Wasting Cash A Dollar At A Time

I’ve been looking at wasted money recently. Inspired greatly by a fine blog called Mr. Money Mustache.

The general idea is that we as spoiled humans squander a lot, and that if we were only aware of how much we were throwing away we could make absolutely drastic change.

How much can one cut from their spending with little to no net loss of personal happiness?

It turns out the answer is, simply put, a shitload.

We (I) looked at our outgoings, and without really knowing it, we were spending about twice what all of our peers were spending on various categories. Groceries was the biggest offender, but there were many things.

I decided to do something we’d never really done before as a family, not so much out of necessity as out of shock. We (I) put together a monthly budget.

Long story short, almost one month in and we’re saving about a grand per month. The only thing I’ve noticed is that I’m having shorter showers now, everything else is pretty much as it was.

I spent half a day measuring the usage of various household appliances and making sure we knew what drained the most power. Simply knowing that and being aware of it has halved our daily power usage. That saves 3-4 dollars per day.

That’s only a couple of bucks eh!

Turns out that’s $1460 per year, after tax of course. At a modest kiwi income you’re going to pay tax on that sucker at about 30%.

That’s $1895 before tax, and then there is the $100 you’d earn if you invested that money in an index fund, or some other fancy or non-fancy investment platform.

That’s $2000 a year for basically no loss in personal happiness.

In fact, I’m super happy I’ll be pocketing that $2000 per year.

Power is just one part of the household expenses equation, there are many avenues you can investigate to reduce costs for little to no (mostly no) cost to your personal happiness.

Even knocking something like your internet bill down by 10 bucks a month nets you $120 every year, and that sort of “small” saving adds up very quickly.

It’s easy to mistake this approach as one that is simply about “saving money”, but it is absolutely not about saving money.

The goal is to maximize your personal happiness by not wasting money.

That extra power usage brought me no joy what-so-ever. The $2000 holiday I can spend that money on instead will bring me great joy.

If that spend will truly make you happier then you should spend the money.

If you’re buying those daily coffees simply due to habit, or addiction, then that’s a different story!

We just seem to spend our lives wasting what we earn a couple of bucks at a time for no net gain in happiness.

I’m sure we can do better.

Procrastination

Procrastination, one of life’s finest delicacies.

There is good “procrast”, as the connoisseurs call it – and then there is bad.

The good kind of procrastination is heading home early, or going in late because you’re on track. It’s leaving that job for Monday rather than doing it over the weekend because it really isn’t mission critical and you’ve already “wowed” that pants off of that client this week anyway.

No one needs their pants blown off twice in one week.

That’s procrastination you’ve earned.

Then there is the bad form of procrastination. The virus that spreads throughout your life in a very “Agent Smith” sort of way. You’ve already let that thing slip this far, what’s another day or another week going to matter?

You’ve already let that client down, it’s too scary to deal with now and so we’ll let that fester a little longer.

Today I paid the price for the shitty form of procrastination. Every now and again I get the kick in the ass I need that reminds me “Oh yeah, I’m an adult and a professional. Make sure you act like one.”

I’ve had a bucket of bolts old car on my driveway for a year. I could have sold this car a year ago no hassles what-so-ever and yet it just sat there. We’d just had our first child and honestly I just couldn’t be bothered dealing with it.

Now I’m dealing with it and it’s a pain in the ass. Registrations have lapsed, batteries are dead, and hours will be spent getting it sorted.

I could make a lot more money working those hours than I’ll ever get from messing around with it and getting it sold.

It is the penance I have to pay for my slothfulness.

Nothing ever gets better when left to rot, it only gets worse, and dealing with it today is always better than tomorrow.

An utterly minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but certainly my 2017 reminder not to let the sloth-beast get involved in my affairs.

Being Nice Is Selfish

In 1959 David J. Schwartz wrote a book titled “The Magic of Thinking Big”, and you can still buy this book today.

A person can be exposed to the same idea repeatedly and know that the idea is good, but not really, truly engage with it. It takes a certain kind of delivery, and a certain kind of receptive mind to adopt the new information. Some people will read a book one year, think nothing of it, and then return to it 10 years later and the book will substantially change their life on the second reading.

The opposite is also true. Life changing books can be re-read years later and not carry anywhere near the gravitas they once did for that person.

The Magic of Thinking Big, for me, was all about hearing the same sort of things your parents told you when you were growing up.

Be positive, be happy, engage with people, smile, belief creates reality, eat your vegetables and so on.

How you engage with other people is a huge part of human experience. As a massive introvert, I’ve been working on this element of my psyche for a long time. For years I’ve waved at people randomly, smiled at people randomly, and tried to be nicer than I needed to be. I’m the first to do the casual “finger lift” greeting on a back country road as you pass another vehicle. I’ve done that for a very long time, my wife doesn’t appreciate it.

I read the book and decided to really put it to the test and up my game. I run my own businesses and customer relationships are by far the most important part of my (or probably any) business, so trying to be nice is a good fit.

I started being much nicer than I needed to be (I felt like I was already pretty nice!) across all of my business interests and life. It certainly made a difference, but there was one business where the results were staggering.

I run a small business that sells things online, small items to the public. I had processes in place already which distinguished me from the crowd. I went the extra mile in a number of ways. The product was checked meticulously, it was wrapped and protected well, I engaged with the client after the sale as quickly as possible and used friendly, happy language. That was working well, so I took all of that and I tried to double it.

There were personalized notes with all purchases. I’d email or feedback to customers using their name and with a humorous paragraph about how they were the greatest human-being on earth, rather than generic dribble. My language was as happy as I could possibly make it. I tried to make silly questions from customers seem like important questions. Mistakes weren’t the clients mistakes, they were my mistakes.  If I could add happy emotion to the situation I would do it.

The level of unsolicited, gushingly positive feedback has skyrocketed. I just read a piece of feedback from an older gentleman who could have been a real problem customer. However, nothing was a problem. Issues were resolved. He was over the moon and he decided to let me know.

That feedback (and the dozens of other pieces of feedback) were the reason I wrote this article today.

I’m not one for being praised. It makes me feel awkward. I can always do better.

Getting feedback like that, though, is awesome. It resonates with me at a deeper level.

All of the work I put into make other people happy and the net result is that we both end up happy.

If I want to make myself happy, making other people happy is an easy way to knock my personal happiness levels out of the park.

I smile at people as often as I can, especially people with boring or less desirable jobs. I do it out of respect for them, but again there are some clear personal gains I get from those friendly gestures. Those folks are 100x more likely to help me in the future if I need their help. I’m the guy that genuinely treated them like a human being. Those fine folk can (and have!) helped me a great deal in the past.

The same lessons apply to my other business interests, and the results are similar.

Being as nice as I can possibly be, and being as understanding as I can possibly be brings clients in the door.

Solving problems for the people I’ve brought in the door, as best I can possibly solve them, makes me a lot* of money.

Temper that with good business sense, clear deliverables, clear timelines, and a good nose for people you can’t please and you’re onto a winner.

Being nice is selfish.

*a lot from my perspective – I won’t be buying a space station or rocket pad any time soon. I’d like a Lincoln welder at some stage, though.

Want A Religion? Why Not Bake Your Own?

This is a weird concept I’ve been working on for quite a while.

I was raised as a Christian kid.

Baby Jesus was a bit of a bad ass, and certainly had some sweet tricks.

I learned from a young age to treat others with the sort of respect we would show ourselves. If a man takes your tasty burger, you should offer him your Sprite as well.

That is a cornerstone of Christian faith.

Now, Christianity comes with what some might term “significant baggage”. A lot of stuff in the old testament is, frankly, a steaming crock of shit. The sort of thing an utterly demented psychiatric patient might scream from the top of a hospital building.

In his underwear.

In the dead of night.

After having covered his room with strange hieroglyphics.

Having said that, there are certainly nuggets of gold throughout the bible that we can all learn from.

I think it’s a good manual for how to live a positive life, if you ignore the bits that are absolutely batshit insane.

If you’re looking for the cause of the majority of the worlds pain and suffering to date – religion and nationalism are right up there. They’re both incredibly dangerous, like a fine Japanese kitchen knife. Treat them with respect and they are useful tools (though nationalism having much use at all is highly debatable). Treat that thing with disrespect and you’re going to do significant damage to yourself and to others.

I am a theist, undoubtedly. I, like many others, feel that the universe is far too vast and too awesome for human-kind to sit on the highest rung of existence. We do our best, old human-kind, but we surely fail a lot more than we succeed.

There must be something bigger than me, but Earth is littered with a huge array of religions. They have good points and they have bad. Your default is most likely simply down to the geography of your birth.

I’ve decided it’s a lot easier just to pick what I want, and discard the chaff.

Thinking about it now, this sort of thinking is probably why there are so many different, fractured religions in the wild today.

Still, I’m not advocating the spread of your, or my home-brew religious beliefs. This is about developing your own, personal, private code.

It’s the stuff you use to judge good from bad, the foundation of your moral compass.

If there is one thing 2017 needs, it is a functional moral compass.

 

Getting Extra Value From The Boring Stuff

One of my greatest weaknesses is that I do very little reading.

I read all day for a living. I read computer screens. I read code. I read emails.

Reading books is probably the most undervalued thing a person can do for their own professional or personal improvement.

And yet despite that being my (strongly argued, weakly held) opinion, apparently I still don’t do it. Further proof that I am not particularly intelligent.

I don’t know what it is about it, I just don’t make the time to sit down and read.

What I find easy, though, is listening to podcasts. Almost every routinely performed activity I do away from the computer is now accompanied by a podcast of some kind. Interviews with hyper successful people, discussions among other business owners, history lessons in audio form, audio books, an endless treasure-trove of material.

Doing the dishes? It’s great fun right?

How about you spend that 10 minutes learning from the best business minds in the world via a podcast you like?

The value of that 10 minutes just skyrocketed.

Stuck in traffic? That sucks for you my friend. Please move closer to work or find a new place to live, being stuck in traffic is no way to live. While you’re stuck, though; podcasts.

Here are a couple I’ve been listening to recently, they genuinely improve my quality of life:

  • The Tim Ferriss Show
  • Invisible Office Hours
  • Being Boss (I realised everything I was listening to was created by men, I went looking for content made by women in the business space)
  • Dan Carlins Hardcore History (a-maz-ing)
  • Making It With Jimmy Diresta

That’s 5 – but there are gazillions of the things out there.

There will be one out there that is perfect for you.

 

Body Balance, Physiotherapy And The Mind

I’ve always been a very tall, skinny, weak nerd.

You can fight your genetics all you want, and you can certainly move the needle – but you’ll be fighting forever.

I’ve been fighting (in a friendly way!) my genetics for a long time.

I never really played a lot of sport, I just hung out with friends and messed around with computers. Then my darling wife dragged me to Queenstown and everything changed. I was in my mid-20’s and everyone around me was exercising. I started cycling, I tried running for a while, I started skiing, day walking, all sorts of shenanigans. I had a physical base of about 0. I was lucky in that I wasn’t carrying around any excess weight, but I had the strength and fitness of a wet towel.

I had no significant musculature and no idea how the human body was supposed to work. My expensive private school education hadn’t taught me the first thing about how my body was supposed to move. A real shame.

I trashed myself very quickly. My horrible mechanics put me on the lightning fast track to chronic pain, my joints hated me. Crohn’s has a nasty habit of causing joint paint too, but I didn’t know I had Crohn’s at the time, and while it would be easy to just blame that – it probably accounted for 20% of my issues. I was a mechanical mess.

Fast-forward to my early 30’s. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on subsidized physiotherapy and had little to no result (the biggest benefit of my therapy to date was simply having them tell me to take it easy for a while, an enforced stand down period).

On the positive side, I’ve watched hundreds of hours of YouTube material on physiotherapy, I’ve got books everywhere and I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on the subject. I decided to fix myself, because it was clear no one else was able to.

It took me months of research to stumble across one of the fundamental principles of a healthy body, and that is one of balance. Specifically muscular balance across your joints.

In simple terms, if you push a lot, you need to pull a lot.

If you develop strength doing a particular movement in a particular direction – you need strength in the opposite direction.

Karate is a great example – we push all day. Punching, kicking, blocking. It’s all forward focused. The front of the body develops, the back of the body does not. The supporting musculature for all of our pushing movements slowly withers away and we end up with a huge muscular imbalance across the shoulders. Loose traps, malfunctioning lats and non-existent rear deltoids coupled with strong, tight pecs and tight biceps are a recipe for shoulder disaster.

Look at any joint, look at a movement, you need to be strong in both directions. The opposing muscle group must be trained or you loose balance, and you make physiotherapists a lot of money.

My shoulders.

I had a shoulder impingement issue from karate and I’d had it for a few years. Id gotten a lot stronger over time and my pecs were chronically tight. My posterior musculature, tasked with keeping that anterior strength under control was woefully inadequate.

I haven’t had a serious shoulder problem for over 2 years but I didn’t fix it with goofy physio exercises with a band, or with rows.

I’d tried that stuff for 6 months and I was still impinging. I was certainly stronger for my physio exercises. My rotator cuff was stronger, my rear delts were stronger, my traps were stronger.

No improvement.

I wasn’t really sure where to go from there.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t really have to look hard for an answer. This random guy started renting the desk next to me at work and stuck around for a few months.

Turns out I knew (of) him, I’d seen him on TV. He was a famous multi-sport athlete.

Naturally I bitched about my shoulders. “My shoulders keep getting pulled forward when I train karate, my pecs are tight blah blah blah” – my usual whinge at this point.

He told me to pull my shoulders back and keep them there.

Cheeky bastard.

I’ve been in and out of physio for a year with this shit, “pull your shoulders back” isn’t much use to me!

Long story short, I started walking around with my shoulders back, it took a while but months later that’s where they stayed and they’ve stayed back ever since.

Problem solved.

I fixed my shoulders with my mind. My mind is clearly some sort of deadly ninja.

I think about that conversation whenever I see people walking down the street waddling like ducks with the feet pointed outwards.

Don’t do that duck walk thing, it’s super stupid and we all judge you for doing it.

That was a weird, abrupt ending.

No one will notice.

Absolutes

Scientific minds try to think in absolutes whenever possible. If I do X, the result will very likely be Y. I experimented with A and the results were very most definitely B, C and D.

Cause and effect is a core, and utterly important principle.

Where humans are involved, though, I find I tend to overstep with absolutes.

Take attempted weight loss. Weight loss is simple, to loose weight the body must be at a caloric deficit. Without that deficit, you are lost. You can create a deficit in one of two ways (generally speaking):

  1. Reduce your caloric intake
  2. Increase your physical output

The required level of physical output required to tip the body into caloric deficit is generally very high (much higher than almost anyone realises) and is required on a consistent long term basis (something humans aren’t good at).

Reducing your intake is a smarter play. A little of number 2 is fine, but you’ll win or loose based on number 1 most of the time.

Relevance?

Someone was trying to loose weight, and doing a good job apparently, but they had hit a plateau.

They had a personal trainer, a gym membership, and were using both regularly.

Naturally I said to myself: “They just need to eat less. Less food, caloric deficit. Result.”

In a world of absolutes, that is true, but our world isn’t really like that when humans are part of the equation.

“No one needs to go to the gym to loose weight” I thought. “No one needs a personal trainer – what an absolute waste of money” I thought. True in absolute world, not true in this world.

A few hours later I realised I was being a twat. I’m quite familiar with this feeling.

Some people need gyms. No gym, then for them no result.

Some people need that personal trainer. No personal trainer, no result for them.

Not every human being is a calorie counting, obsessive compulsive, data driven fruit loop like myself.

My absolutes aren’t worth shit to other people. Folks figure out something that clearly works for them, and then they have minimalist douche bags telling them they don’t actually “need” whatever it is they’ve found to work for them, and that they are clearly “doing it wrong”.

A human being in a lab may be one thing, but a real person in the real world is quite another.

Speaking and thinking in absolutes just makes you (me) look like an asshole.

Crohns Disease And The Sad Train

Chronic disease can be a horrible thing.

After a while it’s not even the disease itself that is the real problem. Give it enough time and enough negativity and your mind becomes the real inglorious bastard. “I am sick” becomes your default state of mind on both good days and bad days. Welcome to the world of chronic depression.

You see it in Crohn’s groups online every day. Everyone is sad, everyone is a victim, nothing is fair.

Every day someone posts a picture of a sad kitten with sad words written over the top. Hundreds of replies follow from people who are sad too. They’re not the “supportive” kind of replies though, they’re not “Get well soon Timmy! You’re doing really great! You’ll be fine!” style ripostes.

They’re the “me too” kind of replies. Everyone throws their hat into the ring of miserableness so as not to be left out.

Let’s all be sad together, there is plenty of space on the sad train!

It pisses me off just a little bit.

“Who is this fucking guy telling me not to be sad because I have Crohn’s?!”

To simply know that you have Crohn’s means you’re incredibly likely to be the 1%. You were born into or live in an affluent country and the word is quite literally at your feet. There are millions of people on the planet that don’t have first world medical facilities and have no idea what Crohn’s even is. They’ve got it, they’ve no idea what it is and they can’t get help.

Put down your soy latte and chew on that one for a little bit brothers and sisters.

I’ve been sad before. Super sad. Super sad and super sick. There is nothing wrong with being sad, be sad.

There is everything wrong with continuing to be sad. Day in and day out, you’ve no business being sad long term.

We’re all going to get flare ups. We’re all going to have really bad days. That’s just how it has to be, normal people have terrible days too.

Normal people feel like no one understands them. Normal people think no one understands what they are going through. Millions of folks wander around suffering from clinical depression, their mind is trying to screw them over every day. Bob from down the street has problems. Your neighbor has problems. Your teacher has problems. Your physician has problems too.

The absolute cry-fest that has developed around diseases like Crohn’s does nobody any good.

If I told you today was the last day you were going to get you sure as shit wouldn’t spend it moaning about the hand you were dealt.

You’d go and be awesome.

You’d possibly get a pizza first.

(This really needed that food reference for credibility, Crohn’s “street cred” as it were)

Why Everyone Should Train In Traditional Karate

There are so many options these days.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a university (that place where you pay extortionate fees for an education you probably could have gotten from YouTube for free), or toilet paper (likely the pinnacle of human achievement thus far) – you’ve got options galore.

The fitness industry has surely reached near-complete saturation by this point – even in yoga circles there are at least a dozen options, from Bikram to Ashtanga, Hatha to.. AcroYoga?

In the “martial arts” space there are also six zillion options, and one is traditional karate. I started learning karate when I was 11 and started teaching karate a few years ago. Therefore I am naturally about to tell you why what I do is the best, and everything else is poop.

I know what you’re thinking. “Chris that sounds awesome, when do we learn the 3 finger tiger style exploding face technique?

Great question, I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at what traditional karate won’t do for you:

  1. You won’t win any medals, there aren’t any medals.
  2. You probably won’t have a heap of fun to start with, it takes a while to become masochistic enough to genuinely enjoy hours and hours (and hours) of hard physical training. Honestly though, it’s great.
  3. No one is going to be throwing high fives and “broing it up” with you after class fraternity style, it won’t happen.
  4. Your body wont cooperate, likely for years.
  5. You won’t feel like you’ve mastered much, or anything at all, 10 or even 20 years later. I certainly haven’t.
  6. Your body won’t like it – it won’t feel good and you might not feel like you’re going anywhere.
  7. You won’t become a killing machine after 5 classes. You won’t become a killing machine after 500 classes, either.

Sounds pretty great, right?

Let’s look at some less impressive stuff, here is what traditional karate will do for you:

  1. You’ll look at yourself a few years later an be blown away by how much you’ve slowly changed physically. Hard gains from hard training.
  2. You’ll learn to respect yourself, and to respect all other human beings.
  3. You’ll make better decisions in stressful situations, both physically or mentally. You’ve have likely dealt with worse on the training floor.
  4. 5 foot tall or 7 foot tall, you’ll be able to look after yourself.
  5. You’ll make as many friends as you want to make.
  6. You’ll realise that competition, improvement and success is an internal phenomenon.
  7. You’ll have started a journey that takes a lifetime to complete. Training in your 60’s is common, 70’s is common. People train traditional karate into their 80’s.

Traditional karate hasn’t changed with the times, the last thing that really changed was the belt system so that we have these funny coloured belts now (rather than just white belts and black belts). That happened bloody ages ago.

Traditional karate teaches you that you can improve your life immeasurably through the tool that is hard work. Hard work and discipline don’t seem to be particularly popular in 2017 – but I can assure you it is as worth it now as it was in the “good old days”.

I feel like I’ve really nailed this sales pitch.

Go and try traditional karate, it’s good stuff.

What I’ve Learnt From 16 Months As A Parent

It’s a surprisingly short list if you remove the mechanical elements such as changing the odd nappy.

  1. Your child is the greatest child that ever was and ever will be. All others are merely flawed imitations.
  2. Things that work for other people probably won’t work for you. Things that work for you probably won’t work for other people.
  3. 45 minute sleep cycles introduce a new, deeply enduring level of fatigue by about the second month. 80 hour working weeks are a laugh by comparison, as is sleep deprivation due to acute illness. It is a different animal.
  4. You don’t need half the shit people think you need.
  5. Second hand is better than first hand, for every reason.
  6. Having help is helpful. Hats off to single parents, they are warriors.
  7. Children are like dogs in many ways; one is that they force you to meet new people. Helpful for an introvert, and also helpful that mine is super cute. I’m the dad with the super cute daughter. Get your 16 month old to high-five or wave at a stranger and they become like putty in your hands. I’m not sure what you do with the putty, though.
  8. Those special possessions you loved when you were childless and were so proud of that you decorated your house with need to get put away. Those possessions you don’t really care about need to get put away too. Screw, lock, nail and chain anything and everything down, and don’t use 1 nail for a 2 nail job. 3 nails, minimum.
  9. Quality communication with your partner is hard when your fatigue level is pushing 11.
  10. If you genuinely try to do a good job, it’s good enough.

If I can do 16 months you sure as shit can too. A highly recommended experience.

Special thanks to my high fiving, animal loving, arm crossing, face pulling, waving, kiss blowing and truck noise making daughter.