The Power of Community

There was a famous antidrug PSA during the 1980s that showed a rat alone in a cage with two water bottles. One bottle was filled with pure water and the other was laced with cocaine. Unsurprisingly, the rat became addicted to the cocaine water. The ad ominously warned: “Nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it . . . and use it . . . and use it . . . until they are dead.”

But here’s the catch: These tests were done in isolation. Each rat was by itself, alone in a cage for a prolonged period of time. The experiment was repeated a second time, but the rats were now living together. This time, the rats mostly ignored the cocaine water. They didn’t like it, and no rats died.

Community and togetherness, it turns out, can often overpower the most self-destructive threats. Like many people, these rats were less interested in getting high than in escaping a profound sense of loneliness. 

–Andrea Miller, Radical Acceptance

How many of our financial woes are due to an interest in escaping loneliness? Do you think a sense of community might help you spend less?

How to Spend A Lot on Things that are Free

Yes, you read that title correctly. (And hey, you clicked on the link, so it’s your own fault). There are innumerable websites on how to get expensive luxury good items for cheap. Most of those are scams. This article, well this may also be a scam but I’m telling you upfront: the most valuable items mentioned in this article are free
We are in the holiday shopping season and people and companies are trying to sell you all manner of things to cure whatever ails you. The marketing tends to play on your emotions, promising happy family relationships, stress free and happy living.
1. Energy
There is no shortage of beauty products you can buy to make yourself look like you sleep. There’s concealer for the dark circles, brightening makeup for dull skin, eye drops, etc.  Then there’s coffee to trick your body into being awake.
The Free Solution: SLEEP!
On my to-read list if Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution. I remember hearing her speak on a podcast and quote Andy Murray, the famous tennis player, as saying something to the extent of “When you sleep, it’s like the ball comes to you in slow motion.” That’s something that you can’t get from a bottle.
2. Happiness
We buy toys for our kids and toys for ourselves. We buy expensive vacations that leave us yearning to return home.
There’s nothing wrong with a vacation. Of course we need time from work. But more than 4 in 10 workers say they don’t use all their vacation time and 35% of millenials reported working every day of their vacations.
Even if workers were using their vacation days, 4 weeks of the year isn’t really enough time to recharge from our stressed and busy lives. Just as intense workouts aren’t enough to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle (consistent movement is key), thus, for our overworked culture, consistent play is needed.
The Free Solution: play! Take some time to doodle, frolic, go on a lark, a spree, a spelunk, and engage in some tomfoolery. Schedule some playtime into your day. TV-watching doesn’t count.
3. Good Relationships
This is the season for commercials about family togetherness, so treacly and saccharine that even the most happy families can still leave feeling wanting.
So we buy gifts! This is the season for feeling stressed about buying innumerable gifts, hoping against all hope that the gift can convey the message of how much we value each other and that the cards, gift wrap, shipping, travel, home baked goodies, and stocking stuffers only bolster our relationships for the future. And we also hope it won’t cost too much per person.
The Free Solution: tell your family and friends how you feel about them.

If you don’t sleep well one night and drink an extra cup of coffee to make up for it, that’s fine and inevitable. But once you make it a lifestyle, you can end up spending quite a bit of money for subpar replacements. Let’s not forget what really matters. And what really matters is often free, but the hardest to get.

What do you spend money on that is actually free?

The Ability to Change

It always amazes me when people change. In a different crowd, I would probably complain about people’s addictions to drugs or sex or alcohol. But in my circles, too often I encounter people who complain and complain about how annoyed they get with people on Facebook. I tell them, you could just stop reading Facebook. They feign consideration of my idea and then go back to complaining about their heated arguments on Facebook.

My mom told me the other day, if my dad would just stop pestering her, then she could get her Bible study homework done. And she went on a diatribe about her life and the interruptions and the lack of support. It was really weird to me. My brother tried to get my mom to listen to a podcast about stopping procrastinating once and we laughed a bit because my mom does not procrastinate. She gets things done. If someone should be able to change, it should be her. If someone won’t tolerate excuses, it’s her. So it’s weird to hear her…excuses.

I’ve been lucky in not starting vices. I don’t do much social media – I instagram once a week. Never smoked. With the exception of law school loans, never been in debt. Not a big drinker. Can’t stand too much caffeine. No drugs. Never been overweight.

So it seems that I’m not in a place where a drastic change makes sense. And I wonder, even if I were, if I’d be able to. If I started taking drugs, would I have the strength to quit? I don’t think so. People who lose a ton of weight, quit smoking, quit drinking, pay back big loans – people who drastically change their lives for the better –
those people are superheroes.
If you’re someone who’s done one of those things, I think you’re a superhero. For what it’s worth. Probably isn’t worth much

Of course, when I was younger I tried a lot of new things. I got a pixie cut. I moved to China. I was a vegetarian for a year.

Those were fun things. Change seems to become more difficult when we’re adults. I think there may be more pressure to settle down and be set in your ways. There seem to be more advice columns telling us that people can’t change. Maybe we all just lose our optimism. We’ve resigned ourselves to this way of living.

But I’ve met people who’ve turned it all around. People who’ve gone from fat to jacked. People who’ve gone to AA. And because I’m a lawyer, I know a ton of people who have switched careers. And they give me hope. If you can change, then maybe I can change. Maybe people can change. Maybe there’s hope for all of us yet.

Have you ever made a big change in your life? Are you my superhero?

A (small) life hack for a better world

In Tools for Titans, Tim Ferriss interviews the comedienne Whitney Cummings, who mentions that she has a tattoo in white on her arm that reads “I love you” and it reminds her to speak to everyone with that thought in her mind.

In light of, well everything going on in the world really, but particularly Charlottesville, which I consider to be my second home, I hope that we can all try this out in our interactions with others, particularly including those with whom we differ.

I’m a type-A nut job so I am basically mad at everyone all the time. I tried it on my barista when she had forgotten about my order. I was getting peeved and I thought, I love you. And I thought about how much she must have going on, the irate customers she must face everyday, how low-paying the job is, how she was probably trying to do a great job but sometimes people just screw up. And I’ve definitely screwed up before, so who am I to judge?

Try it.

Are Your Money Goals Too Short Sighted?

I’ve been reading a number of personal finance blogs of late and it’s been a little bit dispiriting actually. I’ve seen many bloggers giving advice on how they worked for a few years and then retired to travel the world. Or how bloggers ruined their reputations or did unethical acts in the name of saving money. And in the end, reading most personal finance blogs, it seems like early retirement is the final end goal. The whole meaning of our life’s work is to travel the world and live like a dilettante.

I’m still drafting a personal finance manifesto but the first tenet is certainly – money is a tool, never the end goal. There should be so much more to your life than money. I honestly think there should be so much more to life than pleasure or happiness. There should be the constant striving to be a better person, to leave the world with more love, joy and happiness, to alleviate pain, to learn new things, to share new ideas, to take risks, to inspire others, and maybe, if we’re lucky, make something lasting.

I was reminded of this when reading the following passage in a book neither about finance nor character.

Continue reading Are Your Money Goals Too Short Sighted?

Life Skill #58: How to Stay Married

Let me get this out of the way: I’ve never been married. So I have no expertise at all on this matter. But, I will qualify by saying, just being good at something doesn’t mean you’ll be able to teach something. Also, this is the internet so take everything with a grain (or shaker!) of salt. I have no idea what I’m talking about – this is all conjecture. I’ll admit it up front.

My ex-fiance and I had read lots of books about marriage and taken premarital counseling. My parents and my ex’s parents never took premarital counseling. None of them were great communicators. They all argued and complained more than they perhaps should. My parents have been happily married for almost 40 years. My ex’s parents had an acrimonious divorce when he was a kid.

The same type of marriage yielded vastly different results. Granted, my parents’ marriage is never something that will be held up in relationship books as ideal but it works well enough for them. And for better, and likely worse, this is my model for a working marriage. I realized today, while refereeing a tiff between my parents, that this model is something my ex-fiance thought would lead to a very unhappy marriage. He wanted us to be better than our parents. Based on his worldview, this type of marriage would not end well.

Continue reading Life Skill #58: How to Stay Married

Life skill #30: 7 Foods that make it easy to cook from home

*I’m beginning a series to teach life skills every adult should have.

Ideally, you would have gone to the grocery store and have tons of fresh veggies and defrosted meat at home. Or you would have prepped something and put it in your crockpot in the morning, ready for you when you get home. But most of us are not superhumans.

We know there are so many reasons to cook at home, from cost and time savings to health, improving your cooking skills, to being able to eat and relax in your own home with your loved ones. But there’s also quite a case for ordering takeout. After an exhausting day at work and facing the daunting tasks of grocery shopping, meal planning and washing dishes, and with options like Seamless at our fingertips, it can be hard to avoid the siren call of takeout or delivery. But after you have that meal, you’re really just setting yourself up for more days of Seamless delivery, and the food isn’t even that good. You know that you can make something just as good and twice as healthy by yourself but who has the time?

The secret to picking cooking over takeout is to make it as easy as possible to cook (and also hating all your takeout and delivery options) by having your kitchen stocked with ingredients to make quick and easy meals. They are all foods that you can keep in your pantry, fridge or freezer for weeks and you’ll be happy to have them the next time you are in a jam. Here are seven foods that will help you avoid Seamless.

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101 Life Skills Every Adult Needs to Know (that save money too)

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I recently went on a vacation with millenials (save yourselves!). Now, I’m under 35 but these were the fabled millenials they talk about in the media – the ones that are entitled and have no useful skills. They were all in medical school but they had never traveled anywhere by themselves. That didn’t seem like it would make them all that different from me but they didn’t know how to do basic things that I learned when I was a kid.  They didn’t know how to navigate to our AirBnB by themselves, they couldn’t figure out public transportation and didn’t seem to have a basic grasp of staying safe in a big city.

It got me to thinking, what kinds of skills would I expect someone in their 20s or 30s – someone we would consider an adult – have? I started coming up with a list and it’s quite extensive. I can do most of these to some degree but I’m excited to become more proficient in each of them and I’m going to start a series teaching all of the skills on the list. If you have a new grad or new adult in your life, please have them tune in – or tune in yourself! I’m going to research so I’m not just talking about my own experience.

What other skills would you add to this list? Which would you take off?

Continue reading 101 Life Skills Every Adult Needs to Know (that save money too)

Is being nice hurting your finances?

Yesterday, I was at a gala event where it was encouraged to take the centerpieces after the event. My dad reached for our centerpiece, which looked like leftover Valentine’s day bouquets full of pink and red carnations and roses, but I shooed him away because I saw that there were much better centerpieces from the front tables. Yes, these centerpieces were nearly twice as big, and had snapdragons and lilies and foliage. I guarded my bouquet while I waited for my dad to bring the car around. On their way out, a duo of women whom I thought were friends of my dad, looked at my bouquet and asked if they could swap my bouquet with theirs. One woman was a board member, she said. And honestly, I felt like I was trapped in an etiquette quagmire. Yes, that was rude of them to ask. But they were old women. And so I swapped my beautiful bouquet for her crappy bouquet. 

Continue reading Is being nice hurting your finances?