Every six months I do a personal finance update. I update a complex spreadsheet that has a bunch of historical charts. I’ve kept track of a ton of financial statistics/ratios since we began married life back in 1995. Every six months I sit down, update it, digest it, and chart my course corrections (if any are needed) for the next six months. By the way…“My name is Joey and I am a nerd!”
These course corrections are not just financial. Most of the time real life intersects with these charts. Sometimes we are planning changes that will have an impact on our financial life. Other times life might give us some changes, unexpectedly, that impact our financial life. The past six months have been a wild time for a ton of people financially. I’ll talk a little about my recent journey a bit here but also a bit about how I’ve weathered times like this in the past (both successfully and not as successfully).
Looking at my life the way I do (in charts) it is interesting how you can see my family’s journey over the years. You can see job changes, new homes, new autos, school, when things went well, and when things went not so well. What you can also see is how almost every big decision you make financially interplays with everything else. The biggest lesson I continue to learn from keeping track of all this is to keep on truckin’!
I grew up in a family where Dad was a truck driver. A lot of the trucks back then had the Keep On Truckin’ design (from the Robert Crumb comic) on the mud flaps. No matter what…keep on truckin’! When I was a kid, I wanted to BE Smokey and the Bandit or BJ McKay or Rubber Duck. In early elementary school I had the cowboy hat, the vest, the belt buckle. I was just missing the 18-wheeler (and Pontiac Trans Am)!?! If Smokey and the Bandit got into a pickle, they’d just crank up East Bound and Down and “do what they say can’t be done”. Tough times?!? Just “put the hammer down and give it hell!” I guess these images stuck. I guess this is understandable since I probably watched this movie 1,000 times.
Through thick and thin just keep on doing what you know needs to be done. So far that has worked out for us. I imagine it will continue to do so. I’ve made some boneheaded decisions at times. No one has a crystal ball and we have to make decisions and take certain risks in our lives not knowing what will happen. In doing this everyone makes mistakes. I’ve certainly made many mistakes (and will make many more). I liken these to paying tuition to the university of life. Some lessons are best taught with experience (unfortunately). Of course, if I had not made some of these mistakes over the years, I’d be better off than I am today. Regardless, I’ve benefited from luck meeting hard work at other times in life. These times probably cancel out many/most of my mistakes. Regardless, if I keep on truckin’ things eventually always seem to work out.
6 months ago, in December, when I sat down with ‘the charts’ I was pleased. Many of the moves made over the prior year(s) were looking good and were playing out as planned/expected. We’d made some moves to set us up to take our life in a different direction. We have four kids and I have multiple kids in college at once right now. The last one starts this Fall. I’m making sure that doesn’t put too much of a dent in our finances.
Regardless, in December I was honestly feeling a little too comfortable. That never happens by the way. The money coming in and going out was going according to plan (and seemingly under control). We were working hard and it was showing up in the charts.
Emily and I have been planning what our empty nest will look like. We’ve never had an empty nest?!? My financial charts started for us together in 1995 and baby Preston was right there with us from the start. When all the kids are gone we don’t want to just sit around looking at each other (although I’d be fine with that…she is hot). We’ve been exploring the RV life and plan to hit the road and travel.
We are both working now and will continue to work for some time. But we want to begin getting our RV legs under us. I also do better when I have pressure on myself so I do better mentally when I stretch myself a bit. Feeling too ‘comfortable’ actually causes me to feel icky about my situation. I feel like I can/should be doing more. Waste not, want not!
I made a few moves in late 2019/early 2020 to 1) move us along in the right direction and 2) to increase the pressure on myself a bit:
- Replaced Emily’s Car – I had been working on restoring my late grandfather’s antique tractor for much of 2019. I’d sunk a decent chunk of money in old parts and skilled workers. About midway through the year, I felt I needed to upgrade Emily’s car as payback. The old tractor was starting to look better than her old car?!?! Yikes! I was working my way quickly into the doghouse! Happy Wife! Happy Life!
- Refinanced Our Condo – We sold our home in 2018 and downsized into a condo. I think many thought we’d hit hard times (and who says we didn’t). In reality, we didn’t need a large home anymore with just the 2 of us (and the last kid). We also didn’t need extra maintenance to pay for or do (or additional costs associated with a larger home). A condo makes more sense for us if we are going to be doing regular travel. We took a 15-year mortgage on the condo when we purchased it. Early this year I refinanced our mortgage to lower the rate and decided to move down to a 10-year mortgage at the same time. I wrestled with this because it technically didn’t make a ton of sense financially. We could have just kept the mortgage we had and paid it down quicker and accomplished the same thing. The offer was good and the costs were minimal so I went ahead and did it (again, to force some pressure on myself).
- Bought An RV (And The Truck To Pull It) – I decided it was time to purchase an RV trailer. We aren’t going to retire and hit the road but we needed to get it and start taking small trips to learn the ropes (and make sure we liked it). We got serious and found the trailer we wanted. At the time I was driving a Subaru WRX which is not going to tow an RV trailer (sad face emoji). I swapped that out for a Ram truck. We are now all set.
Vehicles (and vehicle debt) are the quickest way to stay poor there is. I promise! You are buying a big expensive chunk of metal that will quickly become obsolete and nearly worthless. On top of those great traits they also break constantly and cost a small fortune to fix. Sounds like a win-win to me?!? I’m cheap so I hate cars because they cost so much and become worth so little. On the other hand, I am a 100% certified redneck so I love anything with a piston in it! This is my curse in life. It is a cruel cross to bear! I wish it on no one!
I know all the reasons you are not supposed to buy a vehicle with debt and they are logical and financially sound. Smart! Don’t do it! Got it! Meh…I never do that?!? I always buy a vehicle and finance it. Now bear in mind I’m not buying expensive vehicles in relation to my income/net worth. I also don’t buy anything this way that I couldn’t write a check for immediately if I chose to. I’m also not financing them with an interest rate that doesn’t make sense. But I do it nonetheless, even though it doesn’t make financial sense to do it. Why?
- Paying the bill every month makes me remember how stupid it is to buy a vehicle (and that I just flushed that amount of money down the toilet…again). Repetitive learning is a great kind of learning!
- Paying the bill every month forces me to allocate the money in my monthly budget (rather than just spending a lump sum from my assets). This forces me to reconcile the cost of what I’m buying into my everyday life. Want a new car…spend less somewhere else!
- Paying the bill every month keeps the pressure on me to keep me engaged in my working life. If Daddy has got bills to pay, he is going to make sure he keeps money flowing in to pay them. He will also probably be more creative and engaged in the process. “Can I get you another cup of coffee boss?!? Need a shoeshine?!? Any horrible jobs no one else wants to do?!?”
That final reason, I’ve learned, is surprisingly important for me—actually THE most important. I have to almost trick myself into not getting lazy. Having to pay for the things we want to have with our hard-earned money each month is the best way, for me, to do this. I might pay a little extra money each month in interest but the extra motivation has helped me focus and earn a lot of extra money throughout my life. The trade-off isn’t even fair. It makes no sense financially but this is more about behavior. Behavior is sometimes the hardest part of personal finance. Usually having a debt like this hanging over my head has me coming up with a plan to work through it and pay it off rapidly. I am much more engaged when I have a target that is stretching me a bit. Some people get stressed if they have any debt and it drives them crazy until they wipe it out. For me, it is less stressful to have debt than to have none. [you can call me a weirdo now…I’m ready]
So, I guess what I’m telling you is ignore all those people who say debt is bad and go out and ratchet it up! Ha! No, I’m not saying that at all. I guess I’ve learned to do what works for me. Even if all the self-help gurus don’t necessarily agree with it. Even if it doesn’t even really make any sense at all. If it works for you and moves your life in the right direction then do it!
Regardless, in this process, we didn’t go crazy and get overextended. And thank goodness! Fast forward to now…COVID-19!!! I’ll sum up the past 6 months as: “I feel a lot less comfortable now than I did!” Ha! I’m probably not the only one, unfortunately. The past few months felt as close to the financial crisis of 2008-09 as any time has since then. Those were fun times! Let’s do that again!?!
It is crazy how fast one can go from feeling okay to being on edge. I have to apologize to all of humanity. If I’d not made so many major financial decisions at one time none of this would have happened. So, I’m sorry that I somehow conjured COVID-19 onto the planet?!!? Welcome to a small glimpse into my life! Ha!
So now I’m stacking cash! Both of our jobs were impacted by COVID. Emily’s job was shut down completely (but has now reopened). Mine stayed open throughout but business slowed (along with other uncertainty due to changing laws). That said, it could have been worse. Many have not been as fortunate. Regardless, we’ve both been focused on doing what it takes to weather the storm. I’ve not really made any major shifts in strategy due to everything and don’t plan to. I am just stacking up cash until things seem to be ‘all clear’. By the way, I don’t think we have been given the ‘all clear’ yet. The world is reopening and we are starting to understand the economic damage that has been done (and what might be yet to be done). I’m not in any hurry to add to investments, pay down debts, start big projects, etc. at this point, however. There will be time for that once things settle a bit. I guess we’ll just keep working hard. Keep on truckin’!
Time marches on and life ebbs and flows. Ironically, looking at my stupid historical charts provides calm during these times. Tough times come and go. I’ve seen it in the charts and lived it in our life over a couple of decades. Sometimes things feel better than they probably are. During times like that, count your blessings and don’t get too comfortable. Other times things feel miserable and you might feel hopeless or dejected. During those times you do what needs to be done to weather those times while trying to minimize their impact.
I feel fortunate that we’ve been able to do that…so far! We’ll keep on truckin’!!! If things get better…we’ll keep on truckin’! If things get worse…we’ll keep on truckin’!
We hope you do too! Stay healthy and keep on truckin’ ever onward!