Finding Freedom Through Joy and Happiness

Finding Freedom Through Joy and Happiness

If you woke up tomorrow with enough in the bank to comfortably withdraw a salary for the rest of your life, how would you spend your time?  Can you articulate what your actual “dream” life would look like?

I spend too much of my time thinking about the purpose of life, how I want to use the finite number of hours I have, and recently, how to use money to fuse purpose and happiness. For a current example, I turned to my husband at the end of a date night last week, and apropos of nothing asked, “Do you know what the biggest tragedy of being human is?”  He just laughed– it was impressive that I’d made it all the way back to our apartment without touching on the human condition. (For anyone wondering, that evening, I thought the fact that humans can conceptualize our own deaths was the greatest tragedy.  Our greatest boon is the ability to feel love, but our cat can feel love and doesn’t spend her time evaluating whether she’s spending her time well enough.  Catch me with a new answer next week.)

I focus too much on something I’ll never understand, and like everyone else, I’ve got pretty much nothing in answers to show for it.  That’s a real problem when you’re trying to live your life in a way that maximizes your freedom, sense of purpose, and happiness.

When I started this blog, I said my objective was to live in a way that gives me possibilities, and right now, that is the number one goal.  I can’t shake the nagging question, though: what will I do with freedom when I get it?  And, what can I do, where I am now, that makes me more free?

I once read a definition of happiness that said we can only experience happiness in reflection.  Happiness is the timeless feeling of complete engrossment in a task or a person.  I believe it.

After writing lists and lists of things that make me happiest, I’ve seen two patterns emerge; I need joy, and I need satisfaction. Things that cause me joy are effortless–spending time with my husband and our pets, reading fluffy novels, traveling and living in the moment of a new situation and new thought patterns, laughing with friends.  Satisfaction, which is almost more interesting, comes from tackling things that are difficult and working through them–writing and managing to distill the idea I’m searching for, planning the trip that will let me lose myself in the moment without losing my nest egg in the process, learning a new skill, solving a tough problem, doing something physical that makes me sweat.

If you couldn’t tell from the constant existential crises, I’m a tightly wound person, and pushing myself can sometimes be easier for me than letting myself bathe in joy.  I know that in my best life, though, I would balance and embrace both.

Joy and satisfaction.  No matter what else comes up in this journey, I know those are what I’m working for when I dream of financial independence.

What are you working towards?

Like what you see and want to keep up with the latest on Life as a Hat?  

Find us on Facebook–a "like” will make sure you see every post.
Advertisements

Why ClassPass Wasn’t Right For Me

Why ClassPass Wasn’t Right For Me

Has ClassPass swept into your city yet? If you don’t know the name already, just wait. ClassPass is next in line to the smart phone assisted services-on-demand throne, and it’s making fitness an all you can eat buffet in 32 cities across the nation so far. The basic gist of the service is that, for $80/month in most markets, you can have access to fitness classes at countless gyms in your area. We aren’t talking about second string options that no one wants to take either–ClassPass serves up barre, spinning, hot yoga, you get the idea, at the trendiest spots in your town.  As a secret admirer of/aspirer to all things LuluLemon, I was salivating as soon as I opened the app, even if I should know better.

(Sidebar Hatters: I read a theory the other day that most multi, multi, million dollar tech start ups simply connect users to services that already exist with more ease: think Uber, Seamless, and Instacart. I can’t shake it, or shake how unnecessary a lot of these services seem, and I’ll definitely be taking a more in depth look at the impact of these ubiquitous apps on your wallet later.  But for now, back to ClassPass.)

On the surface, ClassPass seems like a bargain. I took a gander through their Seattle offerings, and a membership at any one of the gyms ClassPass grants access to would run you at least $100 a month.  The only catch to ClassPass’s $80 deal is that you can only visit the same studio three times in a month; if there’s a hot yoga studio you love by your apartment, you can’t use ClassPass to turn a $120 membership into an $80 plan and visit the studio every day.  Gyms get to fill empty class spaces, ClassPass provides a fitness service without any of the hassles of running a brick and mortar fitness center, and you get to take classes to your heart’s content.  Win/win/win, right?

Unfortunately not for me.  And I do mean unfortunately; this isn’t about to morph into a snappy putdown of what ClassPass does.

I used the power of asking on Twitter to get access to a two week free ClassPass trial, and after five days in, I’ve ended the trial early.

I didn’t do it for any dramatic reason.  I attended one class, and I enjoyed it (though I did have trouble jumping into a studio setting with habitual practitioners as someone who hasn’t worked out in a few months.)  I think the service is well-designed, and if I put a great enough value on fitness classes in particular, I’d cough over the $80 at the end of my trial to keep the service going.

What I realized this week, though, as I scheduled my classes after work and found myself dreading them, as I wished I could just go for a run instead of worrying about parking at a studio, as I wondered what I would wear in a more upscale workout setting…was that ClassPass wasn’t bringing me any joy. The purpose of this blog is to explore the things in life that make us really want to stand up and sing and to have the financial freedom to use our brief stint of time on Earth the way that we want to.

Every time I decide to save instead of to spend, I add freedom and security to my life; why would I trade those things for anything less than absolutely, knock you off of your feet, joy?  ClassPass didn’t bring me that joy.

There’s value to working out, absolutely, but when I can do it for free (or as close to it as anything in life is), I’m not going to risk the chance that I’ll like ClassPass enough to settle for trading $80 a month for it.  The trial was interesting, but it seemed like if I stayed any longer, I’d talk myself into accepting a monthly debit for something that was useful, sure, but not worth my freedom. Maybe some of you with more self-restraint could do better, but what I lack in self-control, I like to think I make up for in self-awareness.

And that was all there was to it.  ClassPass seems like a fantastic service to meet the needs of folks who adore fitness classes and want to jump up and down at the chance to sample the different options their city offers.  I’m not that person (as much as I wish I were), so I’m not trading my freedom for what ClassPass is selling.  If you’re currently in a gym membership or another automated monthly debit for recreation system, I’d ask you to think deeply about how much joy the service brings you and whether you’re giving yourself a fair trade.  Do you keep your gym membership because you absolutely value what you get from it on par with the money you trade for it, or do you keep it out of unexamined habit?  Is it worth your freedom?

Like what you see and want to keep up with the latest on Life as a Hat?  Find us on Facebook–a “like” will make sure every post finds its way to you.

Stop Answering Personal Finance’s Biggest Questions Automatically

Stop Answering Personal Finance’s Biggest Questions Automatically

Before I start this post, I want to thank all of your for the incredible response to the Life as a Hat launch and to extend a hello to any new readers who came from my Apple Announcement series (Part 1 and Part 2.)  I’ll turn an eye back to cell phones and personal finance soon, I promise, but today, let’s take a break from everything Apple to talk about an even more vital “A-word” in our lives: Automation.  That’s right, we’re doing vocabulary today.  It’ll almost be useful enough to make up for the headline.

Automation, or rote behavior, is one of the biggest factors at play in your financial success or failure.  As a former middle school teacher, I know how important repetition is, so let me just say again–

Automation, or rote behavior, is one of the biggest factors at play in your financial success or failure.

And for those in the back of the room doodling–

AUTOMATION, or rote behavior, is one of the biggest factors at play in your financial success or failure.

So, what’s automation?

When I say automation, I mean the purchases you make throughout your month without any thought.  We all understand that the gym subscription that takes $70 from you account every month is automation in action; I’m not here to waste your time with what you already know (you should really cancel your gym subscription if it isn’t bring you joy, though.) I want to expand the definition of automation until it includes the four biggest expenses of most of our months: housing, transportation, utilities, and food.

All of us have the big four, but most of us don’t think about them beyond our month to month defaults.  We live where we live, it costs what it costs.  It’s these choices, though, that define the flow of your monthly income.  We grow our wealth by either earning more or saving more, and the big four are the places where savings pack the most punch.  By putting more thought into our big four, we can change the course of our financial future.

So how can you stop seeing housing, transportation, utility, and food costs as automatic, and unchangeable, expenses?  The best method I’ve found is active interrogation–sitting down with your big four expenses and making them justify their cost.

Put your brain where your money is:

  •  First, take out a paper and pencil and write your four expenses in columns across the page.  A digital spreadsheet would work just as well if you prefer, but I personally value the weight of the pen in my hand when I’m dealing with weighty ideas.  The four expenses you’re about to investigate constitute some of your biggest budget hits, and they deserve the deliberation the analog world offers.
  • Calculate the monthly cost for each category and note it below its name–don’t cheat yourself when it comes to your own money.  When you calculate transportation, for example, include your car bill, your insurance, your gas, your toll costs, any figures that play into the ways you move from place to place.  When you calculate your food costs, take an honest look at your grocery bills, your morning coffees, your dinners out.  If you’re not tracking these expenses yet, there are posts coming soon to help, but I highly recommend adopting a habit of logging and reviewing all purchases ASAP.
  • Write out the underlying assumptions that go into the amount you spend.  If you need a model, you might consider something like this…Rent:  I assume that I need to live within 10 miles of work.  I assume that a large apartment complex will give me the most safety.  I assume _________ neighborhood will give me the opportunity to socialize with friends and walk to the amenities that make me happy.  I assume that I cannot live with a roommate.  I assume that I need a 1 bedroom floor plan.  I assume I need a parking spot included with my rent.  I assume…
  • After you’ve written as many assumptions as you can muster, honestly evaluate each one.  This is again where time and deliberation are important.  Some of the assumptions will hold weight for you.  If one does, you’ll feel it deep in your bones and know it’s worth the hours of your life you trade for it.  Some of the assumptions, though, will strike you as off.  Maybe you could switch from a one bedroom to a studio without a major hit to your quality of life, maybe you could add a roommate, or maybe you could take the bus (and enjoy it more) than supporting the commuting costs associated with your car.  Circle the assumptions that seem wrong or off to you.
  • On the back of your paper, write out the assumptions you question.  Jot down a few notes about what seems wrong and then create an action plan to address the assumptions that don’t make sense.  Break your action plan into steps that make the change realistic and achievable to you.
  • Get to work implementing your action plan and changing your automatic big four spending to a well thought-out system that makes more sense for your finances and your goals.

A word of warning–this is HARD work.   Depending on your personality, the interrogation might not be the sort of project that you can knock out in an afternoon, and the solutions you find will certainly take time to implement.  That’s the whole point, though; the biggest monthly purchases we make, and make again and again, should have an excess of thought and care behind them.  You’re worth the work this is going to take.

One last thing, Hatters.  This process?  It doesn’t end.  Over time, your big four will become automatic again.  When you realize it’s been too long since you’ve given them thought, break the pen and paper back out.  Not every interrogation will call for sweeping changes, but they will all give you valuable insights into your own behavior and the reasons behind it.

Like what you see and want to keep up with the latest on Life as a Hat?  Find us on Facebook–a “like” will make sure every post finds its way to you.

Apple Announcement September 9th: What You Need to Do (Part 2)

Apple Announcement September 9th: What You Need to Do (Part 2)

If you read part one of this post series on the September 9th Apple announcement, you might think it’s all gloom and doom here on Life as a Hat.  You know there’s a new iPhone coming out soon, but you also know that the pricing model is designed to rope you into a quasi contract– you’ll pay a low initial deposit, sure, but you’ll owe your cell phone provider money for months and months to come by way of a hefty monthly bill.

apple announcement, technology, debt free, personal freedom
Licensed under CC0

Gloom and doom are the antithesis of everything Hatters are about, though. I want you to be able to manage your money in a way that gives you the greatest utility for your purchases and lets you keep as many of the hours you trade for wages as you can.  That’s freedom, baby, and the Apple announcement is going to help you get it.

How You Should Take Advantage of the Apple Announcement

You’re going to use this announcement to buy your own phone, and you’re going to take that phone to a pre-paid plan like we talked about.  Here’s where I might lose some of you, though; it’s not going to be the iPhone 6s Plus.  It’s not going to be the iPhone 6 Plus.  It’s not going to be theiPhone Trending Ebay Prices 2015 iPhone 6.  Hatters, I want you to put some serious thought into buying the iPhone 5s this October.

Take a look at the chart to the left.  I’ve priced out the current line up of Apple phones plus a few older models of the iPhone based on their trending prices on Ebay (as of 9/7/2015).  I made a few choices when it came to the phones I selected–namely, I opted towards prices for “unlocked” phones that can be taken to any carrier, and I chose the midrange storage capacity when options were available.  Those choices mean the prices you see might be slightly inflated depending on your needs, but they’re the phones that will work best for the average consumer in the second hand market.

Right now, an iPhone 5s with a 32 GB storage capacity will set you back about $320.  That’s only a little over the $299 most consumers are willing to pay for the latest Apple release, but when you spend your $320 on an iPhone 5S, you aren’t locked into a contract or a payment plan.  You own that phone, and you can take it where you choose, to what deal you choose, at any time.  Choices, my friends, choices.

Here’s where it gets even better.  These prices?  Give them until October, and they’re all going to fall.  The new iPhone will push the 5C and potentially the 5S (depending on how Apple chooses to incorporate the “Plus” options) out of the line up, but those options will stay available on the second hand market.  You can see from the chart that the 4S, a great phone, is down to about $120 because it’s an older model that’s left the line up already.  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather stop paying $90 a month for cell phone service, and take two month’s worth of savings from the $30 T-Mobile plan to buy my very own, no-subsidy, no-contract iPhone.

So why the 5S?

I’m recommending you consider the 5S for a number of reasons this October (I say October because the price drop from the September release won’t happen immediately, but keep your eyes peeled.)

The iPhone 5S offers some of the fan favorite features of iPhone 6 and up like…

  • Fingerprint unlocking
  • 8MP camera
  • IOS 8.4
  • A powerful processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • ~One day of battery life with medium use

It also offers a few of my own personal favorite perks like…

  • Freedom from bulky monthly contracts
  • More money for your emergency fund/your retirement savings/your dream trip/your home downpayment
  • The pride in knowing that you own your phone, and you’ll take it to the network that gives you the best deal

I’ll be upfront with you.  There are some downsides to choosing a second hand 5S.  Your camera won’t have the upgrades of the 6S, though it’ll still take incredible photos with ease.  You won’t have the slightly faster processing of the 6S, but you’ll still be able to use your device for more than we could have imagined a few years ago.  You won’t have the convenient larger screen for gaming, but you will have a proficient system that will rarely make you wish for more.

I think the perks far outweigh those costs, though, don’t you?

How to Buy a 5S (Relatively) Safely on Ebay

This last portion is for my readers who might not feel comfortable buying a phone second hand.  There is always going to be risk associated with the second hand market, but there are things you can do to mitigate those risks.  When you buy your iPhone 5S, I want you to make sure…

  • There is a clean IMEI number advertised on this listing.  This helps ensure the phone wasn’t stolen and that you’re able to activate it on your own network. It’s important that the clean IMEI is advertised in the listing because it helps ensure Ebay can protect your purchase if you receive a phone that can’t be activated.
  • You pay close attention to the condition description of the phone.  I’m personally comfortable with anything listed from “Good” condition on up; your comfort level might vary.  Do understand that the photos on eBay are often stock pictures, and they aren’t involved in any purchase protection from Ebay.  The condition description is what the seller is obligated to match.
  • The phone is listed as “Factory Unlocked” or listed for use on the carrier network you intend to use. Factory Unlocked will allow you to take your phone to any network, and I personally prefer that freedom.
  • The Ebay seller you choose has plenty of positive reviews from other iPhone sales
  • You make purchase using a method that will provide you secondary protection beyond Ebay–I like to use AMEX because of their great customer service, but PayPal also provides a set of purchase protections.

Got through all that?  You’re ready to take on the Apple announcement this week like a personal finance pro and make it work for your own freedom.

Like what you see and want to keep up with the latest on Life as a Hat?  Find us on Facebook–a “like” will make sure every post finds its way to you.

Apple Announcement September 9th: What You Need to Know (Part 1)

Apple Announcement September 9th: What You Need to Know (Part 1)

Hatters beware. On September 9th, Apple is going to announce the new iPhone 6s–expect a better camera, faster LTE capabilities, and maybe even the ForceTouch technology we saw in the Apple Watch.

Also expect Apple to team up with the big cell phone carriers whose subsidy and payment installment plans rip you off.

What You Need to Know about Apple and the Big Carriers

In the past few months, we’ve seen the big carriers move away from contracts explicitly based around a two year plan.  Smaller players like T-Mobile, Republic, and Straight Talk have influenced consumer consciousness enough that Verizon, ATT, and Sprint know a two year contract is seen as an unpopular option.  Those lofty two year contracts, though, were very good at one thing consumers love; they lowered the initial stocker shock for smart phones like the newest Apple installment.

As most of us know, Apple operates on a tiered pricing system based on release schedule.  Right now, consumers who sign onto a new two year contract could pay $299 for the entry model iPhone 6 Plus (the latest release), $199 for iPhone 6, $99 for the iPhone 5s, or they could get the iPhone 5C for free.

Don’t let the advertising fool you, though.  iPhones were never sold at those price points.

Apple gets away with advertising those prices because the big carriers would subsidize the remaining cost of your phone as part of your two year contract.  You traded your freedom to pursue a better deal for hundreds of dollars that would be spread out month to month within your hefty plan.  It was a win/win for businesses, and, I’ll concede, for those absolutely desperate for the latest iPhone model, but for most consumers, it was a really bad deal.

So what’s changed without two year contracts?

Here’s where I really need you to pay attention.  Very little is going to change in our quasi post contract world.  Expect that Apple will talk about the low entry fees associated with the brilliant new phone we meet this Wednesday.  Apple needs to talk that up because otherwise, the sticker shock of iPhones priced at $800+ would let Samsung hammer in the nails to the iPhone’s coffin.  iPhones needed to be affordable, but they’re an incredibly sophisticated piece of technology.  Apple was never going to give these phones away, but consumers weren’t suddenly going to pay hundreds of dollars more to own them.  Something had to give.

So what did Apple do?  Team up with the big carriers (insert my shock here.)

Rather than selling you a two year contract, the big players in cell service are now going to offer you the opportunity to place a deposit on your phone (hmm, I bet a tiered model starting at $299 and working its way down would do just fine) and allow you the chance to pay the rest of your phone off month to month within a set amount of time.

Are they kidding me? Isn’t this just a two year contract?

No, of course they’re not.  Yes, of course, it is.  It has a different name, it has a slightly different structure, but for all intents and purposes, nothing’s changed at all.  This is business and business is not about your freedom.

So what should Hatters, who want to be free but also love iPhones do?  Stay tuned for Apple Announcement September 9th: What You Need to Do (Part 2) to find out.  Want that post ASAP?  Like our Facebook page to get the quickest notification of when new posts arrive.

Cell phone bill more than $35/month? You’re Being Ripped Off.

Cell phone bill more than $35/month?  You’re Being Ripped Off.

Hey, Hatters– Do you like unlimited calls, texts, and data?  Do you thrive on keeping up with the latest phones and tablets?  Are you paying more than $35 a month for the cellphone plan that makes it all work for you?  You’re being ripped off.

Let me say that again.  A cell phone bill that’s more than $35 a month for use with an iPhone, Galaxy, whatever much-hipper-than-I-am phone that lives in your pocket is a complete and utter waste of your money, which is a waste of the hours of your life you trade for your money.  That time is precious, and on Life as a Hat, I want you to keep every bit of it you can.

Why am I setting $35 as the limit to what you should spend on your cell?  It’s what I do with the T-Mobile and Walmart team up pre-paid plan.  Here’s what I get for $30 a month ( which comes to a grand total of $33 and change after taxes and fees.)

  • Unlimited texts
  • Unlimited data (5 gigabytes at 4G LTE speeds and unlimited data at 3G speeds after that.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with what those numbers really mean, I use my phone heavily.  I stream music when I workout, I use data for GPS, and I surf the internet prettttttty frequently in my downtime.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone above 3 gigabytes of data usage in a month.)
  • 100 minutes of talk time, which I extend into unlimited talk with Skype.
  • There’s no last bullet point because there’s nothing else you could want from a cellphone plan.  This is unlimited everything for 1/3 of what most consumers pay.

How can you join the ranks of this too good to be true plan?

  1. Own your own phone.  That might mean you don’t have the latest and greatest, but you will have freedom and won’t be locked into a pay off the phone by month plan or a contract with a subsidy.  Check out Ebay, Amazon, or your own network of friends for great deals on used phones you can buy outright.
  2. Purchase a SIM card through T-Mobile or Walmart.  As of last week, T-Mobile had a special where each sim was only $0.99.  That’s my kind of price.
  3. Activate your new sim card ONLINE.  This part is crucial.  Because of the dual nature of the T-Mobile and Walmart plan, you will not be able to purchase the correct plan if you call T-Mobile directly to activate your SIM.  Do you hear me?  Do not call T-Mobile to activate your SIM.  Use the activate online option.
  4. Select the $30 plan with 100 minutes from the dropdown menu.  Reread the options and ensure you’ve selected the correct plan.  This is the best deal on the market and the process is designed to make it difficult to access.

When I set up my plan, it took about an hour of my time, and it’s since saved me $60 a month, every month, and I have the luxury of knowing that I can walk away at any time.

That’s freedom in a phone plan.

There’s a Labor Day Sale on Stocks. You Better be Buying.

There’s a Labor Day Sale on Stocks. You Better be Buying.

The title says it all on this one, folks.  The stock market in the United States has been volatile this past week, and it closed on Friday hovering at about 3% down for the week.  

This is the best labor day sale for your freedom imaginable.

What’s that, those of you who read my 24/7 shopping method might be asking?  You want us to drop what we’re doing and make a purchase?

No.  I want you to drop what you’re doing and make the best choice of your day for true freedom.  If you’re coming along for the financially free ride with me, the stock market is your new best friend.  To beat this metaphor into the ground, stocks are the vehicle that drive us down the road to financial independence and the freedom to pursue whatever we want.  Stocks let you be a hat, Daddy.

So who make money in the stock market and how can you do it?

People who make money on the stock market get into the market and stay.

That’s pretty much it.  When stocks are low, you’re seeing the best chance to buy your piece of the market and watch the value rise.  If the market takes a hit again, people who make money stay steady.  You’re here for financial freedom, not a quick buck, and historically, the markets average a 7% return each year.  That means some years are tough, some years are buoyant, but overall, your money is making you a hell of a lot of money if you can divorce yourself from fear and start (and stay!) investing.

How can you get into the market?

Index funds!  Index funds!  Index funds!

I don’t have the time, interest, or skill set to monitor individual companies and make data based predictions on whether they’ll increase or decrease in value.  And you know what, even the people who have the skill set don’t beat the market.  Index funds give you a chance to buy a small, small, small fraction of the entire U.S. market (or whatever index you choose.)  The market is on sale right now, but history tells us that it’s going to rise again.

My personal favorite index fund is Vanguard’s Target Retirement Fund*.  If you have $1,000 saved, you can enter the market today with Vanguard.  What makes this fund great is that Vanguard is client owned, so there’s far less motive and ability to charge high fees for your transactions.  In fact, Vanguard has some of the lowest fees around, which means much, much, more of your money stays your money as it works for you in the market.  If Vanguard isn’t for you, research any other low-cost index fund to find the right fit.  My goal isn’t to sell you this fund, but to sell you on the idea that low transaction fees and a slice of the entire market are the right choice.

And if you don’t have $1,000 to enter the market with?  

No shame here, it took me awhile to save mine up.  There are other funds that you could enter into, but I suggest building yourself a safety net of $1,000 in savings, first, and then place your next $1,000 into Vanguard as soon as possible, no matter where the market is at.  The point is to get you onto this path, and the sooner you’re invested in investing, the sooner you’re going to be free.  We’ll get more into how (and WHY) to build up that initial $1,000 in savings soon.  In the meantime, we’ll keep more freedom building tips coming to help you get there as quickly as possible.

Now stop reading blogs and go.buy.stocks!

*I’m not a licensed stock broker, this isn’t financial planning advice or an endorsement.  I’m your local neighbor telling you to stop reading blogs and start buying low fee index funds.