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TJ

Discounts Money Saving

My Black Friday Treasure Finds

by on November 28, 2016
Black Friday Treasure Hunt

Hello friends! I had a super relaxing weekend. Spent the weekend out in the desert and only took my mini laptop. I did not remember my WP Admin or wordpress.com passwords, so I was conveniently forced to step away from the blog. It was a welcome break from all of this, but it is not so much fun trying to cram a past in under the wire before Monday morning. You know what place was NOT crowded on Black Friday? The local grocery store! Not a soul in sight.

It was a productive weekend in terms of finding good deals as well as actual free cash.

Life Money Retirement

Reader Mailbag: Can I FIRE as a Single?

by on November 11, 2016

READER MAILBAG

Can I FIRE As a Single ?

A few weeks ago, I received an unexpected e-mail from a woman who was seeking FIRE, but wasn’t sure if it’s doable on her own as this community is dominated by high income couples. That e-mail is as follows:

Hi, I have been interested in early retirement and financial freedom topics for the last year or so. I have been reading lots of stories of couples retiring early and traveling the world … because it’s easier to save when you are sharing living expenses and common goals with somebody else , right?  So I started to wonder if it is even a feasible goal to retire early as a single person.  I started my research for single FIRE  success stories … so far I haven’t found any.  After FinCon was over I decided to ask Mrs. Our next life if she knows anybody and she suggested to check out your site. Here I am:) tell me how you do it ?

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this e-mail. As I’ve mentioned before, I consider a lot of what I do in the FIRE world to deviate from the usual narrative we see, with more than a little cheating. I utilize actively managed dividend-focused stock and investment grade bond funds to juice my income. My plan even includes going back to work. The horror!  I’m also not doing the stereotypical American abroad backpacker thing.

If you’ve read my blog posts, you shouldn’t be surprised that my response was absolutely long-winded:

Thanks so much for reaching out! An ONL recommendation is a pretty high honor. Hopefully I won’t let her and you down. 🙂
I can’t think of any single FIRE folk off the top of my head either, but I did learn that there are a lot of people doing cool things as a single which have provided me with the inspiration that I don’t need to wait until I’m partnered off to take some financial risks in my life.
Jay Zantos is somebody you should check out. He did a year long road trip going to all the national parks all by himself. He’s not financially independent, but he took a life risk and experienced something that many people would say is impossible. I think it’s a pretty cool story.
 
Lula is another…after she paid off her student loan debt, she went abroad and never came back. She supports herself via internet marketing and such and lives out of a single backpack. She doesn’t write about money much anymore, but that’s because money has basically been eliminated from her thought process. She was going to travel “until the money runs out”, but  she makes more than enough to sustain her lifestyle. So, I’d say there’s a form of financial independence where you’re still working, it just depends on what you want to do. She admittedly has a rock bottom daily budget that most people would not want to try to adhere to.
I also highly suggest that you read my favorite personal financial book as it’s been a big influence on my own life philosophy of early retirement and financial independence: How to Retire Happy, Wild & Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won’t Get From Your Financial Advisor.
The most important question to ask yourself:
Why are you wanting to achieve FIRE ? Consider that you might not need to achieve total financial independence for whatever it is you are wanting to do with your life. For me, waiting until financial independence defined by conservative measures would have meant waiting until around age 40 (or longer) to live the life that I want to live. That’s a long time to wait.
I think, for you, it might help to re-frame what you are perceiving as the social norm from extraordinary stories you read about on the internet. You are observing the people who are in these happy financially compatible relationships as the social norm and you’re looking at that and you’re thinking “I can’t duplicate what they are doing. it’s just not possible. They have this huge advantage over me.”
 
The issue with that is that you’re comparing yourself to the wrong group of people. I totally get where you’re coming from, I’ve been there, and because I’m assuming your life’s dream isn’t to become the Financially Independent Crazy Cat Lady (if it is, I don’t think anyone has yet created that blog!), the “Who is my partner going to be?” is a major unknown variable in the FIRE journey.  My fear is that by pursuing FIRE as a single, I might subconsciously place too much emphasis on money status in a romantic match. That makes me feel icky inside, but when something like FIRE is a dream, you either need to have that in common with a partner or you need to be willing to give up that FIRE dream or at least potentially delay it.
What you haven’t considered is that as an independent single person, you have an advantage over the many people who are stuck in incompatible relationships but who are too afraid to try something different.  Since it’s just you, you don’t have to compromise with anybody, you don’t have to consider a partner’s priorities/circumstances and you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. That is the PERFECT circumstances to choose to save more money for FIRE. Want to live in a tiny shack? Nobody to tell you no. Want to live close enough to work so that you can bicycle to work and sell your car? Nobody to tell you no.  It probably sounds selfish, but I know that for me, every money-saving decision I make not only benefits myself, but it also benefits my future wife. So when I remind myself of that, It starts to feel a little less selfish.
 
For me personally…how do I do it? A lot of good fortune and a lot of staying humble. Good fortune? I never had student loans debt. My working career so far has been during an incredible stock market run. My parents instructed me to buy a condo when I moved out and they gifted me a portion of the down payment. I sold it five years later and made a noteworthy profit.  For the humble part, I drive a six year old Honda Civic whereas many of my peers would opt for an Audi or a Volkswagen or something even more luxurious than that. Probably on a new lease every few years. I’ve also lived with  a roommate for almost the entire time after I moved out of my parents house. A lot of people choose to live alone while they are single. 3 of my 4 roommates over the years were random people from Craigslist. That being said, I’ve still lived a great life full of fun and adventure. Over the past 7 years, I did a 10 day trip to Canada, a 2 week trip to Europe and a 6 week trip to Australia/New Zealand and have eaten way too many meals at restaurants..
As you may have noticed in a recent blog post, my personal life definitely hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve spent a lot of money trying to be someone I’m not, and I’ve found it difficult to look for the types of women who will accept me for my unusual approach to spending money, but if you read the comment section on that post, there’s a lot of inspiration from people who found their person at an unexpected time in their lives.
So, to sum it up, I totally agree with you that it probably is a lot easier to heavily save when you are sharing living expenses and have common financial goals with a partner – but that doesn’t make it impossible to do on your own, and just because you’re single now doesn’t mean you always will be.
Please let me know if anything in this ramble was remotely helpful (….or not…)
The following week, I received a reply that made my day. THIS is exactly why I share my thoughts and financial stories. It’s nice to see someone else recognizing that there is in fact more to life than money:
Hi, TJ,
I have been listening to “Retire happy, wild and free” as you recommended. I love it. I think it’s time to pursue more hobbies while I have health and desire:-) So rock climbing, backpacking, library, golf, skiing and new things to try … here I come 🙂
Yes, your rambling was helpful… I saw a different perspective and also your email had impact on my decision to stay away from social media and focus on people and community in front of me. And yes I am loving no social media … my friends and family are happy to hear from me again, I sleep better and I am already calmer and happier. 
🙂
Would you response be different? Let me know in the comments! Have a question of your own? E-mail me!
11/13 update: I completely forgot about the most obvious Financially Independent as a Single Success Story. Anita  at Power of Thrift was a lawyer in Chicago for a few years. She just doesn’t really blog that much or promote herself, because she’s too busy living here life, that I completely forgot about her.
Life Music

My Friend Recorded An Album And It’s Awesome.

by on November 5, 2016
My Friend Recorded An Album

New Composition for Piano and Orchestra!

Available for Purchase on on iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon.

Nearly 8 years ago, I was still a a college student who had no clue what the hell he wanted to do with his life. By a rather significant margin, the best part about the college experience was discovering that a local orchestra that was actually performing my favorite genre of music in public. Film music. 
Paul Henning and TJ Pridonoff
That’s me and my friend Paul. I was still in college then. He’s the concertmaster for my favorite orchestra and has been ever since my college days. He’s played violin on some of your favorite movie soundtracks, such as X Men: Apocalypse and the songs in Frozen. He even was involved with the film score for the most recent Star Wars film. 
One perk of living in SoCal is the proximity to this music scene. I’ve received nothing but kindness from all of the session musicians I’ve met and connected with over the years. The most important thing I learned is that these are normal people living normal lives – they just have really cool jobs.
 
If I’m honest though, I haven’t been the best of friends to most of my musician buddies. Not going to as many concerts as I would like because it’s “too far of a drive” or I “don’t want to spend the money”. Don’t be that person, people. There’s more to life than money. And, I mean, the main reason I talked myself out of not pursuing the arts as a career in the first place was that I’d make more money doing something else so that I could financially support the arts. Uh, yeah, that didn’t really happen either. When I do settle down somewhere, I assume I will pursue some job related to the arts.
In addition to being a damn talented violinist, on the side, Paul managed to compose this entire album for piano and orchestra. It was inspired by his train journeys in between Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest. I’ve read about and seen photos of these train journeys over the years on Facebook, and I’ve often thought about taking the Amtrak up North so that I could experience that journey for myself.
For me, this album is the next best thing. To hear Paul’s experience expressed through his music. This is fantastic majestic melodic music that anyone should appreciate. The album is 41 minutes long and it costs $7.92 as an Amazon MP3 download. Well worth it.
Want to get to know Paul better? They recently did an article on him in Washington State Magazine. In fact, Paul did not set out to be a professional musician when he started at Washington State.  He was going to pursue civil engineering! Check out the interview for more about what it’s like to work under John Williams! He also touches on orchestrating, and performing as a session musician in Hollywood. As a fan of this genre of music, it’s awesome to read all that behind the scenes stuff.
If you’re feeling convinced to check out this amazing music, there’s a music video on YouTube and 8 sound clips on the web page for the album. If the sound clips convince you, it’s available on iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon.
Facebook Comment
Clearly, you don’t need to be “financially independent” or “early retired” to appreciate life choices such as slow travel. You can in fact do it while working in the motion picture industry in expensive Los Angeles.  This place on the internet should not be limited to my stories. We can learn so much from stories like Paul’s.
Readers – do you have any niche hobbies that we don’t usually read about in this corner of the internet? What are your favorite genres of music?
Life Mindfulness

Experiences vs Things is a False Dichotomy (…and the Evolution of My Relationship With the Internet….)

by on October 31, 2016
Experiences Vs Things

In order to connect to the internet today, all you really need is an obsolete smartphone with a wireless signal and transportation to get to the local Starbucks or McDonalds, and you’re good to go. It was much different when I first connected to the web. In our household, we had a 2nd phone line for our 28.8 kbps dial-up modem. When DSL modems and routers became a thing in the early to mid 2000’s, that was sort of a game changer in our household, because then it meant that we could all be connected to the internet on different computers at the same time. In the old days, when your sister or parent wanted to use the internet, you had to find some other activity to occupy your time. The struggle, people.

Our first computer was so old that it didn’t even have Windows on it. Only Microsoft DOS. I bet it was crazy expensive too.  “Cloud” storage? Are you kidding with those internet speeds? I feel a little old. Kids today have no idea…

Dating Life Retirement

Dating Escapades While Saving For Financial Independence

by on October 24, 2016
Dating While Mini-Retired

Somewhat recently, I recall a rather notable personal finance blogger (happily married, of course) ranting on Twitter about not wanting to see dating advice on personal finance blogs.  I vehemently disagree with this mindset!  I think it would be fantastic if PF bloggers, particularly those who have found some dating success during the age of highly competitive, low attention span dating apps, shared their knowledge for the rest of us sad single people who happen to have an awkward enthusiasm for personal finance and have had trouble seeking a long term connection.

You can’t really look at your money in a vacuum anyway. Money and life are interconnected in so many ways. In my case, money management is something that has been natural and a lot of aspects of it are second nature to me. Dating? Learning how to successfully do that is akin to learning a foreign language. Right down to the aftermath. That is, the more time I take off from dating, the more I seem to forget about the lessons that I’ve learned along the way. I actually went on a date this past Thursday. If you’re not interested in reading my dating thoughts, you can check out the much more accessible “bonus post” that I quietly published last Friday regarding leaving money on the table.

Mindfulness Money Saving

It’s OK to Leave Money on the Table

by on October 21, 2016
Money

As I continue to prepare financially for an extended road trip, I’m learning that I’m becoming a lot more comfortable with the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to not optimize your finances to squeeze the most dollars out of your opportunities. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think my life purpose is to maximize my money, but this is the first time I’ve really considered leaving some real cash on the table when it is clearly offered in front of me for the taking.

Life Mindfulness Money Travel

Why I’m NOT Quitting My Job to Internationally Travel

by on October 17, 2016

As it sometimes happen in the life of a blogger, you feel inspired to pre-empt a previously scheduled post.

This past weekend, I hosted an Australian woman who I had met in Canada five years ago. This is my favorite part of traveling. The people we meet and the connections that we develop. Remember that secret announcement that was coming up? Well I was GOING to be like “SURPRISE! I had a blogger in town and we recorded a podcast!”, but we had so much stuff to do and fit  in our 3 days together and I was exhausted from exploring that it just never happened. But we did have several conversations where I literally said “this is why we should do a podcast”.

Like the time Toni told me she opened up Chrome in Incognito mode to book a flight in American version of an airline’s website rather than Australian to save $20. I had no idea that was a thing. How even though she has plenty of student loan debt, this is her EIGHTH trip to North America. Toni has been to more U.S states than I have.  She’s a super interesting person. One of her hobbies is to go around the world and visit filming locations. I am fortunate to live within 30 miles or so of the city of Covina where the old WB network show Roswell was filmed. A show I actually watched, so I was definitely on board with adventuring through Old Town Covina. I’m sure a post on the Roswell filming locations is coming soon over there, so subscribe to her RSS feed and stay tuned.

One of the things Toni asked me was why I am not doing the working holiday in New Zealand. The last time I chatted with Toni, that was the plan. About six months ago, the plan was basically  to do a quick tour of Asia and eventually settle into New Zealand for a year.  I went back on forth on this a lot. I asked my dad “if I drop everything and go to New Zealand for a year, aren’t I just putting my life on hold?” and my dad, who is completely awesome, told me “No. I think that is you living the life that you want to live.” Right? Cheers for supportive parents. The exchange rate is favorable right now. I’ve been to New Zealand before and I enjoyed it.  But clearly, I’ve chosen a very different path.

There are definitely financial reasons to stay in the country, and If there’s a theme I want to get across in this blog, it’s that you don’t have to choose to travel somewhere else over America to travel inexpensively while having a good time, but there are so many other non-financial reasons, and this is the post that fleshes them out.

Keep reading if you’d like to learn why I’ve chosen not to venture abroad at this point.

Discounts Life

Get a $30 Discount at Soothe Massage

by on October 9, 2016
Soothe Massage $30 off In Home

This post contains my referral link for a service I have personally used.

One of the luxuries that I do allow myself to partake in on occasion is getting a massage. You can be the laziest person ever and book this massage. Because they come to your house. All you need to do is launch the app, put in your credit card, book it, and be ready to strip down when a stranger comes into your home with a massage table and oil.  The best part: the tip is included!

I feel bad that he or she has to go up three flights of stairs with a massage table to get to my apartment and doesn’t expect a tip out of it. Not my business model though. It is such a convenience to have an in-home massage and not drive around in my car all oily. I can just hop in the shower after they leave. You don’t need to subscribe to any membership packages or prepay for a certain amount of massages. (In fact, it’s not even possible for you to do either of those things)  I’ve used Soothe twice and the woman actually went to high school with me.

She picked me the second time because she recognized me from the first time and I guess I was easy to work with. Why did I book a second massage? Because I was successfully able to refer someone! I’m too cheap to pay $100 for an hour massage. I have no idea who, but I posted it on a web forum and someone random clicked it. Thank you stranger.

The most important questions from their FAQ:

Q: How does Soothe work?

A: Soothe allows you to order a five-star massage to your home, hotel, office, or event in as little as an hour. We match your massage request with a vetted, certified massage therapist available in your area at the specified time. At your appointment time, a therapist will arrive at your door with massage table, fresh linens, lotions, oils, and music to ensure a relaxing massage. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy your massage.

Q: Do I need to tip my massage therapist?

A: No. Unlike traditional spas, Soothe will never ask you to tip. We take good care of our therapists and pay them above industry standard.

Click this link to utilize my Soothe referral code. If you use it, I will get $30 credit towards a future Soothe massage and you will get $30 off your first Soothe massage. Fair warning though, if you love the first one , you just might keep getting them and the full price massage is, I think, a little bit on the luxury side. However, $70 for an hour long massage is pretty normal at a traditonal spa around these parts.  And that’s before you add the tip.

$30 Discount at Soothe Massage

Life

You Really Should Take The Motivational DNA Quiz

by on September 29, 2016
You Should Take the FREE MDNA Assessment

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to a new (to me) podcast, the Introspectology podcast. Jeff Sandquist of Intentionally Wandering was the guest. I discovered Jeff when Cait Flanders went on his podcast earlier in her road trip. I really enjoy hearing Jeff’s approach to life. He has a great podcast and I highly recommend it. This is how I find that it usually tends to work with the internet. I read a blog that I like. (Cait’s) I stalk that person around the internet. They hang out with another blogger I haven’t heard of (via comment section, podcast, etc), and I get to a discover a new person who I enjoy following. And Now I’ve discovered Jo through Jeff. That whole six degrees of separation thing.

Life Real Estate

Why You SHOULD Volunteer To Be On Your Homeowner’s Association Board of Directors

by on September 28, 2016
Condo Photo

You Don’t Need To Be a Money Nerd.

Let me tell you right now that you definitely don’t need to be a money nerd to volunteer to be on the board of directors. Even to be the treasurer.  In our case, we were using an association management company that would do all of the heavy legwork for us. We would meet every other month (because we got the management company to give us a discount for not having to come out every single month, and it just wasn’t necessary to meet every month.) The skills you need to be a competent homeowner’s association board member would be: listening skills, anger management skills, and critical thinking skills. That’s it. I’d say the middle is more important than you might think because if you have a thin skin, frustrated homeowners will take everything out on you and that can easily bring you down or make you angry. If you can’t control your emotions, you’re not going to enjoy the board of directors experience.  Every state is a little different of course.

The Hard Stuff Gets Outsourced.

The management company would bring us nicely printed (black and white, of course. Save your fellow homeowner $$$ ya’ll) books of all the financials, and all the homeowner correspondence. We would have two sessions. The first would be the “regular session” that homeowners could attend and listen in on.  You would also have a homeowner forum at the end for any homeowner to voice his or her concerns. NOBODY comes to these things. The only time that someone shows up is when they receive a notice about an increase in their HOA fees and they want to complain about it. I ALWAYS attended the HOA meetings before I ever volunteered to be on the board. I think that’s why the board appointed me to an open seat despite my fellow homeowners not giving me the necessary votes. It wasn’t uncommon for us to ask to ask the association manager “what would your other associations do in this scenario?”

Nobody Else Will Volunteer.

Around the time I purchased my condo, the board TRIED to install sub-meters for the water. There is kind of a water shortage in California. Who is going to bother to install low flow shower heads, low flow toilets, and fix their leaky water heaters in their condo unit’s when the “association pays for the water bill”? Nobody. That’s who. That first meeting that I attended right after my purchase was the ONLY time I saw more than two other non-boardmember homeowners at a meeting. Needlessly to say, there was much complaining, we didn’t go through with it and we continued to have ridiculously high water and sewer bills that we could do nothing to reduce because you can’t force a homeowner to replace their leaking water heater. Penny wise Dollar foolish. You are a part of the association, people. Paying your own water bill is a lot cheaper than incurring an unexpected four to five figure bill due to water damage. Homeowners liked the idea of us buying an association earthquake insurance policy, but not if it was going to cost them more money per month. So we actually never had Earthquake insurance on upwards of 300 units. In California. Super smart, right? The next year, everybody saw an increase in their HOA fees due to rising costs on everything. If we had subbed-out our individual water usage perhaps the dues would not have gone up as much the following year.

 You Get To Be a Nosy Neighbor.

I’m not sure if this is a “plus” or a “minus”, but in addition to regular session, there was “executive session” (which almost always ran long). The purpose of executive session was to review and discuss various things on the agenda and to approve any actions. The kinds of decisions we had to make were things like approving accounts to send to collections. We’d also have to approve invoices for any unexpected maintenance. Those were the interesting tasks. The not so interesting tasks were reading the e-mails about all the people who would complain about their neighbors. “Betty Sue doesn’t pick up her dog’s poop.” “Billy Joe upstairs is too loud at night”  You might issue a fine if it was a repeated occurrence of something particularly bad. It always amused me that people would purchase ground level units and complain about noise coming from above. You bought a downstairs unit in a converted apartment building!

You Develop Negotiating and Bargaining Skills.

The strategies I learned as a member of my HOA’s board were very helpful when I morphed my career from customer service into purchasing. I learned that you should ALWAYS ask for three bids. There are so many HOA’s (and businesses!) out there who will just go with a vendor because Joe Schmoe on the board has a distant uncle’s friend who will probably “give them a deal”. No. This is not how you responsibly make a sourcing decision on behalf of your fellow homeowners. You have a fiduciary responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the association. Don’t be lazy or stupid. You could be sued. Definitely DON’T volunteer to be on a board that isn’t going to provide you with director’s and officers insurance. What’s the point?

In addition to the sourcing aspect though, negotiating with your fellow board members was also a fascinating experience. Maybe we don’t need to paint our buildings yet, but we probably should trim the trees before branches start falling on cars. That HOA had a monthly budget that was well beyond any level of income that I will ever see and so I was exposed to monitoring a much bigger budgeted sum of money than I would ever spend in my personal budget. It was very fascinating experience.

Final Thoughts.

As a HOA board member, you can expect to be under-appreciated. It’s a very thankless job. But the benefits outweigh the frustrations. If I was not on the board, I would have been oblivious to so many issues happening around my community. Your condo is a financial investment. If you live in a HCOL area, it’s probably a massive investment as a proportion of your net worth. You want to know what’s going on to make sure your investment has been a good one and continues to be a good one.  A lot can change in between the time of purchase when you review the then-current disclosures and documents and whenever “now” may be.  It was shocking how many people would buy a place and just didn’t give two shits about what was going on. If I didn’t have that valuable board member experience….perhaps I might even still be an oblivious condo owner today?

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