I’m starting this as a self reflection of how to better myself as a person. This blog was sparked after reading James Clear’s Atomic habits. I am full of terrible habits. I overspend, overeat, and am generally lazy. My goal for this is to track my habits and changes including my financial life.
Financially, I am in debt. Now it isn’t terrible, but it needs to be dealt with. I make a little over $40,000/ year, and have about $30,000 in loans including Private & Federal student loans, and a car loan. Seeing as I just splurged on my honeymoon, I’ve racked up a total of $12,000 in revolving debt. (Only about $3,000 is from the Honeymoon, I didn’t splurge $12k worth). I have a retirement plan through my employer that I contribute 7% and they match up to 3% giving me a total of 10% of my pre-tax income going towards retirement. I started to invest before I started listening to the Personal Finance podcasts, The Mad Fientist, and Listen Money Matters. Once I got all learned up and realized that I needed to get rid of my higher interest debts, before I started investing, I slowed down on that. I still plug $10 a week into a Vanguard account to keep it going, but I was socking away $50 a week until I realized that I wasn’t making money, I was losing it from my credit card interest. Luckily, my student loans and car loan are all sub-4%. But I have 2 credit cards, at 12.5% and 23.99%. I need to pay them down ASAP.
A little background on me. I am 27 years old, and work as an Entertainment Electrician and Moving Light Repair Technician. Basically, I am a lighting guy for everything from corporate meetings and parties to Music festivals upwards of 50,000 people. I live in Wisconsin where the cost of living is rather low. I live with my wife and a roommate that I’ve had since college. He was my best man and we don’t mind having him live with us. It keeps the cost even lower. Since I graduated college in 2015, I’ve gained 50 pounds, mainly in my gut. Good ol’ Wisconsin Beer belly. Except I have an alcohol allergy that I developed right around graduation. I have had many bad habits over my life. I was a 12-pack a day soda drinker, and when I quit the first time, I was back on it in less than a month. It wasn’t until I went for my annual physical and the nurse ran my blood pressure three times before calling in another nurse to run it to see that my blood pressure was ~160/100 (I can’t remember the exact numbers but I remember they were very close to that). I quit cold turkey in my sophomore year of college. And everyone hated me. I was an ass to anyone who slightly annoyed me. So I took up smoking cigars. That bankrupted me because I didn’t buy cheap cigars and I switched to Electronic cigarettes (before the term vaping was coined). As of August 5th, 2019, I am free of that as well. Changing habits and thought patterns has been very difficult for me. As a child, I played hockey and suffered 4 concussions, and because I am a huge nerd, got my 5th concussion from a foam sword battle while very intoxicated on St. Patrick’s Day with some friends. My short term memory is terrible. Being in a job where I literally meet new people every day and have to work closely with them, their name ends up becoming “Man”, “Chief”, or “Boss” Because of the post concussion issues and all that comes with it, I need something that will keep me on track and honest with myself and my progress.
I am also publishing this so that anyone who is trying to better themselves, but is struggling can see that they are not alone. You hear of all of these success stories and they tend to make them sound easy. It isn’t easy to change your core beliefs and habits, especially when it means giving up comforts and things we think are necessary. I know that I’m not perfect by any means, so I expect to have setbacks along my journey. Due to my career path, I’m on the road sporadically for up to 100 days a year. This will make it hard to save on food, but on the other side of the coin, a good chunk of those days, food is provided by the show I’m working on. Usually that only counts for the normal meals (Breakfast, lunch, and dinner), but that doesn’t include any pizza or after show food I may partake in, either by choice or peer pressure. I’m not trying to make excuses for where my wasteful spending is coming from, but I am acknowledging the difficulty I’ll have in trying to budget, seeing as every day is a different situation and different influences will come my way.
I have tried to budget in the past and have failed every time. My first approach to fixing my finances is to do a fluid budget. By that, I mean that I’ll be questioning each purchase and each item I buy. This means asking “Do I need this?” and “Is there a better alternative that would be more cost effective?” to everything I buy. I will try to budget the best I can but even as a spreadsheet nerd, I can’t seem to stick to a hard budget. I can’t seem to avoid urges to go out and have fun, or get a tool I actually need.
As for my personality, I am a blunt dreaming realist. I know that is contradictory, but In many situations, I rely on reality to guide my goals. However, like every other person in the world, I want the good sized house, with a nice hot tub, to retire early, travel the world, yadda yadda. In reality I know that I won’t be able to achieve all of that. For example, I don’t have a passport, So the farthest I can travel is within the continental United States. And unless I start my own business, I won’t retire early because as I write this, the company I work for is closed between Christmas and New years, and yet I went into work today to clean out my workbox, build a few things to add to my tools, and re-organize my desk. If I were to retire early, it would be to retire to some other endeavour like a business, or to spend my retirement years designing for a theater company somewhere.
In my adventure to change, I don’t want to starve myself of joy or small splurges. What good is changing everything to be miserable? We’ve all tried terrible diets, or quitting cold turkey with coffee, soda, sugar or smoking. I think asking myself the constant question of “Do I need this?” will make small changes that over time will create habits and those habits will start changing other aspects of life for the better.
I feel that I may never hit a point of being “done” with this journey to better myself and my life. I hope it never ends. I enjoy trying to optimize things at work and in my life. The tipping point that started all of this was when we got a robotic vacuum and mop with some of the money we got from the wedding. With the vacuum we call “Big Buddy” and the mop we call “Lil Buddy”, I have not had to vacuum, sweep, or mop in 3 months. Once I realized that it takes me 3 minutes to get the mop set up and running, and I can tell Big Buddy to vacuum certain rooms, they will do the 1-2 hours of chores I’d normally do. With this extra time, I am able to go do chores I’ve been avoiding for far too long, or get caught up on reading or projects. Once I realized how I was able to automate, Atomic Habits was given to me by my sister. I think that unconscious habits are essentially automation. Hopefully someday I won’t have to ask myself “Do I need this?” when shopping, and will be able to habitually do my dishes as soon as I am done eating instead of eating and watching tv and forgetting the dishes until the next day.
If anyone ends up following my journey, I hope this helps show the reality of changing your lifestyle to get out of debt, deal with mental issues, and put a reality on a, what I hope is a, success story. I’ll gladly accept questions and encouragement along the way.