When “Work” Isn’t Work…

I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of the NFL’s New England Patriots. (Stick with me a bit non-football fans.) At least one day of the week, you will find me my “Do Your Job” shirt. Quite honestly, I consider the team to be the best run organization in the United States… and possibly the world.

That may sound like exaggeration, but I submit this Tweet as strong evidence:

As you can see the Patriots were 9.5 underdogs (Las Vegas thinks they are going to lose badly) only 6 times this millennium… and they responded to this extremely rare situation by winning 5 of them. Last night’s win was the latest example of them performing the feat.

After the game, I read an interesting article on ESPN between Coach Bill Belichick and an unknown, future star named Julian Edelman. Edelman relayed this story:

I remember my second year, I was doing a cold tub at like 12 o’clock at night, at the facility, just happy to be on the team. Coach was there on the treadmill watching film, and we just so happen to walk out at the same time.

So I ask him, ‘Coach, it’s pretty unbelievable you do this all the time.’ And he goes, ‘It beats being a plumber.’

“Nothing wrong with plumbers or anything, but you know, it’s unbelievable.

I can recall Belichick being quoted saying a similar thing at least a half dozen times.

When you read my About page, I have four points for why I picked the “Lazy” adjective. The biggest reason is my slogan, “Making my money work, so I don’t have to.” (Shhh: I’m redesigning my site with this as my tagline like it was years ago.)

However, one thing that I’ve overlooked is that there are different degrees of “work.”

For Bill Belichick, plumbing is a very bad kind of work. Personally, I’d go with heavy construction as one of the worst. On the other side of the spectrum, Peter Gibbons trades his office job for construction and he seems to love it.

The canonical example of a bad job is working at a fast food restaurant. Just like no one ever says, “I want to be a junkie when I grow up“, no one ever says, “I want to be a fry cook.” (Exception: this awesome story)

Sometimes, I can understand the appeal of being a fast food restaurant worker. I wouldn’t want to do it long term, but I can appreciate working rotely for some time. I often joke with my wife that I wash the dishes 7 times a day not because I like a clean sink, but because I like to give my brain a rest.

This meandering word-soup has brought me to two conclusions:

  1. We may be able to agree that there are different levels of “work.” We might even generally agree that some work is more unsavory than others. However, there are also some outlier exceptions for some people.
  2. Money is the great equalizer when it comes to work. If you have enough money, you can quit anything that you consider “unsavory work” and do that thing you love within reason. (I had to add that last part because “Patriots coach” is already taken… and I’d be terrible at it.)

I’m starting to see the difference between “early retirement” and “financial freedom.” The first can be thought of as “not working.” The second can be thought of as “having the ability to choose your work (or not.)”

The Craziest Week of My Life?

The last couple of weeks have been perhaps the most crazy weeks of my life. You’d think that getting sued for a million dollars for helping people is pretty crazy. That’s actually #2 on the Crazy Week list.

I shouldn’t go into the biggest event, but I’m nothing if not transparent. Plus, I can’t resist…

There’s a bit of a fight going on with my wife’s military benefits between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. I believe The Health and Human Services is right by the letter of the law they cited and we should receive the benefit. (Of course I’m going to believe that, right?) The Department of Defense is right in the practical case that it would come out of their budget.

It is a significant benefit in that is a completely life-altering change for us. I have enough trouble fighting MLM companies, so I’m going to let the Department of Defense slide just this one time. We were kind of singled out and if I were to fight it, there’s a chance that they’d apply the policy to thousands of families rather than just a few.

Anyway, let’s move on.

Last week was also crazy for another reason. It is probably more accurate to call it awkward.

I created a GoFundMe account.

I felt like an instant failure. I’ve been writing about personal finance for nearly 10 years. I’ve written about having an emergency fund numerous times and here I am essentially begging for money.

As they say the devil is in the details.

The reason for the GoFundMe is because of the aforementioned lawsuit. That piggybacks on LifeVantage suing me in 2013 as well as RainSoft’s lawsuit from last year which still on-going.

It seems that helping consumers avoid financial pitfalls can get very expensive to me personally. I had no idea that Freedom of Speech/Press seems to apply only to the people who have tens of thousands of dollars to pay lawyers for long expensive trials. I imagined it was something like The People’s Court or Judge Judy where I could simply show the court that I really care for people and that I’ve done the best research I can to help them. I figured that the judge would take a quick look, reprimand the bullying company, and throw it out of court in about 8 minutes. (Maybe 13 minutes if he or she wanted to lay into them for their behavior for wasting tax payer dollars by bringing it to court.)

That’s not how it works at all. The cost of fighting a single lawsuit can easily be $100,000 or more. Heck, the NFL’s lawsuit against Tom Brady to confirm a DeflateGate suspension has already run an estimated $20 million dollars. Imagine how much good you could do in some third-world countries with some of that kind of money?

When I plan our finances, I had made reasonable allowances. I know where the money for our mortgage and cars are going to come from. We live very frugally, so the other expenses are very minimal. Just as importantly, they haven’t changed much over the years other than the addition of two children. While that sounds like it would be expensive, it hasn’t been. Their grandparents have bargain-hunted to get great clothes at pennies on the dollar (Thanks Mom!). They don’t eat much food (even though we try).

We know what things are generally going to cost if a water heater breaks here or there, it’s no big issue. The emergency fund that we had in place is great and it covers us whenever there’s a reasonable emergency expense.

Ironically, planning our finances so well can lead a financial difficulty. Let me explain.

I write my opinion of what I believe to be scams for the same reasons that Ethan Vanderbuilt states here. He explains it much more eloquently than I ever could, but he doesn’t like to see people’s entrepreneurial hopes turned against them.

Educating people on how to avoid those pitfalls is very important to me. A few days ago, a fellow blogger, Joe from Retire by 40 wrote about finding a meaningful life after retirement. I’m not retired, but my focus on educating people about scams is a huge part of finding a meaningful life. The emails and comments I receive from readers who thank me show me that I’m really helping people. Whether or not Le-Vel is a scam or what anyone’s opinion of it is, the testimonials I’ve received for the Le-Vel article are extensive.

You’d think that awkwardness of my GoFundMe would go away if I re-frame it as it being about readers helping future readers. As one commenter wrote:

“Let’s keep this alive, because I’m guessing after 10 years you have saved people a whole lot more than what you are asking for in this pursuit of keeping your first amendment rights, and I’m grateful that you are willing to put yourself into the line of fire so that we have the opportunity to see the WHOLE picture.”

For some reason, the awkwardness didn’t go away. Instead it was replaced with questions:

“If I’m begging people for money with a GoFundMe, should I continue to feed my dog Merrick’s highly-rated grain-free dog food or instead go with the cheapest dog food?”

and

“How can I write about luxuries like my Amazon Echo (even though I got it for $99), when I’m asking for money from people who, most likely, do not have the luxury of an Amazon Echo?”

It’s a thorny issue and I don’t have any answers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving Day article is always the most difficult article I write every year. I’ve always been uncomfortable publicly talking about how well I have it. Many others in the United States do not have it so well. And the percentages only get worse when I look at it from a global scale.

I have an awesome wife and the proverbial 2.5 kids (though I count our dog as full kid, we’ll give him half credit). We have an exceptional degree of financial freedom and no health problems (knock on wood).

Professionally, I get a lot of satisfaction helping consumers with their finances. This year, I had many bloggers tell me that my website inspired them to not only take control of their own finances, but go on to influence millions of other people. Pat from Smart Passive Income seems like he’s going to be CEO of the online world someday. I remember when he was writing for eHow trying to make a few bucks on the side. Phil Taylor of PT Money said that I influenced him when he was starting out. He’s only went on to become the creator of FinCon, a conference that brings together over a thousand bloggers and financial company representatives each year.

As Hiro Nakamura in Hero’s Reborn might say, “So many butterflies from one blog…”

Nowadays, my interest is in helping people retire early and saving consumers from getting scammed (with a special focus on MLM/pyramid schemes.) Traffic to the website this year just passed 2 million page views, which is a huge amount of people. I’ll expand on this in the year-end review, but the macro-economics of advertising in online publishing are way, way down.

And that leads me to the final thing that I’m thankful for. There’s no non-pandering way to say this, but it’s you, the reader. I’m thankful that you keep coming back (and bringing friends). So let’s close out this holiday strong and blast into the new year.

P.S.

I’m also thankful that I’m not waiting in long lines for anything. I may pop into Old Navy which is having a 50% off sale on (almost) everything in the store. I could use a pair of new jeans. I’ve been scouting the online deals, but the best deals like Amazon’s $35 Fire Tablet and Amazon Echo are products that I already have or don’t need.

I almost want to pick up a $35 tablet for some fun hacking fun.

“So What Do You Actually DO?”

I have a friend who I think crossed the territory of “I’ve known him longer than I haven’t.” That’s actually a paraphrased quote of his, but I’m stealing it, because it is awesome. We were on a road-trip recently and he asked me:

“So What Do You Actually DO everyday?”

He knows I’m blogger. It’s kind of an usual job and I understand that people find it interesting. I don’t remember if I went straight into the explanation, but if I didn’t, I hope I pointed out that no one in 15 years has been able to figure to out what he does. He doesn’t help his case by saying that doesn’t know sometimes. (This is all a joke, because he’s a manager of a very specialized division of a highly profitable tech company.)

The strange thing is that I didn’t answer about anything related to blogging. I started off with getting the kids ready for day care… and picking them up. There are 2-3 dog walks in between. There’s cooking dinner and lunch. I probably didn’t mention laundry… I’m not sure my wife fully trusts me with that chore, but launder the safe stuff sometimes.

I also grocery shop at 5 different stores, which was a post ironically inspired by this very same friend. This sounds like it would take a lot of time and be very wasteful on gas, but they are mostly a couple of blocks away from my house. I am very efficient in grabbing staples from them and can get in and out of them in 45 minutes. It helps that I’m able to shop in off-hours when the stores are empty.

It also helps that I’m able to keep a database of great prices in my head. I can usually save 30-50% over what it would cost me if I did my shopping at the local Stop and Shop.

Oh and I mentioned the siesta. I usually wake up around 6AM, but today, I’ve been up since 4:30. Going to sleep around midnight means I nice little siesta of 45 minutes in the middle of the day. It is my favorite perk of working for yourself. I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to work refreshed in the middle of the day.

So while I may have sounded extra lazy with the mention of a siesta, overall, I probably get by on less sleep than most people.

And this is where the conversation moved to another subject. Looking back at my answers, I probably sound like I live up to my name.

However, there are a few things that I probably should have mentioned. I think he knows them, but they certainly make a huge difference:

My wife works (4) 10-hour days

This means she has Fridays off. Blogging allows me to create my own hours. I’m going to be working extra Monday through Thursday to be able to take some time off with her… even if it is just doing errands. I effectively have an extra weekend day, but I also have to get the same amount done in less time.

Rental Property Duties

We’ve got three rental properties and no property manager. It’s not like something is always broken, but it can feel that way. Add in primary residence duties and it is pretty significant.

This Blogging “Thing”

I’m going to borrow from this description of what people think about bloggers, “No, I don’t just sit around, drink coffee all day long, and sit on Facebook. However, that’s what many believe actually happens in the average day of an online business owner.”

I write articles. I write a lot of articles… more than readers here know. Some articles are quick and I can get them out in an hour. This one is probably going to come in at 2.5 or 3 hours. I think my blog post on Nerium took more than 20 hours.

The average reader can see that and get it. What the average reader doesn’t see is all the stuff behind the scenes. It’s like an iceberg where you only see the tip. There’s so much more going on behind the surface. I’ve covered a lot of them back in 2007, but here’s just some of the things that I have to deal with.

I’m the bookkeeper. I’m one who negotiates with advertisers. I’m the marketing manager. I’m the networking guy, making new relationships in hopes they pay off down the line. I’m the technology expert. That includes understanding how search engines work, to social media, to coding HTML and PHP. I even run my own Amazon Web Services server where I put on my Linux sysadmin hat every now and again.

I’m doing all this and keeping up with dozens of email inquiries every day. I’m doing all this while trying to read dozens of articles a day, which gives me inspiration to write new material.

I deal with lawyers. Oh do I deal with lawyers. I’ve got 4 of them working on various aspects of blogging, but I’ll get to that in a little bit.

In short, the “blogging thing” is running a company from top to bottom. It may not be the best company and I may not be the best at all parts of it, but I’ve always loved doing different things. I get bored doing just one thing, so this works for me.

Here’s What I Don’t Do

This past weekend, I met up with an old friend and he asked what I did. I used to respond that I’m a software engineer, as I would view myself that way, but lately, I’ve just being saying it, “I’m a blogger.”

It’s a little like how my wife and I would talk around how we met. We met online in 2004. That was just something that did not happen. The news interviewed us for how unique we were. The stigma was that you must both be such damaged goods you couldn’t meet in the physical world. A decade later, I wonder if people meet any other way.

In 2006, being a blogger was weird. In 2015, it is much less weird. In fact, most people find it very interesting as I said at the outset.

This friend’s response was, “Oh yeah, I heard you disparage companies.”

My first thought was: “Oh eff-no.”

My actual response was something like, “I aim to help people find financial freedom by saving and investing in 401Ks, Roth IRAs, real estate, and other business ventures. I also expose MLM/pyramid schemes because they directly harm more than 99% of the participants from achieving this.”

It wasn’t that well-worded… a martini was involved.

I had to look up “disparage” when I got home, because I wanted to make sure I got the connotation right. I originally thought my problem was with the word “disparage”, but it is fairly accurate. My real problem is with the word, “companies.” While Enron and Bernie Madoff’s company were technically companies, they earned all the “disparagement” they had coming to them as they were probably best described as schemes.

If you are running a company and making money by providing a helpful product or service to consumers, I’m generally cool with you. I’ve written about dozens of these companies, from Fitbit to NutriBullet to Aldi grocery stores.

If you are running a company that is trying to make money via some kind of scam or confidence trick, I’m going to call you out for it. Consumers deserve to have access to the information and make their own decisions.

Final Thoughts

I realize this post went in a few different directions. I don’t often like to talk about my motivations for what I do or even how I do it when it comes to blogging. I don’t think that’s the interesting story. It’s like a reporter talking about his daily process for chasing leads. I don’t think the public wants to read a lot of articles about it.

Sometimes it is interesting to get a behind the scenes look. However, most of the time, I just want the actual story and not the details about how it came about.

America has Lost its Mind

That should be the title about how how Americans can’t afford an $1000 expense.

This article is going to be emotional and strongly worded, so if you arrived here for a daily dose of personal finance take that link and run… or just close your browser window. I’d for you to come back tomorrow.

I couldn’t look either of my sons in the eyes today. I tried. At the ages of 1 and 2, they knew something was “different”, but they didn’t know what.

Jake, my dog, gave me a kiss. When he was puppy, I got kisses regularly. Now he doles them out… as necessary.

It was necessary today.

I got my sons dressed. The youngest hasn’t developed a passion for fashion. The oldest is very picky about wearing a dinosaur, an octopus, or a robot. Today we’d wear “star man” and we’d count… “one… two…”

At first he didn’t understand, but today it was important that we all “matched.” Even “Bubba” (his name for his younger brother) “matched.”

When I brought the kids into day care, I was greeted with the words, “Well played.” For the first time in 12 hours I cracked something resembling a smile. She didn’t know it, but that’s a catch-phrase of one of my best friends.

I am very lucky, my kids are very, very young… I don’t need to explain it. They don’t even know it happened. They’ll surely ask me about it later. Later is great… I hope to have answers then. My heart goes out to all the mothers and fathers of 8-10 year olds today.

I’ve danced around the “it” for long enough.

“It” is the end of competitive sports.

I love competitive sports. No blogger ever harnessed their adrenaline to say, “In your face!” My wife, as a pharmacist, doesn’t have those moments either.

Sports gives us that. Or at least it did…

Today competitive sports died… and a judicial system died with it…

I don’t know how to explain to my sons that Tom Brady was suspended for suspected cheating.

How do I say:

It was a witch hunt to cover up the sting operation which lead to a biased “investigator” to ignore evidence to conclude that some part-time Patriot employee might have done something that they think Tom Brady might have been aware of?

I hoped to cover all this in this article, but I am too emotionally drained to do it now… I’m going to instead link to and quote relevant material to back it up.

First there are many reasons why Tom Brady should not have been suspended.

The bulk of what this article should have been about is this from Mike Reiss:

Why do I think this has been made to be a bigger deal than it is? I go back to the Vikings-Panthers game from November, with teams illegally heating footballs on the sideline and simply getting a warning from the NFL, and wonder how we got to this point with the Patriots and underinflated footballs. I go back to the Chargers using an illegal sticky substance on towels in 2012 and getting fined $25,000, and likewise wonder how we got to this point with the Patriots and underinflated footballs. Put the three situations together and only one requires a full-fledged investigation that will cost owners millions of dollars? In the interest of fairness, what am I missing? Add in comments from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers about his preference for overinflated footballs, and this New York Times story on Eli Manning and his football preparation, and it just seems we’ve gone off the rails here.

And these two things were before the penalty came down. I have 23 browser tabs open about that.

I know some people will say that I’m a homer.

I’m fine with explaining cheating itself to my kids. I was Mark McGwire’s biggest fan. I may one of the biggest baseball card collections of him in New England… but I stopped collecting in 1993. This was long before the home run records or steroids.

That’s easy to explain.

I can’t explain a ruling based on the lack of evidence… I can’t explain how we penalize someone for what they were “generally aware of” when there is no definitive truth that it happened.

I have no answers when they ask:

“Wasn’t this the guy who suspended Ray Rice for only two games for knocking his girlfriend unconscious in an elevator? Is being suspected for something really worse than that daddy?”
“Wasn’t this the guy who gave a warning when teams illegally warmed up balls? What’s different here daddy?”

I’m not saying that sports personalities should be role models, but let’s be honest… they are. It’s part of being famous. If there is one sports personality you’d want your kids to emulate, wouldn’t it be Tom Brady? You may not have the best talent… you get drafted in the 6th round… you work hard and it results in unparalleled success… you make millions and marry a super model…

The NFL wants to end this story with (paraphrased), “and we think he might have talked with someone who might have done something that we aren’t sure of… hence he’s guilty.”

This is the same league that is getting hammered from health advocates about concussions. It is the same league that spent the last year explaining the domestic violence issues (which is nothing new in the NFL). NFL, you really want to go after the best example of sportsmanship in the game… perhaps all of sports? Wow.

Yesterday, the NFL showed that there is no justice in the world. They’ve essentially said, “We are the judge, jury, and executioner… and we hire the people to give us results that make us look good.”