Category Archives: Observations

‘OMG, I’m SO BUSY’

Pretired Baby doing a little swinging before the Seahawks game.

Pretired Baby doing a little swinging before the Seahawks game.

Lately I’ve been feeling increasingly time-crunched. I often joke I may need to go find a job just so I can have some free time again! I’ve even screeched those most emasculating of words, “OMG, I’m SO BUSY!”

The house is a mess. No, really, it’s getting embarrassing. This blog has been getting crusty from neglect (although traffic keeps rising — thank you!). I haven’t found the time to figure out how I want to invest my $100,000. (Although I’m somewhat dragging my feet while I watch what goes down with the government shutdown.) I haven’t been able to read many of my favorite blogs. I’ve got a book that is due back to the library soon and there’s still quite a bit of it left.

Ack!

But am I really that busy? I remember this excuse being used so commonly when I was working that I banned it from my excuse book, replacing it with “Sorry, it’s still a few items down on the priority list.” It seemed more honest than “I haven’t had time yet.”

You haven’t had time? Gah, how I hate that excuse (even when I catch myself saying it)! Because, really, we all have the same amount of time each day.

One of my favorite sayings is “the only way to get more time in each day is to steal some from the night.” Because it’s really about how we choose to spend our time — there isn’t an unequal distribution of hours each day depending on how important we think we are.

When I was working, the people who were most likely to give me the “I’m too busy” excuse were inevitably the ones spending the most time screwing around. In fact, I believe that if you want someone to do something for you, look for the busiest person. No one goes to the people who aren’t busy because they can’t get anything done. Frustratingly, some of the “too busy” folks were buddies of mine so I could see what they were really doing on Facebook. Hmm, seems like you weren’t TOO BUSY to spend eight hours playing Call of Duty all weekend, were you? 

Pretired Baby has been waking up early lately and since he gets 90 percent of my attention when he’s awake, it cuts into my “me” time. My side consulting work has been very busy lately and I’m still picking away at the basement project during the handful of hours each week when the baby is awake and Pretired Mama can take care of him. We have breakfast, play for awhile and when he’s ready for his nap, I race to take a shower and begin my work for the day. When he wakes up, it’s lunch, maybe a trip to the park, more playing and then naptime again, when I race for the computer again for an hour or so. Then it’s time to make dinner, play, take a bath and finally bedtime for the baby. And then TV. Sweet, sweet TV. And Twitter. Sweet, sweet, Twitter.

After I’ve rested enough, I’ll stumble back to the computer for some blog writing or maintenance.

The days are flying by. Weeks are flying by. That voice in my head is sternly warning me that I “need to be getting something done.”

But am I really that busy? I still check Facebook umpteen times a day. I have time for TV most nights, where I glaze over and rest a bit. I still shower almost every day. Meals with my son are leisurely and usually hilarious. The kitchen is staying under control. Groceries are finding their way in the door and down my gullet. I even have time for drinks with a buddy once a week. I get close to eight hours of sleep every night. The schedule is firmly blocked out to ensure no Seahawks game is missed. (Go Hawks!)

So I’m not really busy at all. I’m filling my time with what is important to me, and mostly that’s Pretired Baby right now. Many of the other things impacting my time are self-inflicted as well, such as blogging or the basement project. And isn’t this what pretirement is supposed to be about? Doing what one WANTS to every day instead of schlepping to some job you hate?

I’m one of those people who when I’m not “too busy,” I’m bored. There is no in-between. And I always try to remember that we all get the same 24 hours. Using them as best I can should be the goal, not trying to squeeze more and more into those same hours.

The house can stay messy another week. The blog will be fine. The basement project will be done eventually. We’re going to the park. And we’re going to play on the swings. For as long as we want.

Objective then Strategy then Tactics

howfeedtribeWhile it’s quite often that I’ll rip on the horribleness of corporate life, it’s important to acknowledge and learn from the good parts, too.

One of the most powerful things I learned during my career was how to do effective strategic planning. After many years in the trenches, I’m now very good at it and it’s become very natural for me to think strategically in nearly every aspect of my life.

If you’re thinking seriously about pursuing pretirement, or if you just simply have other financial goals (getting out of debt is a common one I hear about), approaching the problem strategically will make all the difference.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
-Unknown (often falsely attributed to Sun Tzu)

The first thing we need to do is have a short primer on the difference between strategies and tactics. They are often mixed up and there can even be a little grey area between them at times. But, in general, strategy is about the plan. Tactics are about the actions. Strategy is about “how” while tactics are about “what”.

Strategy is buying a bottle of fine wine when you take a lady out for dinner. Tactics is getting her to drink it.
-Frank Muir

When undergoing strategic planning, by far the most important thing is to ensure the tactics line up under the strategy, which in turn fits under the objective. If the tactic does not meet the objective and falls outside the strategy it MUST be rejected (or the Objective or Strategy must be modified). Many, and maybe even most, companies do not maintain strict discipline on this and end up wasting resources, doing duplicate work and creating a disorganized, unfocused organization. This in turns ruins morale and makes everyone hate their jobs.

This can happen in your home life, too. We’ve all seen families that aren’t on the same page financially, don’t have a clear direction and often the married couple are at odds. It seems to them, and everyone else, that they are just “bad with money” or are “fighting about money”, but in reality they have no clear objective or shared strategy. Their tactics, then, are just a collection of haphazard, uncontrolled actions, usually buying stuff they can’t really afford with the vague idea that they’ll pay the credit cards off later “when we get some money”.

In a way, it’s understandable. We didn’t evolve to analyze things in this way. Early man wasn’t putting together a PowerPoint document on the best way to feed their tribe (“Objective: Feed tribe. Strategy: Find and kill mammoth. Tactics: Use spears to stab mammoth.”)  No, we evolved to use our instincts to figure out these challenges. The food captured was the easiest and safest food to get that would provide adequate nutrition. This led to farming and eventually society. Unfortunately in a modern world, especially one with cheap and easy credit, these instincts for the quick and easy fix lead directly to mindless purchasing. Not to mention our evolved interest in anything shiny (probably evolved to help us find fruit, fire and water), tricks us into wanting the fresh and new.

But we also evolved a brain that is able to think abstractly and can overcome these predispositions with logic, education and mindfulness. And that’s why it’s so important to use strategic thinking to our benefit. The hardest part, of course, is then resisting these urges to help us reach our goal.

Let’s say a family is $20,000 in credit card debt and is feeling depressed and hopeless. Our imaginary family might want to cheer themselves up by taking the kids to Disneyland. After all, it’s a relatively cheap trip and they’ve been promising the kids the trip for some time now.

If their Objective was “relieve temporary depression” and the strategy was “spend a little money on something fun” then the tactic might correctly be “take a trip to Disneyland”. See how identifying the correct Objective can help you build the right strategy? If they had identified their Objective as “Get out of debt as soon as possible”, there is no way they could end up with a tactic of taking this trip. Their strategy would be something like “cut all spending to the bare minimum, try to increase our income and put all additional cash toward the credit cards”. Tactics might be things like cutting out cable TV, taking on some side work, etc.

Sometimes you can reverse-engineer this approach to figure out what someone’s real objective is, which can be pretty interesting. Take for example, organized religion. While I am a confirmed atheist  I’m not here to question anyone’s faith. And I draw a bright line between faith (which I politely respect) and organized religion (that I despise). But, that aside, organized religion makes a really clear example. See, for example, religions that oppose birth control. Why would they do that? Let’s reverse-engineer it. Take Mormons, for example, who at one point famously even allowed multiple wives and even today oppose birth control. Yep, now one of the fastest growing religions. Add in their tactic of sending young people on missions around the world, and it’s clear what their objective is — massive growth.

OK, now that I’ve offended half my readers, let’s talk pretirement. If pretirement (investments cover expenses) is the Objective, then the strategy is likely one of lowering monthly expenses and building up the pretirement fund. From there, it’s all tactics. Where and how to save, what to invest in, how to increase income, and so on. Having a shared Objective with your mate and agreeing on the Strategy is one of the keys to a long and happy relationship and life. And we’re not just talking about money.

What are your Objectives, Strategies and Tactics for reaching Pretirement? 

Caveman image courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fuck You, HP!

office-spaceExpiring ink? You’ve got to be kidding me!

Is Hewlett-Packard the world’s worst company? OK, no. Not as long as Monsanto exists, but still pretty bad.

I mean, look, here’s what I want: An inexpensive printer that, on those occasions when I need to print something, actually prints my document on a piece of paper. Is that too much to fucking ask? According to HP it is.

It’s bad enough that their printing software is absolute bug-filled CRAP. It’s absurd how many extra pieces of detritus it takes to achieve at long-last the prized correctly-printed page I crave. And it’s ridiculous that I have to wait through endless minutes of clicking and buzzing before this piece of shit printer finally decides it’s ready to print. Assuming of course, I didn’t have to just restart everything to reconnect the idiotic software to the system so it can decide to print out my one fucking sheet of paper. Oh and shall we talk about how I can’t print a document right now because it’s 10 p.m. so the stores are closed and it’s telling me the Yellow “does not have enough ink to ensure printer health.” Did you catch that? I can’t print a document in BLACK because it’s out of YELLOW. And can we talk about the ridiculous prices of these replacement cartridges? I fortunately don’t use my printer a ton so it’s not breaking the bank, but what a scam.

No, none of that brings HP even remotely close to being the world’s worst company. What brings them to the brink of absolute, unforgivable horribleness is this: expiring ink cartridges. EXPIRING INK CARTRIDGES? Are you kidding me? What. The. Fuck. Are we making ink cartridges out of bananas now?

These guys are essentially pumping petroleum out of the ground, shipping it across the world, making millions of little printer cartridges in a factory, shipping them to America and all over the country, where they are then sold, installed in printers, used a bit and then thrown away BEFORE THEY’VE EVEN BEEN FULLY USED so these fuckers can squeeze a little bit more profit out of their replenishment-based business model.

When I bought this printer several years ago, I did my best to seek out a printer that was mainstream enough that I could find an ink cartridge when I needed one and that didn’t require the most expensive cartridge replacement. I’m well aware the “money is in the blades” as they say, so I was as careful to not be suckered into buying a cheap printer or anything off-brand that would leave me hunting all over town for overpriced ink when I needed it. I settled on the HP C7280, which also included the scanner I badly needed as well as a few other features I knew I’d never need such as photo printing. It prints serviceable documents when it works, and if you can fight through the shitty software, it’s tolerable most days. Since I print quite infrequently, it’s hasn’t been the end of the world. But when I need to print, I need to print NOW.

But this expiring ink cartridge bullshit may be the thing that finally makes me go Office Space on it. See, in recent years they figured out how to embed a computer chip in the actual cartridge. Not only does it let the printer reject any non-HP cartridges, they’ve also put an “expiration” function in the cartridge, clearly aimed at preventing refilling. So now I’m stuck buying overpriced HP cartridges, even though I haven’t yet used up the ink that I PAID FOR WITH MY OWN MONEY.

I’m not sure when I’ll swap this printer out for something else, but when I do, I know it won’t have the letters “HP” on the front.

EDIT: I tried to hang in there with the old HP printer for quite awhile just to avoid shelling out the bucks for a new printer, but after again refusing to print black because it was out of blue ink, I screamed “FUCK!”, unplugged the piece of crap and set it aside. Here’s what I bought: 

So far it’s been excellent. It prints super fast. Starts up instantly without the half hour of clicking around like the HP garbage. I was a little worried because the ink cartridges look very small but it seems to barely sip ink. It’s been a few months and I’m still on the original ones. The scanning is very fast and the whole device is very quiet. It may have the same chipped ink cartridges as the HP since the industry seems to be heading that way, but we’ll see. I may post a full review once I’ve gone through my first batch of ink. If I do write up a full review, I’ll link to it here. 

Pretirement is punk rock

sexpistolsRebels are never accepted without a fight

Like a leather boot to the side of the head, a movement sprang from seemingly nowhere in the late 1970s. Later labeled “punk rock”, this movement grew throughout the 1980s, eventually splintering into a million subgenres by the 1990s. It was then absorbed, as all things eventually are, into the corporate borg where it became a fashion statement and a way to sell product.

But back before the phrase became a tool of corporate branding, spawning pop crap like Green Day, the movement was a very real reaction to a sick culture. An equal and opposite reaction to the widespread corruption and repression of the Thatcher and Reagan eras, punk rock ignored conventional societal norms and paved its own path. Even in the earliest days, punk was open to gays and lesbians, people of color and anyone else with an open mind. It openly challenged existing corporate power structures and boasted an inherent disdain for old money.

In challenging those old paradigms, it opened doors to new ways of thinking. In music it paved the way for later artists to reach popularity including David Bowie, Bauhaus, U2, Pixies and Nirvana. Just as punk would have been impossible without the earlier breakthroughs of the Beatles, Elvis and Chuck Berry, it in turn opened doors to the rich texture of society we enjoy today. I think it’s fair to say that the U.S. would not be now going through a marriage equality revolution without punk rock breaking the wall down first.

Old ways of thinking must die

Siouxsie_sioux

Breaking down walls was punk’s role from the very beginning. A disenchanted youth facing a depressing future of imminent nuclear war and broken families didn’t create punk rock in spite of the world they saw around them. Punk HAD to be created because of it.

Those seeking pretirement today, despite their often nerdy appearance, are breaking new ground in their approach to life and work. Refusing to be a serf for a faceless corporation for endless decades, pretirement fans are challenging the old rules about investing and consumerism and are carving their own path. It’s a path that leads directly away from the world of debt and 9-5 work and toward financial freedom.

I’m working at my job
I’m so happy
More boring by the day
But they pay me
All that time spent going to school
Just to end up following rules
Now it’s time to take a break
Don’t stray too far or you’ll be late
Thank you for your service and a long career
Glad you gave us your best years

-Dead Kennedys from “At My Job

The old way was to work at your job — “the plant,” as many a father once called it, for 40 to 50 years. Then, when you were too old to keep working, you sat back on your pension and spent your days fishing and golfing. Later the conventional path was to get a boring-ass office job and rot in your cubicle until the company found a reason to fire you at age 52. Meanwhile you would have been expected to save a small portion of your salary in your retirement plan. If you were lucky you’d be able to find other work and hang on to your house until you reached retirement age and you’d limp into a meager retirement as soon as possible.

gandhiEvery revolution starts small

Today, people willing to challenge this conventional wisdom are busting out spreadsheets and computing their own freedom number, despite what the “experts” are telling them. They are finding excellent ways to invest their money despite today’s extremely low interest rates and they’re dropping their spending rates rapidly. Many are defying ordinary expectations of houses with yards and choosing freedom instead. Some are absorbing body blows from family members as they opt out of mindless gift-giving. They’re driving aging but reliable cars (if they drive at all). They’re considered anti-social because they skip the daily lunch outings at work. They’re assumed to be “poor” because they don’t buy a Starbucks milkshake every morning.

As a percentage of the population, it’s a small group. But it’s growing. Aided by the internet, people are learning from others what is indeed possible. And part of what they’re learning is that they’re not alone.

The punk attitude has nothing to do with music or mohawks. It’s about pushing the limits of what is possible. People like Gandhi, MLK, Benjamin Franklin, Amelia Earhart, Charles Darwin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Harriet Tubman and so many others broke free from the thinking they inherited and changed the world. They were punk before there was punk.

If you’re pursuing pretirement so you can free yourself from the confines of today’s buy-work-retire trap, you’re in good company. You’re one of the true rebels. In the future you may be seen as an early pioneer of a widespread movement. You are the punk rock heroes of your day.

So enjoy the scorn and mocking. It’s a sign you’re heading in the right direction.

It wouldn’t be right to talk about the punk revolution without sharing some music. Here are some of my old favorites. Enjoy! 

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