Having twice your income saved by 35 is not obnoxious

When I was 20 I no longer worked a jobby-job with the State. So I needed to roll my retirement account savings into a new account. I found Jim Fleming nearby and we’ve been loyal to each other ever since.

During our initial conversation, I asked Jim, “How much money should I be saving each month to have a comfortable retirement?”

“That depends on a few factors. Let’s run some numbers based off when you’re 60, 65, and 70 years old,” he said.

He flipped his computer screen around and said, “These numbers assume that Social Security will exist in some form as it does today, with some modest increases in inflation.”

The numbers for what my annual retirement outlays were around $60,000 inflation-adjusted dollars per year. Keep in mind, my reported income the first year I started my business in earnest was $17,000.

“How much should I be saving then, of my own money, each month?” I asked again, driving at the real number.

Without so much as a stutter: “About $300-$350 a month”. That, on top of what we hoped would remain of Social Security, was what I needed to be saving each month.

I didn’t hit that goal at 20 years of age and $17,000 a month. Yet when I started my business I made room for retirement savings. “Let’s start with $50 a month,” I said.

That, coupled with my rollover money from the State was a start. If you’re curious, I think my retirement savings at that point amounted to around $4,000.

Each year Jim would call to check in and each year or two I would bump the amount of money I was saving by $25 or $50. An extra $25 a month wasn’t noticeable to me. I had expenses under control. I took the risk of foregoing college when I couldn’t pay out of pocket anymore so I never had loans. I got rid of my car. I lived in a modest house in the city, but at a low rate and rented out a spare bedroom. On any given month I could pay for utilities, insurance (pre-Obamacare), groceries, and some small business expenses on about $650 a month. For a while I didn’t use a cell phone, instead opting for an iPod Touch and Skype calls over WiFi. I ate a lot of tuna sandwiches in 2010.

Last year I set a life goal to get to that magic $300 a month number. I hit that in March. Looking at my retirement funds, I have a healthy amount of money in there. I’m fortunate to be able to say that. I get that some people don’t have that luxury. In fact, a lot of people don’t.

For ten years I have harped on anyone who is leaving college to “immediately start saving something, anything, for retirement.” I usually get dumb looks. I might as well be telling my friends they should hop on one leg from now until they’re 65.

The Twitter story about having twice your annual salary saved by 35 struck people as obnoxious and rude*. I don’t think it is. I think it’s math. Some people are naturally stuck in a terrible spot because they had to go to college to get a decent career. Others are there because they didn’t do the work earlier to prepare and drive a $20,000 car.

Like hours in a day, we (everyone using Twitter anyway) have some level of income. It sounds preachy, but this has to be a priority. We can’t even assume Social Security is going to be there for us.

Don’t blame education. I didn’t know any more or less than any other 19 or 20-year-old. No one is surprised to find out they get old and things cost money.

The savings advice is not rude or obnoxious. It’s not even unrealistic. It is possible, just like losing 100 pounds is possible for a 300-pound person. Don’t lament it or mock that math. Assess and take action.

* What’s obnoxious and rude is the jackass that said millennials don’t own homes because we spend it all on avocado toast.

Things on the wall are slowing down

My journal entry for May 8, 2018. A text transcription is at the end:

May 8, 2018 Journal Entry

 

A text transcription of the above:

On the wall in my office is a collection of random notes, cards, tickets, & badges. It’s almost a history of my life.

It includes tickets to Aerosmith & stones concerts. One of the few photos I have of my mom and me. A photo of Jake & me at a Japanese restaurant holding a birthday pineapple (it wasn’t my birthday).

There are also many notes- many handwritten- that clients and friends have sent.

I realized yesterday the rate I’m adding to this wall is slowing. Perhaps it’s cultural. Printed tickets are rare now. Perhaps clients don’t feel a need to write now that I’m solidly “not a kid” anymore.

Regardless, it makes me sad to think these connections are getting few and far between.

I’ve made an effort over the years to regularly write to people. To compliment their work, keep in touch, or just say hello. I rarely hear back. When I do, it’s usually a digital note through a text or Facebook message.

The State of the Justin

The President gave us the State of the Union Tuesday night. I figure it’s time for the annual State of the Justin.

New House

I’ve always been proud of the fact I was lucky and able to buy my first home when I was 20. My mortgage broker at the time joked I could buy a house before I could buy a beer. It turns out, I’ve still never purchased a beer.

On Tuesday we moved from our home on Adina Ct. to a much more historic home in Irvington on Spencer Ave.

I’ve always wanted to live in Irvington. Even when I bought the last house I wanted to live in Irvington but couldn’t afford to.

A nice young guy purchased the old house as his first home and I wish him well.

Jeremiah and I are looking forward to inviting folks over once we get all the boxes unpacked.

I’ve lost 32 pounds

InBody Scan ResultsI weighed myself this morning. The scale reported back at 149.9, which is 33 pounds less than I was in the fall.

Most people immediately query, “How’d you do that?” and “Did you even have that much weight to lose?”

Apparently, yes, I had that much to lose. It says something that 183-pound me was considered fine (albeit medically overweight by about 15 pounds). My body type is one that packs fat around organs as opposed to just on my frame. If anything, I was in more danger than the folks that carry it around their exterior.

Losing it was pretty simple: don’t eat like an idiot. I’m 30 years old, so I can’t just eat everything and the cardboard box it comes in anymore. I’m okay with that, but didn’t struggle like some people. I long eschewed sodas and fast food. But I ate a lot of bread, desserts were mandatory, and I consumed a lot of dairy in the form of cheese and creams.

Eliminating bread, getting used to fruit for dessert, and removing cheese did most of the work. I don’t miss the bread so much. I still desire a good chunk of cheesecake, but can resist. And leaving cheese off things really doesn’t impact the flavor of anything that much. Except pizza. I miss pizza. And chimichangas…

I recognize my superpower is the ability to miserably say “no” to things. It scares Jeremiah how easily I can flip to, “I just don’t do that anymore.” If that’s not your superpower, it’s going to be harder, but you can do it.

Workouts at Naptown Fitness have become routine. On Tuesday morning I had to close on two houses and move between them at 10 am. I woke up at 4 am and took the bus to the gym so I could get in a class.

Doing SWIFT (sort of a P90x/jump training/cardio hybrid) classes for 45 minutes at least 5-6 times a week is mandatory. I put it on my calendar and am incredibly defensive of that time. Meetings get placed around it, phone calls don’t interrupt it, and I’m better for it. Doing classes at 4 in the afternoon is one of the best parts of my day.

If you’re an office worker, you might find that doing a workout is satisfying because you get clear goals and finish lines. White collar work is often void of that. I like this challenge precisely because it’s hard, but defined.

And in case you think that your trip to LA Fitness is fine: the benefits of a class are tenfold. It’s awfully hard to stop and rest when the guy next to you is plowing through his work. So much so I now seek to position myself next to men and women who are as good or better than me in a class.

Reading

I read or listened to 47 books in 2017. So far this year I’m about to wrap up my fourth.

My favorites include Grant by Ron Chernow (Trump’s presidency doesn’t mirror Andrew Jackson. It mirrors Andrew Johnson, which came after Lincoln. And Ulysses S. Grant may be one of our most underrated historical figures.). I also immensely enjoyed the trilogy that is Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

Two books have actively changed the nature of my life and work. The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande talks about the benefits of using checklists in everyday work. His thesis: there’s too much knowledge for any single human. So write down and double-check.

Deep Work by Cal Newport is equally impressive. I wrote about this over on the SuperPixel blog.

If you’re one of those people on the outside looking in at readers and wondering how they do it: the Indianapolis Public Library is wonderful. The online library delivers a good number of books to Kindles, too.  I certainly don’t buy all these books. But I do maintain an Audible subscription. Commuting on a bike or a bus is a great way to get in some extra reading time.

Slowly, then quickly at SuperPixel

SuperPixel continues to grow slowly and organically, but the work has rapidly increased lately. I still struggle with The E-Myth (short for Entrepreneur). The balance between having a scalable business that runs itself versus being a solo-preneur or nearly a solo-preneur is hard in my line of work. I recognized late last year there are almost no big, nationwide service provider businesses. There are no chain attorneys or franchise physicians. There are networks and small clusters trying, like in dentistry or in medical groups. Big corporations sell products and widgets. Or services that masquerade as products, like insurance. The only service businesses I can think of is True Green and Merry Maids. Both of which involve low-wage work.

We have reached a point where the work we have is enough. Now I want to make it really damn good. I’m more interested in solving thorny business problems for clients this year than I am in making a website or two.

Onward and upward

My goals for 2018 look something like this:

  1. Compete in a Spartan race
  2. Compete in a triathlon – Happening in July
  3. [Personal]
  4. 100 consecutive workouts
  5. Generate $10k from book sales
  6. $10k in savings
  7. Pay off debts
  8. Funnel $300/mo. to retirement – $50 short currently
  9. Launch an email series
  10. Interview a President
  11. Walk 500 dogs
  12. Share a house with great friends
  13. Travel more with Jeremiah. D.C., London – I really want to see Bond in Motion
  14. Run for office
  15. 30 days of Whole 30
  16. $200k in annual revenue for SuperPixel
  17. White Water Rafting
  18. Hang glide
  19. Jet Ski
  20. Snorkel off the Cape
  21. Ski

In July I’ll be racing in the TriIndy. I wrote a book last year that I’ve asked a few people to review. With exception of the mortgage, we’re in good shape to have most debts eliminated soon. Savings to retirement is likely to increase later this year.

Today marks the end of Whole 30. And many other things on this list are in progress or coming soon.

I’m also participating in this March’s Polar Plunge with Crystal. You can donate here. If we make the fundraising goal I’ll post the photos.

7 miles in Indianapolis

Think about your morning routine. If you’re like me, you wake up, get dressed, and head out the door to go to work. Your schedule will vary, of course. I get up early, and you may get up later. I don’t have to shuffle kids to school. You might have to. But the routine is steady. Only occasionally does something get in the way – like an illness or a dead car battery. How many of the 260 working days each year does that happen, though? For most, it’s probably only a few.

For another group of commuters, it’s likely most days. I’ve long lamented the wastefulness of cars and car culture. But there’s a reason why cars win and there’s a reason why self-driving cars have so many people excited for the future: it works way better.

My commute this morning, and last Thursday, and last Wednesday looked something like this:

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Out the door at 6. Walk 15 minutes.
  • Take a bus Downtown. Arrive at 6:40.
  • Walk across the street to grab a Bikeshare bike. There are no bikes.
  • Walk to another station. There are no bikes.
  • Walk to another station, 15 minutes later, get a bike.
  • Bike to the station nearest my office. There are no open docks.
  • Bike backward to dock at another station then waste another 15 minutes walking.
Pacers Bikeshare Empty Station

An empty Pacers bikeshare station

You can imagine how awful that is when the weather is lousy. This is all to go 7 miles.

At the end of the day this process is reversed on more occasions than not.

Bikeshare as transportation doesn’t work because bikeshare doesn’t work for anything buy playful jaunts on a whim. I spend more time walking to and from bike and bus stations than I do using them.

The broken Pacers Bikeshare app just displays a map

The broken Pacers Bikeshare app just displays a map

The Bikeshare people regularly say to check their app to make sure a bike is available or a dock. Except it doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for over a month. Plus, it’s ridiculous. You’re telling people, “Before you go to work make sure one of the five spots is open.” As if that somehow changes where your office is.

Cars cost a lot of money, and I think they cost more than they’re worth. Government regulations require ever-additional costs (backup cameras, for instance). But there’s a reason everyone immediately shuffles to get one in all but a few cities in the U.S.: you get in them, you go somewhere, and you go somewhere else, and you get stuff done. That’s what productive high-performing people do. They get stuff done.

If time is money, then the time wasted on this dance every morning is a tax. We try to fill it with “productive” work – like listening to audiobooks or podcasts, but you can’t read a book or type on a laptop while you’re walking. If I left my house in the morning when I was ready, at 5:45, I could be at work by 6:05. In other words, I could be at my destination in the time it takes to walk half a mile down the road. This is why self-driving car advocates are excited. You couple the speed of destination arrival with the ability to read a book or catch up on emails. Convenience always wins. If every morning was a driving disaster this conversation might be different. But that’s not a problem I encounter even if I did drive.

Nothing any mere mortal can do will change this. Cities aren’t magically going to increase their density so you don’t have to travel as far. This doesn’t matter anyway. Just look at my commute problems, where most happen in the city’s densest square mile. The Transit Plan addresses none of this, because it doesn’t matter if the frequency is higher if I still have to walk 15-20 minutes to get to a stop. The Bikeshare isn’t going to get any better because no one’s coming to work at 4 am to make sure everything’s in order by 6.

Using car share isn’t much different in problems than bike share. But the cost is bonkers, at nearly $6 for a one-mile jaunt thanks to Indy’s nation-leading rental car tax. $12 a day round-trip just to move a mile is insane. You might as well buy a car so you could go more than one place a day. And spending more on ride-hailing services like Lyft is even more expensive. I don’t, however, think self-driving cars will make Lyft and others cheaper. Just more profitable for the companies.

Before urbanists and cities can attempt to make this better, we must start from a few central points:

  • Everyone living in apartments in a city center isn’t for everyone in costs, availability, and life needs.
  • You must recognize people can’t build wealth if they’re spending it all on transportation, or in time waiting for it to work.
  • You can’t change where people have to go. That client meeting on the edge of town, the school on the other side, the grocery store with food you like and can afford, and the dog park all exist where they exist.

It’s also a little insulting to tell people everything would be better if they lived in $1,500+ per month apartments they rented for their entire life in the nicer, denser places.

Honest to Goodness must go, so let’s make a new one

Three years on and Visit Indiana’s “Honest to Goodness Indiana” slogan is still lousy. It doesn’t make us feel proud. It doesn’t make us or anyone else love Indiana. It’s also barely lifted off the ground. A quick Google search reveals a few solid hits, but mostly just a bunch of negative press about it. An Image search shows almost nothing – though a simple Mayberry post from yours truly sits out there.

We need to believe in Indiana again. We need to understand our history, look to the future, and be optimistic.

In true government fashion, the state has dozens of slogans all competing against each other. “Indiana: A State That Works” is emblazoned on the side of the Government Center. The DOE has “Working together for Student Success”, and the State Police have “Step out of the vehicle”, probably.

That’s not even counting all the little sub-agencies and sub-sub-agencies that exist to market various things, like Hoosier agriculture products, clothing, big business and commerce, and so on AND the various icons and metaphors that go along, like gears, light bulbs, and other household cliches that get through committees.

The old “Restart Your Engines” had a bit of cleverness and whimsy to it. But the other 91 counties that didn’t have an “Indianapolis Motor Speedway” within their 2,709* governmental units complained it didn’t focus on them. Counties need something to work with, too.

Indiana needs a new, authentic, unifying rally cry. Something that can be adapted to any situation that Indiana is uniquely positioned to capitalize on. Something that works for every corner of the state, for every person who works and makes something of their day and life, for every small business, big business, loyal worker, and entrepreneur. Something that works as part of our state’s history and its future and something that people already associate us with.

It turns out, we’ve been using a phrase for generations: “Made in Indiana”.

From Elkhart to Evansville, Shipshewana to Shoals, things are made in Indiana every day. More things are made in Indiana than anywhere else in the United States. Let’s acknowledge that more things are made in more places than we give them credit for.

Columbus Architecture Made in Indiana

 

Holiday World can use “Excitement: Made in Indiana”, rural communities can use things like, “Hand-dipped ice cream: Made in Indiana”, and state agencies can run with this for all manner of things. “Great students: Made in Indiana”. “13,000 new jobs: Made in Indiana”. “1,200 new lane miles: Made in Indiana”. “Memories: Made in Indiana”. Workforce development and others can tweak it a little to get the tense right to say things like, “Make it in Indiana”.

Ice Cream Made in Indiana

It’s flexible, indicative of our strengths and our future, and applies literally to every single Hoosier in the state.

Memories Made in Indiana

Illinois can keep “Are you up for amazing” because you won’t feel so amazing after you see the tax bill. Michigan can keep “Pure Michigan” until it eventually rots like spoiling milk. Kentucky can keep “Unbridled spirit” since it seems all they must have is their hopes and wishes down there. Ohio can keep “Find it in Ohio” as if grandma lost her glasses there. Then everyone can drive to Indiana and make something.

Dreams Made in Indiana

 

*That’s more than Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Nevada, and Hawaii – combined! We’ll have to do something about that, too.