Personal Finance: Calculating Your Personal Savings Rate

I thought Google was lacking here, so hopefully maybe my SEO hits will drive you here if you aren’t a regular reader.If so, congrats because you are at least looking in the right direction.

I thought a former boss of mine categorized savings pretty succinctly: maximize those things that gain in value and minimize those things that lose value. I personally use that as a barometer to if it’s saving or spending.

Maybe you read somewhere you should be saving 10%, 15%, 20%, or like some “retire early” dudes, 50% of your savings? How do you calculate that percent? There are million ways to do it, and a million questions. Like:

  • Do student loans count to savings?
  • Does a car loan count as savings?
  • Does a house mortgage count as savings?
  • How do Roth (post-tax contributions) vary compared to traditional 401k (pre-tax)?
  • What about other post-tax investing?
  • What about college savings?
  • What about saving for other things like presents, or vacations?

You can see that what sounds easy on the surface can get complicated, and everyone could have their own way of doing it. The government calculates it as percent of “disposable income” that is saved. And in early 2015 that rate hovers just under 5%. Here’s how they figure it:

  • You earn $4000 gross in a month
  • You pay $1000 in taxes
  • That leaves $3000 “disposable income”
    • Let’s say you put $500 in “savings”
    • And spend $1000 on credit card debt
    • Plus spend $750 on rent
    • and another $750 on car/food/life
  • They consider that savings rate as only $500/$3000 = 16.7%

So let’s agree there are different ways to figure this out, and my way is by NOOOO means bible. If you have a different way, that’s fine. And if you are calculating the age-old question: “What percent do I need to save to have X retirement?” this isn’t the site. But here are my basics:

  • If you are paying for something you bought in the past that LOSES or has lost value, you are not savings. Hence, paying a credit card is not “saving,” nor is paying off a car loan.
  • Like my rule above, paying off your old student loan is not saving either. Hopefully it was an investment, but it is something spent, and you’re paying off a debt. It doesn’t count as saving in my opinion (or IMO as the kids say).
  • “Saving” for a new car, or a vacation, or Christmas Club isn’t really saving either. It may reduce stupid-ass interest, but it I don’t believe it should be considered saving to simply spend it on a depreciating asset.
  • Saving for a kid’s college I do consider saving, since you are purchasing a potential investment.
  • Saving cash for emergency fund, or to invest is saving.
  • While this one is all over the board on how people view it, I do consider the principal payment on a mortgage saving, but for me, I only use the pre-payment or overpayment above the required as “saving.” You are obligated to pay that base mortgage payment, but overpayment is essentially saving interest, or getting a direct positive benefit of the interest rate, so I consider that saving. So if you pre-pay on a 4% mortgage, you are essentially getting  a 4% return on your investment. Some people will see this as a sunk illiquid cost, I’m ok with that, but I consider this saving since it does increase your net worth, and you could alternatively blow that money on “stuff.”

So below is how I calculate my savings rate, and is probably ok in determining if you’re on the right track.

Step One: Calculate your personal savings; include the following:

  • Personal contributions to retirement accounts – don’t worry too much about pre- or post-tax (regular or traditional 401k/IRA vs Roth) as a percent since either way you end up paying taxes. So if you set your 401k up as 10% just use that number of your gross as the amount saved for the calc. below. Likewise, if you spend $5000 on a Roth IRA, don’t worry about gross or net income. It’s noise for my simple calc.
  • Employer contributions to retirement accounts. Personally, I don’t count this in the “income” category since it is sort of a bonus and not something I see except as savings that someone else is throwing into the pot. Technically, this should be added to the income category, but unless you are saving anyways, you never see it. I call it a “saver’s bonus” in this calculation. If you’re lucky enough to have a percent matching in your 401k, it may add an additional 3 or 4 percent (for most, though I’ve heard of very generous employers matching 5 or even 10% – makes a huge difference in your savings rate if you get this. My employer matches 4 and my wife’s 2.5%)
  • Other contributions to saving or investment accounts with intention of beneficial purchases that increase or remain net neutral in value (rental income, cash-savings position, CDs, Peer-to-peer lending, etc.)
  • Amount of overpayment to mortgage
  • Amount paid to college funds
  • Call this “A”

Step Two: Calculate your total income less taxes

  • Subtract taxes (state, federal, local, social security, medicare, etc.) from your gross pay. I also subtract pre-tax payment of health/dental insurance since to me that shouldn’t be included in “discretionary” spending column, since it is mandatory (and Mr. Obama and the tax code thinks so too, penalizing people who don’t have insurance)
  • Add any other income (less taxes as appropriate), from side hustles, passive income, rent, social security, pensions, interest, etc.
  • Call this “B”

Step Three: Calculate Savings Rate

  • Divide Savings (A) by Income-less taxes (B)and multiply the result by 100 to change the decimal to a percentage.

This is pretty similar to how the they calculate savings in the United States.

So to illustrate:

  • A married couple contributes $30,000 per year to a 401k from pre-tax dollars
  • They also get a 4% match (say, as a 1:1) on the first 4% of employee contribution, or in this case, let’s call it $7,000 based on  hypothetical earnings
  • They also have automatic savings set up (with post-tax money) for for the following:
    • $2,000 per year for their child for college
    • $5,000 per year for a Roth
    • $,5000 per year for a taxable brokerage account (invested in Mutual Funds)
    • $5,000 in prepayment to mortgage principal above their mandatory payment
  • Take home pay on the year is very healthy $100,000 (to make math easier) after the 401k contribution.

Hence A = $30,000 + $7,000 (bonus match) + $2,000 + 5,000 + $5,000 + $5,000 = $54,000

and B = $100,000 + $30,000 (401k pretax contribution) = $130,000

Hence A/B * 100 = 0.415 * 100 = 41.5% savings rate (very solid). If everything was half (say $50,000 take home- roughly equal to the median household income in the U.S.- and with half the savings above) it would be the same percentage. How does this couple do this? They are frugal, drive paid off, used cars until they are unsafe or too expensive to keep up, keep consumption to a minimum, and value long-term freedom more than having depreciating items today.

  • this percentage is higher compared to some calc’s due to the employer matching contributions, but if you added that back in on the Income (B) side, it would reduce savings percent to 39.4%, not a huge deal

The thing is, if you use this method to calculate your savings rate, your 10% automatic savings rate in traditional  401k does become a higher savings amount in this analysis since your net income goes down and makes the percentage higher, especially if you get a match. Now this approach doesn’t really account for taxes, since you’ll have to pay those later, so is generally going to look a little better than a 10% post-tax (i.e. Roth or Roth 401k or taxable account) savings.

I’m not going to prescribe a goal for you, but use my old boss’s credo (maximize appreciation, minimize depreciation) and you’ll do well. I think a good goal for the normal folk is to be mostly debt free, save at least 15% towards retirement if you really want to kick ass, and if you can, towards things like college. Solid, if not spectacular when most save less than 5% in the U.S.

I know us, and other iFriends (like the former Captain Power) don’t want to settle, so are looking for more. Unless we fire up the old Flux Capacitor, we can’t go back in time and be FIRE (financially independent, retire early) at 30 like Mr. Money Mustache, but we’ll have the opportunity to have some FU money sooner rather than later.

Using the formula above, this year we’re on track to save 36%, the highest year yet. We came from nothing, and simply grinding savings each year, we’ve accumulated a good nest egg. If the market has an “average” year, we’ll be damn close to breaking a half-mil in just tax-advantaged retirement accounts by Christmas, before my 40th birthday. Pretty amazing to this guy who grew up with handmedown bikes and thriftstore clothes for most of my childhood years. And the thing is, we fucked up early in life, but got on track in our twenties and GRINDED to where we are today.

To do this, here are a few general rules, prioritize as you see fit for your circumstances:

  • If you work somewhere with a 401k or matching retirement contributions, contribute at least up to the match – it’s free money. Set it and forget it. Do this before maybe anything else. And don’t take a loan from this account.
  • Work to eliminate credit card or other high interest debt; then all debts to the extent you can
  • Build an emergency fund. Set up somewhere away from your normal account (I use Capital One, but others pay better interest). Set it and forget it (small automatic savings deposited to this account) until you hit 3 to 6 months of savings. It may take several (or more) years, but this is for EMERGENCY, not for a new TV or some other bullshit you don’t really need. I think of it as a “peace of mind if I ever lost my job Fund” and you should too.
  • Bump up your 401k (or equivalent, like 403b, or Roth or even a brokerage account if you don’t have anything else) to 10- to 15%, do it slowly if need be, say a couple percent a year. Some will say an automatic Roth IRA here is better (after you hit your match), and with lower fees it likely is, but I also recognize most of us are lazy and simply bumping up this percentage is easier than setting up and tracking another account unless that’s your only choice.
  • Work to create other cash funds for cars or other items. You may or may not have enough to pay cash for everything, but you’ll at least reduce the amount you finance, saving money in the long run.

Do this and you’ll be ok, but coupled with reduction in spending and you’ll hit your goals faster. My book has a nice 60 page chapter that consolidates personal finance strategies for those that are starting out or coming up for air after life happened, and is one of the key components of my life and my message.


Best of luck on finding your own sweet spot in personal savings!

 

Potpourri

I haven’t exactly been a geyser of posting recently. I thought I’d get into it a little bit, and some of the thoughts that have rattling around in my brain. While I have 36 draft posts in various states of progress (with titles such as: Dealing with a Strong Woman, Raising Kids/Finding Balance, Low Energy/High Energy, and It’s Not Always Going to Work Out) I haven’t had the muse or gumption to button those up quite yet, so will give you some micro-thoughts that I didn’t feel like fleshing out right now. So this is a bit random today.

  • The death of my paternal Grandfather took the wind out of my sails more than I thought it would. It was the first death in the family that my kids were old enough to see, and they described it as “weird.” Seeing the family was good, but some underlying family drama and battles being fought behind the scenes were very near the surface – my dad’s sister dropped an F-bomb at the church towards their other brother. Nice.
  • Piggybacking on this, my Grandfather created a legacy with some of the things he did in his life. Was the founder of an organization that provided an outlet for many people, in addition to his influence on his circle of contacts in general. Reflecting, I want to make steps to continue to touch other peoples lives, and believe I am on that path. How are you touching others’ lives? Pushing values and skills and love down to our kids is the minimum, but our circle of influence should be more than our immediate family. Think about this for a bit and see how you feel about how you’d like your legacy to be seen when you are gone.
  • Trying to get out of my current employment situation has been an energy sink as well. I’ve had 4 interviews in total since the summer, the last one was a gub’ment position that I’m not sure would have been in my salary requirement anyway – but I was a top 2 candidate before they pulled the position due to budget issues. I’ve been in discussions with my last company (that I generally liked, but moved for better opportunity/more money), that I expect to progress. My old boss is on his last couple years before he hangs them up, and I hope to move into that role, but we’ll see. Still, all the hurdles and interviews and thinking about this stuff, while generally working at a company that “has issues” takes it’s toll on a dude. More so than I’d like to admit.
  • About once a year I look back on financial goals and work on breaking down ways to improve. I’m not quite Mr. Money Mustache but have a lot of those characteristics and am trying to incrementally get my wife on board. Big picture: she is, but can’t get past the “I deserve it” or the “kids should have it” for her dream minivan and kid clothing specifically. Still, things are good. We refinanced this week which will save us theoretically nearly $85,000 and 7 years of payments compared to our previous situation due to additional amount going to pre-payments. Also, this month we’ll be paying off our the car I bought new (in 18 months, much faster than is the norm), bumped up our savings, and finally setting up a taxable account on top of retirement accounts. Small steps – we’re looking out 15 years and have to take these incremental steps to reach our goals.
  • In the dredges of winter, it is easy to go into hibernation mode. Dark still comes too early, cold outside, kids and everyone inside trying to find stuff to do. If you aren’t careful, you end up seeing life as shades of gray (and not the 50 Shades type), including your wife or husband who is in the same spot every night. Take the opportunity to mix it up. Get planning for that spring garden. Start thinking about ways to spice it up in the bedroom. Find a way to get the kids off the XBox and doing projects. Start doubling down on workouts. Spring is just around the corner, and the time spent moving in the right direction will pay dividends later.
  • I’m still lifting, running, rowing through the winter. Maintenance mode (not really following a program of any sorts right now), and still recovering from a shoulder injury, but still making progress on most of my lifts and am feeling better than I have in awhile. Am following more the powerlifter approach (still using many of the form tips and even programming in the great book Starting Strength, 3rd edition), though I do mix up sets and reps a little, as well as add some supplementary exercises. I’ve also been doing some yoga, which helps to balance things out a little, but more importantly does a lot to calm my active mind and relax a little.
  • Other news that is dragging Holly and I down a little include her having to have a second surgery on her hip (had one last year) in a month or two, and her dad’s best friend passing this week (which means another visitation – as we knew him well too).
  • Had a post rattling around in my head that never made it to the light of day about making sure you men are spending adequate time male bonding with friends or brothers. Get out of the house and have some fun being masculine. I’ve been Skyping and getting set up to podcast with some Bros for fun, and have been trying to get out of the house for man-dates with my friends. We’ve gone ice fishing, to comedy clubs, and seen other shows. It makes me happy doing these things and breathes new life in during a long winter.
  • Speaking of podcasting, I needed a break from learning and audiobooks and new languages on my commute, so have been listening to the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast (humor podcast where three brothers give advice/answer Yahoo! questions). Pretty damn funny – I download to my phone using the Android podcast addict app and hook up to my car.
  • Finally, the show Spartacus (former Starz! series, which if you’re unaware is an HBO/Cinemax competitor) is back on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, it has bucketloads of fake CGI violence and lots of really good looking naked people having sex. If you aren’t ready to watch couple’s porn (which I write about here, in a post that is always my top ranked), then Spartacus is both a good alternative and can help bridge the gap. I swear, it’s like catnip for my wife, an almost guaranteed lay whenever I put it on. Your results may vary, it is not everyone’s cup of tea for the reasons above. The story is actually good, and the first two seasons are worth watching (though Spartacus actor was changed after season 1 actor due to cancer – it was too bad because he was excellent in the role). You can read an LA Time review of the first season (opener) here.Spartacus

Anyways, I am still around, but my mental energy isn’t here right now to write much. I hope that in the next few weeks that changes, and I can start banging out more posts. As always, thanks for reading!

Just. Do. It!

Listen, for any major decision, we never feel ready. Like ever. We all have self doubt, even those who have done all they could to prepare for the moment. That moment when you are standing at the precipice looking to jump. It’s hard, but have faith and just do it.

dont think just doIn my relationships, I’ve both fallen victim to the paralysis by analysis, as well as taken a leap without thinking. My freshman year in college, I really liked this girl. We spent tons of time together, and it was obviously that she liked me too. We spent over a semester just hanging out and setting up for the inevitable instead of just going for it. She was as afraid as I was. On the last  night of the semester, before everyone left for the summer, we hung out all night in her room talking. In the morning light, of the day we were leaving, I finally found the courage to make my move. It literally took until the last minute when the clock was winding down to zero. We ended up dating off and on for several years, but that tentative bullshit was a theme in our relationship, and led to it’s demise (the timing was nearly always off and the theme of no one leading was a major theme-the lessons of youth, that many carry with them to adulthood).

Now contrast that with the situation where I simply made a crazy move early on – a Hail Mary if you will, without thinking. I’ve told the story before of how I met my wife Holly. I threw rocks at her on a college field trip. Didn’t know her name or anything. That snowballed and we are where we are now.

Whether you want that promotion but are afraid to ask, or are thinking of quitting and starting your own business, or want to write a book but are afraid people won’t like it and will judge you, let me tell you something: It is damn normal to be afraid of the ramification of your decision. Self doubt is a motherfucker, and it is so easy to take the easy road and never make that move. In fact, that’s the path most take. They suffer in silence thinking they’re never good enough, or smart enough, or that people will hate them or their product that they put out there. The ego crush will be immense, something we can’t really handle. Or so we tell ourselves. I’ve been there, it’s something I still struggle with. Just like all of you. Fuck that. Fuck your pride and ego. You need to put that shit away, and you’ll find immense rewards. It’s hard to let it go, but Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (one of my favorite books of all time) deals a lot with shutting up your ego and winning at life.

Does anyone except the very best ever think they’re good enough? No. But those that end up slaying these internal monologues are the ones that are most successful…that have the least regrets…and end up happier when they put their head down at night. They take a chance, make it happen, through grit or determination or luck or skill or some combination thereof. They fight and won’t accept failure.

So stop making excuses, and instead start working towards what scares you most. Maybe you really aren’t ready, so what do you need to do to get there? Take that class? Read that book? Actually start writing? Ask for help? Actually address your weaknesses? Start putting in some extra time? Face those demons and put one foot in front of the other, and then, when you are ready…take that fucking leap. Just. Do. It. Stop analyzing and just make it happen.

impossible

When you look back, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. You’ll wonder what you were afraid of. You’ll laugh at your old self. Because we all have the ability to be more than we are today. A better version. But it takes courage. It takes the ability to shut up those naysayers in our own head. And when we look back, we won’t even necessarily know how the hell we had so much success, because there are so many more qualified people who are smarter, better looking, thinner, taller, stronger, more charismatic. The answer is: we actually jumped when everyone else stood at the precipice scared.

Jump!

 

Stay present. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the trials and tribulations. That’s ultimately what makes the rewards so rewarding. You won’t wonder how you got here, because you’ll know. One lifetime. Don’t waste it with the “what ifs.”

My Grandpa

I always loved this short segment in Pixar’s Up. Loving and sad, my wife and I talk about how we’ll be this old couple still in love and having that magic. Well my grandparents were married 66 years, and had some version of this I suppose.

My Grandpa passed away yesterday at 86 years old. He was the quiet patriarch of the farm, raising five kids on a small dairy farm that is still in operation today. He married my Grandmother at 20 years old, and took over the family farm that my father grew up on. He worked hard, never complained, loved his dogs and family. He was a simple, strong man of yesteryear. In post retirement, he was a lead volunteer in the snowmobile club, grooming trails when they had enough snow.

Some of my fondest childhood memories were spending time on the farm in the summer (where we were dropped off for a few weeks of free “Summer camp”) and allowed to get into all sorts of trouble rural kids take for granted. Feeding the calves, shoveling shit, bringing the food scraps to the 30 barn cats (half-feral, missing eyes, all full of piss and vinegar, but still would allow a 10 year old to pick them up and pet them), making homemade rivet guns/crossbows, milk from the stainless steel tanks so thick you had to skim the cream off. Those who grew up know the drill, like heaven for any boy.

We would walk or snowmobile out the half-mile to the steep wooded section of their farm, and sled for hours on toboggans and sleds on the cleared path, drinking hot chocolate and having a winter picnic. We always had Christmas at my grandparents, and it always special! We’d roll in late in the night since we had to travel hours to get there. The cuckoo clock lighting our way as we tried (quietly, but usually unsuccessfully) to enter the huge, old farmhouse. We’d sneak upstairs to the rooms, seeing our breath in the cold winter farmhouse air, and snuggle in, excited for Christmas morning.

Always an extravaganza, Christmas was. After chores, great farm food prepared by Grandma and the aunts, at a large table with all the relatives. Later, opening gifts in the living room, Grandpa sitting in the recliner watching over it all.  After he’d fall asleep in the chair, the grandkids (he had 10) would decorate him with bows and wrapping paper. Always a good sport, he’d laugh and clean himself off after he woke up.

My grandfather holding me as a newborn.

My grandfather holding me as a newborn. Looks a little like Johnny Cash, without the black.

My brothers and I will be part of the pallbearer group. It’s an honor,and while we weren’t particularly close, lessons learned from observing him (and hence passed on to my own father) still reverberate through my life. Work hard. Take care of family. Enjoy the small things. Don’t complain. Be quiet unless you have something to say. Marry for life. Be the king of your domain, and let your wife be the queen of hers. Be kind to your neighbor. Give back to those causes you love. Simple is often better than complex. Love your dog like your kid. Save money, so when things (milk prices) turn to shit, you are still able to stay solvent. And finally, family and friends are priceless – continue to keep those relationships alive – especially that with your wife.

Rest in peace Grandpa. We’ll miss you, but your legacy will live on.

Making One-on-One Time with Kids

If you have multiple children, it seems like we rarely naturally find one-on-one time as parent and child to make those special memories. If both parents work, and you have two or more kids, it seems like it is a zone defense where one parent is dealing with all the kids in bursts, or else both parents are managing the brood as a team. Activities are family activities where all are involved, since it is an efficient use of time and mom and dad can spend valuable time with everyone. However, I am a strong proponent of slicing out time to spend with each kid, either showering attention as both parents (which is fine, but this sometimes allows the parent closest to the child to dominate attention or affection), or better yet, breaking free with each child just you and them.

In our house, we have some annual traditions where we formally make this happen. I’ve written before about “Guys’ Weekend” with my son where we get to spend a lot of time without his mom and sister learning about life. That then correlates with Holly and Birdsnest girls’ weekend where they can spend some time together.

Tonight will be the second year I’ll be going to the Dad-Daughter Dance held at our highschool. We both get dressed to the nines, have dinner together, then head to the event – which is like a sock-hop with DJ, ice cream sundaes, and just hanging out and having fun. She has the biggest smile on her face just being able to get time alone with her dad and soaks in the attention like a sponge.

But you don’t have to be so formal. We’ve done mini-kid one-on-one dates by peeling off one parent and one child and going to a movie, or coffee shop, or ice cream parlor. You can break one kid out of school for a few hours in the afternoon and play hooky before the other ones are done, or simply take him out to lunch at Subway or something. You can let one child stay up late, or do a campout in the living room, or somehow break the normal routine and make it special. You should make it official though, talk about it ahead of time and mark it on the calendar. Let them anticipate and look forward to the event, which is half the fun. Get dressed up, and don’t be afraid to be silly. My son likes to talk with an english accent and take on the persona of made up character Loyloy, so we’ve snuck away and have grabbed an ice cream cone talking in fake accents the whole time. He thinks it’s hilarious.

One on one time you get to delve into topics maybe your child won’t share with you in front of your spouse or siblings. While you already know they are individuals, you get to interact with them a little more in this manner, instead of the pack mentality that sometimes occurs with siblings that alters behavior. You get to have UNINTERRUPTED time to talk or interact without having to spin off to deal with other children.

I have a few friends with five kids, and even they do some version of this. Another friend used to go on backpacking trips (short weekend ones, and week long ones) with each of his kids.

With our time so stretched in typical families, it is easy to simply swim as a school of fish. Make a concerted effort from time to time to break free and make sure both parents get to build some special memories with each of your kids.  There’s a window here that we have to hit before they are too cool to hang out or don’t want to spend this time with us. Take advantage before it closes. Happy Friday!

Looking for two volunteers (coaching)

So I’m moving into the second phase of my next adventure. For the past 6 months I’ve been studying training materials from The Institute for Life Coach Training. It’s yet to be decided if I will actually spend the additional time and money to get fully certified, since while there are advantages, in many ways the substance of being a Life Coach can be gleaned and experiences gained in other ways. Athol Kay has been successful in his coaching endeavor without any formal cert.

So, yeah, coaching. I’ve been in consulting for fifteen years. Consultants look at your problem, and with their skillset, recommend a solution to your problem. Strict life coaches push all of the problem solving onto the client, but guide them through the process for them to figure it out on their own and hold them accountable. Consultants and prototypical life coaching are on opposite ends of the same spectrum, but there is also a lot of gray area in between those two extremes. The prototypical coaching style generally results in better progress and long-term results versus the consulting style, since it comes from within, which tends to galvanize the choices moreso than external answers. I also believe most of us could use a little guidance and accountability to help us define and reach our goals, I know I could.

During the last five months, I’ve been working pro-bono with a client to test the waters, and have had good success. We’ve been doing half-hour to hour calls every week or two. During our time working together, he’s lost 25 pounds, started youth sports coaching, established some framework for starting a youth STEM organization from scratch in his community, and has improved his relationships with his kids in large ways. He’s working toward other goals too, and like all of us, it’s a work in progress but the fact he’s now making progress (after years of stagnation) are huge wins for him.

So here’s where I’m at with this. Right now I have time and energy to start working one-on-one with two people up to an hour a week, free of charge for the indefinite future (I would estimate at least until June or so, then we’ll see). Location doesn’t matter as we’ll do all sessions via phone or Skype. I have to get a couple of other things in order, so this would start in a couple weeks (first week of March). Session times would be scheduled in the evenings (central standard time U.S., starting between 6 and 9 pm) during the week or at select times during the weekend, working with both of our schedules. Did I mention this would be free? I’m looking to gain experience and help people at the same time.

If you’re interested, drop me an e-mail at TheAverageMarriedDad at gmail.com. Write in a sentence or three why you should be considered. Please only apply if you are willing to put in the work and stay committed to the process if it’s a relationship that we both agree will work. Initially plan on hour sessions, and depending on how things go, duration and frequency may be adjusted. I will then send those selected individuals some additional paperwork that will need to be filled out, which will define this whole thing in much more detail and will, of course, be confidential. If you haven’t heard from me by February 21, sorry, but you weren’t selected.

So what do you have to lose? The year is still young, and there’s magic and new adventures and a better you to be had! Whether your life is a train wreck, or you simply want to sharpen up a few things, I can help you help yourself.

Stop playing the marriage martyr or keeping score

The top three things married people fight or feel resentment about are (in no particular order):

  1. Sex (frequency, quality, intimacy)
  2. Money (budgeting, long-term planning, spending – usually one has different views than the other, and there is never enough)
  3. Chores

Sure, there are more (in-laws, children, work, priorities), but if you are happily having sex, balancing your family books and have “enough,” and have a happy division of labor, more  likely than not, your marriage is on strong footing. I cover sex and money in some other posts, but today I’d like to talk about division of labor.

We all live in a household world where stuff needs to get done. Add in the fact that in many families both mom and dad work, meaning our remaining time is more limited than if one spouse stayed home. Though, even if you have a stay-at-home wife, it doesn’t mean this issues go away, in fact, they may even have more complex assumptions related to them.

Here’s a list of things that are split up in some fashion on a regular basis at our house:

  • Professional work (making money for living)
  • Getting kids going in the morning (woken up, fed, final preps for school – they are becoming more self-sufficient and make their own lunches the night before, but this still takes a little effort)
  • Dog care (fed, bathroom walks, play, vet, grooming)
  • Fish care
  • Pick-up/drop-off kids (afterschool, to/from practices or games)
  • Grocery shopping
  • Clothes and general life needs shopping
  • Making dinner
  • Doing dishes
  • General cleaning and clutter control
  • Garbage (out of rooms, out for pickup)
  • Floors (vacuum, mopping, sweeping)
  • Laundry
  • Ironing (a four letter word in our house)
  • Exterior house care (everything from mowing, to shoveling, to raking, to Christmas or Halloween decorations)
  • General kid activities (homework help, doctor appointments, parent-kid time, weekend playdates, birthday parties, school functions)
  • Vacation and activity planning and execution (booking lodging, date nights, family fun times)
  • Paying bills
  • Taking care of garden
  • Making coffee in the morning
One chore that will NEVER be done in our house, well maybe if we decide to move

One chore that will NEVER be done in our house, well maybe if we decide to move

Now the division of labor is shared in some fashion. If you have a stay at home wife, it may be tilted to her for many of these items. If you both work, you may divide the labor up by who hates doing something more, versus who really likes doing the work. Unless you want to wear dirty clothes, have Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokal’s kids, or live like a hoarder, in the absence of someone taking charge the stuff will get done when the pain of seeing dirty dishes, or whatever gets to be too much. By the time we get home from work, often the last thing we want to do is more work, but we do.

chores

No matter how you break up the work, someone usually feels like they do more. In fact, you may both feel like you do more than the other. A SAHM may feel burnt to a crisp by the time the hubs gets home and needs some time away from the young-uns to relax. The dad may feel burnt to a crisp from working a stressful job all day, and just want to relax. But someone has to make dinner, or get Johnny to soccer practice, and then make dishes and do homework. And when one person steps up to do said activities, they may feel resentment towards the other since they are doing “more.” They both value each other’s contributions less then their own. This resentment can be a cancer to the relationship, and after awhile, slowly starts to add up into an avalanche that can be catastrophic.

I used to keep score. I used to play the part of the martyr, seeing myself as a great sufferer for the greater good of the family unit. I placed a lot of value in my contributions, and minimized Holly’s. It resulted in resentment on my part, whether unfairly weighted or not, and caused us countless battles. It was cancerous and weighed on my mind heavily throughout whatever chore I did. The scoreboard was constantly being updated with a play-by-play announcer in my head telling me how awesome I was, and how my wife sucked, and how unfair it was. Waaahh!

I’ve come to realize that my wife and I are simply wired very differently and I don’t think I will ever get her to change. As a child of hoarders, clutter is my hated enemy. Her tolerance for clutter is simply much higher than mine, so I’m the clutter destroyer. It doesn’t maker her wrong necessarily for letting things get past where I am comfortable, that’s on me. Like employees, we both work towards our strengths and away from areas of immense dislike or weakness. I let her do things I would never do, since they aren’t on my radar screen. Bottom line is that things get done, we’ve reached some compromises in areas and do our best not to snipe too hard when it appears to our own eyes the other is being lazy. I do more day-to-day stuff, and then relax HARD on the weekends, reading a book or doing some writing, while my wife goes into Votron mode- destroyer of major projects. We’ve talked about this (communication is good people) so we can come to recognize our differences, and work past them.

So if this is you – if you are resentful to your spouse because of the division of labor, or your spouse of you, put on your big boy pants and have a little discussion. Put yourselves in their shoes and try to find some common ground. It may or may not be productive, or may or may not lead to a fight, so my post on “How to Fight with your Spouse” may help navigate what could be an area someone gets defensive about. And if you are the messier of the two, stop acting like another child. Put your dirty dishes away. Put your laundry in the hamper. Clean up messes after you make them (duh!), just doing those things will go a long way.

No one likes chores, but they need to get done. Kids essentially double or triple the amount of work two parents need to do. There’s no reason why they can’t start doing their own laundry, or putting away dishes, or cleaning their rooms by 7 or 8 years old.kids cleaning room

Even with that help, it can be tough. Do what you can to be a teammate with your partner and not the opposition, and Stop. Keeping. Score. It helps a lot (along with plugging in the headphones and listening to music or podcasts). Finally, be appreciative of their contributions and let them know, and let them know you’d like to be appreciated too. They’ll likely say they are, but tell them how much a few words will mean, or how pitching in will make you feel.

Old Man Strength

Typical old man

Typical old man

Both my dad and father-in-law are about 6’0″ tall and wiry. And strong. Both grew up on farms, which leads to both mental and physical toughness at a young age. My father diverged somewhat, going a blue-collar route that left some lugging of heavy objects and walking as a day-to-day existence in his job. The FIL did a mostly white collar profession, but in his personal life he was an outdoors man. He’s now retired and working his back 80 (or 120 or whatever it is, acres) regularly. Even before they both retired, I’d never want to scrap with them. They both have Old Man Strength.

Though primarily I refer to their physical strength (they are both still more-than-meets-the-eye strong), they are also so mentally strong. I’ve talked before about Grit. Both my dad and FIL are all grit, despite other flaws they may have.

old man strong

With grandparents born in or shortly after the aftermath of the Great Depression, it shaped my own parents’ lives in agricultural families. Take care of the family and work your ass off. That is what both my dads dealt with. Milking cows, cleaning shit, slinging hay, plowing fields. They toughened up as youth.

When I was growing up, my father was a tough bastard. I remember one time I smarted off about something, and as I ran away to avoid being punished, he chased me around the house, caught me and smacked my ass. Maybe worse, maybe easier, than what you dealt with, but this is my story. My wife told stories of having her ass paddled by her dad with a paddle or spoon. Tough men raised by tougher men… shit rolls down hill. My dad camped in the winter with his friends, changed his own oil, and never asked anyone for any help. My FIL chops wood, hunts, and is intimidating to strangers (scaring one of my wife’s old boyfriends with the ole’ cleaning the firearm at the table while the date picks her up gag).

Helio-Cover

I am not my father or wife’s father. I am a white-collar cubical jockey within about  a year now of 40 on the odometer. But I am starting to realize what “Old Man Strength” is. It is muscles and strength and grit gained over a lifetime of experiences. When I did BJJ I saw first hand what old men did to young bucks like me (at early 30’s): it was make them look foolish. Strength is different though. The guys swing the sledgehammer, or digging ditches over a lifeitme, will nearly always be healthier and stronger than those that are stressed in the off-hours and ride the cock of “The Man!” I should know – I do the latter and not the former. It sucks. It takes a lot of effort to build old man strength when you are live in a soft world. But start stacking up experience in the gym, or rucking, or running and you become strong despite yourself.

I’ve been lifting since I was about 12 years old. Not always with a plan, and I didn’t always look strong, but I often surprise people by my strength and stamina when doing stuff like hauling logs, or moving furniture, or whatever. I’ve been doing some sort of training for nearly 30 years. Running, biking, grappling, hiking, lifting. It all adds up. And as we continue to age, it is important to keep that up. From 30 to 50, strength loss is minor, but after age 50, without mitigating efforts, you can lose 1.5-5% per year according to this study.

oldman

Science bitches:

  • Testosterone level doesn’t have as much impact on your strength as you would think, because there are so many other factors involved (structural factors, leverage, muscle density, fiber type, connective Tissue), hence, even if testosterone levels drop as you age, it shouldn’t impact strength significantly
  • Another part of the answer is genetics and part is a survival mechanism.“An individual who has developed some level of fitness at some point in life and then stops training, has certain slow twitch muscle fibers convert into another form of slow twitch muscle fibers. This takes awhile (6 months +). Let’s say the individual, while a teenager, participated in High School sports, got into shape, and because of good genetices; got into pretty good shape. 5 – 10 years later after no training now has these new slow twitch fibers. He is surpising strong for someone who does not train.”

Stories of Old Man Strength are around all over, if you don’t have your own:

  • Lee Hayward says: My own dad is a great example of a guy who is really strong but yet he’s never worked out a day in his life. He did however, do a lot of manual labor. He was always working on things outside in the yard, building stuff, working with wood or any number of other things. One summer, my dad wanted to get rid of some especially big rocks on the property so we got to work digging… Once the dirt was removed I went in to move the boulders. Knowing how strong I had been getting I figured I could take care of the bulk of it by myself. I was shocked though to find out that I could hardly even budge them. But my dad-the guy who had never worked out a day in his life-was able to move them all by himself almost effortlessly. -
  • Old Guys who kick ass: one of them “Ted Brown switched to powerlifting at age 40, and since then has racked up more than two dozen British trophies. Now 83 years old, the retired postal worker is still setting records in his 130-pound weight class. In fact, in the Great Britain Powerlifting Federation’s record book, “Ted Brown” is the only name in the 80-plus column—no other octogenarian has lifted more than the minimum standard in any weight class. In August 2013, Brown set two new records with a 178.6-pound raw bench and a 193-pound squat, adding to his already impressive 298-pound deadlift record set the year before.”

old-man-poster-web

Hugh Jackman is 46 (as of early 2015), and dude is still jacked. He’s still fighting the good fight. And lest you think he’s a special snowflake, he’s not. This Average Married Dad rightfully fights every week to keep the wolves at bay. I may not be as jacked or as low bodyfat as our friend Wolverine, but it is still a good fight. And I look better than most my age. For example, this week I did the following: ran 6 miles, bench pressed my bodyweight, rowed (on the devil-machine the Concept2) 10,000 meters, squatted heavy enough to walk funny a couple days later, deadlifted 300# for reps (after not deadlifting anything for about 9 months, while 300# isn’t huge, for rehabbing and not really lifting that heavy over the last 6 months, it wasn’t far off my lifetime max), shoveled about 10 metric tons of snow, and did various other strength related workout like kettlebell swings and vanity lifts (curls for the girls). A more or less typical week for me over the last few years.

wolverine deadliftA few other articles on strength that I’ve linked to in the past. Art of Manliness why Every Man Should be Strong. And How to Avoid Sucking as We Get Older from Catalyst Athletics:

However, I have noticed that a lot of people get nervous when they start to close in on the big 4-0 milestone. They start to panic about getting old. I think it probably comes from a combination of sagging breasts, male pattern baldness, and a general fear that our biggest peak moments might have already happened.

The reason they’re not in a hole is that they never stopped looking for new roads to travel, believing that they’ve still got more successes waiting for them. They’ve passed age milestones, just like we all will. But they handled these times by searching for something, making up their minds what they wanted, and then chasing it.

Your accumulating years aren’t baggage. They’re ammunition. You’re getting smarter and more experienced as life goes on, so don’t be afraid to look for a new focus if you start to feel like you’re cracking up.

So if you’re like me drive a desk, you’ve got to do something most days, every week to gain that old man strength. You may not have a cabin that you need to chop wood to heat, or have to do manual labor, so you’ve got to do something to keep moving. Even bodyweight stuff, or throw on a backpack filled with rocks and go on a hike with a buddy. or build up a little home gym (doesn’t have to be expensive). Take satisfaction in knowing you aren’t the typical noodle-armed slack-jawed dad with a good sized paunch. Work at that old man strength and show those young bucks how it’s done with your mental and physical toughness and ability to start what you finish.

So one day, after a lifetime of experiences and exercise and health, you can go out wrestling in a tub of KY Jelly with two topless chicks. Old man strength people.

OLD-SCHOOL-Blue

 

Fitter, Happier – The Zen Wisdom of Radiohead circa 1997

From my favorite album of all time – OK Computer. Life advice condensed in 2 minutes.

Fitter, happier, more productive,
Comfortable,
Not drinking too much,
Regular exercise at the gym
(Three days a week),
Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries,
At ease,
Eating well
(No more microwave dinners and saturated fats),
A patient better driver,
A safer car
(Baby smiling in back seat),
Sleeping well
(No bad dreams),
No paranoia,
Careful to all animals
(Never washing spiders down the plughole),
Keep in contact with old friends
(Enjoy a drink now and then),
Will frequently check credit at (moral) bank (hole in the wall),
Favors for favors,
Fond but not in love,
Charity standing orders,
On Sundays ring road supermarket
(No killing moths or putting boiling water on the ants),
Car wash
(Also on Sundays),
No longer afraid of the dark or midday shadows
Nothing so ridiculously teenage and desperate,
Nothing so childish, at a better pace,
Slower and more calculated,
No chance of escape,
Now self-employed,
Concerned (but powerless),
An empowered and informed member of society
(Pragmatism not idealism),
Will not cry in public,
Less chance of illness,
Tires that grip in the wet
(Shot of baby strapped in back seat),
A good memory,
Still cries at a good film,
Still kisses with saliva,
No longer empty and frantic like a cat tied to a stick,
That’s driven into frozen winter shit
(The ability to laugh at weakness),
Calm,
Fitter,
Healthier and more productive
A pig in a cage on antibiotics.

 

A night out with Matt Forney

It is always interesting to meet online personas in real life. My Fantasy Football league is filled with these sorts of guys, and they vary from what you’d expect, from really cool dudes to barely above a crustacean on the social scale. I’ve read  magazines articles on folks, and later became friends with them. Chuckie V is the best example. I read about him winning Ironman Canada, hosted him in a homestay, and trained with him multiple times at bike camps. Reality is rarely what you imagine. For Chuckie, he was better than expected.  A child in a man’s body, but a good man with a peaceful heart and one of the funnies people I know (if you have time to kill, check out his PCT Trail Journal).

I always enjoy meeting new people that have an interesting story to tell. Sometimes they are bloggers.  Cappy was about as I expected. Generous, boisterous, outgoing, funny.  Our lives differ, but we are a brotherhood in a disjointed, crazy way like you are as a family with your crazy Uncle George.

So last Saturday night I found myself in Madison, Wisconsin. A friend had gotten free tickets for Lewis Black (who I had last seen live about 15 years ago at a taping of the Daily Show), who was doing a show, so I had a night out. And it just so happened that Mr. Matt Forney was in town too, so we agreed to try and meet up (which is really code for: if it works out).  So the night went like this: Lewis was very funny, though more political than I’d like, but funny. Afterward, we headed out to the Madison bars. If you haven’t been, it’s a great college town, and there seemed to be a lot of energy that night. We ended up at a cowboy establishment, complete with mechanical bull and 140 decibels of country songs (with a thumping beat). Matt’s other friends apparently bailed or weren’t feeling well, so he was flying solo and met us at said bar.

Matt blogs on his website, and for Return of Kings, among others.  He’s a smart dude, and likes to throw various amounts of chum in the water in his opinions on intergender relationships among other topics. Like Cappy, he’s able to make a living (admittedly frugal) from just his writing, so I certainly respect the guy for that and cutting his own path through life.

So trying to carry a conversation in that environment was difficult to say the least. For awhile we enjoyed the scenery of drunk college girls riding the mechanical bull, and eventually headed to a quieter place. I wanted to hear mostly about his hitchhiking adventures, which were really interesting. He thumbed his way some 3,000+ miles (I forget the exact number) and had some interesting reflections about life on the road. As a huge fan of Kerouac’s On the Road (and just having bought Blue Highways: A Journey into America) the travel bum biopic has always fascinated me. Matt was a little quiet at first, but once you got him on a roll the dude could talk!

It was a fun, random night with someone else from the ‘Sphere, though in a much different place in life. He has his audience, I have mine, but even though we differ on a lot of things, some common ground is found as we navigate our own respective paths.