How Am I Doing on My Goals – Month 1 Report Card

So it’s been a month and a half since my initial post on setting some new goals. Below is my month 1 report card. I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad Seasons 4 & 5 lately, so that can’t be a good sign…

Average 4 Work Outs per Week: A-

Until this week (final exams & final projects), I think I did a pretty good job with this one. I’m going to have to figure out how to fit in 4 workouts as the winter is a comin’. But no excuses: set a goal & execute.

Average a Blog Post Every 5 Days: C-

I’m just going to be real honest with myself here. I can come up with a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day, writing hasn’t been on the top of the totem pole of priorities for me this last month and a half and it will probably stay that way for the next “extended period of time”. I need to re-examine this goal as we go into the New Year and come up with specific, yet reasonable goals. This is the 6th post in 46 days, so by my count that is a post about every 7.7 days.

Average $60/day of new product posted on eBay Store: B

Again, until these last few weeks (as school has ramped up), I’ve done a pretty good job executing to my goal here, but lots of room for improvement. Over the last 90 days, I have sold over 90 items for a total of about $3,350 sales. Definitely one of the best holiday seasons that I’ve ever had and it all is based on the amount of product listed. I’ve also started my journey as an Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) seller. The reason I am so interested in FBA, is because I can continue to source my items, but then send them to Amazon warehouses and not have to worry about individually listing & packaging items. Of course, only certain items will qualify, but time is my most valuable asset right now. FBA helps to give me some of this valuable resource back. I’ll continue to provide updates as I get more into the FBA world!

Enjoy life with wife & dogs: A-

I think we have a done a pretty good job of staying relaxed and spending time as a family. My wife recently transitioned her job role and timing (use to work nights, but now works days), so we are getting use to the new routine. It’s a big change and it will take some time to get use to it.

Maintain School Work: A-

This has taken away from a lot of my other goals in the last 2-3 weeks, but my classes are pretty much winding down and there shouldn’t be any big hiccups here. The A- is for the likely A- I will get in my marketing class.

Read an Interesting Book: F

Complete Fail. I haven’t even opened an interesting book in the last month (Marketing Management doesn’t count – HA…). This goal was too vague and so I need to pick a specific goal to make this happen. By December 31, 2015 I will read Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach. It’s been on my list for a while now and my copy is just staring me straight in the eyes when I walk by it every evening.

My New Daily Routine Goal: D-

Another terrible grade here. If you aren’t familiar, my goal was to transition my routine from this:

  1. 7:30 AM: wake-up
  2. 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM: work
  3. 5:30 PM – later: do stuff

To this:

  1. 7:00 AM: wake-up
  2. 7:15 AM: work out / walk dogs & shower
  3. 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM: work
  4. 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM: eat & chill time
  5. 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM: school work / ebay / write
  6. 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM: wind down & in-bed by 10:30

I think my wife’s transition to early mornings will help. I have always been a night owl, but there is no denying that morning people are usually much more productive people. I’m a creature of habit, so if I can create this habitual daily improvement, I know I will improve my productivity by all accounts.

So there it is – my month 1 report card. Some ups and some downs, but if I look at things on the whole, I have to say slightly disappointing. I’ve always aimed for A’s and B’s on report cards (not a big fan of the C’s get degrees expression).

Keep your eyes out for a revamping of this update next month. Similar to how other bloggers focus on net worth growth (don’t worry – I track that too), I am working on a comprehensive list of goals to track and update monthly! Just in time for 2016.

Daymond John’s Live Talk

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Daymond John speak live. If you’ve never heard of him (do you live under a rock?!), Daymond John is the founder of the apparel line, FUBU, and an investor on the hit reality show, Shark Tank. He was a great speaker and extremely captivating. He spoke about his life up to this point and gave some insightful thoughts incorporating 5 main points into the story (naturally these points spelled out S-H-A-R-K).

S – Set a Goal

Daymond worked as a waiter at Red Lobster in his 20’s. He talked about how he learned how a business worked from this job and a bit about the art of selling. I also thought he had an interesting viewpoint about when he decided to actually pursue his own apparel line. He said he was 100% sure he could go back to being a waiter if he failed, so what did he have to lose? I thought this to be a profound statement. Do you have a great idea or the urge to run your own business? What is holding you back from making the leap? For me, the answer to that question is focus, but setting a goal is a good start.

H – Homework

If you are old enough, you might recognize the picture at the top. That is LL Cool J rapping for a 1999 Gap commercial. What you may or may not know is that LL Cool J just happens to be from the same Queens neighborhood as a Mr. Daymond Garfield John. What you also may or may not know is that LL Cool J is wearing a FUBU hat and snuck in a slick, “For Us By Us” (FUBU) lyric into this Gap commercial. The Gap marketing folks didn’t do their homework on the up & coming urban apparel market. And FUBU was handed one of the biggest, accidental marketing campaigns of all time (FO FREE!).

A – Amor

Amor is spanish for “Love”. Everything is a balance in life and this is the one that I definitely felt for Daymond because it was clear that though I’m sure he loves his family, he became extremely busy building a FUBU empire in the early 1990’s and 2000’s and probably did not devote enough time for his family. This struck me because I am always trying to think about prioritizing the problems & things going on currently in my life. It’s a personal decision, but for me, everything I ultimately do in life is for my family’s well being and security. For Daymond, it could have been too, I don’t know. Whatever your priorities, it’s important to remember them & nuture them.

R – Remember, You are the Brand

If you’ve ever seen Shark Tank, you might agree that the sharks have bought into some pretty terrible sounding ideas and they have also passed on some pretty great businesses. But as Daymond pointed out, that show is almost always about investing in people, not products. If they see something in a contestant (not sure of the correct term here – HA!), their current idea might fail, but they will continue fighting and keep coming up with great business ideas until one is successful. I think I remember Mark Cuban saying something about all it takes is “one good idea”, so it’s definitely a mindset. Which leads to tonight’s final thought…

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K – Keep Swimming

You don’t even realize things sometimes until you just stop and look around you. The week after I saw Daymond John speak live and heard him say, “Keep Swimming”, I realized I walk by this window art every week when I work out after my evening class. But it resonates with me deeply. No matter who they are or what they do, it’s what successful people do, “Just Keep Swimming”.

Should I Buy or Lease a Car? – The Long-Term Solution

If you hate reading, found this through google and just want an answer to this question: DON’T LEASE!

For everyone else:

Over the years, I’ve seen numerous blog posts and webpages asking the age old question, “Should I Buy or Lease a Car?” One thing that I haven’t seen is the long-term analysis of this question. Usually the tools focus on a singular decision, but the reality is that life is about a long-term string of choices. Below serves as a guide for a long-term scenario to this common question.

The Scenario:

In our fictional scenario, we will assume we are sitting in the magical year of 2016. We just graduated from college at 22 years old, got a spankin’ brand new job, and we need a car to make that hour long commute in. Three options are presented to us for acquiring said car. We can:

  1. Buy Car (Cash)
  2. Buy Car (Loan Financing)
  3. Lease Car

Because we are looking at the long-term implications of this decision, we will also assume that once we go down one of  the 3 yellow brick roads, we stick with the same acquisition method for the next 48 years (until we are 70 years old). Obviously, our method of obtaining a car could change over time, but in effort for a meaningful comparison, we will stick with this simple assumption. Below are some of our additional base assumptions:

  • Purchase Price of Car in 2016: $33,560 (this is average – people are cray cray…)
  • Annual Depreciation Rate: 17%
  • Inflation Rate: 2.5%
  • Interest Rate: 4.5%
  • Both Buying Methods: New Car every 7 years
  • Lease Method: New Car every 3 years

So just a couple of notes on these assumptions. I know cars don’t straight line depreciate, but this gets us down to about 57% of purchase price after 3 years. This is probably pretty realistic for most cars. You may be thinking the interest rate assumption is too high, but remember we are looking at a long-term case here. Though car loans today are lower than 4.5% for prime borrowers, they will likely increase over time (since we are in a historically low interest rate environment). I believe this assumption is actually quite conservative, as over the next 50 years I would expect this average rate to be more in the mid-to-high single digits (I don’t know why I typed this – no one knows where interest rates will be 50 years from today).

For both buying methods, we will assume that we get a new car every 7 years and also that we will take out a 6 year loan on the car for the financing method (DAYUM – that’s a long time). Not unrealistic, since amazingly the average car loan is up to a whooping 67 months. Crazy. At the end of the 7 years, we will also assume we use all the proceeds from the sale of our current vehicle towards the purchase of our next vehicle.

On the leasing side, it was interesting to research all the pieces of the math puzzle that make up a lease. If you’re not familiar with a car lease, here is usually how it works:

You make a down payment on the car (usually 10% of purchase price). The remaining value is something called the capitalized cost. At the end of the lease (3 years in this case) you have an assumed residual value based on depreciation rates (remember this is 17% annual depr. rate).  The other important piece of information in this calculation is this weird term called “the money factor”. It sounds like a fun game show, but later you’ll see how this kills you slowly over time and is not a fun game show.

Money Factor = Interest Rate / 2400      or in our case      4.5/2400 = .001875

So with this information we can now see our total cash outflows on each 3 year car lease:

  1. 10% down payment of car price
  2. Monthly Depreciation Cost (we are paying for the depreciation that is used up in our 3 year lease)
  3. Monthly Interest Cost (which equals [(Capitalized Cost + Residual Value) x Money Factor]/12)
  4. Monthly Sales Tax Cost (assume 7% because the seller has to pay taxes & stuff)

Now the craziest part of this whole calculation is #3 because you are paying interest on not only the capitalized cost, or the 90% value of the car you haven’t paid for upfront but also the residual value of the car after 3 years, remember this was 57% based on our assumptions from above. So think about that with me – you are paying interest based on: 147% (90% + 57%) of the value of the car, even though you are also paying 10% downpayment. Ouch.

Now for the results:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.33.58 PM

A lot of numbers to decipher through, but not surprisingly buying your cars for the next 48 years in cash is the cheapest method in terms of total cash spent. The only difference between the financing vs. cash method is the interest that you pay. Since we are financing each of our cars over 6 years, instead of paying for them up front in cash, the bank wants to be compensated via a healthy interest cost. Okay, makes sense.

But let’s now turn our focus on the total cash spent in the lease column. This column consists of three portions of cost. 1) the principal cost (10% down payments every 3 years) 2) the interest cost (remember that high multiple of car value you are paying – 147%) and 3) depreciation / other cost (the value of the car you use up in your lease + local sales tax). Hopefully you notice the total cash spent in the column is significantly higher. But I think it’s hard to quantify or really see the simplified meaning of this comparison in the above table. So consider the following:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.45.45 PM

Over the next 48 years, in each buy method you will drive 7 total cars for 7 years each (7x cars driven multiple). In the lease method, since you are leasing a new car every 3 years you will drive a total of 16 cars (16x). But when we look at the cost of each method in something called the equivalent cars paid multiple – the results are STAGGERING. Over the same 48 year method, we are paying for an additional 5.7 cars or an additional $180K total cash spent by leasing cars vs. buying our vehicles in cash. By the way, we aren’t leasing anything that’s a nicer car, the base assumption was with the same purchase price!

So what’s the point & why the difference?

Some others disagree, but I still would argue it’s best to buy vehicles in cash (and for way less than $33,560 – by the way), but the point is even over a 48 year timeframe financing your cars isn’t too big of a deal (especially in a low interest environment). You are basically paying for an extra car over your lifetime (7.9x vs. 7.0x). Not ideal, but not a life-changer either, and not everyone has the circumstances to buy cars in cash. But by consistently leasing a car, you are committing financial suicide. It hurts big time because in a car lease you are paying for the depreciation of a car but you don’t get any of the benefit (because you don’t own it!) and you are paying massive interest costs (though they disguise it well).

On my local radio, when I hear a leasing commercial that says, “Lease your car, but drive it like you own it” it makes me want to punch my radio dial in the face. Ha, yeah right. Don’t do it. Don’t lease.

How I Got American Airlines to Refund My Non-Refundable Ticket

Short answer: annoy the sh** out of them.

Below is the epicly frustrating monologue outlining my story of getting American Airlines to refund my non-refundable ticket. Overall, this process took about a month. I didn’t do anything special, but I took every avenue possible and just didn’t take no for an answer.

A few months ago, my wife decided she wanted to visit a friend in Nashville. So we did our usual shop around and the best rate we ended up finding was a $202 American Airlines round-trip fare on Kayak (best travel search engine, still waiting on the sponsorship). A few weeks go by and long story short, this ended up being the weekend that her friend had to move to her next location because of a rotating job. I was pretty upset. For a while. Mainly because I had enough knowledge from previous encounters with American that I knew this money might as well have been thrown out the car window while driving 80 down the highway. For all intents and purposes (NOT intensive purposes – I need a better editor – LOL – thanks to reader Mara for pointing out), this money was gone and the fare was unuseable.

The first step was a phone call to the amazing AA customer service department (HA! sarcasm much?). The lady on the phone told me that there would be a $200 change fee, no exceptions, blah blah blah. She explained to me a situation where I could still recover some of the fare with a re-booking strategy even with paying the $200 change junk fee. I asked, “so this could save me between $2 – $4, seriously?”. She said yes without laughing. How helpful. Thanks lady. Next.

Next strategy was social media. I tried to keep it respectful, but still get the point across:


Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.41.06 AM

About an hour later, I was greeted with this helpful reply:

Capture

Are you effin kidding me American? You send me a link that shows that I can get boarding group 1, same-day flight changes, and other misc. crap (for a large fee). Next.

So next, I found a very helpful consumer advocate named Chris Elliot that helps steer consumers in what to do with situations like this. His website can be found here. Basically, the strategy was to write an email explaining my situation and hoping that I catch the right person that day. Here is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.11.01 AM

Notice, I was intentional in mentioning the words “family emergency”, but kept it very generic. I instead focused the meat & potatoes of my message on the fact that they have competitors (your turn, Southwest) who don’t penalize customers when circumstances come up. I emailed this to the AA customers relations email and also submitted on their cute little customers relations form website. After no response for a week, I forwarded the email to their executive contacts in the order that Chris Elliot suggests.

Also, make sure that you do go ahead and cancel the flight before it takes off (I did this the day before the flight) and request a refund through that method, as well. If you have talked with people on the telephone or have actual humans that have responded to your emails make sure to include these names and a quick synopsis of their response (only if it helps your case) in your next round of emails to AA.

After a couple of more phone calls and another email back to the original customers relations department. I got this and just about stood up and screamed in joy at work:

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.26.17 AM

I couldn’t believe it, my persistence had paid off and I’d been successful in getting American to FULLY refund me on a non-refundable ticket. Persistence. That’s the name of this game. Funny thing, I got an email later that week (YES – after I received said refund) saying they were still looking into my potential refund and explaining their non-refundable policy. HA! Just goes to show you how on top of things they are.

In case you got lost in the story, here is a summary list of resources to help, I’m sure other airlines would follow similar suit:

  1. Tweet @AmericanAir – I like Twitter better than Facebook, because companies can’t delete your tweets directed at them.
  2. AA Phone Number List – if you are an AAdvantage member – talk it up!
  3. AA Customer Relations (12/30/2016 – updated link – thanks to lora b for pointing out) – email, send them a letter, submit the form, all of the above!
  4. AA Refunds – make sure to cancel the flight (preferably the week of)
  5. Elliot’s great list of AA contacts
  6. BE PERSISTENT. This is most important, you can’t just do one of these and expect to get your money back. Don’t take no for an answer.

 

What other methods have you all been able to deploy to get refunds on airfare or other travel tickets?

Why am I wasting so much time? …and what I’m doing to fix it.

10a

I’m sorry to say but the focus of this article is not some-type of bs self-help article list to help you become more productive. I’m gonna be a little selfish on this one – it’s all about me and maybe some of it applies to you, as well.

I am the king of wasting time. I’ve always been jealous of my wife because she is such a great planner and very task oriented. When she makes a list, she usually gets all, or at least almost all of the items done. I on the other hand have a long list of wasting-time methods, which include, but are not limited to:

  • wasting hours on YouTube
  • mindless researching on eBay, without a specific goal or task in mind
  • House of Cards
  • Orange Is The New Black
  • Bloodline
  • Narcos
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Okay fine… every single Netflix Original Series.
  • Watching sports games of teams I don’t even care about, mindlessly, of course.
  • Fantasy football
  • Fantasy basketball
  • Fantasy baseball
  • HGTV? (why is this on the list???)
  • Checking facebook like something important actually happened.
  • Reading TOO MANY personal finance blogs
  • Reading TOO MANY posts on bogleheads (best personal finance forum on the interwebs – b t dubs … you’re welcome)

Instead I should be more focused on things like self improvement & reflection, really being in the moment with friends & family, and focusing on meaningful tasks & projects in my daily life. It’s almost embarrasing how many hours in a week I currently waste because of mindless internet surfing and the like, so it’s time to work on my time management. Reading GYFG’s post on his typical day last month really made me stop & reflect on my own current daily schedule.

I recently took a training class at work called “5 Choices to Extraordinary Productity.” Yes, it was as cheezy as it sounds. But I’m not saying it was a waste of time. One of the biggest things I got out of the class was that we all have so much stuff going on and we really need to focus on the big rocks. In other words, sometimes it’s important to ignore all the garbage and make sure you get the big shit done. Actually that makes me remember that I forgot to go to the dry cleaners tonight, so terrible example. Hopefully you get the point – planning your week is vital and making sure you finish the big, important tasks on time is obviously very important. If you forget to go to the dry cleaners tonight, maybe that’s okay that you spent some time just hanging out with the dogs & writing.

The whole planning thing is nice in practice, but it’s kind of like a new years resolution for me. I’m good about it for a few weeks, but then fall off a cliff. A deep, steep cliff. So, instead of my day looking something like this currently:

  1. 7:30 AM: wake-up
  2. 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM: work
  3. 5:30 PM – later: do stuff

My new goal is for the average day to look something like this:

  1. 7:00 AM: wake-up
  2. 7:15 AM: work out / walk dogs & shower
  3. 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM: work
  4. 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM: eat & chill time
  5. 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM: school work / ebay / write
  6. 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM: wind down & in-bed by 10:30

Probably like many others, I am a creature of habit. My habits of habitually wasting time, need to be broken. I’m writing this down to have more of a chance of holding myself accountable, and you should too.

So here are some high level goals:

  • average 4 work outs a week
  • average a blog post every 5 days
  • average $60/day of new product posted on eBay store
  • enjoy life with wife & dogs
  • maintain school work
  • read an interesting book (the whole thing, not just the cover…)

We’ll check back in a month from now to see how I’m doing. What are you doing to improve your life? If you can’t answer that question, pick at least one thing. You can handle improving one thing.

“In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.” – Lou Holtz

Who Is The Fire Guy?

Hi All,

Welcome to The Fire Guy. This website isn’t about firefighters or how to get fired from your job. Instead, FIRE stands for Financial Indepedence & Early Retirement. You may be thinking – dude, you are 26, what gives you the right to write about personal finance, let  alone think about it. First of all, it’s a FREE country – so HA! But seriously, if I had the normal workerbee mindset, I would agree with you. Instead, my past experiences have shaped me into the person I am today and financial indepedence is almost always on the forefront of my mind these days.

Just a little bit about me, I am a married mid 20’s suburbanite that works in corporate finance and I am just a good old fashionshed nerd when it comes to numbers. I live in a mix of YOLO moments and mowing the lawn & other adult like tasks. I lived a seemingly normal childhood with great parents and a great family and for that, I feel truly blessed. I grew up with normal entrepreneurial aspirations – solid for a child, but nothing like Warren Buffet’s pinball machine empire. Snow comes, lemonade stands, and eventually eBay. The whole eBay story will have to wait for another day, but long story short, I’ve sold a lot of shit on eBay in my day.

I went to a state university, had great times with great friends, and came out with a decent entry level job. Health Insurance and a 401K that was on its way to vesting – WOW, was I a baller or WHAT!? One thing that I’ve realized is that Corporate America is what you make of it – you can definitely go to work and be miserable everyday and you can also go to work and be that really annoying guy that just smiles 24/7. I’ve seen both. I’d like to think I’m somewhere in the middle. Another big thing that I’ve realized is that all of life is what you make of it and I would much rather be working because I want to, as opposed to being required to work to pay bills. This leads me to the idea of financial independence. It’s the big safety net that is the biggest hammock in the world. Don’t mistake and think that I will become any less motivated or driven when financially indepedent. But there is a certain feeling of freedom associated with being able to do what you want exactly when you want it. The old folks tell me I should delay gratification. Trips with my beautiful wife around the country and the world help me remember this goal and why I want to get there.

Welcome to the site, hopefully you stick around and we can learn something from each other over the coming months and years. Nice to meet you internets – it should be a fun ride!

-Your Fire Guy