Failing to Achieve the Highest Returns

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I don’t always seek the highest financial returns. I know, I know, it’s shocking isn’t it. How can I blog about money for thirteen years and not put every dollar to work in the most efficient way? Isn’t the goal to accumulate the biggest bank account and the highest net worth?

Here are just a few of the ways I’ve failed to maximize:

Choosing to Become a Stay At Home Parent

If I wanted to make the most of my money I wouldn’t have stopped working when my son was born. I would have continued to earn a six figure salary, set aside the maximum contributions to my 401k and watched as my net worth jumped by a million dollars or more.

Paying off My Mortgage Early

If I wanted to maximize my earnings I certainly wouldn’t pay off my mortgage early. Financially speaking everyone knows it’s smarter to invest money in the stock market. The returns are certainly going to outpace my piddly 3% interest rate.

Buying a Beach House

I wouldn’t have bought a beach house. Properties near the beach are pricey and certainly don’t provide the best returns. I would have purchased a duplex and lived on one side while renting out the other. Then I would have purchased one or two other year round rentals that would earn gobs of money. Gobs I tell you!

Buying a New Car

I would never buy a new car. Only an idiot would drive a brand new car off the lot and pay full price for it, right? Heck, if I were smart I would move closer to work and buy a bike to pedal there.

If you are saving for FI or FIRE you’ve probably run hundreds of calculations to figure out how much you need to pay your bills without ever having to work another day in your life. You may check your bank account balance daily.

You may stare at that number and watch it slowly inch it’s way higher and higher. All the while working your tail off to get promoted, creating side hustles to bring in extra income and cutting back your expenses to the bare minimum.

As that number creeps up you listen to podcasts that tell you how to live in a shack to save on housing. Then you pull that old bike off the rack and dream of a life without the need for gasoline.

Perhaps you fantasize about quitting the workforce or simply finding a job you love. Along the way you sacrifice enjoyment in search of the all mighty dollar, because when you have enough pennies in the bank all will become rosy and clear.

All of your energy and focus may be on earning more money. If only you can snatch that next raise, receive a large bonus or find that perfect dilapidated house in need of a new owner.

But you know what, life is not all about financial returns. At the end of the day you have to decide how to spend the limited amount of time on this earth and you have to balance your current wishes with your future dreams.

If you want to travel the world you certainly don’t need a vacation home. If you are passionate about your work you may not feel the need to stay home with your children. If you don’t mind the risks of the market you may be happy to invest your excess rather than paying off your home early. If you’ve never spent day after day with a broken down car on the side of the road you may consider a new car a complete waste of money.

I get that. It all makes sense to me and being a logical, number crunching kind of girl I don’t disagree. When I look back at these big decisions I recognize that each one greatly impacted my total net worth. Had I chosen differently I could have an extra million or two in the bank.

Think about that for a minute. An extra million or two! I do reflect on that number and ponder the path I’ve traveled.

But I do not regret the choices that I’ve made. They were mine to make. (Well mine and my husband’s.) Receiving the highest return is NOT always the most important factor in my decision making process. I also want to enjoy my life. I know people with very little money that are infinitely more happy than those with bank accounts filled to the brim.

I cherish the time with my children, I feel more secure without debt, I’ve felt a great sense of peace and healing when in my beach house and I no longer worry about getting stuck on the side of a dark road.

Given the same set of circumstances you may make completely different decisions. You may choose higher returns or make choices that lower your net worth all while bringing you peace, strength and joy.

How often do you place the importance of money above your other desires?

My dreams are unique to me. What are yours? How does your desire to save impact them?

The Trouble With Net Worth Comparisons

You know, in real life very few people discuss their income and expenses, but in the world of personal finance a lot of bloggers share their numbers. Those black numbers pop off the page of my browser and stare back at me from my light-filled computer screen.

Do you ever look at those numbers? Do you ever compare your financial state to others who write about personal finance? Rockstar Finance documented the net worth of over 700 bloggers. I don’t know how up to date this list is, (I’m pretty sure it was written a few years ago), but you can get a general idea of how much other bloggers are worth. You can look through the list and figure out where you would rank among all those people and personalities.

I read ESI Money’s Millionaire Interviews religiously. Every time John writes a new post I scroll through the details until I reach the question “What is your current net worth?“. If the total is larger than my own or the age of the interviewees much younger I read the post from start to finish. Otherwise I typically move on.

I am very interested in the psychology of my motivations so I want to point out that while I compare myself to others I do not do so from the standpoint of jealousy or envy. I am simply curious as to where I might rank among my blogging peers. This has been true since I started blogging about money, but it has become even more true now that our number has grown.

I’ve never included the details of my finances in this blog. I’m so proud of all that my husband and I have accomplished, but I don’t want to put too much information out on the Internet. I only recently alluded to the fact that by definition we’ve reached financial independence.

Comparison is a tricky little devil and when you look at the numbers it’s difficult to understand all that went into them. For example, how much work went into the number you achieved? Doctors study for many years to attain the right and knowledge to practice. Software engineers can start writing code right out of high school.

Is the speed at which you become a millionaire important? Is the software engineer smarter than the doctor, because he can achieve a high net worth with little to no formal schooling? Is the doctor providing a more important service to his patients than an engineer? Should we put additional weight into these net worth numbers and how they are achieved?

Should the young real estate mogul get higher accolades for finding alternative ways to build wealth than the loyal employee who sat in her cubicle for twenty years?

Net worth is just one piece of the financial puzzle. And while the financial community often focuses on the amount of money we’ve accumulated I think it’s equally important to place importance on the life we lived to reach those numbers.

Ignore the people who tell you how you should live your life and instead seek to satisfy your our own needs and goals. One person may love searching for dilapidated old houses and fixing them up. Another may be more fulfilled in a traditional 9-to-5 job. You may think it’s super cool that you ditched your job to get rich through real estate, but that’s not the life for everyone.

In my youth I had a lot of ideas of what made sense when it came to money. I thought a lot about how to earn as much as possible. Without children I was willing to put in ridiculously long hours to propel my career. I would work until two or three in the morning solving complex problems. I sat at my desk for hours writing and rewriting code often skipping showers or even stepping outside when I worked from home. My efforts paid off in the form of raises and promotions, but my health took a back seat to my financial progress.

Having a high net worth doesn’t mean a whole lot if you are unhealthy or unhappy.

Net worth also doesn’t say anything about the life in which you lived. Maybe you chose to earn less money and pursue a career that earned little but helped others immensely. Maybe you chose to spend time away from the workforce raising children. Or maybe you just fell on hard times due to unexpected medical issues.

When you compare your financial figures remember that there are many factors that impact the totals. It may be fun to rank yourself among the list, but remember that all of those numbers have a backstory. If life is a contest having the most money does not necessarily make you the winner. You win by having a life well lived.

Buying Books for Children: Thanks to the Rockstar Finance 2018 Community Giving Event

In October of last year I received an email about the Rockstar Finance 2018 Community Giving Event and immediately knew I would apply. If you aren’t familiar with the event I’ll give you the quick run down. At the end of the year Rockstar Finance planned to give away fifty-two Amazon and Visa gift cards ranging from $25 to $100 each.

In 2017 I think they gave away gift cards to the first folks who asked, but in 2018 they asked the blogging community to submit their charitable ideas. Each gift card was intended to be used “to bless others,” so this wasn’t a giveaway for those who received the gift card, but rather a giveaway to give away.

Just weeks before the Rockstar Finance announcement I began dreaming of a way to involve my seven year old in random acts of holiday kindness. We planned to write special notes for his teachers and bake cookies for the neighbors and other such things, but I wanted to do something really rewarding and unique.

My family is unbelievably blessed and I think it’s important for my children to understand that we have the capacity to help other people who may be in need. We buy staples that others can eat and we prepare meals for the homeless various times throughout the year.

We also focus on kindness. We hold the doors open for others and say thank you when doors are opened for us. We smile each morning when we greet our friends, neighbors and teachers and say “good morning.” If someone is hungry outside of a local restaurant we won’t hand them money but we will offer to buy them a meal. We also provide fruit and crackers to men, women and children carrying signs in between busy streets near our home.

We perform many small acts of kindness throughout the year, but I wanted to do something extra special and meaningful with my son this winter. I wanted my son and I to spread the love of reading and books to those in need.

Staring at my children’s overflowing bookshelves it’s hard to believe that a book-free home may be the reality for over 16 million children living in poverty, but two-thirds of our nation’s impoverished children don’t have a single book to call their own.

Children who have access to books can bend and twist their imaginations. They can visit new places and see unimaginable things. Books inspire us to learn and to dream. The impossible is entirely possible in printed words and pictures and every child should have access to a book of their own.

Long before my first child was born I bought children’s books and kept them on a shelf in the basement and when I packed my hospital bag in preparation of my child’s birth the very first item I packed was a book. Hours after my son was born I held him in my lap and read the book Corduroy to him.

I love everything about reading to my kids. I love the weight of their tiny bodies leaning against my chest and lap. I love the way they point at the pictures and ask questions about the things they see. I love how they can memorize the words long before they can read and how they choose favorites and request the same stories day after day. Even now there is nothing I love better than sitting on the couch reading with my children. We are so close I can hear them breathe and relax as they listen to a story beside me. Every child should feel this closeness and love.

The Rockstar Community Event gave me the extra incentive to put my charitable idea in motion. I filled out the form and was over the moon to be chosen to participate in this year’s event.

I know there are many amazing programs out there like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, but I wanted to do our part to buy and distribute books locally this holiday season. So I came up with a plan.

I looked up book prices on Amazon and found that even the cheapest books cost $4 to $5. That’s when I remembered that every month a handful of books go on sale at Scholastic Book Clubs for $1. I filled out the Rockstar Finance form and requested a Visa gift card so I could buy the most books for the cheapest price.

A few weeks later John from ESI Money sent me a shiny $50 gift card. I logged on to the Scholastic book club website and ordered as many $1 books as I could find. I wanted to provide a variety of options including books for a wide-range of ages. I searched online for coupon codes and found two that worked. I bought 50 books for $50 and received two extra books for free, which means at least 52 children can receive a book of their own.

I was so excited I checked out without changing my credit card information. I completely forgot to use the gift card John sent me and ended up buying the books with my own money!

I originally planned to give the books to our local library’s kid’s reading program, but it’s more difficult than you would think to provide books this way. The library couldn’t verify how many books they might need. They wanted to make certain they had a book for each child, but they don’t know in advance how many children may attend an event. So the library wouldn’t work.

It just so happens that someone requested books in my local list serve. I offered our books, but they wanted specific titles, so that didn’t work either.

Eventually I found out that a school in our community hosts a free book sale every May. Parents and teachers recognized the need to send students home with books during the summer, but they also realized that most parents in our school district couldn’t afford to buy them. The solution: a free book sale where each student can pick out at least one new or like-new book for free!

So now we finally have a place to send our books and I love the idea of buying these books so much that I’ve been ordering $1 books from Scholastic ever since. I even signed up to receive an email notification every time a new $1 book is added. (You have to add the $1 books within a certain time frame or the price jumps back up.) We will have a HUGE pile of books to give away by the end of the school year!

Thank you Rockstar Finance for providing such an awesome opportunity to give back! To read other stories about the Rockstar Finance charitable fund check out this link.

3 Main Reasons Why People Get Into Debt and How to Avoid It

What is debt? Debt is any amount of money owed to another person or company. Whether it’s a credit card to your favorite clothing stores or home loan for the house of your dreams. It’s all debt, big and small, and Americans are eating it up. Many Americans owe more than they should, which begs the question: What are the main reasons people go into debt? And perhaps, more importantly, how can we avoid it?

HOME LOANS

Shelter is a need for everyone, but do we really need a house THAT big? Or an apartment in the heart of the historical district? Location is everything says the real estate mantra, but is it really worth going into debt for?  With Americans borrowing almost $13.3 trillion by the middle of last year, it’s a significant increase over just a year ago.  While yes, it’s understandable that the American dream of home ownership might come with a mortgage, it doesn’t have to be so high. We need to learn to live below our means, not stretched to the nth degree of it.

CAR LOANS

Much like a home, a car is a necessity in most major cities, and definitely in the rural areas of the country where there is no public transport. However, the amount drivers are racking up averages approximately $31k for a new car and $21k for a used.  This makes for a monthly payment between $400-500.00! This is a crazy amount of money for people on a tight budget to pay. Instead, they could have smaller loans for less expensive cars that run just as well as the higher-priced new ones. There should be no more of this “keeping up with the Joneses” and instead, an emphasis should be placed on getting out of debt.

EDUCATION

Nationwide, industry averages show Americans owe $1.53 TRILLION in debt according to most recent statistics. Now some might argue it’s a noble debt, one certainly justified. But truly, how noble is it to go into that much debt over a 4-year degree? Is one school truly that much better than another when they both offer the same BS/BA degree? Instead, students could take a year or two off from school, live at home and work, socking away the money needed to pay tuition. They could go to a community college for the first two years saving thousands of dollars before transferring to a higher costing 4-year school.

All debt is not bad, but consumers should make wise buying decisions before taking on debt that will stick with them for years, or should I say decades. For those people who cannot seem to get out from under the debt cloud, a consultation from National Debt Review could be in order. Firms like these help consumers pay off their debt with consolidation loans. You can’t put mortgages or car loans into the consolidation, but you can bundle together most of your credit card and medical bills.

But don’t jump into a debt consolidation quickly. Always remember to read over the fine print carefully and make certain you review and understand all of the details of the consolidation process before signing. Debt settlement should only be used as a last resort for those who are delinquent or struggling to make minimum payments on unsecured debts and have exhausted all other options. Debt settlement is risky. It can cause your credit score to plummet it can also result in higher interest and fees if the debt settlement fails.

Once you get out of debt do your best to avoid the vicious cycle of getting into debt again. If you’re ready to turn your financial life around, consult experts who know the ins and out of the financial industry. The best financial advice is to avoid incurring debt in the first place. Begin to understand your temptations for buying and do your best to avoid things you want but don’t need.

Random Ramblings: Money Wins and Loses

Money Win: I haven’t purchased a brand new book in over seven years! I don’t love the location of our house but I do love it’s proximity to the library. When the weather is nice and time is on my side I’ll walk there with my son. If I’m in a hurry I can drive and park there in less than five minutes. Now I reserve books and movies through our county’s online website and simply wait for them to become available. In the past I bought books but never read them. Now I feel the pressure to finish books before they are due, which means I only check out one or two at a time and typically read them from cover to cover. According to my latest library receipt I’ve saved over $3,000!

Money Fail: I’ve noticed a few minor issues with my vision lately. If I read for more than an hour or so the words on the page become blurry. I scheduled an appointment with an ophthalmologist I’ve visited before, but forgot our insurance recently changed. I didn’t realize the error until I received a $175 bill for an out-of-network visit. Dang! That’s a rookie money mistake. I’m surprised the receptionist didn’t tell me I was out of network, but shame on me for failing to search for an in-network doctor.

Money Win: With a new prescription in hand I drove to the nearest vision care center in search of glasses. The cheapest pair would have set me back $130. I decided to try Walmart instead and found that even the most expensive brands were covered in full by my my insurance carrier. So I wasted money on my exam, but saved money on the glasses themselves. That’s like a half-win.

Money Win: My husband and I give money to our alma mater every year, but we like to give back in non-financial ways too. In the past we reviewed resumes and provided employment advice for current students. After my son was born I started volunteering my kids and I for various graduate studies in the speech, health and psychology departments. Apparently it’s quite difficult to recruit young children for these studies, because you don’t get paid to participate, but I figure it’s an easy way to give back and you never know if our assistance may lead to a scientific discovery. Earlier this winter I heard about a new study that would pay for participation so on a whim I signed up for it. I earned four hundred dollars for less than two hours of observation. In case you are wondering these aren’t pharmaceutical studies, so there is no risk in participating.

Money Fail: I dragged two large boxes of toys and clothing out of our house and out to a local consignment shop. We donate the majority of our unwanted belongings, but every so often I’ll try to sell items that possess a higher retail value. I left the house later than expected and sat on the beltway for over 45 minutes waiting in traffic. When I arrived I was told I’d need to wait an hour for my items to be processed. After rifling through a ton of items, they picked out a handful and presented me with $17 in cash. I sat in traffic on the way back home due to an accident. My past consignment trips ranged from $40 to $150, but this payout made me question my decision to sell stuff rather than just give it away. I drag everything that doesn’t sell over to the donation center anyway. The time I wasted was worth more than $17.

Why the FI Movement Sounds like a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme

Who wants to live a monotonous life void of fun and adventure? Who wants to feel like they wasted their time on this earth working in a cavernous, thirty or forty year career? Um, I’m pretty sure no one.

We can all be sold on a better life and there are plenty of people touting supposedly proven methods to help get us there.

A few months back I read the following message from an acquaintance trying to drum up business for her latest MLM scheme:

If you have had even an inkling that this might be a way for you to create options in your life, I’m telling you, NOW IS THE TIME! This company is on FIRE.

Have you received similar solicitations?

Yes these are the words plastered by a so-called friend urging Facebook users to join her Rodan Fields sales team, but you know when I read that Facebook update I couldn’t shake the thought that those words sounded eerily familiar.

Take out the word company and you’ll find similar mantras on hundreds if not thousands of FI websites and blogs out there. Turn up the volume and listen to any FI or FIRE podcast and you’ll hear the same. The quote above even includes the word FIRE.

Multi-level marketing companies use phrases like these:

  • Live your best life.
  • Find your purpose.
  • Travel the world.
  • Quit the rat race once and for all

But so do FI writers and podcasters.

I listen to financial podcasts while working out on the elliptical machine at my local gym. I spend forty-five minutes pumping my arms and legs back and forth in a strange, running-type motion all the while listening to voices who promise me a better life. The life most, if not all, of us yearn for.

With earphones plugged into my ears I cannot hear anything going on in the real world around me, yet every once in awhile my own voice startles me. Out of nowhere I’ll hear myself say, “That’s so true,” “Oh yeah, ” or “Definitely.” Its hard not to agree with the thoughts and feelings of those marching toward financial independence beside me.

While those MLM phrases may sound the same as those used in the FI community I can assure you they are reached by very different means. To reach FI you don’t need to hawk products on unsuspecting acquaintances.

In fact, I would argue that you aren’t living your best life if you are asking your friends and family to spend money on products they don’t need or cannot afford. If you want to live your best life, find your purpose and quit the rat race you don’t need to be part of a multi-level marketing scheme that depends on putting other people into debt.

Yes the FI movement will help you dream big dreams, but they’ll do so by teaching you that money is not the end goal. You’ll hear bloggers say money should be used to free your time for purpose and passion.

While MLM asks you to promote consumerism FI will teach you to spend less and save more. MLM asks you to pray on desperate friends, while FI encourages you to find like-minded individuals searching for real relationships and camaraderie.

Naysayers will tell me the FI community is all about money. They’ll say you cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that proponents of FI also earn a lot of money by enticing others to read their blogs, listen to their podcasts or pay to see them speak live at conferences.

So one group is selling ideas and the other is selling cosmetics, right?

Well first I would argue that you aren’t required to pay for any FI services. You don’t need to click on any ads, download any special software, pay for podcasts or buy any books. All information related to FI is available entirely for free on the Internet. Feel free to be wary of websites asking you to pay for online courses or media. You don’t need it. Pick up that book from the library or simply read a synopsis from blogs written by those authors.

We all want options in life. We all want to find our purpose. We all desire something better. It’s human nature to reach for more.

The excitement that invites others to join multi-level marketing schemes is similar to the enthusiasm you feel when you learn about FI.

It’s like being asleep and waking from a dream. You envision the movie Groundhog Day. You picture waking up to the same series of events day after day and then someone says it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be different. And you cannot wait to join the movement.

But before you begin your journey think carefully about how you race to achieve your goals. Don’t burn bridges or risk friendships in an attempt to make money.

It may sound hard to believe but financial independence can be accomplished and you don’t have to buy or sell anything to get there. If fact the less you buy the quicker you’ll achieve your goal.

You may have to dig through the podcasts and blogs that are touting FI solely to make a buck, but when you do you’ll find a community ready to share their stories for free.

Financial Lessons for Kids: Selling Unwanted Toys on eBay

My oldest son has always been a builder. He’s the type of kid that wandered over to the giant wooden blocks in preschool and never walked away. While all of the other children eventually left to play dress up or craft colorful art projects my son stayed firmly planted on the rainbow carpet which muffled the sound of blocks crashing to the floor.

At home building has always been his favorite pastime. It began with colorful alphabet blocks, then moved on to elaborate wooden train configurations and continued with roads, bridges and ramps for his matchbox cars.

At the age of three my oldest was introduced to Legos for the first time. My husband bought him a tiny truck and matching dune buggy set. Although he’d never seen Lego instructions before he instinctively figured out how to search for pieces and follow the diagrams to put everything together. (I guess that’s why Legos have continued to wow children for generations. They are so easy and fun to build.)

For his sixth birthday my son requested a very special Lego. You may not believe what I am about to write, but I promise I am not making this up. He asked for the Lego Creator Expert Brick Bank.

That’s right, above all of the other Lego options, including fast cars, robots, construction vehicles and space shuttles my son wanted his very own Lego bank. We discuss money a lot in our house and this kid of mine wanted a Lego bank along with the little green Lego bricks that look like $100 bills.

There are smaller Lego banks available but he specifically requested the Creator Expert version recommended for kids 16 and up. In total it has 2,380 pieces and retails for over $150.

Now my in-laws love to spoil my children so my mother-in-law heard my son’s request and jumped to the ready. She asked him multiple times if that was the gift he most coveted and when it seems he couldn’t be swayed she ordered one off Amazon.

With a small amount of adult guidance, (there are a ridiculous number of pieces to sort through), he completed the bank construction in three days. As crazy as it sounds, not long after receiving the gift from his grandmother, another Lego Creator Expert bank was gifted to him.

My son was thrilled for the opportunity to build again, but alas after three days of consistent building he put a pause on Legos for a bit and that $150 box of Legos sat idly in his closet.

Over time he received other Legos, which he voraciously opened and built, but that Lego bank never made its way out of the box. One day while purging unwanted possessions I asked him about it.

I presented him with the following options:

  1. Build the Lego
  2. Keep the Lego in storage and build it at a future point in time
  3. Sell the Lego and put all proceeds from the sale into his bank account

Well my son is just like me, so rather than answering the question he replied with a series of questions.

  • Did I think the Lego would sell?
  • Where could we sell it?
  • How much could we sell it for?

And so we set off to investigate. The going price on eBay is right around $205. I explained that some sell for more and some sell for less, but $205 is the average. I explained that once you place the item up for auction you can never be certain what will happen, so you want to make certain you choose a listing price wisely.

We also talked about associated fees. We would have to pay to ship the item, eBay would take a 10% cut and PayPal would also charge us a fee.

If we sold the Legos for an even $200, which included the cost of shipping, he would net $164.99.

  • $200 (price + shipping) – $20 (eBay fee) – $6.10 (PayPal fee) = $164.99.

Now this kid knows that it can take him nearly two days to earn $80 from his summer lemonade stand. That includes baking cookies for hours the day before we set up the stand and sitting outside waiting for customers for six to eight hours on the day of the event. The idea of selling one box of Legos without any of that work nearly sent him into a tizzy.

He immediately asked if we had other toys to sell. I reminded him that most toys are worthless once they are played with and that this one was valuable because the Legos were still sealed inside the box.

After we went through every detail I could possibly think of he decided he wanted to try to sell his unwanted toy through eBay.

I could have boxed up the Legos and sold them myself. I could have left them in his closet forever, (heck they may have doubled in price in another ten years), or I can hand over the decisions to my seven year old son. I can teach him about money in a tangible way and hope that these lessons will stick well into adulthood.

Teaching Children to Embrace Minimalism

A fellow personal finance blogger, who I deeply respect and admire, recently asked me how I help my children embrace the concept of owning less. She specifically asked how I talk to my children about “not needing everything that everyone else has just because you don’t have it.” 

I thought long and hard about this question and decided to send her a list of the steps I take to help my children embrace minimalism and reject consumerism.

I desperately want my children to think carefully about their buying decisions. I hope this will prevent them from turning into adults who mindlessly spend their money. I want them to understand that buying one thing today might mean not buying something tomorrow. I also want them to understand that when searching for joy in life you often don’t have to spend any money at all.

I spent much of my lifetime thinking about frugality in terms of lacking and deprivation where I should have thought about it more in terms of wise decision making. Rather than thinking I can’t afford something I now see it as I’m choosing not to buy it. I’m trying to teach my children to focus on the same.

So how do I teach my children to value what they have rather than constantly dreaming of wanting more?

First, I talk to my children a lot about the value of an item they want to buy. Rather than starting the conversation from a monetary perspective I begin by talking about joy. For example, do you feel joyful, or do you think you will feel joyful, when you play with this toy?

How exactly does this work? Well I start with toys my kids already own. My children and I review their toy stash every month. We look at all of the toys on the shelf and I ask; “Are you playing with this?” “When was the last time you played with it?” and “How did you play with it?”

The last question focuses on whether or not the toy can be played with in multiple ways. For example, blocks can be used to build a bank, an airport or a track for cars. Many multi-dimensional toys lead to greater creativity and greater joy.

I ask “Is this toy fun to play with?” and/or “Does your brother like to play this with you?” We may talk in detail about how the kids played with a certain toy and I make certain to point out how those train tracks were super fun to build in new and exciting ways, but that remote control car was boring after a few trips around the basement.

I hope that these conversations will help my children make better buying decisions in the future.

After the initial toy walk-through we weed out the toys my children don’t play with. My children sort the toys themselves, but we review each item before boxing them or taking them away. After loading the car, (I usually ask my oldest to help me with this task), my children drive to the donation center with me so they can see their toys being given away.

Sometimes I take unwanted toys to a consignment shop. I talk to my seven year old explicitly about how much we paid for each toy and what we could sell it for now. Most of the time his toys are worthless, but I want him to recognize that a grandparent, aunt or uncle may have paid $20 for a toy that we are now giving away. If it sells at the consignment store we talk about how much it sold for and he figures out the difference between what we paid and how much we recouped. He is aware that we never sell a toy for more than we bought it for.

Then we talk about better ways we could spend our money in the future to prevent wasting it or things we could do as a family that don’t cost any money at all.

We have similar conversations when we return home from a friends house. If we come home and my kids say “I really want ‘x'” then we talk about how often they would play with that toy and whether or not they have a similar toy that would work just as well. We also discuss imaginative play and try to figure out how we can invent our own version of that toy or play an imaginary game that would produce the same feeling of joy they felt at a friend’s house.

I often redirect conversations to free play. If you ask my children about their favorite games they’ll mention playing lava, which involves jumping on cushions and pillows to avoid touching the ground. Or they’ll talk about how much more fun it is to build a track out of bricks rather than using a prebuilt Thomas the Train track that only goes in one direction.

I want them to learn how to use their imaginations to prevent boredom rather than depending on a room full of toys.

Ultimately we play in ways that do not require much stuff. My children are happy to shoot baskets, play pirates or build new creations with the same set of blocks we’ve owned for years. I often point out the fun we had with very little supplies.

My children are by no means minimalists. Their toy shelves are overflowing with gifts from well meaning family members, but each time we open the conversation they begin to think a little more clearly about owning stuff that doesn’t bring them joy. Each time a toy is offloaded I want them to think about the clutter of that object as well as the price we paid to own it.

Over time I hope they learn that abundant joy is much more valuable than abundant stuff! In fact, I want them to understand that owning less is often the key to happiness.

Don’t Let Others Discount Your Success

In social circles I am often hesitant to discuss the fact that I own a beach house. I feel like the dynamic changes once people find out I own a vacation rental home, so I usually keep this information to myself. (This was certainly more true in my late twenties. It’s a little less so now that I have reached my fourth decade of life.)

When people find out about my property they typically respond in one of three ways.

  • A few folks seem genuinely happy about my accomplishment.
  • A few will invite themselves to stay in my house for free.
  • The remainder respond in cold tones with statements like “that must be nice” even though their body language implies they don’t think it’s nice at all.

I don’t want anyone to feel bad about their own financial situations. It certainly isn’t fun to listen to someone talk about their wealth, especially if you are struggling to pay for food or rent. I completely understand that fact and try to remain quiet, but sometimes friends and acquaintances dig for further details.

When I outline the finer points of our acquisition I am often met with scrutiny. Here are a few things I’ve heard over the years:

  • Oh you bought your primary house in 2001? Well that was long before the housing boom right? Try buying a house now.
  • Oh you worked as a software developer in the late 90s? Jobs were easier to come by back then. Anyone could find a job.
  • Oh your parents paid for college? If I graduated without debt I could buy a beach house too.

Here’s what I think about those comments:

  • I purchased a house when I was twenty-two years old. How many college grads, fresh out of school, have the fortitude to sign a thirty-year contract and the willingness to forgo fun in favor of adulthood? I bet painting walls, digging up rose bushes and raking leaves weren’t high on your list of activities when you were twenty.
  • Plenty of my friends struggled to find jobs after college. I personally spent hours in the career center combing through plastic binders full of jobs. (Yes, that’s how college students researched jobs in the mid-to-late 90s.) Monster.com and other online job boards weren’t packed with job listings back then so you had to, (brace for it), call employers to ask about open positions. In some ways looking for a hiring company was much harder then clicking a couple of links and sending out resumes.
  • Graduating without debt gave me a huge advantage in life, but there are plenty of grads that still go deep into debt after their parents pay for school. I lived in a shitty, 9-by-9 room and shared a bathroom with five other people in order to save money on rent after college. The day I graduated I was off on my own. So yes, I had a job, but $30,000 wasn’t a whole lot of money to live on.

I wholeheartedly believe that part of my financial success is due to hard work and perseverance. Another part is due to my birthplace, the U.S., and to parents who took care of my needs throughout my youth and provided me with lots of love and support. Choosing a financially savvy husband who earns a high wage has certainly played a role as has some old-fashioned good luck.

I try my best to look at the whole picture. I am grateful for the advantages I’ve been given, but I am equally proud of what I’ve accomplished. Given the same set of circumstances I know plenty of people who would not be in the same financial position.

I try to remember that discounting someone’s success is easy. It’s much harder to perform an introspective evaluation of your own life. You can be the type of person that knocks others down or the type that builds others back up.

I am grateful for the FI community who listens openly to stories of financial success and weighs in with insightful thoughts and comments. I wish I encountered more people like this in real life.

The Words of Wisdom I Wanted to Hear

I met K in the sixth grade. After transitioning from a very small elementary school I found myself navigating the waters of middle school for the very first time and doing my best to make new friends.

K was the new kid at school and after a hellish fifth grade experience with a mean girl I dreamed of forging new friendships with less drama. Funny enough, K turned out to be all about drama. In fact, she became one of the most popular mean girls in school, but in the beginning she was just a lonely girl in need of a friend.

Within a very short period of time we became inseparable and after a few months we started requesting sleepovers, so one afternoon my mom drove me to K’s house and dropped me off for the evening.

K lived in a brand new neighborhood about five minutes away from my house. After turning off a quiet street we drove up a long winding, grass covered hill with gargantuan houses. Each momentous brick home was surrounded by bright white fences that surrounded elaborate stone pathways and in ground swimming pools. The houses were built on acres of an old horse farm and each house looked like a mansion to me; complete with separate pool houses and outdoor kitchens.

K’s house had four bedrooms; one of which was used as a guest room that no one lived in. (I couldn’t imagine having so much space that a room could remain unoccupied for days, months or even years at a time.) K and her brother both slept in massive bedrooms with their own bathrooms attached.

Prior to this point in time the majority of my sleepovers had taken place in my own neighborhood. I lived on a quaint dead-end street filled with one story ranchers. My own home, which never felt small prior to seeing K’s house, suddenly felt immensely tiny.

My house had three small bedrooms and I shared a hall bathroom, complete with 1970s mirrored wall paper, with my older brother. Our basement was unfinished with cement floors and cinder block walls. We spent the majority of our time in the living room playing with toys as children. K had an entire play room filled with pool tables and air hockey games.

K wasn’t like the other kids I knew. She wore Guess jeans exclusively, which were all the rage in the 1980s, and shopped at The Limited. K was my first introduction to an upper-class family.

I didn’t remember what I said to my mom after I returned home from K’s house the following morning, but thirty years later it seems my mom has never forgotten. She recently told me I came home and announced “our house was the smallest in the world.”

It seems I unknowingly hurt my mom’s feelings with that statement, something I did often as an unwitting pre-teen and teenager, but this comment stuck with her more than the others from those angst filled years.

I don’t know what my mom said in response to my comment, but I wish she would have said “life is all about choices” or “that money isn’t everything.”

I wish she would have told me that we all make decisions in life. I wish she would have mentioned the importance of her decision to stay-at-home, which resulted in less money but ensured years of hugs and support. I wish my mom would have pointed out that having a big home isn’t important if it isn’t filled with love.

As an eleven year old I didn’t understand the pull of consumerism. Heck as a 40 year old I’m barely beginning to understand its influence. I wanted to wear Guess jeans and look like all of the popular girls who walked through our school halls. I wanted to live the big life and never feel like I was less than those that had the money to buy whatever they wanted.

Within the last decade or two of my life I have learned that more stuff does not equate with more of anything else. K became a real jerk as the years wore on. She wielded her wealth like a weapon and looked down on those who couldn’t keep up with her buying power.

Money is a powerful resource, but life is not just about having money and flaunting wealth. I wish my mom would have pointed out all of the non-financial things we had like a home filled with love and caring, supportive parents who loved us.

I wonder how my perception might have changed if I heard those words of wisdom. Would I have listened or simply ignored her as the desire to fit in and be cool overwhelmed all other desires and feelings?

Having reached financial independence I can say that money isn’t everything. I still covet those gorgeous, HGTV homes, but I realize a big house doesn’t hold the key to my happiness. Kindness and love carry a lot more weight for me.

In fact, to this day I have trouble with those who flaunt their wealth in front of others. You can achieve success without forcing others to feel inferior. In fact, I might argue that true compassion is hiding your wealth all together.