ttf vs zero sum

I haven’t posted recently because I’ve felt a need to write this post (and maybe the next one) before I continued with my usual motifs, but it’s been very hard to sit down and write this.  In fact, it’s been very hard to do much of anything recently.  I spent the first few days after the election barely able to get out of bed.

I have a lot that I want to say here, so this may get a bit long.

Trump’s America

If you haven’t been paying attention, Donald Trump won the race for president.  43% of eligible voters didn’t vote, and Donald Trump won the race for president.  Donald Trump, who is racist, sexist, a sexual predator, won the race for president.  Donald Trump, who the KKK think would make a great leader for our nation, won the race for president.

(I personally think that voting should be required, but maybe that’s just me.)

I do want to be clear here:  Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric isn’t why he won.  Many people voted for Trump based on issues other than these.  There are accountants who voted for Trump based solely on his tax plans, which are more advantageous for their clients.  Trump promised to drain the swamp in DC (though that’s apparently not so easy).

But here’s the thing:  Trump’s win served to validate all of the hateful white supremacists in the country.  Not just validate, but embolden.  Hate crimes immediately spiked in the US – a worse spike than the one after 9/11, even.  (We saw this sort of thing after the Brexit referendum as well.)

I think the people who are lashing out are scared, too.  They are scared that they are being left behind, and they are lashing out.  They’re angry.  They think life is a zero-sum game, and, if things are getting better for people who have historically had it tougher, things have to get worse for them.  And, in some ways, they’re right:  as we progress toward equality, these individuals will be less able to comfortably benefit from the oppression of others.  But I don’t think that means they have to be left behind, not if they don’t want to be.

Life is actually a co-op game.  It can get better for all of us at once, if we want it to.  We just have to realize that we can be kind to each other and help each other up.  We don’t need to fight each other; we need to work together to make a better world for everyone.  Then we all win.

Peace on earth, good will toward men, anyone?

But I Didn’t Mean For This To Happen

I believe you.  You voted on the issues that were important to you, and those issues were more important to your life than the lives, rights, and safety of Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, the LGBTQ+ community, and women* – or you might not have even realized they were in such danger.  But here’s the thing:  the impact of your vote is more important than your intentions.  Hate is spreading because people feel comfortable to hate, because your vote helped Trump win.

If you’re serious that you don’t support the hate that is filling America after the results of the election, then it’s up to you to stand up to it.  Your issues won, and now it’s time to fight against the damage that came with them.  It’s not enough not to hate; you have to stand up to hate.  It’s not enough not to be part of the problem; you have to be part of the solution.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
– Edmund Burke

* Don’t forget the environment!

So How Can I Help?

Great question.  There’s no benefit to be gleaned from sitting around being scared all the time.  We have to stand up against hatred wherever we find it.  But we’re not used to doing so.  (At least, I’m sure not!)  So, where do we start?

Call your elected officials and ask how they’re going to protect civil liberties during Trump’s presidency.  Demand that they oppose Steve Bannon‘s appointment.  Spend a few minutes a week making calls about important issues.

If you have the means, donate to organizations that help protect the marginalized.  Start with the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Planned Parenthood.  Branch out to additional groups if you can.  Consider establishing automatic monthly donations.

Protest.  March.  Make sure that the people making laws and policy know that this is important.

Calmly talk to people who don’t agree with you and try to make them understand.

Stop hate where you see it.  Help create safety for people who are being abused.  Make sure they know they are welcome and valued.  Document instances of harassment.

Work together.  Don’t let our differences get in the way of our similarities.

What Shouldn’t I Do?

Don’t suggest a wait-and-see approach.  Every day presents more alarming announcements.  Being alarmed and active is the right approach here, and it can save lives.

Don’t focus on how people are sharing their thoughts; focus on the message.  We’re angry, frustrated, and scared – and these are reasonable and informative emotions for us to have.

An Interpretive Elohai Netzor

I came across a prayer in a prayer book this evening, and I want to share it with you.  Not because I think you should pray (or even believe in a higher being), but because it resonated with me.

O Lord, guard my tongue from evil
And my lips from speaking guile;

Guard my heart from hatred
And my mind from harmful thoughts.

Help me to avoid shameful speech
As well a shameful silence.

May my words be messengers of Your will,
Humble in spirit, helpful in purpose,
Seeking justice, and pursuing peace.

O Lord, guard my spirit from weakness;
And my soul from gloom or despair.

Strengthen my worthy desires
That I may serve You, in joy, every day;
Thus may I reflect honor on Your holy name
In all that I say and do.

There are a couple parts of this prayer that seem really important right now:

Help me to avoid shameful speech
As well as shameful silence.

It’s incredibly important to stand up and speak out when bad things are happening around us.  Don’t look the other way.

O Lord, guard my spirit from weakness;
And my soul from gloom or despair.

I’ve certainly been feeling a lot of gloom and despair recently, and I’ll admit that I’m likely to feel more of it over the next months and years.  I’ve felt like all my plans mean nothing, and that I can’t count on the future right now.  I fear that I will have to give up everything I’ve accumulated – yes, it’s just stuff, but the reason it’s so hard to get rid of so much of it is because it’s stuff that means something to me – that I will have to give up everything I’ve accumulated because we will need to leave the country.  Not because I disagree with somebody’s politics, but because I fear for my safety and my future.  My parents were around my age when they left the USSR to come here.  I didn’t think I would ever have to do the same, but now I’m scared.

And I’ve never felt scared like this before.  I’ve lived a life of privilege, and I’ve felt scared for others, but never for myself, not because of who I am.  I’ve never felt hated for being Jewish until this week.  I’ve never felt hated by strangers.

In Conclusion

We have a lot of work to do to protect so very many people against so very many threats.  Welcome to the fight.


Tell no one

I’ve been talking to DW about financial independence for a while now, and she’s been great and supportive and approving.  But it wasn’t until my recent post about livingafi’s Job Experience series that she really got engaged and excited about it.  I gotta say, it’s been amazing to see her get so interested and involved!

(DW on left.  ttf with poor typing skills on right.)

I’ve been really grateful to livingafi for this change.

Since the last set of links went over so well, I’m sharing another set that I really enjoyed.  This one explores what it’s like to work toward financial independence, especially how the journey and arrival can affect your relationships:

If you’re anything like me, you really want to share your journey with others.  It’s such a profound, life-changing shift, and you see so many positives to your steadily-lessening consumption and steadily-growing financial stability that you want everyone to join in and reap the benefits!  Well, consider starting a blog instead.  After all:


The Job Experience, by livingafi

This past week, I read and really enjoyed The Job Experience series of posts by livingafi, and I wanted to share it with all of you.  This series documents basically the entirety of his career, in short, digestible chunks.  The entire series is pretty lengthy, so I’ve linked to parts that I really liked below:

Other than being a thoroughly enjoyable read, I really took away a couple key pieces of encouragement.  First, you don’t have to be a natural saver to reach financial independence; you can even have a rocky start and really turn it around and get on track.  Second, even though I complain a lot, I have been really lucky in my career, when compared to some people’s hellish experiences.  I’ve had my doozies in terms of work environment and company culture, but I’ve never had to work 60 hours in one week, much less week after week.  I’ve been able to get away with ~40 hours most weeks in my career, and I’m pretty thankful for that.

This quote from the last post I linked above is particularly encouraging to me, who is still years away from FIRE:

I often see people on financial independence forums say things like:  I’m saving so that a future version of me will be happy.  As the current version of “future me,” let me say this:  I’m incredibly happy that past me has stayed the course.  And that’s a drastic understatement.  This needs to be over — and thanks to the choices I’ve made, it will be, soon.

10/25/16:  One more quote that I really wanted to share, this one from the effects of work link:

Everything has shifted now.  I don’t want to be great. At anything, really. Instead I want to be happy. And that requires a mental adjustment to wanting to be merely good at a few specific things — a good husband, a present and loving family member, a supportive friend, and a decent human being.  I want to pursue things that provide pleasure and satisfaction on a day-to-day basis.

This really rings true to me.  When I was younger, I wanted to do great things; now, I just want to enjoy life and be a good husband and friend.  Maybe father one day.  Like livingafi, I don’t know if this is all from work or all from getting older, but I imagine it’s a combination of those things; as I experience more of life, I find that I want to spend more time being happy and less time pursuing great accomplishments.

Of course, as DW rightly points out, my ambitions haven’t really died – they’ve just shifted to the journey toward financial independence and reclaiming my time for myself.

It’s more important to be happy than successful

I am a generation 1.5 immigrant to the US, having come when I was just shy of four years old; as such, I grew up surrounded by immigrant culture, with the  requisite drive to succeed.  “Success,” here, being defined as monetary and consumer success:  work hard, go to college, make lots of money (preferably as a doctor), have the physical trappings of consumerist success.  It’s taken me a long time to start looking for happiness first, but I now firmly believe that the most important thing is happiness, not material success – and that striving for material success gets in the way of happiness.

However, that’s not to say that lazing about all day is the goal.  In fact, it turns out that happy people produce more and better.  If you haven’t seen this TEDTalk, I highly recommend taking 12 minutes to watch it:

A society full of happy people, working enough to meet their needs (both material and emotional), may not produce more than this go-go-go society we have in the US, but it’s certainly a more fulfilling one.  But, even if you don’t subscribe to my theory, it turns out that focusing on becoming happy first and successful second will make you more successful in the long run, anyway.

Bonus day!

On Friday, my yearly bonus hit our checking account:  $5,109.79.  Couldn’t be better timing, either!*  Today, we joyfully took all that money out of checking and..

..moved it into savings.

What?  That’s it?

Yep; that’s it.  Assuming you make enough to cover your needs (and basic wants), there’s no reason for additional income to affect your spending.  Once you’ve got your money settled, all additional income beyond that point (bonuses, raises, windfalls) goes to increasing your savings rate and bringing financial independence that much closer.  While I would love to put the bonus directly toward my student loans, we need it to cover taxes; however, next year’s will go straight into student loans, and future bonuses will go toward investments.

Happiness doesn’t come from money; it comes from friends, fun, challenge, and fulfillment.  Find what drives you and pursue it.  Leave money alone to do what it does best**.


* It actually comes at the same time every year.

** See Step 4.

The problem with money

Money is hard.

I am very privileged, and very lucky.  I’ve not always been able to go out to restaurants whenever I’d like, or go on large, fancy vacations whenever I’d like, but I’ve certainly done enough of these things.  I’ve also, whenever I’ve needed something big, like a car, or a bed, or a plane ticket, been able to purchase the item without worrying too much.

That’s not to say that I didn’t worry – I always worry – but, inevitably, the expenditure would be absorbed and I would go about my business.  I’ve had very many safety nets, and I’ve always landed on my feet, despite the many poor financial decisions I’ve made.  But now that I’ve spent most of my safety nets and most of my money on a house, and now that we’re moving across the ocean and across the continent to start (mostly) over, I’m finding that, for the first time in my life, I need to be more responsible with my money.  I need to pay attention, be careful, be thoughtful.

The problem with money is that, if you ignore it, it goes away.

Right now, our expenditures match my take-home pay, meaning that there’s not much in the way of wiggle room.  As we get settled and can attack our spending again, this will change, and we’ll start pulling ahead again.  I know this to be true.  However, we still have to pay taxes, buy new bikes, and buy a used car.  These aren’t small items, and they will delay my goal of attacking our debts.  Which means that they’ll also delay my retirement.

I’ve been very lucky.  I guess, when I say that money is hard, I mean that reining in my need for ease and comfort is hard.  I think many people understand this – if you’re faced with a restriction, it’s not unusual to immediately want to ignore it and do as you please.  The next few years – decades – the rest of my life – will be a journey to replace irresponsible and unhealthy desires with the things that truly make me happy – hearth and home, family and friends.

It will be difficult – but the most worthwhile things usually are.

Meet thirty to freedom

Boy, we really started in the deep end there, but you really don’t know anything about me yet.  So, let me introduce myself to you by telling you what drives me:

A while ago, I sat down and wrote out the ten things I want to do with my time, and I keep these visible near my desk to serve as motivation for my progress toward financial independence.  I’ll present them to you here, in no particular order:

  • Sleep!  It may seem silly, but I feel my best when I’ve gotten enough rest and wake up naturally after the sun comes up.  I rarely get this luxury now, but this is key to my emotional well-being, and I intend to do it more when I’m able to arrange for it.
  • Spend time with friends and family.  Cliche, but hanging out with the people I like, eating, drinking, talking, playing games, being merry – an evening spent with friends is never an evening wasted.  I particularly love hosting dinner parties with fancy food and tasty wine, which brings me to..
  • Cooking!  By no means am I an amazing chef, but the blood and endless swearing are all worth it when I can put together a delicious meal around which friends can gather to talk the night away.  I don’t do as much cooking as I’d like, but we’re building a large and inviting kitchen in the new house, and I fully anticipate doing more as the years continue.
  • Write cookbooks.  I like the thought of sharing some of the particularly-wonderful recipes I’ve made, as well as some of the Valentine’s Day menus I’ve put together, but I’m currently working on gathering Russian family recipes, both to keep for myself and to distribute to far-flung cousins.
  • Take care of home and garden.  I am slowly learning to insource household maintenance, and this will turn into a large learning experience for me*, as the house we are buying is not new, and we already have a long list of renovation projects to complete.  I am also very interested in composting and growing my own fruits and vegetables, so expect some information sharing as I start learning to garden and drip-irrigate raised beds.
  • Read.  I used to read all day and night, but that stopped once I entered the working world.  A couple years ago, I picked up a Kindle with my slush fund, and I’ve slowly started reading again.  It’s always nice when I have (or take) time to read.  I’m a big fan of high fantasy.
  • Travel.  I’ll talk about this a bit more in a future post, but I love vacations and travel – though I’m happy to stay home for a while after all the travel we’ve been doing recently.
  • Exercise.  This is actually split out into three different items for me:  biking, running, and weight exercises.  For a little over a year, my wife and I have been getting more into biking, and I’m very excited about all facets of it.  I also ran a 5K a couple years ago, and I want to build up to run a (specific) half marathon.  I don’t currently do any weight exercises, but they’re on the list because of the health benefits; I think that adding them would add a lot to my life and increase what my body can do.. but I’ll admit that they’re the last thing on this list I actually want to do.

Not only are these the goals that motivate me, they are also the activities that I try to use to fill my time.  It’s taken a long time – I’m usually a very high-strung person focused on the things I should be doing – but I’m finally starting to become more comfortable ignoring** the things that need to get done in favor of the things that make me happy.  As they say, life is too short.***

What motivates you and makes you happiest?  Leave a comment below.

– ttf


* And any friends who want to learn alongside me.

** To some extent.

*** I don’t love this expression, but it gets the point across:  each person has only a certain number of minutes on this planet, so focus on the things that bring you the most happiness.