Category Archives: My Story

Online advertising: Another piece of the pretirement puzzle?

Should I fill Pretired.org with ads?

EPSON scanner imageWhen I threw this site together back in March, I had some things to get off my chest and I wanted to keep my mind sharp as I began my life as a semi-pretired stay-at-home dad. In my mind I pictured my two teenage nephews listening attentively to my every word and learning how to be financially independent and living rich, full lives. In reality they couldn’t give a crap about any of this so they’re more like me at that age than I like to admit.

It started as a very personal blog. I never really expected to have, you know, readers. So to make it look the way I wanted and to best represent the clean, efficient approach that is the secret to financial freedom, I chose the most minimalist blog theme I could find. Ample white space, lots of of clean lines, minimal decoration. And no ads. I was so sure I would never put ads on my site that I chose a layout that doesn’t even have a natural place to put them.

I’ve enjoyed sharing what I’ve learned, including even my dumb mistakes. It’s thrilling to think there may be a few people out there that could avoid some of my errors and live happier lives because of words I threw up on the web in the middle of the night. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know some of the other financial bloggers out there. Best of all, by exploring the world of personal finance a little more deeply, I’ve been learning even more.

But now I feel like a chump. And a hypocrite! I’m supposed to be writing about how to live without a corporate job and I’m ignoring a potential source of side money! Almost every site I visit now has a nice mix of ads and affiliate links. Many (like this one) have also been sharing their monthly earnings and I feel like I’m missing out! The traffic to Pretired.org has been continually growing over the past four months. I never thought I would have this kind of audience. Feeling all these eyeballs on me makes me want to take this more seriously. It makes me want to write with more care, explore new topics and put myself out there a bit more (never easy for introverts such as myself).

Will you still come by?

If I put online advertising on my site, I don’t want it to turn people away. I’m still going to write first for myself, but every writer craves an audience most of all. Of course I would avoid anything too annoying (you’ll never see a pop-up here). And I would do my best to restrict spammy garbage ads from the site, realizing that’s always an imperfect science.

My other concern, of course, is to place ads where they’d be seen, yet unobtrusive. Somehow I need to find nice, little places on my site to tuck the ads in where they won’t upset my chi when I look at my own site. Naturally I’d disclose when a link is an affiliate link so you can take what I’m saying with the appropriate grain of salt.

I guess my other worry is that I don’t really want to become a servant to Pretired.org. I’ve been having fun, but if it becomes a job then it starts defeating the purpose. I in NO WAY consider blogging or other online moneymaking activities to be truly passive income. But, if you’re semi-pretired or pretired and just want a little extra side money, why not put some free time into sharing what you know? That’s where I want to keep it. If it becomes drudgery, I might as well go back to an office job and make the big coin again.

What works and what doesn’t?

While I have a lot of experience in all manner of online marketing and communications, one thing I haven’t done a lot of is generating money via blog ads. For those of you who are already quite successful in this area, what’s working for you? How much effort is it taking each week to keep the money rolling in? Any other tips for a neophyte such as myself?

Sorry to go meta twice in a row! I do hope those of you who have explored online advertising on your own sites will share your thoughts in the comments! 

Pretired meets Retireby40

Joe from Retireby40.org and Baby RB40 meet up with Pretired Nick and Pretired Baby at a Seattle park.

Joe from Retireby40.org and Baby RB40 meet up with Pretired Nick and Pretired Baby at a Seattle park.

Today I had the honor of meeting one of my heroes: Joe Udo from Retireby40.org and of course Baby RB40 (not really a baby anymore). Joe was up on a weekend trip from Portland and was gracious enough to offer to get together. We met up at a park in Seattle to introduce ourselves in person and for me to squeal with glee as I met the person most influential to me in deciding to begin writing about my own pretirement journey.

Joe was writing about his plans to leave his soul-sucking day job just as I was contemplating my own escape from my own soul-sucking day job. I coincidentally ended up leaving my job just a few months before he did. Now we are both enjoying our lives as stay-at-home dads.

If you haven’t already checked out Retireby40, go there RIGHT NOW and fill yourself with the inspiration to leave your own day job and get started with your pretirement!

What’s the best way to raise successful kids?

Is private school and expensive college the right move?

“You give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing.”

-Matt King in The Descendants, as played by George Clooney

Now that I have a new baby, I’ve been doing a lot thinking about what it means to be a good parent and how best to set my son up for success.

Pretired Nick having fun on the beach instead of learning another language or music.

Pretired Nick having fun on the beach instead of learning another language or music.

Parents feel a lot of pressure and guilt to produce perfect adults and, of course, in the process inevitably screw up their own kids in their unique way. In America, where schools have been gutted by right-wing politics, desperate parents are spending gobs of money on private schools to protect their munchkins from the scourge of public school. And who is to say they shouldn’t? Schools in America are (largely) a joke, particularly in middle school and high school. Unfortunately this latest version of “white flight” is setting up a self-selecting cycle of failing schools as those who can afford to flee do so and leave the struggling masses behind.

I am a product of public grade schools and a private high school that I later realized offered a completely inadequate education such that I found when I reached college that I had to work much harder than everyone else just to catch up. I paid my own way through college using just one small loan at the very end so I could quit my job and take a few extra credits to graduate sooner.

So given all of that, what’s the best way to set my own child up for the greatest success?

To answer that I had to do a lot of thinking about what success means. What I realized was that it wasn’t about money. To me, success is the ability to pursue whatever interest you might have to your fullest ability to pursue it. It’s impossible to talk about this concept without mentioning Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. But this Maslow quote best sums it up for me:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”

-Abraham Maslow

The word “happiness” is thrown around quite often, but it is actually very difficult to define. Obviously the word connotes images of someone blissed-out and smiling. But it’s actually easier to understand by thinking about its opposite. We can tell when someone is clearly not happy, but not always when they are happy.

However I did have something of an epiphany some years ago. When working on a big remodeling project I realized that when I really got into a groove, my mind went blank, my hands operated without mental intervention and hours disappeared. Later I read about how Tibetan monks often report being happier than the rest of the population and even are proven to be so under brain scans. As I paid more attention, I realized this feeling of intense concentration did actually put me in a state of what you could call happiness.

This could happen when deeply focused on a spreadsheet at work, when writing, creating music, gardening or any other thing that seized my full concentration. Letting our brains become absorbed with deep concentration on something we enjoy may just be the secret to a happy life. This is why the quote from Maslow above is so important. A creative person pushed by his parents into a uncreative career may be chronically depressed without knowing why and despite huge wealth. Meditation may be a way to recover some balance, but finding the right activity for your own personality and doing that may be equally effective.

Again, a way to understand this may be to look at the opposite. When we’re depressed or stressed, we are often multitasking or have many things on our mind at once: This report is due by Friday, I’ve got to pick up the kids after work, we don’t have anything for dinner, what if I lose my job, etc. Contrast that to a day at work when you were really in the zone with what you do. You are at peace, settled and balanced. The hours fly by. I want to live that way every day.

So how does this relate to parenting? Setting an example of living as much as possible in a self-actualized state is probably the best thing you can do for your kids. Show them what contentment looks like. If you’re constantly chasing dollars and are captured by consumerism, your kids will only understand those values.

With that understanding, here is how I hope to approach raising my own kid. I’m not so arrogant to think I won’t be screwing him up in my own wonderful way, but hopefully with this approach, he’ll be able to find his own way to whatever happiness he chooses.

  1. Be there. Kids need support and attention. The idea of “quality time” is total bullshit. Kids need “time”. I refuse to spend weekend time watching TV or running errands. Our time together is about learning and exploration.
  2. Display nonconsumerist values. Teaching a young one that “stuff” is a drag on our lives, not a benefit will do more to set him up for success than any other factor.
  3. Teach him smart money management. His freedom depends on an ability to avoid being trapped by debt. No one taught me how to manage money and I think it would have helped a lot having someone guide me through this confusing aspect of life.
  4. Making him responsible for himself. Earning money and paying for his own toys and activities will help him learn to take care of himself. Hopefully he doesn’t turn out to be a “bad kid” that needs tough love, but only time will tell.
  5. Ensure he learns another language while still young. It pains me greatly that my parents didn’t give me access to another language. Can I learn another language now? Sure, and I am learning and that will continue. But it is in NO WAY the same to learn a language as an adult vs. as a child. Entering adulthood as a monolingual person is a huge disadvantage.
  6. Ensure he learns music while still young. Similar to learning another language, learning music while a child makes a massive difference. It helps with brain development but more importantly gives the child access to an important skill.
  7. Let him access the world. Seeing the world will, of course, give him a greater perspective and appreciation for his fellow humans, but if I can engineer a way to grant him dual-citizenship to another country the menu of options he’ll have for his life will be even greater. But at minimum, we need to travel quite a bit so he can see what else is out there.
  8. Teach him respect for nature. Learning to appreciate, understand and respect nature, not only makes you a better person, it could even aid your survival in extreme situations.
  9. Teach him self-sufficiency. No one knows that the future holds. Skills like gardening, construction, canning and fire-making could end being critical skills in the future. But even if they don’t become necessary for survival, they are important for building confidence. He shouldn’t have to worry what will happen to him no matter what occurs.
  10. Teach him about physical health. Learning how to stay healthy is becoming increasingly important in a fatter America. Enjoying and understanding physical activity is so important and so is learning to eat healthy food, in particular avoiding processed crap. I hope we’re able to prevent him from even knowing some of this “food” exists until he’s much older.

Much of this perspective, naturally, comes from what my parents either did or didn’t do for me. We all react against the way we were raised, right? If I could pick just a few things I wish my parents had done for me, they’d be learning another language, learning music and dual-citizenship. Those are things that it’s just very hard to replace as an adult. We’ll see how I do with my kid.

So, I could sacrifice my pretirement, work 20 more years to pay for his private school and college, but that is not only unpleasant for me, I don’t even think it’s the best thing to do for him.

What do you think? Is it just selfish rationalization that it’s best for him that I don’t go back to full-time work to finance his education? Or is it his best chance at happiness?

Am I lucky?

My choice to be a stay-at-home dad

My neighbor said something interesting to me the other day. We were chatting about how I’m a stay-at-home dad with my 7-month-old son.

“You’re really lucky you get to stay home with him,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m really glad I’m able to do it.”

Later, the conversation struck me oddly. Was I really “lucky”? Certainly it’s a privilege to be able to do it. And I realize not everyone is able to do it. But was it luck?

Nearly a year ago I quit my soul-sucking job to finish updating our kitchen and prepare for the arrival of our new baby. My wife and I were both home with him for the first four months. It was tough when my wife (significantly younger than me) had to go back to work. But we adjusted and both agreed it was best if one of us could be home with him. Given our situation it made much more sense that it be me.

My neighbor is now just a few years from retirement. He’s been commuting to the same company for decades now and certainly doesn’t hate his job. Their family has nice cars, their kids are gearing up for college, they have a vacation house where they spend much of the summer. His wife was able to stay home with their kids when they were  growing up. By almost any measure they have the perfect, traditional American life. And they seem quite happy overall.

But what struck me about the conversation was the subtle envy in his voice. I can’t say what he was thinking. Was he wondering what he missed out on? The joys and challenges of every day at home with a young one. A million mini-dramas a day all leading slowly, surely to that little child becoming a self-confident, independent adult. Was he thinking about all those purchases that kept him chasing the paychecks? Was he pondering his pension and what it cost him?

No, I don’t feel lucky. It was my choice. I know I’m giving up wealth and a comfortable retirement. But I’m getting something even better in return: My life.

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