7 Tips for Surviving the Road (Even) Less Traveled

“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” ~Seinfeld

This post has been rolling around in my head for a long time now, and I wanted to throw it out there. It may seem contradictory to a lot of the other material on Bounteo, but I’d like to at least start the discussion.

There are tons of personal finance bloggers out there, and most of them would probably point to the pattern of thrift and investing in the stock market for the long-term (usually via index funds) as the most proven way to achieve wealth. Studies have certainly born this theory out, and I have advocated the same thing on this site and elsewhere.

However, a nagging doubt at the back of my head is this: just because something worked in the past, does that mean it will work in the future? Also, just because 80% of millionaires made their money using method A, does that mean that you should take that route? Maybe methods B & C are a better fit for you, for the age we live in, or maybe they’re just simply less obvious / harder so fewer people try them.

Should we take the tried-and-true route to wealth, even if it doesn’t inspire us?

Here are some examples of taking the road less traveled in terms of wealth:

Dropping out of college or skipping college to start a business
Probably not a ton of people who would advocate this, but it’s a common story among the super-rich. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, the list goes on and on. Now, please understand, I’m a huge advocate of college, but lots of people have succeeded without it. Maybe there’s something else that works better for you.

Leveraging your investments by buying on margin, trading stock options, or day trading
Are you likely to succeed at this? Statistically, absolutely not. However, I personally know some people who have done very well in these areas. I have a hard time thinking of circumstances where I would encourage it, but why should you listen to me? ;-)

Skipping the stock market altogether and just focusing on real estate
Real estate is a proven path to wealth, so perhaps it doesn’t belong in this category, but for whatever reason, I see a lot of personal finance bloggers making the argument that real estate is too advanced for most people or offers inferior returns to those of index funds. Neither are necessarily true. Unlike index funds, real estate is an investment that you can directly improve through hard work and dedication. Returns that are orders of magnitude larger than the stock market are not uncommon for professional real estate investors. “But I’m not a professional”, you say? Well, do you want to be? All those professionals started somewhere, too.

Bootstrapping a business with your credit cards
Does this path carry a lot of risk? Absolutely. Are there other ways to accomplish the same thing? Yes, there usually are, but what if this is the only option you have? Should you not take it just because some blogger said it was a bad idea? Lots of businesses have been started this way, and while it’s not an ideal start, if it’s this or no start, it may be worth it.

Borrowing from your 401k to fund investments
Why not?

Becoming a bank robber
Just kidding. Getting wealth through dishonest means is never worth it.

I say all that to say this: there are many paths to wealth, beyond just the old “save and invest in things that are boring” routine that is often bandied about, even here on Bounteo. That plan is a great one for the vast majority of people, and it’s certainly better than no plan at all for 100% of people, but what about those people who are driven to do more? Well, if you’re determined to go your own way and explore the road that’s even less traveled, here’s some advice for the journey:

  1. Don’t lie to yourself – Be honest about the risks you’re taking
  2. Manage the risk – Just because you’re taking extra risk doesn’t mean you can’t control or manage it
  3. Don’t be risky – There’s a difference between taking risk and being risky (aka reckless)
  4. Have a plan – Before you jump in, think about your path and how you’ll deal with different scenarios
  5. Seek advice – You’re probably not the first to travel down this road, so get advice from those who have
  6. Don’t abandon the basics – Do what you can to cover your downside and provide an insurance plan if things go south
  7. Stay involved – Nothing good ever just happens to people on the road less traveled; you have to make it happen.

Bonus #8: Know when to call it quits – There’s no shame in giving it your best and failing. What’s sad is people who stumble on in a zombie state for years, wasting valuable time that they could spend on their next attempt.

Saving money while staying fit

Think you need an expensive gym membership to stay fit? Not according the The NYTimes’ Walecia Konrad:

As the nation’s economic woes drag on, many people are rethinking their investments in pricey gym memberships and home exercise equipment. After all, the average health club membership is $750 annually, including sign-up fees and monthly dues. Treadmills can cost upwards of $1,000.

Many fitness buffs are finding that less expensive alternatives can be just as invigorating. “These days people realize you can burn the same number of calories for a lot less money,” said Beth Kobliner, personal finance expert and author of “Get a Financial Life.” “All kinds of programs have popped up post-recession that offer lower-cost ways to exercise.”

Best Ways To Save Money On Gas

If you think you’ve done all you can to save money on gas, you might want check out these tips. There are many things you can do to cut back on your fuel costs that have nothing to do with driving less. Saving fuel benefits your wallet and the earth, so cutting as much cost as possible is an excellent choice.

We all want to save money. Even as the economy is slowly making its rebound, it seems that everyone has seen the value in cutting as much cost as possible from the household expenses. One of the biggest costs that is also easy to cut back on is the amount we spend on gas. You might think that you have already cut your costs by carpooling with the other parents in the neighborhood or with your co-workers, but there is still more that you can do to eliminate cost.

Cutting Your Gas Costs

Drive smarter – Driving less is obviously the biggest thing you can do to save money on gas. However, you should also be thinking about how to spend less while you are actually driving. Since you cannot stop using your car completely, you should be aware of how the way you drive expends gas. For starters, braking frequently and then accelerating burns more fuel. To avoid when you are stuck in traffic, practice keeping your foot off the brake and the accelerator. Doing so allows you to creep along with the traffic and only burn extra fuel when necessary. You can also anticipate stopping at traffic lights so that you can do it slowly instead of slamming on the brakes which burns more fuel. The same is true when you get moving again: do it at a slow and steady pace rather then flooring it. Even though your car can go 0 to 60 in six seconds does not mean it is the most efficient way to accelerate.

Pay attention to fuel use when you are not driving – It sounds silly, but when you are not driving you might be burning gas too. If you let your vehicle idle when you are in the parent pick up line at your children’s school or while your spouse runs into the grocery store, you are basically throwing money away. Instead, turn the engine off while you wait so that you are not just sitting there burning fuel. Also, try to park in the shade as much as possible so you can avoid having any of the petrol in your tank evaporate. It is a small amount of loss, but over time it can add up.

Park in the first space you find – Driving around parking lots looking for a close space is a huge waste of fuel. Instead grab the first space you see, especially if it is in the shade, and walk the short distance to the shop or restaurant. By doing this, you will burn calories instead of burning fuel.

These money saving tips are just a few of the small ways you can cut back on your gas costs. There are loads more that do not require you to buy a new vehicle or ride your bike to work. Remember, that often it is the small things in your budget that really add up to big savings.

Why is productivity cyclical?

This post originally appeared on RyanWaggoner.com, but I thought it might be interesting to Bounteo readers, so I’m reposting it here. I’d love your comments and feedback…thanks!

Is it just me, or does productivity come in cycles? Sometimes I’ll go weeks at a time and absolutely tear it up, getting tons done on client work, personal projects, etc. I feel great, motivated, etc. Other times, I struggle to get anything done and never really get into the groove. Why is that? I mean, I do get stuff done, but it just feels like such a freaking chore and I have to force myself to power through. These cycles seem to last several weeks each, perhaps a bit longer. I have a few speculations that I’ve pulled from thin air on why this might occur:

Natural biological process
It might be that there’s some natural chemical process in the brain that makes some people more or less productive and that this process tends to be cyclical in nature. I feel like perhaps I’ve read something about this…if it’s true, I’m not sure how much I can do about it other than be aware of it and try to use it to my advantage? For the record, I think this is the most unlikely of the three scenarios.

Reflection of what I’m working on
Perhaps I’m just more excited at times about things that I’m working on because they’re more interesting. This one is hard to evaluate, because I’m not sure if I’m feeling unmotivated because of boring projects or if the projects seem boring because I’m feeling unmotivated.

Motivational momentum
I think is probably the most likely scenario. Basically, I think that certain people (myself included) swim better against the current. When things aren’t going well and I’ve got a lot of pressure (both external and internal) to get stuff done, I tend to build up a lot of motivational momentum and push hard to get things done. On the way up this hill of accomplishment, things are good, as I’m getting a lot done, keeping up with all my responsibilities, etc. It feels great. But as I accomplish more and more, that pressure and stress begins to dissipate, and so does some of the motivation. At this point, I begin to crest the top of the motivational hill and the old feelings of being unmotivated begin to return. Over the next few weeks, stuff begins to gradually pile up again and the pressure and stress begins to build. But until it hits a certain point, my motivation doesn’t seem to really kick in. Once it does, the cycle starts over.

This has been an issue my entire life and I’m just now getting to the point where I can deal with it more effectively. In college, I dealt with it by keeping my schedule absolutely slammed so there was virtually no room for error. I finished 75% of my bachelor’s degree in 17 months and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. I say this not to brag, but just to point out that I had virtually no room to slow down or slack off. This ishighly effective, but it carries two huge price tags: risk and stress. The risk is that you’re juggling so much that if you drop one thing, it can all come crumbling down. The stress comes from the fact that you have no margin for error. These two things feed off each other, as the high risk stresses you out and the high stress increases the risk that you’ll make a mistake. Obviously, this is not a viable long-term solution.

The core problem here (for me, anyway) is relying too much on motivation, which is a fickle emotion. It can be incredibly useful, usually at the start of a venture, to kickstart your efforts and give you that critical early boost in the right direction. But if you rely too much on it, you’ll find that it never lasts long enough to get you where you need to go. The primary reason that people fail is because they give up, and I believe that the primary reason people give up is because they rely too much on motivation. The going gets rough and they find that the only fuel they really had was an emotion that’s now gone, so they just kind of let things die out.

Here’s what I’ve tried to do: replace motivation (emotion) with decision (habit). This is the primary reason that I do my seven daily habits. These habits were carefully chosen as things that I want to accomplish daily to get me closer to where I want to be, regardless of whether I feel like doing them or not.

That doesn’t mean that motivation has no place in productivity and self-improvement, but I think that you can’t rely too much on it. To the extent that motivation does play a role in my productivity, I’ve tried to replace external motivation with internal motivation, where I’m pushing myself harder rather than waiting for other people to pressure me. As an example, one of my daily habits is to look at my goal plan every single day. I also carefully track my goals from month to month, recording what percentage I accomplished, and preparing a new plan for the next thirty days. I also carefully track the amount of time that I work on various projects and initiatives in my life. I do all these things not because I have some weird fascination with data (at least not primarily so), but because by carefully tracking my productivity and advancement towards my goals, I am often motivated to push myself harder because I’m not moving as fast as I would like. The adage that “what gets measured gets managed” is true for the simple reason that when we’re confronted with the data about how we’re spending our time and the results of our efforts, we’re often encouraged and motivated to improve.

I’d love to hear what other people’s thoughts are. Have you experienced cyclical productivity? If so, how do you deal with it?

7 Tips for Surviving the Road (Even) Less Traveled

“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” ~Seinfeld

This post has been rolling around in my head for a long time now, and I wanted to throw it out there. It may seem contradictory to a lot of the other material on Bounteo, but I’d like to at least start the discussion.

There are tons of personal finance bloggers out there, and most of them would probably point to the pattern of thrift and investing in the stock market for the long-term (usually via index funds) as the most proven way to achieve wealth. Studies have certainly born this theory out, and I have advocated the same thing on this site and elsewhere.

However, a nagging doubt at the back of my head is this: just because something worked in the past, does that mean it will work in the future? Also, just because 80% of millionaires made their money using method A, does that mean that you should take that route? Maybe methods B & C are a better fit for you, for the age we live in, or maybe they’re just simply less obvious / harder so fewer people try them.

Should we take the tried-and-true route to wealth, even if it doesn’t inspire us?

Here are some examples of taking the road less traveled in terms of wealth:

Dropping out of college or skipping college to start a business
Probably not a ton of people who would advocate this, but it’s a common story among the super-rich. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, the list goes on and on. Now, please understand, I’m a huge advocate of college, but lots of people have succeeded without it. Maybe there’s something else that works better for you.

Leveraging your investments by buying on margin, trading stock options, or day trading
Are you likely to succeed at this? Statistically, absolutely not. However, I personally know some people who have done very well in these areas. I have a hard time thinking of circumstances where I would encourage it, but why should you listen to me? ;-)

Skipping the stock market altogether and just focusing on real estate
Real estate is a proven path to wealth, so perhaps it doesn’t belong in this category, but for whatever reason, I see a lot of personal finance bloggers making the argument that real estate is too advanced for most people or offers inferior returns to those of index funds. Neither are necessarily true. Unlike index funds, real estate is an investment that you can directly improve through hard work and dedication. Returns that are orders of magnitude larger than the stock market are not uncommon for professional real estate investors. “But I’m not a professional”, you say? Well, do you want to be? All those professionals started somewhere, too.

Bootstrapping a business with your credit cards
Does this path carry a lot of risk? Absolutely. Are there other ways to accomplish the same thing? Yes, there usually are, but what if this is the only option you have? Should you not take it just because some blogger said it was a bad idea? Lots of businesses have been started this way, and while it’s not an ideal start, if it’s this or no start, it may be worth it.

Borrowing from your 401k to fund investments
Why not?

Becoming a bank robber
Just kidding. Getting wealth through dishonest means is never worth it.

I say all that to say this: there are many paths to wealth, beyond just the old “save and invest in things that are boring” routine that is often bandied about, even here on Bounteo. That plan is a great one for the vast majority of people, and it’s certainly better than no plan at all for 100% of people, but what about those people who are driven to do more? Well, if you’re determined to go your own way and explore the road that’s even less traveled, here’s some advice for the journey:

  1. Don’t lie to yourself – Be honest about the risks you’re taking
  2. Manage the risk – Just because you’re taking extra risk doesn’t mean you can’t control or manage it
  3. Don’t be risky – There’s a difference between taking risk and being risky (aka reckless)
  4. Have a plan – Before you jump in, think about your path and how you’ll deal with different scenarios
  5. Seek advice – You’re probably not the first to travel down this road, so get advice from those who have
  6. Don’t abandon the basics – Do what you can to cover your downside and provide an insurance plan if things go south
  7. Stay involved – Nothing good ever just happens to people on the road less traveled; you have to make it happen.

Bonus #8: Know when to call it quits – There’s no shame in giving it your best and failing. What’s sad is people who stumble on in a zombie state for years, wasting valuable time that they could spend on their next attempt.

Saving money while staying fit

Think you need an expensive gym membership to stay fit? Not according the The NYTimes’ Walecia Konrad:

As the nation’s economic woes drag on, many people are rethinking their investments in pricey gym memberships and home exercise equipment. After all, the average health club membership is $750 annually, including sign-up fees and monthly dues. Treadmills can cost upwards of $1,000.

Many fitness buffs are finding that less expensive alternatives can be just as invigorating. “These days people realize you can burn the same number of calories for a lot less money,” said Beth Kobliner, personal finance expert and author of “Get a Financial Life.” “All kinds of programs have popped up post-recession that offer lower-cost ways to exercise.”

Youtube turns amateur chefs into celebrities

Great story today in the SF Chronicle about how amateur chefs are getting huge exposure on Youtube.

I love that there are so many ways to make a living online today. There are Youtube celebrities that have been making six figures in income for years. If you’re not already doing what you love, why not start making content online about it? Stick to what you’re truly passionate about and stick with it for a few years. You never know where you might go :)

Note: If you’re not a subscriber, you won’t be able to check out the SF Chronicle article until Saturday.

6 types of millionaires

MSN Money had an interesting post awhile ago about an annual survey of millionaires. They classified the millionaires into six categories, according to how they made their money, their risk tolerance, attitudes about wealth, etc.

Satisfied Savers (24% of Total)

  • Average age: 60
  • Built wealth through hard work, by living below their means and taking moderate risks
  • Financially savvy
  • Lost relatively little in the bear market
  • Know how to make their money work for them
  • Enjoy making a difference through charitable efforts

Status Chasers (18% of Total)

  • Average age: 55
  • Achieved wealth through work and some inheritance
  • Want it all but haven’t been able to achieve their major goals yet
  • Define wealth as a level three times their current net worth
  • Pessimistic about their own financial future
  • Less financially knowledgeable than their counterparts
  • Think of financial situation daily as a source of concern

Altruistic Achievers (17% of Total)

  • Average age: 54
  • Achieved wealth through work, some inheritance, good investments, owning a business, and living below their means
  • Self-made, driven to succeed, work hard, take risks
  • Use their wealth to help the less fortunate
  • Lack the time, interest and know-how to manage finances; rely on professional management
  • Lost the most in the bear market
  • Only one-quarter plan to retire completely

Secret Succeeders (17% of Total)

  • Average age: 55
  • Self-made: built fortunes through working in professional and managerial positions, making one or two particularly good investments and not spending
  • Live below their means
  • Suspicious of showing their wealth — fear they’ll lose it
  • Among the least charitable
  • Group includes the greatest percentage that admit they’ll do whatever it takes, including compromise principles, to stay ahead
  • Not especially financially savvy, but having financial control is key
  • Somewhat optimistic about their financial futures

Disengaged Inheritors (13% of Total)

  • Average age: 58
  • Received and built their wealth largely through inheritance, and living below their means
  • Second-wealthiest and second-oldest group
  • Lack the goals and drive to succeed
  • Think about their financial situation the least out of apathy and ambivalence
  • Not charitable, generally unhappy
  • Least financial know-how of the high-net worth segment

Deal Masters (11% of Total)

  • Average age: 49
  • Have amassed the greatest wealth, self-made, self-reliant
  • Built wealth by setting goals, working hard, being persistent, taking risks, relying on their own financial know-how
  • Segment comprises the largest number of small business owners
  • “Winner takes all” attitude
  • Confident and optimistic
  • Enjoy the challenge of making money
  • Think about financial situation daily — source of challenge, fun, and happiness
  • Lost the least in the bear market
  • One of the least charitable groups
  • Living their dream, little inclination to stop working
  • 62% would rather be stressed than have nothing to do

An interesting comment from the article:

“Most millionaires today don’t have inherited wealth. They’re not driving a Jag and they’re not flamboyant or flashy. They work hard, they’re frugal and they save and invest well…It’s not enough to stick your money under your mattress. You have to invest, but you have to do it wisely. Few hit it big hitting a stock. It’s a discipline. The message is one of steady habits as it relates to savings and investing. Living below your means is a key point, whether we’re talking about someone with $1.2 million or $80,000. There’s clearly also a work ethic; you hear a lot of these people say work is a joy.”

Looking over the list, I’d say I’m most likely to fall into the Deal Master category, with one notable exception: I will be very charitable with what I am blessed with. Aside from that, I can see myself in many of the descriptions in that last category. Which category will you fall into?

Teaching kids about money

My parents didn’t do a great job at demonstrating good financial habits for me, and as a result, I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to teach my kids to be more fiscally responsible.  I ran across a great post today over at Get Rich Slowly with some good tips and links to helpful articles about allowances, teaching kids about the value of hard work, and more.  I don’t have kids yet, so I don’t have a lot of commentary here, except to say that it’s definitely the job of parents to teach their kids about this.  The schools sure aren’t going to do it, and judging by the pile of debt that the average American has, people don’t usually fall into a pattern of good financial habits on their own.

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