The ChooseFI Hot Seat

What do you do when after you have graduated with a degree in English while your wife still has a year to go to complete her bachelor’s of music performance before heading off to medical school? Well, if you are good with numbers, like spreadsheets and had previously abandoned an engineering program in pursuit of said wife, you might consider taking some courses in personal financial planning. I mean, that’s, like, one idea, or something.

If you decide to follow that particular course of action, or something like it, you might find, years later, that same wife passing along a recommendation from one of her colleagues to check out a podcast that you might like called ChooseFI.

OK, enough with the hypotheticals. I’ve been listening to Jonathan and Brad since the beginning of October 2017. I’m a fan. Not a super fan–I haven’t joined their Facebook group or anything (seriously, who has time for Facebook)–but I do appreciate what they are doing. They’ve brought on quite an eclectic group of guests, and it’s great to hear a diversity of opinions.

At the end of (almost) each interview, they give their guests a chance to tackle what they call “the hot seat”: five six questions about their personal stories that might help listeners gain confidence and ideas on how to proceed toward their own goals related to financial freedom. It’s a fun segment, and since I doubt I’ll be a guest on their show anytime soon, I figured I’d take the opportunity to #PlayAlongAtHome and drop a marker on my own financial life journey.

Here are their (Q)uestions and my (A)nswers: (below the fold)

Q: What is your favorite blog that is not your own?
A: I’ve got two answers (I know, right? I’m apparently not very good at this game.) When it comes to an honest-to-goodness blog with written words and everything, my favorite is hands-down Penelope Trunk. Her main site is great: she covers just about everything, but has a tilt towards careers and entrepreneurship, but for me her posts on homeschooling have been tremendous inspiration.

You see, the thing about Penelope is that she is crazy has Aspergers is crazy and her writing is raw. It would be wrong to say that it is unfiltered–she is a writer after all, and she writes with a particular style and in a particular voice that demonstrates purposeful thought and reflection–but she is honest.

She touches topics, personal and political, that most people would not. She puts forward strong opinions. She isn’t totally consistent. She changes her mind. She talks about her mistakes. She owns them and keeps on going.

She has known more success that most people, and more suffering. She has unique talents and devastating weaknesses. She makes me laugh, makes me think, makes me angry and makes me sad. And through it all, when she talks about her family, I can see how much she loves them, and when it came time for Susan and I to make a decision about homeschooling our crew, I figured that if someone as messed up and marvelous as Penelope Trunk could do it, well, then, so could I.

My other answer reflects where we are in 2018 and where I am in my life. As much as I enjoy reading, it is hard to find the time, and since I started staying home with the kids, I’ve gotten really into podcasts. I have several that I enjoy and listen to every week, but my favorite is Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast.

I guess it is fair to say that Harris is a controversial figure. He definitely has his enemies. Still, while I don’t agree with everything he says, to contemplate that he is reviled among certain segments of the population leaves me deeply confused and saddened. Harris has always struck me as a thoroughly rational and uniquely steady person. (I wrote this write before he posted his email exchange with Ezra Klein which has to stand as counter-evidence, but I’ll still stand by my original view.) The guests he brings on his podcast are diverse and the ideas they discuss are usually thought provoking.

I don’t know if he is the most profound thinker ever. He may lack certain credentials, but engaging with his words, both in text and audio, has led me to a place that I think is much better than I would have reached without them.

Q: What is your favorite article of all time?
A: This is the hardest one for me. The idea of “all time” seems a bit overwhelming, so instead, I’ll just turn to what has had the biggest impact most recently and nominate Waking Up Episode #104: The Lessons of Death.

The idea of carpe diem has always seemed foolish to me, juvenile, and in some ways, cowardly. However, the truth is that none of us make it out of here alive, and acknowledging mortality is an essential part of valuing humanity.

I wish I had more profound insights that I could put into my own words here. I don’t though. I would just recommend you listen to the discussion above, and if you enjoy it, share your perspective on it with us here.

Q: What is your favorite life hack?
A: This one is easy: Lastpass. If you aren’t using a password manager, stop reading right now and go sign up. This is what they call low-hanging fruit. Not only will it lighten your mental load tremendously and improve your online security, it is also an integral part of estate planning in the digital world that we inhabit.

I manage all the finances for our family of butter passing robots. I love spreadsheets. Mrs. Butter Passing Robot does not. Still, she is an extremely intelligent woman, and I know that if anything were to happen to me, she would find a toehold in Lastpass and eventually be able to work her way through everything important.

Q: What has been your biggest financial mistake?
A: The most obvious answer would be buying a condo in downtown Baltimore in February 2007 at the very height of the housing bubble. We certainly took it on the chin when it came time to sell the unit 3 years later when we moved from Baltimore to Kansas City in order for Mrs. Butter Passing Robot to transition from medical school to residency.

On the other hand, owning real estate played an integral role in qualifying for in-state tuition, and as a matter of helping me learn to sleep at night, I gradually came to see the loss on the property as a wash against the reduction in our ultimate school loan balance. I might be fooling myself about that, but I’m willing to take it on board as a healthy fiction.

Instead, I think my biggest financial mistake was joining The National Golf Club of Kansas City.

My dad grew up on a farm in Nebraska. They were not rich, but they did live directly adjacent to a golf course. My grandfather was actually included in an early issue of Sports Illustrated as “The Golfing Farmer.” Golf was a big part of my upbringing. I love the game, and at this point, I’ve invested a lot into it.

When we moved to Kansas City in 2010, the economy was not doing well. Lot of businesses were hurting for cashflow, and that included golf courses. My dad had been a member at the club since it opened. It was only 5 minutes from the home I grew up in. That summer he told me about an offer they were running where I would be able to join the club for no initiation fee and monthly dues would be half the full member rate. It was a steal, right? How could I pass that up?

Actually, I’m sure there are lots of ways I could have not joined, but I didn’t find any of them. Instead, over the course of the next five years, I paid for the equivalent of a new car for the privilege of playing a couple of dozen rounds of golf. There were other perks. The kids liked the pool, and we got to have dinner with Santa and brunch with the Easter bunny, but overall, we didn’t get value anywhere near the amount we paid for. Call it lesson learned.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self?
A: I’ve got a good answer for this one. I would go back to visit my younger 24-year-old self who had just moved to Baltimore and started working full-time. The office that I worked at was located directly above the Court House metro station in Arlington, VA. My commute, on a good day, was 2 hours each way.

I was able to walk to both of the commuter rail train stations in Baltimore, so I didn’t have to drive, but the romance of traveling by train wore off in a hurry. After only a few weeks of work, I was already questioning my sanity. In some ways, I still am. I mean, that was crazy. If someone ever offers you a job 2 hours away from your home. Don’t take it.

Ultimately, though, I stuck with it, and one of the things that I think helped me was an introduction to meditation.

I don’t recall exactly how I came across it, but back on August 8, 2006 (thank you Amazon order history), I purchased a book called 8 Minute Meditation by Victor Davich.

I started on the program right away. I think I made it to week five.

How crazy is that? All it asks for is 8 minutes a day. Even in the days before smart phones, I couldn’t do it.

I came back to it several times over the years, but I could never manage to see it the whole way through. It wasn’t until over a decade later, in the spring of 2017, that I finally managed to finish the book. As intense as things had felt back in 2006, add three kids, multiple real estate transactions and leaving a career to start homeschooling the mix and the stress levels were off the charts.

I might have been crazy before, but at that point, I felt like I was literally losing my mind. Meditation helped me stay connected, and I continue to practice regularly. However, I think I could have spared myself (and others) a great deal of suffering, if I had developed a daily habit back in 2006 until waiting until 2017.

Q: What has been your favorite purchase on Amazon in the last year?
A: This is going to be a bit weird, because I really don’t like yard work, in fact, up until last year, as long as I had been a homeowner, I had paid someone else to do all the mowing and trimming and fertilizing and such; however, after the neighborhood kid we were paying failed to show up several weeks in a row, I decided it was time to do some in-sourcing.

I took my cue from another one of my favorite blogs, the Art of Manliness, and bought a hand-powered (no gas, no electricity) push reel mower, the Fiskars 18 Inch StaySharp Max Reel Mower.

I’m still not a huge fan of mowing the lawn, but I do like to be outside and this gets me out there. It is quiet, easy to maintain, and I feel safer using it when my kids are outside playing alongside me.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear your feedback or your own responses in the comments.

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