#3: Expectations from work

Work can be a source of tremendous personal and financial fulfillment. You can and should expect that your work and workplace provides you purpose, personal growth, fair treatment and a fair deal in exchange for your time, intellect and passion.

If your work is a source of toxicity, whether from colleagues or bosses, unfair and exploitative or full of source sucking corporate BS … you owe it to yourself to leave and find something better. Know what you are experiencing is not normal and don’t settle. Have high standards for yourself as well as from your work environment. 

In many cases, work environment can start out well but decline over time. It can be due to company culture, a change of leadership etc.  This leads to the phenomenon of boiling the frog ( look it up). Over time, you rationalize away work related disfunction and individually compromise on many things which you may never have collectively accepted. Periodically review your work situation and if you are miserable, realize you need to change and have the courage to do so. From those that have done that, you’ll be much happier.

#2: Understand money from an early age

In many families, money is not a topic of discussion. I believe that it should be the exact opposite. One of the most fundamental elements of education for kids needs to be to understand their financial circumstances, and how saving and investing money is a virtue to be applauded.

Both the kids have a basic idea of what my salary is, how much we spend by category and how much we save. We talk often about different investment options, stocks vs bonds vs real estate. We have build spreadsheets together about compound interest and how done at an early age, that can be the one decision that outperforms all others.

Once such conversation, had half jokingly with my son was to give him a choice. Go to an expensive college, study and earn or choose not to go to college and take his college fund of about $180k in cash and invest it. While neither extreme is desirable, it did make him think about the tradeoff of spending on his education vs saving for his future.

I also believe in a multi-generational view of money. The idea of rugged individualism and every child making it for themselves from scratch is nice, but in a lot of Asian cultures, the norm is the opposite. One gift I believe in giving my children is more economic security than I had starting out. I recognize fears and concerns regarding what they *might do with it, but believe that is more a commentary on our parenting than a money issue. 

Both the kids now understand the concept of financial freedom before either reaching 18 and  I believe that is one important gift to give them. Agree?

The story behind the name … do not go gentle

The famous poem by Dylan Thomas has long been a favorite of mine …

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage rage against the dying of the light …

The power of language and poetry to inspire is something special, and for me this verse represents everything magical about poetry. Total respect.

But there is more. When I was a child ( 9 or 10 maybe) in India, we had a closet full of old copies of Readers Digest magazines. The magazines were old even then, so they could be from the 60s and 70s. Each Reader’s digest had a longer condensed story at the end of the magazine. As I loved to read, I would spend many a lazy afternoon going through the magazines and stories.

There was one particular story about a cancer survivor that battled and overcame the disease as a runner. I think the name of the story was “Do not go Gentle”. As expected, it was an inspiring and powerful story and the spirit and courage of the author was a great match to the title. Clearly the story made a powerful impression on me even as a child, and the title stuck around in the recesses of my mind somewhere. As I grew up and went to college, I looked up the poem by Dylan Thomas and that led to a further interest in literature and poetry.

In many ways, this blog is an homage to that electrifying afternoon many many years ago when my nascent mind was introduced to the idea of human spirit, struggle and triumph.

I have tried a few times since to trace that story, but without success. Regardless, I want to thank that brave person who wrote it for the influence it had on me. 

Do not go gentle!

Recovering from Workaholism

After 20 years in the corporate world as a mostly loyal soldier, I finally rebelled. The gap between what you are sold and what your intellect and logic tell you became too wide to ignore. It is a fact that the trappings of the workplace are no different from an addiction and lead to behaviors not unlike lab rats. Have you ever experienced any of these ..

  • Being physically present but mentally absent at home.
  • Getting impatient with kids chatter and checking your phone while they are talking to you.
  • Forgetting where you parked…because several days blend into one.
  • Proving your relevance and self worth from the number of trivial email interactions you can participate in a day.
  • Being proud of your incredibly busy itinerary – landing at the airport, going straight to work without a break and working late into the evening.
  • Being proud of flying in excess of 100k miles on a given airline.
  • Having no time or energy to absorb the minor variations life throws at you.  Getting irritated if a child’s school schedule changes because it interferes with work.
  • Constantly seeking positive reinforcement from other corporate drones … becoming increasingly insecure if at any time the corporate spotlight shifts from you.
  • Indulging in self destructive behavior – drinking, drugs and more. 
  • Feeling unhealthy and a sense of lack of fulfillment even though you have all the trappings of success.
  • Having no self confidence and self worth apart from your job. 

Just some signs that you may be descending into workaholism. I experienced many of these in my own career in the process of starting to question what kind of person I was becoming. 

#1: The Family Home

Many financial independence viewpoints caution against the cost and burden of owning a home, as well as the social pressure to buy at any cost or ‘be left behind’. 

However, I believe that owning your residence has emotional benefits beyond treating a house as a financial instrument. 

I have fond memories of the house I grew up in as a kid. I still go back to that house and it greets and welcomes me as if I never left. Everybody, no matter their age needs a feeling of security. For me, the family home provides that, however tangible. 

Next, a home is a tangible asset that you can see, touch and consume. In our crisis by the minute financial news reporting, it provides a stability and security that does not fluctuate by the day.

As a first leg of their financial plan, I would advise my kids to look to buy the most modest home they can bear to live in, and try hard to pay it off. The earlier they have a paid off residence, the sooner they can move on to tackling the next range of life’s challenges.

If they buy the home early, it is also likely they will delay lifestyle creep as their income advances. 

What advice would I give to my kids series

I first came to the United States as a student, almost 28 years ago. I distinctly remember carrying $6000 in my back pocket … that was enough to cover my University bills for a semester and then the future was unknown from there. About 7 years of of a broke student’s existence, I was ready to enter the job market and my wife also joined me then. Every little step was an accomplishment. Renting my own apartment, buying a first car, seeing a real work paycheck and realizing that it was possible to actually have more money than is needed to spend. We slowly paid off our debt, had kids, bought a house and the family setup was complete.

Looking back though, I was really illiterate regarding money and financial planning. A helpful colleague pointed me towards the pension plan and signing up for a 401k. I had no concept of a budget, or planning financially for the long term and leveraging compounding. I wish I were smarter .. but at the same time we were blissful in our ignorance.

After a 20 year career, my son is getting ready to go to college. It gives an opportunity to reflect on how his context and starting point will be different from mine, and how I can best help him. More broadly, how will the next generation be better than the one that I represented. This series will try to collect my thoughts on this topic:

Disengaged with a smile?

As I got closer to financial security, I found myself behaving a bit differently at work. I was far less eager to project my enthusiastic participation and loyalty towards any and every senseless corporate initiative or conversation. For me, dealing with people or situations that are toxic or do not make sense is a major source of stress. Being able to choose to focus on the productive part of the conversation and ignore corporate pressure and dynamics for the sake of control was extremely effective and lifted my productivity.

The corporate machine has a difficult time handling those that are not firmly and visibly enslaved. Questions started to come up … why are you so relaxed. You’re always smiling…. amusingly as if that was a bad thing. Finally the HR drone concluded that maybe I was ‘disengaged’. I took the trouble to point him to the fact that my output was good as ever. I did not feel like explaining financial independence as the real reason so we left it at that.

I can say without question that the freedom and options provided by having a financial cushion more than justifies any sacrifices made to get there. Being disengaged with a smile .. priceless!

Financial Update Dec 4, 2018

The markets were tough during the month of November, with no safe place to hide. We continued our approach of reinvesting any dividends and increasing the income generation potential of the portfolio. With usual corporate dysfunction at the current job, I am actively considering a combination of taking time off and changing employers. With that in mind, we also made some portfolio moves to increase our monthly income generation. Monthly expenses were unusually high as we paid annual property taxes worth $17,000, which explains the decrease in the cash position. With that, here’s the update on the finances.

Net Worth: $2,921,759 ( -1.8%: -$54,750)

Cash $34,519
529 Kid 1 $170,403
529 Kid 2 $180,073
Pension $30k @60
Annual income from Taxable $129,006
Annual income from Retirement $72,100

November Expenses:

Taxes $17,379 High property taxes in Texas!
Travel $1754 Unexpected trip to see parents abroad.
Groceries $932
Restaurants $669
Credit Card fees $600 Amex Platinum
Automotive $529 New battery and service
Home Maint $488 Biweekly cleaning, lawn care
Online Shopping $446
Utilities $422
Household $327
Kids Classes $268
College Application expenses $241
Personal Care $225
Checks $220
Telephone $202
Clothing/Shoes $176
Gasoline $147
Cable/Satellite $96
  • Total: $25,121

Excluding one time costs ( Taxes and Travel)

November spend: $5988.

November Income:

  • Taxable account distributions: $8447
  • Retirement account distributions: $4339 (automatically reinvested)
  • Paycheck: $19,100