Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are you having a great life?

I am! Occasionally I muse about life, the universe, and everything. Today during my swim was one of those days. The end result was a 29 minute 1.5 K swim nice and easy. The longest and best swim since about this time last year, when a flood closed my pool for several months. What with one thing and another it's taken till now to get it back together. There was a warmup 20 minute water run, and some stretching after.

As I was leaving the pool into a perfect day, I wanted to go home and go for a run. And I could have done so: I have a great boss, and nothing instantly pressing at work. There was a blood donor appointment to give away more of my nearly perfect blood, for the 61st time, they said, but I think I could have made it. Particularly if I'd planned better and brought run gear.

The point is I had a choice. The run could have been mine had I wanted to rearrange my life a bit, but I decided not to. I'm in the fortunate position that I get lots of choices, which is one of the reasons I think I'm having a great life these days.

What's not to like about my work? I have a great boss that loves what I do, and great co-workers. The work is interesting and engaging, although I admit not many other people would think so. I'm learning lots, and contributing lots. Within pretty broad limits I can show up when I want, leave when I want, take as long for lunch as I want. As long as I don't bill more than 7.5 hours a day times the number of working days in a month, and continue to help them pull value from databases, all is good. There are even some days the office doors are locked, and I can't work even if I want to. Like the Friday before weekends where the Monday is a summer stat holiday.

I don't get involved in work politics at all. I think about it this way. Penn West is a great big ship taking a cargo to port. Mostly there is only crew on board. Any passengers are planned, such as injury recovery or pregnancy. Any unaccounted for passengers are slackers and the captain will dump them overboard on discovery. They might or might not get a life jacket.

It used to be that if you were part of the permanent crew, you were safe. But periodically the captain throws some of the crew overboard anyways, though they often get a bit of a lifeboat with some supplies. There is no rhythm or reason to this, it's just one of the incomprehensible fits that strike incompetent leaders. With any luck they manage to find another big ship to pick them up.

I'm not part of the permanent crew. I have my own small boat, and at the moment it's moored off the stern, along with a flock of other small boats. We all joined up, and are helping the permanent crew with some tasks. Eventually those tasks will be done, and there will be no other tasks they can give me, or the offered task will not be acceptable, and I'll get back on my boat again. If the captain wants to throw me overboard for whatever reason, I just get back onto my own boat again, along with whatever bags of gold I've accumulated in my time on board. Then I go somewhere else.

The Penn West boat is going somewhere, I don't really care where. I don't care how the permanent crew get paid, or what their particular conditions are. I don't really care how they organize themselves, or how the chairs on the bridge are arranged. At the end of the day I get back on my boat to snooze. Sometimes I take a holiday and drive my boat elsewhere for a little while. Some of my buddies shuttle back and forth between big boats. At long as I get my regular bag of gold I'm happy.

What's not to like about being fairly fit and healthy? Of course I'd like to run faster, but I can run, and swim, and bike, and do lots of other stuff. Many people my age are not nearly so mobile, and that's too bad. There are some that are much more mobile, and I look up to them, often from behind as they head off to the horizon. Good for them!

What's not to like about having enough money day to day that my choice is usually "Do I want to afford it?" and not "Can I afford it?", while not having so much money I have to worry about being kidnapped. Many people don't have enough money, or think they don't, which is two very different things. There used to be a feature in the Globe and Mail, back when I read paper newspapers, that looked at a family's finances, and made suggestions for improvement. Often their income made ours look small, yet they had outlandish expenses, and a very small net worth.

I blame television and society in general. People think they deserve it all, right now. What some of them deserve is a smack up side the head for being an idiot. Whatever happened to saving up for something? Whatever happened to taking care of your stuff so it lasted longer? Whatever happened to living within your means?

That last is something really important that many people now seem to have never known. They spend money with no conception of how much of it they have. Then they wonder why they never accumulate any savings, and are always paying interest.

Do you want to know how to get rich, in a monetary sense? It's not hard, particularly. You spend less than you earn. You defer your gratification. You don't buy cheap shit for no good reason. When that accumulates you a small pot of money, you invest it so that it starts earning you money. That money gets reinvested. It starts small, but it snowballs quickly.

Learning about how to invest money isn't terribly difficult either. The concepts aren't hard, and there many ways to learn. The library has many such books. Fundamentally it's simple. Buy cheap and sell dear. Or if you've got a bit more nerve, borrow to sell dear now and buy cheap later to pay back the borrowed.

No, the mechanics of investing money is not the hard part. The hard part is to be patient, to wait out the short term market swings, to stick to your plan. To have the courage to invest when other's won't, and not sell when others sell. What was I doing during the great market correction of 2008 and 2009? Buying more. I had double digit returns there for a while. The hard part is seeing that the traditional bedrock investment, real estate, is now grossly over-valued in Canada, and staying out of it for a while.

When you do buy things, you buy the best you can afford. There is an S shaped graph that compares cost and quality. At first when cost is low, quality is low too. This is what you get shopping at Walmart, mostly. As cost goes up a little bit, quality goes up dramatically. Then the quality curve flattens out, even though the cost can keep going up. There is a limit as to how well something can be made, after all. I like to buy at that sweet spot where the curve starts to flatten out.

It means I pay a little bit more for some things, but that's ok. They last longer and work better. They give me less aggravation. In my world, it's often cheaper for me to pay a little more, because the scrambling around trying to find cheaper at an acceptable level of quality takes time. I know exactly, EXACTLY how much an hour of my time is worth. It's often easier, more efficient, and more effective for me to work a few more hours, than waste my own time trying to get a deal.

An example? Painting the inside of the house. I can, and have done this. Paying a guy that really knows how, and does meticulous work was a much better deal. In the time it would have taken me to paint, I could, and did, earn far more than what I paid him. I'm ahead by the difference. Same with the landscaping. Paying experienced people to bring in the right equipment was by far the better deal.

The thing is that you have to know how to do these calculations. Then actually do them, and live with the results. Ignore your idiot brother-in-law who scoffs and says he can get you a deal. It will pay off over time. I rarely think about things in terms of dollar cost anymore. I think in terms of how many hours I have to work to pay for it.

Now, how to get rich in a non-monetary sense? That's easy too. You have to do the things that make your life worth living. Create relationships to other people and nurture them. Build memories of doing things you enjoy doing. Appreciate what you have. Cut out most of the TV, and spend that time having fun with real people, taking care of your money and health, and getting more sleep.

Run from people that say they are bored. Anyone who is bored these days is too stupid to be around. They will suck you dry and drag you under. Hang around with other people with interests similar to yours. Pick something that you think needs fixing, and work on fixing it. Maybe it's something big, like cleaning up all the plastic thats clogging the oceans, or something small, like getting the city to install playground equipment in your local park. Whatever.

I was at an event a while ago when someone said something that has always stuck with me. "If you aren't having fun, it's your own damn fault." Now granted, there are some people for whom it's tougher than others, or so it seems. But if you're reading this blog, you are not likely to be one of them. So get out there, and get on with that great life!

Tell me, what's making your life great?


  1. I'm glad things are coming together for you. You have choices and choose to find fun. Captain of your own ship! Great attitude!

  2. Sorry, been one heck of a busy week, but it's okay (for now).

    My life? My hubby, for so many reasons of course, but principally for my transplanted kidney. So that I have a second opportunity to live my life and this time, with the right priorities. The other thing that makes my life so great: my friendships. I truly feel blessed for the friends I have. :)


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