well.

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You Can Eat like Royalty for Ten Dollars a Day

vegetablesIn an earlier time, as a frugally-minded but financially-careless young bachelor, I decided $10 a day was a very solid baseline for a food budget. It was a nice round number and it felt about right. Cold cereal with milk couldn’t cost more than $1-2 total for two bowls, a bagel with cream cheese and/or an assortment of frozen lunches could be toasted or microwaved respectively for about $2-3, and a $5 burrito wrapped up the day. In fact, I figured that many days I probably snuck in under ten bucks, justifying the odd lunch or dinner out with friends. I felt like I was managing things reasonably, but I really have no idea how I did because I didn’t actually keep track.

I’m entirely certain I didn’t stay under $10 in terms of food consumption as I measure it today, partially because I don’t put much stock in my “I’m sure it averages out to $10” methodology, but largely because I now include alcohol and drinks like coffee in my food budget. It’s also quite obvious that my eating habits were, let’s forgivingly say, suboptimal. So if I could barely keep it to around $10 per day living off bachelor-chow, where do I get off talking about eating like royalty for that rate?

If you’re picturing nightly chalices of ale and platters of buttered pheasant, I kind of think that’s awesome, but you’re right to scoff. Of course, nobody needs to eat like glorified medieval nobility in order to eat exceptionally well. If you can adjust your perception of good eating to one that involves a varied, nutritious diet filled with delicious dishes you made yourself with your own hands, you can easily eat well for ten dollars a day.

Those that have already gotten the hang of controlling their food budget are probably nodding along paternalistically at this point – from things I’ve read, people who are really good at this can get their cost per meal somewhere around $1. I’m angling for three times that! While I would like to imagine one day getting down to around a $2 CPM (accounting for living in a relatively high-cost area and opting to pay the premium for a high percentage of organic food, this could be our floor), it seems a bit hasty to jump to that on day one. $3.33 per meal, inclusive of drinks and alcohol, seems like an appropriate first step.

There’s a question of how much of a difference a baby step can make. My partner and I are already pretty non-spendy, and according to our records from Quicken last year, we actually didn’t spend vastly more than $20/day (total) at grocery stores, which even includes some household goods like paper towels that we weren’t splitting out then. However, let’s take a hypothetical and say you’re enjoying a CPM of around $4. Cutting down to $3.33 is a 17% drop, a not-so-crazy sounding $0.67 per meal. Multiply this out over a full year’s worth of meals though and you’re saving nearly $1500 annually – per person in your household. If you’re looking for the quickest path to financial independence, invest this sum and you’ve probably just shaved years off your working life, in no small part because you’ve also reduced your lifetime expenses, forever, reducing the total you need to save even as you’re saving more.

This aspect of home stewardship was one of the original goals I had upon becoming unemployed, and I’m excited to try and implement it. To that end, I finally got it together and took my first trip to my local wholesaler, hoping to reap the benefits of bulk pricing and use it to cut my costs. Early results are mixed. For example, we don’t eat a ton of eggs, but we needed some to bake that night, so I got them there. The smallest package of organic eggs was 18, at a cost of $5.79, or $0.32 per egg. That per egg number compares extremely well with the $2.69 we usually pay for a mere six eggs, which works out to $0.45 – that’s almost 30% less! But sometimes we don’t even finish the six eggs before they go bad, so we’ll have to make a real effort to consume 18. Still, when we cooked up five eggs for the two of us yesterday at a total cost of $1.60, compared to the $1.34 it cost me a week earlier to whip up three for just myself, we were certainly making the CPM gods happy.

A longer post on wholesale shopping may come down the line later when I have a bit more experience with how it will work with our diet and lifestyle. For now, I’ll be happy to work on bringing our CPM down by shopping smarter and cooking more, hopefully blowing past my fuzzy bachelor logic for reasonable costs in no time, and setting us on a firmer path to financial independence in the process.

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The Secret to Being a Writer is… Writing

typewriter-typingI have always enjoyed writing, and fancied myself a writer since at least middle school, when I’d scribble multi-page summaries of stories I was completely sure I would one day turn into epic novels. Though I would turn my first such 10 page summary into an at least 80 page start during high school (covering perhaps 40% of my summary), and have written in occasionally voluminous spurts since then… I have produced no novels. I don’t mean published, I mean produced… I just never got around to writing enough.

Much as I seem to enjoy writing, I never seemed to consistently make the time for it. At times this has variously made me doubt whether I’m really a writer, and whether this is just perhaps a well I return to when I’m out of other ideas. A “comfort aspiration,” if you will. I’m pretty sure this self-doubt is as unproductive as virtually all self-doubt is. The key is to embrace discipline and to Write. Every. Day.

Though this blog is still forming, I don’t intend for it to be a journal exactly, chronicling my daily ups and downs. I want to be sharing ideas, tips and successful stories of how I am dealing with/thriving in unemployment, and hopefully this will be of use to both my (theoretical) readers as well as myself. But for this first week, I committed myself to writing in it daily, whether I “felt” I had something to say or not. This is, of course, a fantastic way to find out that I do have a lot to say. Writers gotta write.

I’m not out of ideas, with a couple I’m excited to get to waiting patiently in my drafts folder – they’re percolating and will be ready at some point. I may still come back here daily, or I may give you all a bit of a break every once in a while starting next week. I intend to be here a lot though, as well as writing in other places. There’s a lot to say on this topic, and I’m excited to keep digging into it and to keep sharing.

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A Workday without Work is Still Just a Day

hourglassWhen my father first semi-retired, he commented about how quickly his days still went – they just filled up. You might sleep a little later, move a little slower, do a few day-to-day chores and suddenly find that half or more of your day is gone. He un-semi-retired shortly later, working much of the day, and I’m pretty sure getting just about as many of those “chores” done. This is one of the conundrums about ceasing to have a standard job – in theory you have gained an enviable and near-infinite pool of time, but in reality you may not get that much more done.

Though I haven’t spoken about it much yet, I’d love to be among those who can hit a reasonably early “FIRE” date (Financial Independence, Retired Early – the short version is not having to work for money, longer post forthcoming but check out MMM for an idea). I imagine myself one day, freed from obligation to work for my living, suddenly awash with time to do everything I’ve always wanted to. Yet I find myself in more or less that position today – while I have a little part time work, if you measured my day only by my paid hours, you’d probably tell me I have just about nothing to do.

So what have I done? How haven’t I fulfilled all the goals I set out on day one, starting numerous blogs, cooking daily, writing my fiction and economically chopping yet more and more dollars off our home budget? Ok, it’s obvious that accomplishing every goal by day four isn’t realistic. I have returned to at least this blog daily, applied to a job or two, brought the sink up to above-average cleanliness, shoveled quite a bit of snow, laundered clothes, did some paid editing and consulting, trimmed $10 off our Verizon bill (FYI, if you use <10GB, prices dropped today, but they won’t tell you so you have to claim it)… I clearly did some things, but it still feels a far cry from the bounty I should have achieved in 32 hours of glorious non-workday thus far.

This is where I need to remind myself that there are only so many productive hours in a day, paid-with-benefits or not. I’ve never been a master of efficiency, though it’s something I continue to improve on as I understand myself better. Don’t tell my previous employer, but outside of maybe one day a year, I don’t think I ever worked eight consecutive productive hours (which of course nobody does). However, with a job, whether it takes you four hours or six or eight, when you’ve completed your work you’ve done a day’s work. What’s a day’s work now? I’m still figuring that part out.

One of the keys I take away from my father’s experience is that it can be helpful to treat your lack of employment more like you would a job – push yourself to wake up early and move with purpose – but it’s wrapped into a lesson that there are only so many hours in the day. This is both a forgiving realization and a burning motivation not to take time for granted that I will try and keep with me.

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