A rare money/finance post vent

This is a rare bitch-fest about the policies and marketing efforts of my big box gym. I find their behaviors and recent changes in fee schedules more upsetting for how it will impact other members more than the blow it delivers to my own budgetary bottom line. Unless you are in my realm and a member of my gym, this will be blander content than usual.

I enjoy my time in my gym, and I give 96.872% of the credit to my fabulous trainer. Teaching me to exercise safely and sanely is what I sought in engaging his professional expertise. Spoon feeding me enough technique and challenge for many small successes that build upon each other has allowed me to fall in love with moving my body via exercise. Graceful? Only if you think of a lumbering herd of elephants or wildebeest as graceful. Stronger? Oh yes, very much so, and it is shocks, amazes, and thrills me every time I finish something with what seems like such a weighty weight. I am competent at my pursuits, and I am doing things that mind would have balked at as way too complicated at best and just plain too hard always at various points in the journey. It has been almost 18 months, 14 of which have been about daily exercise of some sort, and all without any serious injury (frantically seeking wood to knock upon). The yoga and pilates practices I pursue help, of course. But there is no substitute for good education and a solid foundation of safe movement for my particular body with its quirks.

The funds I have invested in sessions and my gym membership – worth every single penny. Any generosity extended to J in terms of gifts or cash tips at replenishing my session balances have not been because I am such a great person who shares, but because he has earned it and deserves the compensation for the extra time and consideration he provides me. The stupid questions he’s fielded, the tearful meltdowns in text, the happy dancing when I finally conquer something that has vexed and dogged me. Mostly though – the inspiration and fascination that has built and allowed me to take control of my overall health and enjoy that significant success. Yes, yes, yes – I do the heavy lifting. For someone who has started and stopped, started and stopped exercise programs as much as I have, this consistency and stick-with-it-ness comes from finding the right trainer at the right time in conjunction with my own readiness to take the necessary steps to improve my health and my life. Money well spent, and if it meant I had to work longer and harder to continue to afford this sort of health-enhancing service, I would either give up other stuff I fritter money away on or work that much harder to earn greater income.

Yep, I feel very strongly about it. I am also not going to apologize for enjoying this luxury. It is not at the expense of my/our future. And believe me, I understand not everyone can afford the services of a personal trainer. Many people can barely afford gym membership at the least expensive option of gym chains. I truly do know and understand how fortunate I am. I give J such lavish credit because he deserves it. Ours is truly a training partnership, one where he has invested in me far more than just a couple of hours that contribute to his overall paycheck.

The gym itself, I have no such loyalty to, unfortunately. I like it well enough; it is conveniently located and I have met some very nice members and staff there that I enjoy seeing every day. But if J jumped ship tomorrow and went to some other club or a private training studio, I would most likely invest my training dollars there.

The training partnership is what makes my gym an asset to me, not the club itself or its facilities.

Because compared to other clubs in nearby communities, my gym is a red-headed stepchild in the chain. Which is odd to me, because the corporate office is in the same building and I would have thought their home club would be a much nicer facility.

It’s clean enough, has a variety of equipment. For what I am presently using it for, it’s perfectly fine and functional and could continue to be so well into the future. However, I routinely see a number of “out of service” tags on popular equipment. Rainy days like today, I can almost guarantee the roof is leaking and there are buckets and towels on the floors in specific places upstairs.

All these things are manageable. The pool is nice, except I never use it. I have no idea what the steam room and sauna are like, because I have never actually been in them. I get hugely annoyed that they continually run out of kleenex in the group fitness room and it seems to take a village at the front desk to get a replacement box. (This is a genuine problem for me – my sinuses seem to sweat in tandem with the rest of me during practice and I continually need to blow my nose.) But while I might very occasionally need to walk the entire gym to find a set of dumbbells in the weight I need (because someone has wandered off and abandoned them), there is plenty of equipment to get my work completed and usually without having to wait and wait and wait for it.

The members in my home gym are older; median age seems to be about my age, plus or minus a few years. There are a larger number of silver (senior) small group training classes because the demographic skews that way. Our community is not as affluent as others where the bigger, fancier, more feature-, equipment-, and floor space-rich clubs were built. It is my opinion and experience that our club has a more friendly, accepting feel to it, far less meat-market than others I have visited.

Unfortunately, our gym chain is a big box corporate monolith, a fully functional one-size solution across the board. And while I understand the bottom line better than many, I also understand the differences between clubs and facilities does not go unnoticed, particularly since we as members are following the same fee scale no matter which club we utilize. As a regular consumer of personal training services, a regular in the club, and an observer of other members utilizing other trainers and participating in body fit classes, I sense a deep unevenness in the skill level presented by the professional training staff, but again, no difference between getting a scary smart trainer like J who actively works to improve his skills versus a newly certified greenhorn who seems to be clinging to a standardized training plan for every single client.

It bothers me greatly, yet I know there is little to be done other than voting with my feet. I personally am not inclined to do that, because again, training relationship and what I want and need from a gym are being fulfilled. But many of the other members I have met, talked to, gotten to know through the months are fixed-income seniors, now going from a monthly flat fee unlimited group fitness program to a pay-per-class schedule that may cause them to move less because of financial considerations.

I begrudge no one from making a buck, or even lots of bucks. But it feels a bit shortsighted right now on the ground, where I am sitting and observing. I understand the group-think workings of a corporate entity, and I have a pretty good grasp of the economics, even if I do not have all the specifics on the moving pieces and parts with regard to the gym’s financial state.

But on the heels of an average 8% increase in training and small group training classes in November and a just announced increase in membership dues, I am quite irritated with the new investment corporation that purchased the chain in early 2016. I get that they are looking to squeeze more return on their initial investment. However, the data looks very different with the charts and spreadsheets and financial reports and projections they have reviewed and tweaked and the various scenarios they have considered before arriving at these decisions than the boots on the ground I see in my gym 6 days a week.

While I do not have the full background of how they arrived at these decisions, I know that it feels like an almost killing blow within my gym town. Had they simply raised prices 8% for training and body fit (small group classes lead by a personal trainer) it would be upsetting but mostly understandable. While I have not actually examined the new pricing structure myself, I have got enough of an eyeful and enough of an earful from other members to know it has changed as well. We are not talking apples to apples 8% increase; they took the basic 3-tier training packages and morphed it into at least double that number of package options. To get the best pricing – which is now 5.27% more – members must purchase a 72 session package, as opposed to the prior 40 session package. Not only is it a big giant chunk of change in one fell swoop, there are also no guarantees that the trainer I love working with will be the same trainer 72 sessions from now. Refunds should J jump ship? I will have to read the contract much more closely, but doubtful.

These things hit us directly in the wallet, and no matter how well they try to spin it, there is a big difference between 40 and 72 session packages in both pricing and commitment. Again, while I have not seen the schedule of pricing, it would only make sense that higher percentages of increase would correlate to the smaller training packages.

Such a shame. In my club, J is worth the cost, and I have no problem committing to another 36 weeks (we meet twice weekly). Training is a line item in my budget, and I save for the expense in advance of each purchase. Personal bias aside, he is the best trainer in the club, hands down. I do not get to see all the others in action, because they tend to work more evenings and I am almost always there early in the mornings. But I see J routinely in the gym at 5 a.m. working with other tribe members. Other trainers? One once or twice a week. The rest just prefer to start later or they do not have clients training before work.

If that were not bad enough, the small group body fit classes are even worse. They not only raised prices, they went from a monthly fee unlimited to pay by the class and buy in blocks of classes. The silver ladies – I see the same bunches of them every week, and honestly, they are amazing, hustling along from machine to machine and moving very spiritedly from station to station. Some of them are in there 5 days per week, and I know most are retired and on fixed incomes. It is a shame that several will likely be cutting back on the number of classes to maintain their ability to belong to the gym.

And of course on top of all that in November, they wait until December to announced monthly memberships are going up in January. The additional $48/year does not really impact me, but it does irritate me greatly. Because the club I use sees few if any of those dollars for updated equipment or facilities. The increase is in addition to the maintenance and facilities fee billed to every member household. Hard to be okay with paying these increases when there is no upgrade to facilities, equipment, or personnel.

It saddens me on one hand, and absolutely infuriates me on another. I am well aware of my personal aspirations for a perfectly fair and just world in which to dwell and how limited the opportunities to effect genuine change. Yet … it does seem like we are getting short changed on these increases. Our club does not seem to have any major renovations planned and no new equipment has been appearing on the gym floor. I have noted no increase in staff helpfulness or training skills being demonstrated.

I do not truly understand how a fitness center’s business model actually works, but I have some idea that those paying dues and never using the facilities anywhere subsidize those of us who are there all the time. I understand the push to sign up new members, sell more training packages and body fit class sessions. I completely understand a financial statement.

If the investment group were on the ground in town and seeing how things work in the smaller clubs, perhaps they would consider not alienating the large portion of seniors who populate my club. Raise prices if necessary – everything else is going up and it is understandable – but leave grandfather the unlimited package for existing members. Same thing for personal training packages – raise the cost if you must, but reward the members who use the gym and their training by offering the smaller packages with just the small increase in cost. New members are already paying more in monthly dues, I’m sure. Present them with the new cost models for body fit and for personal training and leave the rest of us alone.

Same is true of dues. Why am I paying the same fee if I only use my tiny, less modern club? Granted I could drive across town to the big jewel in the crown, but I’d happily pay less and only ever use my home gym. Given the opportunity, I imagine others might feel the same.

Marketing, how I loathe thee. They package it as membership offers use of any of the 19 facilities! Except I’m not going to drag my sorry butt clear across town to use another gym at 5 in the morning, and that is when I choose to get my practice done. Why am I paying for something I never use? Sounds wonderful in the glossy brochures, but reality is I have not been in another facility in years. Come 2017 I will probably branch out and go to the swanky place in the next town over, just because. I should get something for the extra $48 I’ll be paying each year.

Because while I know they need a steady stream of paying members, I would hate to see them lose existing members. Or referrals from existing members. Next month I am restarting design of a health and wellness program, and I am feeling very angry with my gym’s corporate masters. I work with people working off their law school loans, and while I know the club offered pretty good rates for corporate membership, I’m not feeling too inclined toward them right now. Probably I will get over it, but still.

While I am in a ranting mood toward the corporate overseers of my gym, my reaction is more because their shortsightedness hurts those who need and use the services most. I actually love my little facility, and I genuinely enjoy the people I see and interact with daily. However, I would love to pay these kinds of prices and have a team of really engaged, trying hard trainers leading classes and working with clients. Instead I see J and a couple of others working hard with their folks, and the rest sort of punching in and out and watching the clock while working with the members. I don’t get it, and this could be a shortcoming on my part, having worked in consulting the bulk of my career. In consulting, you become extremely conscious of the billability and building, maintaining, and enhancing the client relationship by doing consistently high-quality work. At the firm, my “clients” are the lawyers, parallels, and even my receptionist as well as the clients paying our fees. If I have high standards of performance for them, expectations for myself are higher.

One of the best decisions I made in my own career was to leave large corporations in favor of small firms and companies was because I began to question my own commitment and expectation of excellence. The level of personal satisfaction and success I have enjoyed cannot be compared to being one of many hundreds or thousands of managers at the same level in a large organization and having no voice either up or down the food chain. Years ago when I was a civil service employee, there was a saying: there’s never time to do it right but always time to do it over. Talk about crazy-making! For me and my personality type, it was a form of slow suicide to stay there and be stifled that way.

The career decisions I have made all rest upon my strong internal locus of control. Right now, I am my own boss in my own little firm or I am the administrative manager for a small law firm. In both cases, I have access to and direct influence with the final decision makers, and in a lot of areas I am the final decision maker. I am part of the body the sets and enforces standards of behavior, and while I am willing to work with just about anyone to achieve success, there is a strong expectation of personal responsibility and doing whatever it takes to achieve personal success. Each person I work with is an individual, judged that way and on standards based loosely their personal/professional strengths and abilities.

I guess my very length rant again big corp is that I am again disappointed by this big box gym not giving two shits about service as long as the members continue their ACH payments every month. In my vision of a more just and perfect world, the gym’s corporate decision makers would look more closely at individual clubs and recognize that the blanket decrees and decisions made are not always in their best long-term interests of maintaining a steady revenue stream.

And I also really want a living, breathing, glitter-bombing unicorn of my own someday.

To add insult to injury, right after reading about how my dues will be increasing by 4.44% next year, I receive another email survey from the marketing team requesting feedback on slogans under consideration. Are you fucking KIDDING me? I have long said the club’s marketing people are dumb as a box of rocks, and after that thought flitters through my mind I immediately think I owe the rocks an apology. Why on earth would they ask me, already a dues-paying member about their marketing slogans? And for goodness sakes, why on earth send me THAT email immediately after the modest 5.27% increase in personal training session fees (IF I purchase 80% more sessions at once than I have to now to get the best pricing available) and a 4.44% increase in monthly membership? My best theory is the marketing people are hoping for raw and honest feedback, because I suspect the pushback is going to be heated and angry.

I may write the gym’s big boss, because I suspect the condescending response I could receive in reply would be worthy of scathing mockery well above the my present level of supreme irritation, likely resulting in yet another 3200 word rant. But so worth it!

 

Money, happiness, enough?

Election week has been quite extraordinary in good and in bad ways. Work has been insane, I have been getting fewer than 5 hours of sleep most nights, and I have felt somewhat marginal some of the time. As they say, something has to give.

Thursday night as I worked at work-related tasks that are tedious and boring for a client I do not especially enjoy, I found myself wondering why I was doing this to myself. I had earlier in the day characterized myself and M as “hyper-responsible weirdos” and ruefully realize it is true in all aspects of our lives. Where I would have preferred to be writing/finishing my training session recap post, I was instead compiling information and writing a pretty dry report for people who were unlikely to read the detailed backup they insist upon and only skim the summary I provide. Even then, they would find fault, pick apart everything from the font and font size I use to the size of the margins to the pieces of my recommendations they disagree with or do not want to implement to comply with the law.

I was not an especially happy camper. Yet, I was well-compensated for my misery. Is that enough to overcome my distaste for the work I was doing?

The past few months, I have been thinking about this a lot. Money is a great equalizer, but when do you decide you have enough money? Or does anyone never have enough money?

We are far from rich, affluent, or even upper middle class. I work very hard for long stretches of days to keep my small business relevant and fulfill my responsibilities to the clients. I agreed to do the work within an established timeframe, and while there are notable exceptions where I did not receive adequate cooperation to meet deadlines, for the most part I do the work to ensure I hold up my end of a contract. For all this I am pretty well compensated, but I also pay a pretty hefty amount of taxes on the money I earn. Still, I have no basis for complaint from a compensatory standpoint. Yet anymore, it does not seem like enough. The trade-off between more money and less happiness – I believe my tipping point has been reached.

My part-time job has grown, expanded, evolved into more than a simple part-time gig. We are currently in discussions for the new year about my role and how much time I will be able to provide the firm. I do not wish to give up my 4 day per week schedule, and I like the flexibility I have for a later start on Mondays and Thursdays to accommodate my training sessions. The bosses understand and actually appreciate my commitment to my health and overall well being, so we are presently brainstorming ways to satisfy their desire for a larger share of my time and attention within the constraints of my desires. I have not asked for a raise; my compensation and benefits are already generous. However, the increase in hours and expansion of responsibilities has changed my place in our bonus structure, which pleases me greatly and seems far more lucrative and fairer to all sides.

These things are all very good things. I have a thriving small business as well as responsible position in a traditional employment situation. M and I have already achieved our retirement savings and long-term savings goals for this year, and if I took the rest of the year off from paid work we would likely be capable of handling our monthly expenses. Since I am not likely to take that much time off without pay, we are simply planning to continue to pad our interim savings account.

But it does feel as if we have enough. Enough money. Enough stuff. Our home is on track to be paid off within the next 6 years, about 5 years earlier than our 15 year mortgage term. We take good care of our vehicles, and our Toyotas – mine is a 2013 and M’s is a 2008 – should be fine until the mortgage is paid off. The rest of our expenses relate to household expenses, food, entertainment, gifts, vacations, general spending. We have a budget and follow it, and we do live pretty well below our means even if we are not especially frugal. All good things.

Looking at our retirement accounts and our plans for contributions through the next 10 years of my work history, I think we will have adequate funds in retirement. The way things are, though, we cannot count on anything or take it for granted that all will be well or better in 10 years. So we will continue to contribution to the retirement vehicles available to us, take care of our health to the best of our ability, and look forward to a simpler life when the older and grayer years do arrive and take hold of us. We have no plans for a retirement filled with travel and adventure. Ours is a pretty quiet, low-key life now and expectations are it will continue once I cease working at my present full-time schedule.

But it all brings me back to my present lingering thoughts: how much is enough? Should I chase the all mighty dollar just out of a sense of fear and anxiety and panic and to offset my lack of frugality now?

I don’t think so. I am judging the extra work, the lesser state of satisfaction as no longer worth it to me. With the expanded role in my firm job, I am going to relinquish and/or terminate several contracts with different clients, freeing me to pursue more work/happiness balance in my life. A solid core of self-employment clients that I enjoy will continue, and I will work hard and fight if needed to keep and always strive to make room for their requests. I feel confident we can make our ongoing business relationship flourish and thrive well into the future.

By cutting back on my self-employment business commitments – I expect as much as 50% – my income will drop as well, although not in a direct one-to-one proportion. Considering my self-employment income is about 35% to 50% of our annual household income, that is also not an insignificant drop. However, I anticipate my happiness/work/life balance will increase at a much higher percentage. While we will definitely has less disposable or saved income, money is not everything, or at least it is not to me or to us.

As I mentioned, we have a budget to keep tabs on our overall expenses and spending. Other than our mortgage we have no debt, and there is fat the could be skimmed from the budget if I completely stopped my self-employment projects. In our judgment and estimation, M and I have enough. We have more than enough. We are truly blessed and fortunate to have what we have, and it is not something we ever take for granted. We can afford our small splurges and to be generous when it seems appropriate and makes sense to us.

Is this the next level? Or am I just jumping from one plateau to another? Either way, it feels right to me right now. I can always go back to pursuing new clients and projects if I get bored or feeling panicked about the future.

Seems unlikely, though. Because right now, it feels as if we are building enough to make our modest dreams an eventual reality. Actually, we have more than enough; we have abundance.

Lucky to be rich in the ways my life feels rich.

Money things

This morning I logged in to my regular use credit card and found 11 charges for the same online site. Yep, I’ve ordered from them in the past, but waaayyy past, like 3 years ago. Suddenly a few days ago they are emailing me again, after I had unsubscribed many moons ago, and I just though of it as some spam thing, so I unsubscribed again. Only to find 11 charges to my account totaling nearly $1000.

Charges reported as fraud, card cancelled, replacement on the way. But it reminded me why I need to cancel several unused credit cards; exposure to fraud is a real thing. And seriously, I use 2 different cards for the rewards, M has 2 others, the rest are locked up in the safe. Or they were, until I systematically called, cancelled, and shredded them.

Another to-do of my endless list.

I also had to actually write a check today as well. That was different. It’s been forever since I have had to write a check for services. My esthetician texted me this morning that her credit card machine is kaput and she is currently only able to accept checks or cash. She’s smart to text me in advance, because I never carry checks and rarely have more the $40 in my wallet.

I was an hour later than usual arriving at the gym this morning, which is unlike me, even on Tuesdays when I work from home on my own business clients and stuff. Part of it was staying up until well after midnight working on work-work, part of it was an early conference call that ran longer than usual. Having clients that travel, I find myself frequently talking business on Tuesdays at 4 in the morning.

What I realize, though, is that I can arrive an hour late to the gym and the sky remains firmly in place and nothing bad befell me for the rest of my day. The rest of my work-related calendar did not start until about 10, which is pretty typical, and even that is by phone and I could do the work from my perch of sweaty grossness without anyone else knowing. It is not a big deal, either way, but a bit of a surprise for me that I can vary my schedule on gym practice schedule on Tuesdays without consequence. Still, my habits help me maintain some my discipline. Like most everything related to work these days, I need to stay flexible with scheduling.

I finished invoicing earlier today, and I’m pleased to be finishing off my retirement plan contributions this month rather than next. Holidays are going to be pretty low-key around here, with the big move coming in January and my strong feeling that monetary gifts will be appreciated by the kids this year. Makes perfect sense to me, and relieves me of shopping. My recent quest for replacement yoga pants and shirts was more than enough. I have come to despise shopping.

Which makes me wonder – if I did not have a budgeted amount set aside for clothing and shoes and such, would the urge to go out and shop and spend money be more powerful? Since I am pretty well prepared, I find the thrill of shopping and spending money no longer rages within. Or maybe it’s just that I am so busy, with a long list of things I would like to do when I prioritize them in my time allotment. I am listening to podcasts while I practice, and I am carving out at least 30 minutes each evening to simply read for fun. There are a few online courses I would like to take, and goodness knows my blog could use a little more of my time and attention.

The idea of spending time in a mall or even more time paging through endless screens in search of something to spend money on – even worse time suck than social media.

Spending time with friends, making plans and looking forward to getting together, only to have it evaporate at the last possible moment is extremely frustrating to me. I don’t know what to do about it, though. A few of them have been this way pretty much forever, and I am jaded to the point of believing it when it actually happens. Others, though, have family issues cropping up and are in need of and deserving of understanding and support. We all seem to be of an age when our parents are slowing down, faltering, needing more consistent and constant medical care, or passing away. And it’s very difficult. Having been there myself, I am very sympathetic.

It makes me recognize the need to step back up and into the office with TM. I feel like my pragmatism is almost a fault right now, and that perhaps I could soften or be more understanding of their situations and circumstances. Am I so very busy that I cannot spend 20 or 30 minutes listening more sympathetically? I feel like I am hardening into a very unpleasant sort of person who is impatient and unable to cope with the hand-wringing angst that comes with all the stuff that happens as our lives and responsibilities toward others weighs more heavily.

Next week M and I have an appointment with our own attorney to update our wills and trust documents in light of the kids’ marriages this year. Not a lot is changing, just some minor tweaks, but it’s really important to me that we sit down with the kids and let them know now what are plans are for what comes later. I had a really, really hard time dealing with my mom’s stuff after her passing, and as much as possible I want both my kids to understand what we are thinking and where the documents are kept.

Is this morbid and uncomfortable? I suppose so, but as I told them last we had this conversation, they will thank me for it later on, hopefully a lot later on. I’d much rather have 30 minutes to an hour of discomfort of imagining the world without us in it than they be scrambling to figure things out on the fly when the time comes.

I suppose being a parent who can talk to her kids about death, dying, and where we bank and the documents for our accounts, our online banking information, etc. is kept in the safe. My hope is that we have a good long time and lot more such conversations in our future, but if I get run over by a bus tomorrow, they will know where things are kept and the way things stand right now.

I was just thinking earlier that I am just another imperfect parent, but I do try to think ahead and whatever practical stuff I can do in the here and now to make it easier down the line.

Now if I can just get through decluttering my house so I can roll up my sleeves and get to work on the garage and our storage unit. My to-do list seems infinite right now. But that’s okay. I have plenty of time.

Blur, funk, bounce

Like everyone else, I have days that are so jammed with work and commitments that the work and the commitments and the whole day all fly by in a blur of activity. Yesterday was one of those days. Yet … yet … I still made time for my gym practice first thing in the morning, a yoga class late afternoon, and a quick cardio queen session at the gym after meeting with the new membership manager.

I also billed 14 hours yesterday. Legally and with some marketing and write-off time excluded from those honestly billable billable hours. I was hopping.

Most of the time, I really have to work at my time management and almost look forward to office days because of the basic structure of being somewhere and focused on a particular line of work for a set number of hours. Trust me, there are a lot of distractions here as well, with staff and bosses running in and out of my office, the phone calls, the emails, the appointments and the drop-in-without-appointment surprises. Still, I am not at home looking at a mostly organized stack of work to be done and yet another completely unorganized stack of work that must be sorted and placed into the mostly organized stack so I can finally get to work. Setup time – major time suck.

It’s normal for friends to suggest I am a workaholic. It’s common to be told I need to take a “real” vacation or to take some time off from work, the gym, my life and lifestyle. Relax, they say. Have fun, they tell me. While it generally comes from a good and caring place, it is irritating and nearly impossible for me to not get defensive about my choices. And since I hate that such sentiments make me feel defensive, I have been trying to figure out why the concern grates on my nerves.

One of my closest friends is recovering from a life-threatening illness. A byproduct of this and his ongoing recuperation is evaluation of his life and his choices with regard to his career, geographic location, and the quality of his life and lifestyle. How much money does he really need? What is more important – being part of a large social group or having a few people nearby he can be real with? Retirement is still 20 years away (minimum), but he is starting to wonder what it is he wants from that.

His reflective state seems to be contagious.

While it is true that I work a lot, the work is not physically taxing. On the contrary, the very sedentary nature of the work I do makes it dangerous to my health. It’s why I have a treadmill desk at home that I am resolving to use a lot more routinely than I have been lately. Having a steady gig with the lawyers provides a better than average silver HSA plan (starting November 1) health insurance for a very nominal cost ($100/month for M and I) along with dental and vision. It also fulfills my desire for balance in face-to-face interaction with people, although I admit it can also overflow and tip the balance to the too much side of the scale.

Expanding my side gigs into a full-blown small business has brought its own joys and headaches. As I have written about previously, when I first started I took any and all referrals for work. My law firm job started that way. A year later, I am being more selective about new work, subcontracting out work where it makes most sense, and trying to maintain some sort of balance that does not leave me working 60, 70, 80 hours per week. I have made some passive attempts to terminate contracts by raising rates or limiting my availability, yet they stay. Just yesterday I contacted a couple of my smallest firms with thoughts of referring them to someone else, but by the end of the conversation I was agreeing that ours is a very good and productive business relationship and only modestly raising their fees for the upcoming year. It’s hard when it only takes a few hours each month, is work I’m good at and could likely do in my most sleep-deprived state, although it is not work I especially enjoy. It’s easy and having a few easy projects each month can be a good thing.

On the flip side there are projects that I am drooling over to the point of the point of temptation to work for free. Except I won’t, because that would be really bad for business. This type of work is typically deadline-driven and interesting to me to be part of in whatever capacity. And it’s my heroin with work, typically very lucrative financially, as interesting and exciting for me to work on as it assuredly as pain-in-the-ass it will eventually become. The PITA is a given for these types of projects; nothing ever goes as smoothly as hoped, and even anticipating problems and shortage of time is inadequate for how many problems and how overblown on time such projects typically run.

Still, I live for these. I love the rush that comes with a short-fuse project, and pursuing that kind of work challenge fuels any and all characterizations of me as a workaholic. Unlike my early days toiling in a civil service environment where the motto seemed to be “there’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it over” would vex me to no end, consulting seems to be competitive and driven by smart people wanting to do and be best at their assigned projects … or moving on to civil service jobs.

As I have stated a lot, I really like my work. It’s not going to ever cure cancer or provide solutions to world hunger or lasting peace, but it keeps my days interesting and pays the bills. Although ours is a pretty simple life, we are not especially frugal and actively working to minimize our fixed expenses. Our health is important to us, so a higher than average percentage of our disposable income goes toward those pursuits. Gym and yoga studio memberships, personal training, running shoes, running accessories and equipment, replacement clothing for exercise pursuits. supplements, etc. There are expensive home remodeling projects in the future plan (kitchen remodel, replacing existing tile, landscaping) and we save for those rather than going into debt. M really wants to train to be a pilot and to build an airplane; those dreams are already mostly funded when he is ready to get started studying and enroll and/or finds the airplane kit he wants to build. The where is a bigger mystery to me and we have already done some idle looking around at shop space for rent.

Then there is the whole retirement savings topic. We have no plans to travel the world or for amazing, exotic trips as retired folks. Hopefully we will continue to enjoy good health, go out and remain active, and more time to pursue hobbies and interests. If I allow the marketing and internet hype to sink in, my fear gene starts twitching and I start panic thinking we’re way, way behind and must cut any and all luxuries (including those that enhance our overall health and quality of life) and live this miserly existence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of keeping expenses low wherever possible, but at the same time, I know what is working for me and I am loathe to give it up for a future I am unlikely to have much less enjoy if I stop taking care of myself now while I still have opportunity to make better choices that will pay long-term dividends.

I would much rather find the balance between working really hard now and have reasonably ambitious savings goals for future projects and older-and-grayer years. We are fortunate to have woken up earlier to the trap of debt and gotten out of consumer debt before purchasing our home. Unless something surprising happens and we choose to switch things up, our mortgage will be gone within the next 7 years and we will have no further debt. Part of me believes working hard to establish my self-employment habit now will aid me in the future when I do not want to go to leave the house to earn income.

If anything, I feel like I am in a give-away stage of life, where I want to pare down our possessions and volume of crap we keep. Last weekend I did a little more exploration in my endless closet and found several things saved in the last purge that will be going on the block via ebay or some other sale site soon and even more into my donation bag. I am being ruthless with clothing I have shrunk out of and not keeping it just-in-case. If I go back up a size I will either have to suck it up and buy new things or grit my teeth and get back on track. I regret donating a designer handbag last week in a fit of declutter fatigue when I saw the same bag on ebay with multiple bids. Ah well. I’m sure the reseller who ends up with it needs the profit more than I do.

So while I have a good handle on my life and reasoning for the choices I make, I remain a little or a lot fuzzy on why others are so unhappy with their own. Personality differences? To a lesser or greater degree we project our biases on those around us or closest to us, and perhaps that is the issue.

When I began blogging a few years ago I was well traveled in personal finance circles. When I actually began this blog, though, I found out how little I have to say on the topic of personal finance, other than it truly is a very personal choice. I knew then, know even better now that M and I are not terribly frugal people, and I find it annoying that people wear their frugality merit badge like some sort of judgment statement. Either that or I am hypersensitive to it, which is entirely possible as well. But whatever; everyone is different.

Thing is, I worry about money for a living. Because of that, my own spending and saving habits tend to be on autopilot. Our budget is set and we do a good job of sticking to it without much tinkering on my part. I do not want to be quibbling or quivering over meaningful services or saving even more of the money we earn. I also do not want to be feeling anxious about whether or not to tip my esthetician just because she happens to be in business for herself. More unique situations – like trainer J or RD (who will not accept money from me for his advice and dietary guidance help) – I just go with my gut on what seems fair and reasonable to me. Plus they are sort of swept up into my inner circle tribe and benefit from the spoils of goodies (booze, gift cards, etc.) that I acquire from clients and vendors and cannot or will not use.

And because of my job and my past as a budget coach, a lot of my online friends and acquaintances have money worries. Having been there, done that, bought and shredded the t-shirt, it seems natural that many I know see my life as simpler or easier with our financial house in good order.

All this finance and work and thinking stuff has been pinging and ponging around in my head. Because of it, lately here my mind feels like mush. If I am not discussing something with specificity – like training recaps or eating strategy – I am all a-wandering in these posts. Here today I mulling over a snarky tossed off comment in real life about working too hard, taking time off, whining so much. Huh. I do not tend to whine much in person – work-life balance choices start and end with me – and I know she does not read the blog. But her income has to stretch far and includes debt and debt service, children, and limited choices and courses of action to increase her income and limits herself on reducing her expenses. She gets a pass because I find her negativity is the limiting factor on becoming closer friends. She has a nasty habit of “yes, but …” to any and all suggestions about helping herself. And that’s fine; I listen with half an ear and change the subject.

As individuals, we are not powerless. We control our attitude and our emotions. There are a lot of choices we have to make that are unpleasant, uncomfortable, or just plain unfair and awful, but reality and circumstances are not always what we want or feel we deserve.

I have struggled this week with various things, and honestly, I have no clear idea why. At work my bosses are effusive in their assessment of and praise for how I am conducting myself and the business matters at hand. My particular management style, while very different than their own, works well with the staff dynamic. Self-employment work is chugging along and gaining more steam with renewals and new clients, short-term projects. M and I are fine, busy pursuing our own objectives at  home and doing a fair number of standing up dinners enroute to something else that needs to get done. Trainer J is not raining pitiful looks in my direction that say I’m a sad sack broken bird in my efforts or giving me any indications that something has changed to where I feel as crappy as I have been about my own efforts and performance in practices of late. Kids, tribe, other friends are fine, on the mend and doing well in their own lives.

So why the mild funk, I wonder? M suggests it seasonal affective disorder. That would be a new twist if that were the case; I have never been bothered by the time change or the shorter daylight hours.

It’s certainly nothing serious. Even mild funk might be a bit strong to cover the higher self-critical tone I have had of late. Today was good, better than I have been in the last couple of weeks, in that while imperfect I went through my List of the day this morning with stronger focus and resolve. Work is perking right along, and walking at lunch today we were discussing funks, depression, anxiety, and the medications available to battle such issues. Having a day where I am so busy that my time to navel-gaze and overthink my own life’s miniscule drama is also always a good thing. Tends to put things into better perspective for me.

Righting my own ship – action is not always required. Occasionally I just need to ride out the squall and let mind find its happy place again. Of course, limiting social media and reading some of the many books piling up on my Kindle and in my “you should read this” recommendations list makes Janelle a much healthier, happier, positive-outlooked person.

Tomorrow is Thursday – training day! How I know for sure I am on the bounce and enroute to righting the mind ship? Earlier today J told me the Thursday 8 a.m. tribe member is out of town, which means if we run late we can take some extra time. That’s always a happy thing, even if I am spoiled, Spoiled, SPOILED (as friend J remarked earlier). But also, it’s likely a teaching day. We just finished our review of another series of workouts we began a few months ago, interrupted with another style of body part splits, and only recently returned to. Next could be kettle bells or some new version of mix-and-match exercise Lists. Whatever. I don’t care. I’ve had a self-imposed weird week with exercise (although today was quite good) and look forward to interactive Q&A rather than just letting my curiosity sit and spin in my own head about what I or others in my line of sight are doing.

And even this deep into regular, consistent exercise nearly every day, I am still ridiculously excited about training days.

My dietary equivalent of the no-fly list

Last night I was reading another blogger discussing the perfect cereal. It reminded me how much I love and adore cold cereal. Left to my own devices, I could easily, happily subsist on cold cereal and skim milk. There is far and away plenty of variety to keep me from getting bored, but I have the added bonus of being someone who can eat the same meals for weeks at a stretch without getting bored.

Is is entirely possible there are people in the world who continue happy, somewhat healthy lives living on cold cereal and milk. Unfortunately, I am not a member of this mythical slice of the population. Since I am diabetic, my intake of sugar and carbohydrates must be monitored and controlled. Cereal, even the healthiest, plainest, devoid of sugar versions of cereal are not the best choices of fuel for me. And if I can’t have even the semi-sweetened version (cheerios, raisin bran), cereal has become yet another item on my dietary equivalent of a no-fly list.

Once I gave up skim milk as a dietary staple, it was not that difficult to forego cereal. Of course, now that I am no longer eating cereal, M has taken up eating granola. For the majority of our years together, M has pretty much never eaten cold cereal. Now, it’s a regular thing for him to be eating granola of various types with his protein powder drinks. Thankfully I am far enough away from dairy products and the cereal I love to not be jealous or even wistful about what I’m not able to able to justify and include as part of my diet. Part of me thinks of it as a “cannot” eat it, but in reality it is more a “should not” eat it. I can eat whatever I wish, but there are going to be consequences for falling off the healthier eating wagon.

Which is why I find eating so complicated and tricky. Every body is different, and what works for me to keep body in its healthiest place is not necessarily tastebuds’ happy place. A typical healthy, balanced diet honestly has too many carbs for my unmedicated system to handle without blood sugar creeping upward and scale bouncing back and forth with the same 3 lbs. gained and lost. I have read labels. I have counted calories. I have counted carbs and protein grams. It’s not so much nothing works – I have learned a lot and gained good insight from the experiences and the experiments – but it becomes an additional burden and stressor upon me, another way for me to fail and weaken my firewalls against negative girl.

For awhile now I have known that I must do something to break the cycle. RD, my most fabulous dietician and friend, has told me over and over that maintaining a high protein and low carbohydrate diet is necessary and the transition is not easy. Some people are successful in going cold-turkey, but I am in some big giant camp of special snowflakes who want what they want and go down fighting, kicking, and screaming every step of the way to the healthier lifestyle place.

For almost a year now I have been working at this. For almost a year I have had mixed amounts of success, but I have made some progress. I eat a lot more vegetables. I eat more fruit than sugary snacks. I gave up dairy, not because anyone suggested I do so, but because I don’t really like most of the dairy I was eating (greek yogurt) and I only drank milk in coffee and with cereal or cookies. Giving up cereal and cookies has become a mandatory thing, coffee was not that difficult with the daily protein shakes and amino energy powder, and dairy therefore just got left by the roadside. Pasta became a once a quarter event where it was once a weekly meal. Still, bread and crackers and snacking lingered, and despite my daily protein shakes, I was still light on daily protein intake.

I’ve been working with Dr. Spencer Nadolsky for a few months now, and in a fit of frustration with myself I decided I would try what I referred to as my nuclear option – his crash course to drop 10 lbs. in a 3 week period of time.

Except I couldn’t locate it anywhere on my computer. It must have been a couple of laptops ago, or M wiped it off my former laptop when his PC crashed and we switched things around. I reached out and asked Dr. Spencer for the information again, and after some discussion, he prepared my smoothie solution which is accommodates my picky eating habits yet is based on a protocol he has been using for his in-clinic obesity patients. The eating plan is specific and fairly strict; I refer to it as the “fuck moderation” eating strategy. I’m sure Dr. Spencer will has a kinder, gentler name for it.

I have never been a follower of fad diets, and this is about as close as I come to that. However, I also know that this solution is not a long-term or permanent solution to my eating habits. This will be 4 to 5 weeks, max. My expectation is that being away from “regular” processed foods for this period will ease my craving and addictive habits toward them and allow me to make better choices. By the end of this 4 or 5 weeks I should have a better idea of what tolerable hunger is really like and more resistance to my eating triggers. A girl can hope, right? And think positively about the success potential.

While Dr. Spencer’s protocol indicates 3 meals per day – 2 protein shakes (up to 4 scoops protein powder) and a “lean and green” dinner with 6 to 8 oz. of lean protein, I had to modify this for my life and lifestyle and have essentially 4 meals per day, with a single scoop protein shake before my morning workouts, then 1.5 scoops for breakfast and lunch shakes. Small cakes, really, and again, every body is different in its unique needs. I require fuel for workouts first thing in the morning, and within the confines of how much fuel I am consuming under this protocol, I am making it work for me.

But even with my own personalization, this first week was not without setbacks; it is far and away a learning curve with my addictions and habits are lifetime ingrained and very powerful. I have snacked between lunch and dinner – a package of peanut butter toast crackers in my desk at work. I could not resist a piece of warm french bread with or the croutons on my salad while lunching with a client. A small slice of pizza at a working lunch. A 100 calorie bag of skinny pop after dinner.

I am not going to self-flagellate about my missteps; shit happens. But I am pleased with the 3 days where I did stay on track, stuck to the plan. I found myself not especially hungry-hungry, more addictive mind whispering that it was mid afternoon and time for a snack. Or seeing M’s spread cheese in the refrigerator and wanting to go raid his stash of crackers, which are actually a better, lower carb choice than saltines or snacking crackers. It became easier to simply look at my watch to and calculate how much time had passed since my last meal and get up and freshen my glass of water. This is my new, evolving method to overcome the urge to snack – I get up and walk around, add ice and water to my glass and just drink it down.

Even the imperfect eating days, I understand the circumstances and that this is a new thing for me. Like all things in life, I cannot change the past; I can only view each day as a new opportunity to do better.

I did have a social visit with my scale this morning – down 2.9 lbs. since last I weighed myself 10 days ago. Since I tend to trade the same couple of pounds back and forth, I cannot get excited about this as progress this week. However, I have my reminder sticky back in place to weigh in each morning going forward. Thinking about my A1c results and my daily meter readings, I should not be surprised about the uptick. A big giant part of this fuck moderation eating strategy can be traced directly to that result. If I had not been getting concerned about the up-tick in my meter readings, I probably would still be trying to do a better job monitoring and tracking my food intake. Fluctuations happen; trends are easy to spot with regular data collection. Or so says fab trainer J and equally fab RD.

Which is another tangential thing that has arisen in my electronic communications with friends. My village is staffed with younger folks – even Dr. Spencer is mid-30s at best – and some of my friends are dubious about how much genuine assistance I am receiving from such youth.

Hmmm.

First thought: why on earth would I pay professionals for help if their advice and directives (when followed) fail to produce results? Second thought: why the immediate discount because of their youth?

The first thought was intriguing and complicated, because now being mid-50s (as they are and older) trying to transform my health seems almost a waste of time and resources. Which shocked me, frankly. I mean, when I asked if it would be better to simply sit around and wait to die they kinda/sorta backpedaled. Retirement is looming large in their minds, saving for that is a priority. Their doctors tell them walking 30 minutes 5 days per week is enough. Portion control and balanced diets are adequate for their overall health. I don’t need a trainer to teach me to walk, right? The internet is full of resources and recipes to make healthy, tasty meals. I don’t need a dietician for that. Obesity? I’m not that fat. I surely don’t need an obesity doctor.

Their health issues are not mine, and such basic directions may indeed impact them in very positive ways. I have been there, done that; it didn’t work. What I have now, with my village, is working. Results matter.

But beyond that, let’s do some math. Being a numbers person, some immediate facts and figures came to mind.

Under the high deductible plan I have had for the past year, I have a $3500 deductible every year before insurance even kicks in. When I was taking Insulin, I was taking 2 different types. The cost for a 3 month supply at the was $1058 for 5 vials and $929 for 3 boxes of the fast acting insulin pens. Add to that the oral medications for diabetes, blood pressure (protect the kidneys), syringes, pen needles, test strips, lancets – my total bill for 3 months of medications and supplies was $2387. I know because I called and received exact pricing for drug costs when I started with Kaiser last December. Strange thing about that? I could do better getting most of my supplies on my own without using my Kaiser insurance at Costco or Sam’s club pharmacy.

So, doing the math of using my insurance for prescriptions alone, that’s $9548 for the year of insulin and diabetes care medications and supplies. My deductible is $3500 and my copay is 30% after paying that, so I’m now at $5314.40 annually in prescription medications and supplies to manage my chronic health condition.

Not using that amount of medication more than covers the annual cost of working with trainer J twice a week.

I feel no particular need or compulsion to justify my choices and decisions, yet I do want to understand their perspective, as narrow and illogical as it may seem. These are people with whom I have years and years of money, budgeting, and financial decision-making discussions with through the years. I could understand their fretting about the financial impacts of personal training if I were not putting in the effort to go to the gym and practice what I am learning. I’m in the gym 4 of the 5 days I’m not working with J and quite literally working my ass off. Same is true of RD and Dr. Spencer. I am truly not the princess type, but in this regard I have ben flailing around on my own for so long I absolutely need and require personalized help for forward progress to happen. The argument for return on my investment simply does not compute.

What they do not seem to grasp, and this could be where the big disconnect comes from, I would not be off medication without the level of exercise I pursue. I will not stay off medication if I do not modify and improve upon my eating habits. The trade off in quality of life is not something that can be measured monetarily.

Bottom line for me: we are in different places in our lives. Our outlooks, health, lifestyle choices differ pretty dramatically. On this we simply have to agree to disagree. Choices I make are correct for me, even if they don’t make sense to them and their money-hoarding mindset.

As for the discount because of youth, I think this is a combination of things. The friends I’m thinking of are being slowly downsized and outsourced in their careers and opportunities for jobs and replacement of equivalent income is nearly impossible. It is a very frightening situation. Intellectually, we all know its purely an economic formula; younger, less experienced people are a lot less expensive to hire. Emotionally, it has created an almost crippling sort of fear to find that age discrimination is alive and well and mostly ignored in the workplace. Making less income at what should be the peak of their careers, facing the prospect of an underfunded retirement or being forced out of the job market creates unexpected, unanticipated anxiety and stress in their lives.

I understand that all too well, and I feel for them.

But my village has skills and experience that I lack. Trainer J is a veteran gym guy, with lots of weight lifting experience and education under his belt and acquiring more with every passing week. RD is a registered dietician and spends his days working with people who really do not want to change their eating habits but the consequences of not following his recommendations and advice are dire. Dr. Spencer is an obesity doctor and works with a lot of patients safely modifying their lifestyle through diet, exercise, and medication support.

In their areas of expertise, all of them know far more about diet and exercise than I do, now and probably well into the future at best, probably forever is more likely. Since I am not capable or willing to experiment long enough to objectively evaluate all the sources of information out there, I have had to choose teachers, guides, information gatekeepers. Aside from their education and experience, I truly feel their real talent is their ability to package and present information to me in ways that make sense to me. Maybe a lot of their other clients are enjoying far more success in shorter periods of time, and quite possibly I remain the village idiot in the various training and healthier eating tribes. But so what? Someone is always going to be ahead or behind the average curve. The day I stopped comparing myself to my peers in the groups was the day i began to feel satisfied and allowed myself to be happy to learn what I learn, know what I know now. I try to follow their advice and directions, and I report back when and where I’m having issues. Chasing miracle cures or immediate results is not me, and my expectation of just trying to implement and seeing small, incremental successes has helped enormously. Still imperfect, but I am so much better than I was a year ago. If I learn that from a couple of 27 year olds and a newish physician then great! Yay for the wisdom and education and experience of youth.

Despite my description and reactions to the discussions here, they were not contentious or heated. One friend just received notice that his job is being eliminated at the end of this year, his third such layoff in the last 10 years. While we are the same age he and his wife were married awhile before starting a family and he has 2 children in private school. I sympathize and asked about prospects and at the present time there are none. His situation is sad to me, but our life and lifestyle choices are very different. Another friend is in bracing for round 3 of layoffs in her firm and expects to not miss the cut this time around. After nearly 26 years with the same firm, she’s completely paralyzed with fear about what to do next, how to even go about looking for another job.

Scary times, indeed.

These economic realities are partly why I started my better health quest in the first place. I knew I would be looking for other work at some point, and whether it’s ever acknowledged or not, obesity bias is a thing. Added to the fact that I am an older worker, not classical or mainstream pretty, and find trying to be charming on demand a huge drain on my mental and emotional resources, I was really worried about making a living when I decided to try and get myself into better physical shape. Whether my anxiety was a product of negative girl’s doom-and-gloom outlook or a reality that I just did not quite come face-to-face with, it was a strong impetus for change.

From where I’m standing (at my treadmill desk) right now – happier, healthier, and stronger – it is impossible for me to see a downside to my decision or to the village I have assembled. I know it’s a luxury, but far better than pricey spa treatments many of my friends promote. This afternoon I’m going to the mall to return a blouse my shoulders and upper arms are hulking out of, yet across the bustling and around the waist it fits just fine and is a complete and total 180 on my typical experience. And I’m going out on this mall adventure in another pair of jeans from the smaller size box.

Kind of impossible to argue about the expense and youth of my village when I am enjoying success and tangible results. Along with a chocolate and peanut butter protein shake for lunch.

All is well and the sun is shining in my realm.

Financial freedom vs. financial empowerment

I found this line in another budget/finance forum I follow. Being in my mid-50s now it seems a bit late to be contemplating financial freedom (aka early retirement) right now, but I find it curious the trend and thinking from others far younger and better planners than I have ever been.

Financial empowerment, however, is intriguing. It spells a wider variety of choices and freedoms than being enslaved to a job for the paycheck. For us it meant M could retire early, and here we are, 6+ years later and both pretty happy with the low-key lifestyle we have carved out for ourselves.

There was a comment on this post that also got me thinking about such matters:

Good for you, Janelle! You really seem on top of things. I am curious though…it sounds like you employ a veritable team of experts to help you achieve your personal improvement goals. What percentage of your income do you allocate to these professional services? Also, in a long-term marriage, how do you find time to nurture your relationship in between all the personal goals? What kinds of things do you do together?

My village of experts does not exactly come cheap, and her question is a valid one. Training with J, once I realized its value to me, became a consistent line item in the monthly budget. While I only have to revisit this every 4 or 5 months (sessions are purchased in blocks of 40), I budget it out because I am a planner and I have every intention of continuing. Unless he fires me, of course. Or moves to Dubai to work at the most expensive private gym in that country. Or perhaps goes into some witness protection-like program for super nice guys who become entangled with bunny boilers. (Hey, it could happen.)

TM and RD are healthcare expenses. Since I have an HSA-compatible insurance plan, I contribute the maximum to our HSA every year and hope not to have to use those funds until our much older and grayer years when healthcare is projected to consume a lot of our retirement cash. However, the money is there and ready to be spent if needed now to pay for healthcare expenses, including sessions with TM or with RD. Both are also generous with their off-the-clock time, as is J, so I do get extra help as needed. I endeavor to not take advantage of their kindnesses towards me. Thus far this year, I have not had to make withdrawals from our HSA for services received, and hopefully the trend continues.

The real way I manage the luxury of such paid expertise is by increasing my income whenever it feels like we are approaching a pivotal tipping point and something must be sacrificed in the budget. I have taken short-term projects just to pad self-improvement funds, because I am not the only consumer in my household. While I am training with J and working with RD and TM, M is running, running, running in the mountains and shoes and socks and clothes and packs and supplements and gas to get to where he goes to run canyons and such adds up. As I said, I am a planner, and I craft our monthly budget so funds are squirreled away year round not just for my training but also for summer’s peak running expenditures. And if I need to work harder, bill more hours, I let it be known to my network of clients and business contacts that I have time available in my schedule if there are special projects or other work that could be done now versus later in the year. One way or another, opportunities for cash flow come up and the money leak is plugged. In worst cases, I use our savings to cover the shortfall that tightening our belts on expenses cannot overcome.

So essentially I am not above hustling to generate more income for our self improvement luxuries. I also think the money I save on not having to buy insulin and diabetes-related medications and supplies will easily cover my sessions this year with TM and RD, including the gift cards I get for them as thanks for their off-the-clock time investments in me. I know all members of my village have choices in how to spend their personal time; that they choose to share some of it with me is extraordinarily generous of them.

As for our long-term marriage and nurturing our relationship along side our personal goals, I think that’s a big part of what strengthens us – room to pursue our individual objectives to become the better, stronger, faster versions of ourselves. M gets up at 3 a.m. and goes running every single day, usually straggling in around 8:30 as I am preparing to leave for the office (on the days I leave the house for work). I am up at 4 a.m. for the gym on weekdays, by 6 a.m. on weekends. Other than sleeping in together, there is not much else we would likely be doing at those hours if we were not pursuing exercise. Ours is also a very simple, low-key life. We do chores around the house together, we grocery shop and cook and run errands together whenever possible. Mostly we live the normal life of a middle-aged couple – we hang out, talk, pursue things that interest us, and are present with each other. Ours is not a big, flashy, social media worthy exciting lifestyle; we simply enjoy our time and strive to make the most of it.

Over the course of my adult life, I have found that financial stability allows me to sleep restfully. Financial empowerment lets M be at home and unfettered by the responsibilities of a job that ends up having a negative impact on his nervous system. Financial freedom seems to have past us by, seeing as I am probably within 10 to 15 years of actual retirement, and in all honestly does not interest me much. If not working, what else would I be doing with the majority of my time? I can only cope with so much travel – I feel better when tethered to our home – and my hobbies and outside interests would be less enjoyable if I spent large chunks of time pursuing them. Maybe I will feel differently in 10 years, or even 5 years. But for right now, it is best for both my emotional and mental health that I continue to toil at paid employment.

Fortunately I have always liked my jobs and gotten a psychological boost from work, so our present arrangement suits us and our marriage. Working at the law firm provides benefits and the human interaction I enjoy and thrive upon. Self-employment gives me the flexibility and more control over our monthly income in the present and funds our long-term plans. Right now I have the very best of both worlds. If there was something I was missing and really wanted, I would be working on mapping ways to make it happen for us. As it is, we do not feel especially deprived or as if there is a large crater of emptiness in our world.

I feel very spoiled, I admit. But I also work really hard and do not take our simple lifestyle or anyone present in my/our life for granted. I make sure to say please and thank you and try to help others when and where I am able. My kids are grown and living their own lives, and I love, Love, LOVE that we are as close and so much a part of their happily ever afters.

Ours is a good if simple life. I have no strong desire to pursue more outside the objectives I am presently chasing. And personally, I think that is a huge bonus – to be happy and satisfied with all that I have.

Money, credit cards, paying the stupid tax

I had 2 instances last week of paying the stupid tax. One was kinda/sorta my fault, the other is completely on me.

The first, more benign of the 2 was actually much more expensive. A year or so ago I took a course at an online university, paying my tuition with a credit card. However, the charges never appeared on said credit card, although I was assured last time I spoke to them (sometime in August 2015) that it was in the system and being processed. I thought no more about it, and frankly we run so many of our expenses through our credit cards I simply forgot all about it. I was also still with my former full-time firm, and they typically reimbursed me for CPE type credits, so I figured I must have put it on my company credit card. Either way, there was no communication from the school until last month, when I received a very nice letter from the attorney/collection service they use for old debts and then a follow-up phone call early in the month.

I called her back last Friday, determined that the debt was real and in fact mine. I explained the situation and circumstances as I recalled them, and she very kindly waived the late fees and interest, leaving only the original tuition amount that I actually owed. I gave her my credit card number (same one I believe I originally tried to pay for these courses with), and waited until she ran it and received confirmation from the company that it was paid. I jotted the confirmation number and all is well in that corner of my world once more.

The second one is an annual fee for a credit card I never use and have not given a thought to in 3 or 4 years. Because I signed up for online banking back when we originally banked with the issuing bank (for all of about 2 months, when they screwed up direct deposits twice in 2 months), there was no fee for this credit card. Now, because I no longer bank with them, because I never use the credit account, or just because they can, there is a $20 fee, which they billed electronically and the email notifying me of the statement went into my spam folder. A month passes, no payment, and I am dinged with $2.23 in interest charges, and this time I do actually see the email that I have a past due amount.

This one is completely my fault and I own it. I called, paid my debt, and asked them to cancel the card. No, I don’t care that I am good for another year; I have zero plans to use that card and have no desire to be having this same conversation about a late payment again next year. Cancel the card, close the account; I’ll wait.

The process got me thinking about the stack of credit cards in our gun safe. All these credit cards are from various periods in our lives or opened for rewards, etc. None of them have balances or annual fees, and if the physical cards are in the safe, they are not active and could/should be closed.

I waver and waffle on this topic. Between M and I we have 4 cards we use for varioius purposes. One card is for our regularly occurring bills on autopay – utilities, cell phones, storage rent, pest control, etc. Another is for online shopping. Then M and I each have our own cards we use for our purchases while out and about; makes it simpler to sort out receipts and categorize our spending. I have a separate business card for business-related expenses, and we also have branded cards for Costco and Sam’s Club.

All our credit cards are paid in full when statements are issued.

That leaves us with another 26 open credit cards and combined credit limits into 6 figures. Excessive much? Time to do some housekeeping.

I do not plan to close them all at once. While we have no immediate plans for big-ticket purchases that require financing, I recognize the need to simplify and decrease our credit exposure and let our scores recover if they take a bit of hit over the course of this process. My current plan is to close 2 or 3 per month. Some are in M’s name, some are in my name.

By the end of this process, we will have a few special-purpose VISA cards, a MasterCard, an American Express and a Discover card. I like some variety, and each offers unique rewards and no annual fees. M and both have our primary cards and will use our Costco VISA when it is issued next month for our backup cards. The rest will probably reside in the safe, except for once a twice per year we use them for holiday shopping (extra department store rewards) or travel.

But man, I wonder how I just ignored this for all this time. When I had more regular gigs as a budget coach, I used to counsel my clients to pay off their debts and then close the accounts. We did that as we got out of debt, for years using just one card and paying it in full as we paid off the rest of our debt. I have no idea when we turned this corner of playing the credit card rewards game and not closing accounts after collecting or utilizing our bonuses.

No more, though. Going forward I’ll try to close an account if we should open a new one, or close the new one within a couple of months of collecting the sign-up bonuses. I think the new system I have in place should keep us on a cleaner credit path going forward.

Or so I hope, anyway.