Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Turning Over a new leaf

I have been struck over the past month how many things have really begun to come together recently in my life. I went through a rather difficult period for about 18 months and now things are feeling somewhat better. I thought that in this post I would discuss a little bit about the relationship between your health (both emotional and physical) and your financial situation. For me, there is undoubtedly a relationship between these two things.

After my divorce, I found that I was really struggling with a variety of different issues. I had to move multiple times, I was suddenly single, and also was older (much older) than I was when I first 'dated' in college. I am not terribly novel in terms of the story but my story might give someone some help, so I think it is worth sharing.

It can be helpful to have a measurement of the different aspects so that I can describe them. The measurements will surely be different for you, but I find the following measurements helpful:
For financial health, I will use my net worth.
For physical health, I will use my endurance and my daily activity.
For emotional health, I will use the number of times I feel overwhelmed either by anxiety or sad feelings.

Prior to divorce, my net worth exceeded 250K, my physical health was good, I was able to comfortably run a 5k, went to the gym 3-5x weekly and felt overwhelmed perhaps 1x month for about 1-3 hours.

After my divorce, my net worth decreased to about 200K, my physical health based on the same measurement decreased to about 2x/week for exercise and I frequently felt overwhelmed, perhaps 1x per week, especially in the past year as I began to live with someone new.

Turning the Corner

I began therapy immediately during the difficult time. I tried that for many months, resisting the idea that I might need a medication to help me get more stable and able to handle the situation. With the help of the therapy and the support of new friends, I found myself able to be stronger, slowly.

And while I was able to begin to deal with the discomfort of divorce, I also began to reexamine my values. I continued to value love, but I also examined my other values and really thought about what mattered to me. And I worked more and more to live out my values and took real steps to live more simply--something I had felt strongly about for years.

I practice a version of Inbox Zero at work. I eliminated my car. I pared down my personal possessions by about 50% and all of that was helpful and created more space for me to consider and really focus on what was important. And strangely, as I write this, I realize that eliminating all of these other things really created more anxiety in me in some way because there were fewer and fewer distractions.

As my life became simpler, I still was becoming more anxious and I struggled to understand it. Over time, I even became comfortable with the idea of taking medication to assist with my anxiety.

This was a real turning point for me as I was open and honest with those around me about this problem I found that many people had taken these kinds of medications. Besides the help of the medication, the openness in my relationships as a result of this was a real boon.

As that improved, I found myself able to attack and succeed in a new job and also be able to grow my net worth. Now, at over 100K of liquid assets I am truly considering what to do next. As a renter for the past 2+ years since my divorce I am not building any equity and the timing of this is right around the election. Combine that with interest rates going up and I am personally concerned that at this point, we're going to see enough of an increase that home ownership will become more and more difficult in the future, especially in the part of the country where I live.

Once I began to clean house with my job, I moved on to my new relationship. I have continued to work on the relationship and honor my needs and strength, but more than anything, to express my truth as best I can, without regret or apologies. The therapy provides an incredible sense of calm for me. I am definitely able to manage stress and anxiety better with the medication than without it.

More than anything the lesson that I have learned again in my life is simple: look out for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you. So, I am now looking to buy a house for myself in a neighborhood that seems both nice and is also accessible for me financially without wasting and ruining my entire life plan. What would you do at this point with the money in an uncertain environment? I have my 401k in the market so I don't want to take risk there; buying a place to live and working to pay it off quickly seems like a no brainer.

Friday, November 18, 2016

I'm Going to Grad School

I'm going to Grad School! For me, in my mid-thirties was the last time I would have expected to be doing this. After over 8 years at my job, I realized that I needed to learn new technologies and also revamp my skills. One might ask why not use Coursera or some other free tools to learn new skills (and I will talk about those in a separate post). In particular there are three items that I am trying to address with grad school:

1. Name Recognition/Degree
Currently I hold a Bachelor's Degree of Computer Science. Unfortunately, the school I went to is a well regarded liberal arts university where only BA degrees are offered. In my field, many people want to see a BS. And I personally understand why the difference matters. My education certainly had plenty of theory and programming, but being a liberal arts degree (a double major with a foreign language), I feel strongly that this puts me head and shoulders above many people who are poor communicators in IT, but behind those with a degree from a well known university or those with a more technical degree in Engineering or a other types of BS degrees.

2. Networking
Unfortunately due to the amount of time that I have spent in my current role, my network has somewhat shrunk. And while I can certainly do better in reaching out and staying in touch with people as they move on, I wanted to largely make sure that I am working to do a better job by building some camaraderie with people I am in a class with etc.

3. Skills and Competition
Obviously, when you start to consider the amount of time that many of us will work, it stretches into multiple decades. I have no idea how long I will actually live, but I certainly believe that there is a huge amount of time left in front of me. And if I continue to work in the field of IT for the remainder of my life (I do), then it makes sense to go back to school to get a sense of what new grads are learning.

But why now?

Over the past few months I have recently transitioned in my company to a new role. And in this role I realized that the demand would be much higher on several skill sets that I continued to lack. In particular in the previous role I worked largely on ETL processes (which for those who are not in the IT field, stands for Extract, Transform, and Load). In short, ETL deals with processes that move data around in files and databases converting it from one format to another.

In the new role, it is clear that my responsibilities will be both broader and deeper and that now is a real opportunity for us to develop not just interesting technology solutions, but also have a greater influence on the way things are done in the future. And for this, I am extremely excited because it is an opportunity to do more with technology and also within the corporate culture. Both are things I am tremendously passionate about. So, the first step is to build and accumulate not just the political capital but also the technical skills necessary to be able to make inroads.

But what about the money?

Lastly I would be utterly remiss if I didn't talk about the money at all as that is the focus on this. Since my career is my greatest asset I owe it to myself to continue to make it viable for the future in terms of both earnings and also in terms of competition. That is the first goal of grad school but the second goal is whether or not it will increase my earnings. And I can say that in expectation, I do not expect to earn more in the next 5-10 years because of the degree. However, the additional insurance it provides for the future and also the potential to reach higher levels of management within IT is high. And I am excited to be able to have that credential on my resume.

Fortunately, that credential will not cost me a bundle compared to paying it through other means. I have a firm that provides a tuition reimbursement annually up to a dollar amount. If things go as I expect, I will end up spending about 20K to get a Masters degree and it will take about 2 years. For me, this is incredibly valuable and while I agree that the 20K could be invested etc to make a higher return, the likelihood of that 75-125K being enough to cover my expenses for the additional years where it will be more difficult for me to find work, seems unlikely. So in some sense, the degree is an insurance policy against aging.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

All Cash Month

Go all cash. It is not a revolutionary idea. Don't wait for something amazing and new in terms of an idea in Personal Finance. It's just cash. That's what I am thinking about as I head into this Month. Sitting now on the 5th, I was considering whether or not I should just go all cash for a month. But let me start with my motivation:

I feel like I spend a lot of money. I mean A LOT. More than I should. Perhaps more than anyone should. And that makes me wonder if perhaps the credit card and my personal good fortune to have a good salary really has kept me entirely insulated from how expensive everything is and what my spending habits are. Again, not revolutionary, but this morning it really hit me for some reason.

 After I completed this exercise, I found two key takeaways:
1. I spend entirely too much money on coffee out. For me that was a response to spending so much time at my desk at work. I needed an 'excuse' to get outside. Near my office, there is 'cheap' coffee with a reward program that gets me a coffee for about 1.35 per cup with the discount/loyalty program but even with that discount, the cost of 2-3 coffees per day adds up.

2. I found that I was a little bit more restrained when it came to purchases. It hurts to spend cash, not so much to spend on credit cards. This has been written about before, but in this example, I really felt it. In general now, I am spending between 1000-2000 per month for the dining out and other types of expenses. It is crazy!

As a result I have made a few changes which I am hoping will help me curb my spending somewhat on these 'avoidable' items. It is certainly something I should do to make my money last and do a better job saving.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Comparative Compromise, Coping with Change

Comparative Compromise, Coping with Change

This is the last article in a series of short posts about reflections on divorce. While I would not wish this on anyone for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the financial impact that such an event can have, I certainly feel excited to be working through this process and wanted to take just a few moments to share some of the insights that have really affected me.

One of the biggest skills that you need to cultivate as part of the divorce process is being comfortable with change an uncertainty. While this is a financial blog, there are several items that I found very helpful in this manner and these have had immense benefits for my entire life, not just my finances.

The Untethered Soul - By Michael Singer
Living Beautifully with Change and Uncertainty by Pema Chodron

Besides these books I also found three additional pieces of advice are extremely helpful:
1. Go easy on yourself. In a word: compassion. With all of the crazy that happens during the divorce it is very tempting to place blame and to also become a captive to these negative feelings. Feel your feelings and don't beat yourself up over how you feel. Feel them and express them appropriately.

2. Stick with your friends. Sometimes there can be an immense impact on your family during a divorce. It can be easy to continue to isolate. Resist this temptation. Work to reconnect and rekindle friendships. You will undoubtedly have days when you can really use friends around you. Avoid the temptation to spend all of your energy hunting for the next person and instead pour some of that energy into friendships which should stand the test of time. Friends will be less judgmental and often more accepting of the ups and downs of life than your family is.

3. Care for your health. While it is somewhat strange, it is important to note that your health is something that, like time, is precious and is difficult to salvage if it is wasted. So, if you have not handled your health previously, start now. Go to the gym. Go to the doctor. Start cooking and eating healthy food, in reasonable amounts! All of this will continue to improve your outlook and also your body so that you will be able to tackle all that the divorce process throws at you.

All of this is to say that you shouldn't give up on yourself! Find out ways to motivate yourself and then just move on and tackle those difficult challenges. All of this will be easier with your health in good shape, friends at your side, and a compassionate attitude. '

For me, in the rear view mirror, the divorce is just a detour in my life journey. And I wouldn't change my journey now for the world because I have learned so much about myself and how strong I truly am.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Dating with Data, Digging for Gold

Dating with Data, Digging for Gold

This article is part of a series on divorce which describes my experiences as part of going through a divorce. In short, I found that the dating world had changed somewhat by the time I returned to it as a result of my divorce. Now, the internet has changed dating, changed it even more than when I had originally met my spouse on America Online almost 20 years ago.

Now the internet bustles with all sorts of applications for smart phones related to dating. Many of them are related and part of larger conglomerates at this point. I wanted to take this post really to just give my own personal impressions of dating as a result of this experience. I personally used an app called OKCupid which I found to be very good and helpful.

Here are the things I liked:
1. It provided pictures and some opportunity to give a description.
2. It did not require for other people to know I was looking at their profile.
3. It allowed me to be able to answer questions about myself so that potential matches would know if we were similar enough.

Here are the things I disliked:
1. There was not much in the way of proofing/checking people.
2. It was difficult to be certain if people were being honest using that medium.
3. Many of the personality questions were similar/repeated.

Here are some tips if you want it to turn into a long-term relationship:
1. Tell the truth. If in doubt, just omit it; do not lie.
2. Don't use a ridiculous picture or one that is not within the past 24 months. If you don't have a good picture, get a friend to help you take one.
3. Spend some time talking to the person; see if you like them BEFORE you go an meet them.
4. Wait to have physical contact; go slow. Let the desire burn a little for you both. In this world of instant gratification, it is a good exercise to show some restraint.

These were things that worked for me. Online dating is fun and exciting; and there is a lot of opportunity to have either a long-term relationship OR a casual fling. Just make sure you know what you want and are honest with your dating partner about it and you'll have a great time.