Category: Healthy Lifestyle

So, as much as I hate to, I need to keep myself accountable for the goals I set last year. Let me start by saying “GOOD RIDDANCE” to 2015. This was a rough year, so while I didn’t achieve my goals, I still feel like I gave a valiant effort given the circumstances.

2015 Goals Review

1. Achieve 50% savings rate for one month
To be honest, I’m not sure if we did this or not. We might have had a month where our expenses were only 50% of our income, but for the most part, 2015 was a rough year with many unexpected expenses. Believe it or not, December was a really good month for us, so I’m going to call this one a “Maybe” because any success would have been offset by other terrible months.

2. Save $18,000
Not even close. However, we slightly changed this goal half way through the year to be me maxing out my IRA contribution (which I ended the year $1000 short) and paying off my wife’s student loans. We haven’t fully achieved those goals either, so this is still a fail.

3. Try cooking a new healthy dish every month
I experimented a little in the kitchen, but really didn’t achieve this goal to its entirety. I’m beginning to feel a lot like the person that makes their goals and doesn’t follow through on them, but I honestly did put in a reasonable effort throughout the year.

4. Lose 10 pounds by June
I’m pretty sure I didn’t achieve this in June (or since). However, I did successfully establish the healthy habit of working out every morning before work. There is the possibility that I have lost 10 pounds of fat throughout the year, but I’m still pretty heavy. I did a lot of experimenting throughout the year on portion sizes and workouts, and I believe I have the ammunition to make this goal a reality going forward (holidays excluded). So I’m still going to call this a pseudo-success, because while I didn’t lose the weight, I have establish habits and have a plan that I know works going forward.

2016 Goals

Now, it’s time to outline my goals for 2016. I have a good feeling about this year.

1. Save $15,000 in our Joint Account
Last year, I had a lofty savings goal, and life required that I change that. This year, our goal is a little more reasonable. It will still take work to achieve this, but I think this will be a good year. This means saving an average of $1250 per month, which should be quite achievable on our usual budget. A lot of the big stressful expenses of 2015 are behind us, so 2016 should be a good year.

2. Break $600 in annual passive income
If I’m sticking to my valuation standards and achieve the $15,000 goal, this one should be easy. This will mean we’ll have an average of $50 per month in dividends, and that will continue to grow.

3. Try a new brown bag lunch every month
I have been making burritos for lunch for the past year, and in the interest of variety, I’d like to try some different options. This is basically the same goal as last year. I’ll also be cutting portion sizes and making changes to lose some fat in 2016.

4. Reach a zero margin balance in my personal investing account.
I have been doing more speculative trading lately than I should be, and I’ve been risking money I don’t have by using margin debit. My goal for this year is to cut that crap out, and either inject more cash, or sell the speculative trades to bring down my margin debit. This is basically a gambling problem backed by debt, and I’m getting to old for that kind of behavior. It only started being a problem last year, and I’m looking to make that the end of it too.

5. Place in the top 500 in a Diablo 3 Season for one class.
At the end of the last season, I reached rank 846 on the Hardcore Crusader leaderboard. In 2016, I want to finish a season in the top 500 on the hardcore leaderboard for whichever class seems the most fun. The first season will start on January 15, but I’m going to miss a few key weekends, so I’m aiming for the second season of the year, most likely starting in April.

I’ve started reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I had read it in high school, but recently thought I might appreciate many of the details more as a working adult. I was right. I’m only 20 pages in and so much has resonated with me already.

For those who are unaware, Thoreau wrote Walden about a 2 year period when he lived alone in a cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. It includes several reflections on what makes life worth living, and some of the self-destructive and ridiculous aspects of society. Above all, the messages on frugality and separating your life and self respect from material goods are especially meaningful to me.

It’s especially interesting how the “keeping up with the Joneses” theme and the associated counter-culture have been around since the mid-1800’s when the book was written. Lines like the following illustrate Thoreau’s opinion on the matter as well as the insignificance of material goods:

“The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?”

“When the soldier is hit by a cannonball, rags are as becoming as purple.”

What resonated with me the most were the parts where he talked about how life is more than the rat race. I feel like this line, in particular, embodies the spirit of the frugal living dividend investor seeking freedom from the corporate world:

“instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.”

There are multiple reflections on what a man truly “needs,” or the necessities of life. The obvious necessities are food and shelter, but having either in excess is a sign that you may be lacking in other less mentioned requirements for a happy life like companionship or finding meaningful things to do.

I’d highly recommend Walden any like minded people.

Gaming can be an expensive hobby, especially with the rise of DLC and expansions. It can be very frustrating to drop money on a game and find that it only holds your interest for a few hours. For this reason, I’ve compiled some of my strategies for getting the most bang for your buck on games.

Free 2 Play

The most obvious strategy is to play free/freemium games. The “Free 2 Play” model has been popping up more and more over the last few years, it isn’t just Facebook games like Candy Crush anymore. MMORPGs and MOBAs have been thriving on this model. These games make their money through micro-transactions. So if you never buy anything, the game stays free. The only thing to keep in mind is that some games have “pay gates” that prevent you from getting the full experience or from being fully competitive without paying.

Competitive Games

Games where you compete against other players (especially online) have great longevity and replay value. You’d be surprised how many people continue to play older versions of Call of Duty or Battlefield. MOBAs, like Heroes of the Storm and DOTA 2, are both competitive and free to play. Personally, I’ve been playing a lot of Heroes of the Storm, watch out for my Zagara!

Long Progress Ladders

RPGs tend to have a lot of content to begin with, but you can stretch that even further by working towards the high end progression goals. Trying to get every character to the level cap, and finding the perfect gear can keep you busy for days. I’ve put over 150 hours into Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate farming better gear. Randomized gear can also make the quest for perfection last longer as well, I have no idea how many hours I’ve put into Diablo 3 thanks to the random loot drops.

Make your own challenges

Another great way to get more out of your games is to replay them with new challenges. For instance, the Nuzlocke challenge in Pokemon adds a new layer of difficulty for a relatively easy game. Speed running, or trying to beat a game as fast as possible, is a way to add a layer of competition to a single player game.

The Golden Ratio

I think that when it comes to your entertainment budget, at least for media, you should aim for getting at least 1 hour of entertainment per dollar spent. So for a $60 game, make sure you get 60 hours of gameplay. For a $8 per month Netflix subscription, 1 full season has you covered.

Hopefully, this advice will save you some money and help you experience your games with a new level of appreciation.

We all want to be happier. This is a fact of life. The inalienable rights of all people include “the pursuit of happiness” along with life and liberty, according to the Declaration of Independence. In “The Pursuit of Happiness” (2006), Will Smith’s character mentions that it’s interesting the founding fathers chose the wording “pursuit of happiness” implying that not everyone can actually achieve happiness. The problem with our culture is that advertising has brainwashed us to think that “the pursuit of stuff” is the same thing as “the pursuit of happiness.” This confusion leads us on paths that have the opposite effect. While we think the new car / tv / video game will bring us happiness, we’re making ourselves miserable by spending long hours away from the ones we love.

Working at a job you enjoy or running your own business will hopefully lower the suffering in your pursuit. However, no matter what you do for the money, there’s always something you’d rather be doing, or people you’d rather be spending time with.

This brings me to the subject of frugality. While attempting to be frugal, you will still be miserable if you do not change your thinking. The desire of material goods causes suffering, and the happiness of getting what you want passes quickly. So if being frugal means never getting that fleeting happiness even though you are still suffering from the desire, you will be even further from happiness.

Happiness is a state of mind, which means no material object will will sustain it. You need to learn to be happy with what you have instead of what you wish you had.

I challenge you to cut your budget to the bone for a month, or even a week. This exercise will remind you of what you NEED. It will also teach you what you do with your free time, which may guide you to what makes you happy.

As a gamer, I have historically always had a game or two on the horizon that I was looking forward to. This reached its peak in 2012, and it made that year miserable for me. Lately, I’ve been focusing my time on the games I already own, many of which have free online play.

So far, this has been a rough year for me. There have been a lot of big expenses that were neither frivolous nor fun, but on the other hand, they would have been even more painful if I wasn’t already so frugal.

Most gamers recognize the words “pwn,” “pwning,” and “pwned” or any such variations. The origin comes from a misspelling of the word “own” back when warcraft was a strategy game. Over time, pwning has started to mean much more than simple ownership.

When you pwn someone in a game, you have completely dominated them. You had control of the whole match as a result of your skill and strength of will. The difference between owning and pwning is a matter of control and confidence.

There’s an old saying “the things you own end up owning you.” This is not the case with pwning. When you own shares of a company, they start owning you when you emotionally react to price fluctuation. When you have the strength and confidence to keep your cool during price swings, then you start pwning that stock.

Pwning a stock means you won’t be the newb that gives up on some solid dividends because you sold at a low price in a panic right before the price recovered.

You should strive to pwn everything in your life.

Pwn your Job – Take responsibility and base your actions on what will be best for the company, even if that conflicts with what your boss thinks.
Pwn your Relationship – Put in the work and communication to keep your companionship working. This doesn’t mean winning arguments, it means finding solutions.
Pwn your Health – Master the art of healthy eating, and find the workout plan you’ll stick to.

So, don’t just own it, PWN it!

Before I get yelled at by people that can’t take a joke, the title is a joke.

Happy New Years!

Before I share our goals for 2015, it’s time to look back on 2014. It was a big year, and didn’t go exactly as planned.

The first and most important factor to bare in mind is that we bought a house. I had been planning to make this move in at least another year or 2, but the housing market here and the cost of living is raising fairly rapidly, and I believe locking down a deal now is going to pay off in the future. I view buying a house as a necessary liability, it’s like acquiring a rental property, but ensuring that your tenant is the best tenant you could ever hope for. I’ve written about my opinion on buying a home as your primary residence here. Unfortunately, this month it feels like more of a liability since we need to make a repair to the chimney.

The next important factor that made the home buying possible, was getting a new job. My job has been a great improvement in my quality of life, both financially as well as emotionally. My previous job was bringing me nothing but stress and frustration, so getting this new position was a huge win.

All of these big transitions made it difficult to keep up the blog, but I have no regrets.

Now, down to business: the 2014 goals.

1. Cut expenses in January. At the end of 2013, we were not in an ideal financial situation due to extra expenses regarding the ’98 Jeep, and the upcoming weddings and bachelor party. We ate really cheaply and relied on gift cards in January, and as a result, we were back on track by early March. So I think this one turned out to be a success.

2. Save $20,000. Through the entire year, we were able to save about $14,500, and most of that came out to go towards the down payment on the house anyways. I think we made a valiant effort for everything that happened this year, but in the end, I must call this a failure. Some big factors here had to do with a month of rent overlap, and extra money that went to the down payment and never got a chance to be invested.

3. forward monthly dividend income of $50. Based on a rough calculation, the average monthly dividend yield from the total of our 2014 investments (had we not sold for the down payment) would be less than $50. So since we failed the savings goal, it stands to reason that this goal would also not be met.

I don’t want to beat myself up too much over only achieving 1 out of 3 goals, because this year has been fantastic and rewarding. However, 2015 should be a lot more tame and thus it should be easier to pull off some decent goals.

1. Another cheap January. We’re in a much better financial situation this year, but we’re also experiencing some lifestyle inflation with the new job. We don’t eat out too much, but I think taking a month to get back to the basics well benefit us. I think this kind of financial reset is very helpful to staying on track for the rest of the year. At some point this year, I want to achieve a month where expenses only take up 50% of our income leaving the rest to be saved. Unfortunately, we have a substantial repair bill on the horizon for our chimney, so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to make a new investment this month.

2. Save $18,000. After getting a dose of reality in 2014, and the before mentioned lifestyle creeping, I’m dialing back the savings goal to something more reasonable. This goal means we’ll need to save about $1500 each month. Assuming the holiday months might make this more difficult, it might be good to shoot for $2000 on good months, so there is some flexibility on the expensive months.

3. Try cooking a new healthy dish every month. I have a habit of relying on my old standby for dinner, tacos. If I want to improve my health and happiness, I will benefit from expanding my menu. Which leads me to goal number 4.

4. Lose 10 pounds by June. My 30th birthday is coming up in June, and I’d like to be in decent shape before the big day. I plan to workout and eat healthy to get my weight down to under 200 pounds.

So this is what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2015. What goals are you setting?

As 2014 is coming to an end, now is an excellent time to take a good look at our current status and our goals for next year. In a recent article, I said I was going to rededicate myself to transparency. So I’m going to take this opportunity to share the current holdings in the account I track on this blog.

This is my joint account with my wife, and we’re hoping to use the dividends from this account to become financially independent. This is what it looks like (Ticker – shares – annual dividends paid):

BP – 50 shares – $120.00 per year
CVX – 9 shares – $38.52 per year
MCD – 11 shares – $37.40 per year

My goal going forward is to share the new stock purchases I make as I make them.

I had some yearly goals for 2014 that I will talk about in another post closer to New Years Eve. However, there are some other goals I want to start tracking here for both short and long term. These are kind of milestones, but could also be though of as achievements in a video game.

Goals:

– Save 50% of our joint income for at least one month (in other words, keeping our expenses below 50%).
– $500 forward annual dividend income
– $1200 forward annual dividend income ($100 per month average)
– Own 10 companies
– Own 20 companies

These goals are obviously not massive in scope, but they are the targets I want to achieve on my way to financial independence. It’s unlikely I will achieve all of them in the coming year, so these goals do not have deadlines. However, it will keep me on track to how how much closer to each goal I am with each purchase that I track here.

I have finished moving into my new house. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on the backyard to make it into something that not only looks beautiful, but provides food for me and my family. My primary project is making a self-sustaining ecosystem in the form of a pond (with freaking sweet waterfall of course!). We also plan on planting apple trees and berry bushes. It’s a lot of work now, but in the future, I’ll be glad I made these sacrifices today. Does this sound familiar? Building a passive income portfolio full of dividend growth stocks is very similar philosophy. Sacrificing today for a better tomorrow.

There is a Chinese proverb I really like: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Planting a tree that will bare fruit means taking the time and energy to dig a hole, watering it diligently, and pruning where needed. You must work hard on the front end, but after it has had time to grow, you will be able to harvest fruits and berries without any extra effort.

Digging the Hole

Our most precious possession is time, so it is hard to dedicate it to things that we may not enjoy. Maybe it’s digging a hole, maybe it’s meeting new people, or maybe it’s your job. Many times, the things we don’t enjoy doing now are the things that will reward us in the future. Instant gratification benefits us today, but fills us with regret (or nostalgia) every day after, but delayed gratification is regretful today, but benefits us every day after.

As much as you might want to splurge and buy a new TV this weekend, the joy it will bring you is only temporary. In a year or 2 you will want a newer TV with a bigger crisper screen and cool new features. Alternatively, use that money to buy shares of Target (TGT). The great thing about dividend growth stocks, like Target, is that your very first dividend payment will be the lowest one you should ever receive from it. If you’re reinvesting the dividends, the next payment will be a little bit bigger. Then when the dividend distribution is increased next year, it will grow even more. So in 2 years, you’ll want a new TV, just like you would if you had already bought one, but you also now have a passive income stream that will keep growing throughout your life.

Watering Diligently

For most things to grow, you must nurture them to make sure the growth is healthy. Plants need water, relationships need attention, and your portfolio needs fresh investments for diversification. If your portfolio is to heavily weighted in one company or one sector, you run the risk of that company/sector facing hard times where dividends must be cut. By diversifying, you encourage natural growth and mitigate risk. I don’t believe in needlessly diversifying in bad companies just for the sake of diversification, the same way you wouldn’t try to plant an avocado tree in the tundra in case your apple tree doesn’t work out.

Prune Where Needed

It can be difficult to trim the branches you’ve worked so hard to grow, but when it comes to berry bushes, you have to prune the branches that have already produced berries, because the empty branches are the ones that will produce next year. The philosophy here is that when you can identify something that will no longer be benefiting you, it’s time to cut it. In an ideal world, the companies you invest in will never reduce or cut their dividends, but you need to be ready to sell them if they do. I like to say that if you buy smart, you’ll never need to sell, but things can change over several years. The stocks you buy should only be companies you are willing to own for 10+ years. It’s important that you can distinguish between a dividend cut and basic under-performance. If you sell a stock just because it is under-performing, you’ll miss out next year when they get their act together and over-perform. The only time to sell a dividend growth stock is if the dividend payment is going to be less than it was last year.

It’s that time of year again. When we make promises to ourselves to be better. It’s time to make some New Years Resolutions. I believe far more people fail their New Years Resolutions than succeed. The idea seems so good and so easy going into January, but once February rolls around, everyone loses steam. However, I still think it’s far more important to try and fail, than to give up from the start. So here we go, these are my goals for 2014.

At the end of 2013, we’ve had to face some major extra costs. We decided to get a used ’98 Jeep Grand Cherokee so we would have 2 cars for the Winter months. This set us back a few thousand dollars between getting it, registering it, and getting some small repairs. It’s still too soon to say if this purchase is going to be something we regret later, but the quality of life increase of having 2 vehicles will pay off pretty soon when my office moves to a new location (no more walking home for lunch).

So, the first thing that will need to happen in 2014, is we will need to get our finances back in order. In January, we plan on minimizing our food bill at the cost of temporary health. My wife and I try to eat pretty healthy, which means a lot of meat and veggies. We tend to break the rules on Saturday to maintain sanity, which usually consists of eating out and sometimes drinking with friends. Since we are currently healthier than we are financially stable, we’ll be eating as cheaply as possible, and cutting out the expensive weekend restaurant visits for at least the next month. After january, we should be financially stabilized and able to resume our healthy eating habits. Additionally, if we can get out of the habit of spending a lot on the weekends, we’ll be able to save more in the future as well.

I’ll try to share any good low budget recipes we find along the way. Hopefully, we can find ways to still make healthy food.

That first goal is important, because the second goal for 2014 is aggressive saving. We are aiming to invest at least $20,000 into our taxable account by the end of 2014. Our stretch goal here is 40% of our income (just under $26,000), but that may be out of reach as there are 2 weddings and 1 bachelor party (where I am the Best Man) that are happening this year.

You may be asking why we are investing in a taxable account. There are a few reasons. First, we are planning on buying a house within the next 2-3 years, which means we will need a decent load of cash for the down payment. Second, our long term goal is to retire early, and that is impossible if our savings are inaccessible until age 60+. Finally, liquidity is the essence of freedom. One reason, many investors hate real estate is that it’s so much work to turn your asset into cash. If we needed to access money in a Roth or traditional IRA, there would be hoops to jump through, and fees to pay on top of the taxes. Our economy is not in a state where a person can assume they won’t need to access their savings for 30+ years.

The final goal for 2014, is to achieve an average monthly dividend income of $50 per month going forward. Obviously our average monthly dividend income is going to be quite low while accumulating assets, so this is more of a goal for results we’ll see in 2015. I just want to be clear up front so I don’t get to December next year and have to say we failed this just because the goal was poorly worded.

How about you, what are your goals for 2014, Let me know in the comments!