Gratitude: When Sh*t Hits the Fan Edition

The mechanical objects in my life have plotted against me.

Dead Battery

After we got back from vacation, I went to start-up the Honda Element and found that it was dead. Hmmm, maybe I left a door open or interior light on? I charged the battery and drove around a bit, but it was dead again the next day. To figure out what was going on, I broke out my little friend, the multimeter:

I tested the alternator and it was fine. The voltage on the battery was OK, but that isn’t the only test. I strongly suspected that the battery was the issue since it wouldn’t hold a charge.

In a monumentally severe lapse of judgement, I had purchased the battery at Walmart. Dealing with the automotive department at my local Walmart is an exercise in futility and pain. The employees communicate with grunts and glares. And they are all angry. Very angry. A root canal would be more fun and faster.

Scott the auto technician (and I use technician in the loosest of terms) told me he had to verify that the battery was dead. I would have to leave it at the shop and he would test it. No problem.

Thirty minutes later, the phone rang:

  • Me: Hello.
  • Walmart: Scott from Walmart. *grunt*
  • Me: Hi!


  • Me: OK? Anyone there?
  • Walmart: Tested your battery.

<more silence followed by a grunt>

  • Me: Ummmmm, OK? What’s the verdict.
  • Walmart: Dead.
  • Me: OK? What now?
  • Walmart: Come back in.
  • Me: And then what?
  • Walmart: Warranty it out.

<more silence>

  • Me: What does that mean? Do I get a refund?
  • Walmart: New battery.

I went back to Walmart to find that the service counter was as empty as my head after a couple of strong beers on an empty stomach. I finally spied my verbally challenged friend Scott who was putting bottles of car wash on the shelf. He and I locked eyes. So normally, this would be a cue for Scott to come over and help the waiting customer that he had spoken with not more than an hour ago. Nope. Scott went right on putting crap on the shelf.

I could go on and describe the next 30 minutes of this ordeal, but I don’t want to bore you death. The Honda Element is now back in business and I’ll do my best to never set foot in awful Walmart again.


Bottom Bracket Bane

I was out on a bike ride and my bottom bracket started making a horrendous noise. For those of you not familiar with bike parts. the bottom bracket is this:

I was frustrated. My butt and gut have grown large. I need exercise, but had no choice but to turn around and head home. I retrieved my bike toolkit and fired up YouTube. It was at this time that I learned there about 584 different types of bottom brackets and each requires a different tool. This must be a plot devised by the tool manufacturers. I didn’t have the tool for mine, so headed off to the local bike shop to buy one. Continue reading

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Performance Update (Day 1672): Why I’ve Outperformed the Markets

My main goal was to build an investment and cash portfolio of $1,120,000* in 1500 days**, starting from 1/1/2013 and ending in February of 2017. I made my goal last year and my 1500 Days are over, but in the interest of openness, I’ll continue to share my numbers.

Why I’ve Outperformed the Markets

I’m a geek at heart and have always been obsessed with technology. When I started my first job way back in 1998, I started buying tech stocks. I got burned in the dot-com crash of 2000, but that didn’t phase me.

Today, four stocks make up almost $500,000 worth of my portfolio: Google, Amazon, Facebook and Tesla. I bought Google in 2004 (IPO) and the rest in 2012.

Traditional companies like Walmart or Exxon are easy to understand. The former is a retailer and the latter is an oil company. Easy. No further information required.

Technology companies are often complex and misunderstood. Consider my four holdings:

  • Google: You know it as a search engine, but it’s really an advertising company. Google also has the most popular phone operating system in the world (Android), Maps, Gmail, YouTube, a browser (Chrome) and computers with a chrome based operating system (Chromebooks). All of these products help drive ad sales. And if that isn’t confusing enough, Google is also working on autonomous cars and conquering death.
  • Amazon: Does anyone shop anywhere else online? No. But Amazon also offers market leading cloud services in Amazon Web Services, The company is expanding into delivery (some of it with drones), and even retail stores (gasp!).
  • Facebook: This is a social network on the surface, but similar to Google, an advertising company underneath.
  • Tesla: On the surface, Tesla is an auto and energy company. Under the covers, it’s a battery business and software (autonomous driving and battery management) technology are its real assets.

Technology companies are different from others in their potential to disrupt traditional businesses. One needs to look no further than the empty malls all over the United States to see the monster that Amazon has become. Google and Facebook are taking advertising dollars from TV and print. Tesla is disrupting traditional automotive and energy companies simultaneously.

All of this has worked out very well for me. Here are how my picks have performed since I started the blog in 2013:

  • Tesla: >1000%
  • Facebook: >500%
  • Amazon: 301%
  • Google: 171%

The green line at the bottom is the S&P 500.

For comparison, the S&P 500 has returned about 72% with dividend reinvestment.

Why I’m an Index Investor Now

Continue reading

Posted in Performance | 33 Comments

Ask the Readers: Machiavellian Motivation?

On vacations, I let myself go a little. And by a little, I really mean a lot.

And when I say let myself go, I’m talking about food.

And when I say food, I’m not talking about anything remotely healthy.

I like to try the local flavors. Especially when those flavors are donuts and beer.

Our last trip was no different. This happened in New York City:

Actual size if you’re viewing on a 32″ monitor

And then this happened in Edinburgh:

Cheese, crackers, sausage and tea cakes.

And this:

And of course, this:



My gut is paying the price. I’m healthy somewhere around 155 pounds and I came back weighing almost 173. Not good. I need to drop these pounds pronto, but I lack internal motivation.

If I can’t motivate myself, I must resort to extreme measures. I have two strategies to kick my ass into high gear:

1: Competition

I have a bet with Mr. WoW from Waffles on Wednesday. We are both trying to lose weight. Mr. WoW is demolishing me so far: Continue reading

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Gratitude Found Through Perspective

Shannon and Sergio who write over at Screw the Average guest post today with a healthy dose of gratitude! Screw the Average is a pretty great blog name, but I like their tagline even better:

be an outlier.

And these two are definitely outliers. Check out some of their travels. While those photos are awesome, you must see the one here (and read the story on that page too!).

Take it from here Shannon and Sergio!

Gratitude Found Throu­­­­­­­gh Perspective

Everything changed in the summer of 2016. We sold, donated, or discarded 95% of our belongings and stored the rest. We turned in our apartment keys and took off with just a 36-liter backpack for each of us. We had no apartment and no home-base. From then on, we were bound to nothing but each other. After years of hard work, determination, and living life differently than the ‘average Joe’, we were finally on our way to ‘independence’. We were one giant step closer to location, employment, financial, and a myriad of other independences.

Screw the Average making memories around Europe. Top to bottom and left to right: Our trusty backpacks on ‘Europe’s Most Beautiful Balcony’ in Luxembourg City; a beautiful day captured in front of the Eiffel Tower; a friend took us to Dusseldorf, Germany and we captured the sunset next to Rhine River; a shadow of a sweet kiss in Paris in the gardens behind Notre Dame; Sergio on a fall day in Sanssouci Park, Potsdam, Germany; our feet in the ocean; bundled up in Northern Ireland on the Antrim Coast near Giant’s Causeway; standing on the ‘Bridge of Love’ over Minnewater Lake in Bruges, Belgium; on the banks of the Danube River and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary.

We’d planned to spend a year abroad, and being the planners that we are, we knew even before we landed in Europe (Dublin was our first destination), that we’d need to start planning less and experiencing more. Lifestyle changes were expected, and we embraced them. In theory, we knew this year would be full of great adventures, but it was still going to be ‘life’, so challenges and roadblocks would no doubt happen along the way. However, this yearlong European adventure was a ‘bucket-list’ aspiration that had slowly grown to grandiose proportions in our minds. And, how could it not? We grew up in front of television shows and movies that glamorize European travel with 45-second montages that capture only the highlights and smiles of a vacation in an exotic and welcoming land.

So what happens when reality sets in? When you spend countless hours bored and uncomfortable on a plane. When it takes an entire day to work out the logistics of travel, house sitting, and sightseeing in a new city. When you’re lying on a terrible mattress and wishing you could get just one more hour of sleep. When you’re promised a fast and reliable internet connection, but it’s so bad that you can barely check your email, let alone do work. Or, when you go to the grocery store on a Sunday to buy dinner and are confronted with a locked entrance, because you didn’t realize that everything in town is closed on Sundays. The natural response is to let it define and sour your experience. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve let that happen a few times. Continue reading

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Vacation Update 4: Sleep, Sheep, Covfefe

We’re back from vacation now, but I have one last travel update. Ask the Readers returns next week.

Mrs. 1500 and I spent the last part of our vacation visiting with the Mad Fientist and his wife, the Mad Fientista. We spent four days Edinburgh followed by two in London. I had never been to the UK, so didn’t know what to expect. However, there was one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about:


Never heard of haggis? It’s chopped up sheep organs stuffed into a sheep stomach.


The Mad Fientist kept threatening to serve us this delicacy and I was filled with fear. I eat hot dogs and Taco Bell, so haggis shouldn’t have bothered me. But it did anyway.

Before I bleat on, I need to tell you about our adventure in getting across the pond because the trip almost didn’t happen. Our plan was to fly out of New York City on Friday afternoon. We’d drop the children off in Chicago before flying to the UK on Saturday afternoon. It didn’t go down like that and we almost didn’t make it.


Friday (8/4)

10am: We learn that our flight was cancelled due to bad weather. Continue reading

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Vacation Update 3: NYC!

I’m on vacation, but I can’t quite stay away from the blog, so I’ll regale you with vacation pictures and tales from the big city.

This post was supposed to go in chronological order, but after seeing the September 11 Memorial, I have to go there first.

My 9/11/2001

I was at work writing code when the attacks happened. A co-worker named Ginny mentioned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. She looked terrified.

My first thought was:


Planes had hit buildings before and I assumed someone had a very bad day in a Cessna. No big deal. Ginny’s look of concern worried me though, so I decided to check CNN’s website just to be sure something bigger wasn’t going on.

I plugged into my browser, but it wouldn’t load. This was ominous. Sites like CNN don’t go down.

After 5 minutes or so, CNN finally came up and I saw a picture of the North Tower with smoke pouring from it.

Next thought:

Oh shit, it was a bigger plane than a Cessna.

A short time later I learned that the South Tower was hit. Not good. What was going on? Could it get any worse?

Soon I found out that South Tower had come down. This is when it got real for me. The thought that a plane strike could bring down a skyscraper hadn’t crossed my mind. I felt like I was going to throw up.

I was desperate for information and figured that I’d learn more over the radio. I walked to my car in the parking garage. There I sat and listened to the news. I soon learned that the North Tower had also come down.

It was a day of dread and hopelessness.


The Memorial (9/2/2017)

Mrs. 1500 had a speaking engagement near Midtown, so we had dinner together and then split up. I marched off with the kids, intending to go back to our hotel, but then decided to head down to Wall Street.. We jumped on the subway to see the Charging Bull instead.

As our station neared, I couldn’t stop looking at the September 11 Memorial on my Map app. I made a last second decision to go there instead. Continue reading

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Living Small and Saving Big

While I’n on the road, I’m featuring guest posts. Today’s comes from Owen over at PlanEasy.

In a past life, I had a 4500 square foot home. It was ridiculous. Why does a family of 4 need a home with 4 bathrooms (although I did kinda like having my own toilet)? Why did we need a bathroom/master closet that was over 150 square feet? We didn’t, so we moved.

We’re better off in our modest home of 1850 square feet, but it’s still not ideal. If I designed a home, it would be no bigger than 1500 square feet (sorry, I love that number). Maybe I’m still thinking too big though? In today’s post, Owen shows us how a family of 4 lives (and thrives!) in 1,000 square feet.

Take it away Owen!

Owen’s piece of paradise!

Believe it or not, our family lives in just 1,000 square feet. Two adults and two small children. We could afford much more but we choose to live small.

Why would we do this, you ask?!?

Well, housing is a major decision. One way or another housing will drive about 50% of your annual expenses. Approximately 35% of your annual expenses are for shelter and another 15% are for transportation, which of course is closely linked to where you live. Choosing the right home can help you save big in both categories.

We’re living small, but not living “tiny.”

With four people sharing 1,000 square feet we’re averaging 250 square feet per person. I’ve created a floor plan below to help you see how we do it.

Traditional “tiny” houses are between 100-400 square feet for 1-2 people. While I LOVE the idea of a tiny house this is way too small for us and not something that we could do with two children.

But when you compare our home against the median size of a new home built last year, we’re definitely on the small side. The median house built last year was 2,422 square feet and on average 2.58 people occupy this house. That’s almost 1,000 square feet per person! We’ve got that much space for all four of us. We’re living in less than half the space of new houses built in 2016.

Why did we choose to live so small? Let me share some of the reasons. Continue reading

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Vacation Update 2: Verdant, Voluptuous, Vibrant Vermont

I’m on vacation, but I can’t quite stay away from the blog, so I’ll regale you with vacation pictures and tales from the road.

This will make sense in a moment.

We spent our first six days of vacation in Maine and it was spectacular. After the Lobster State (I just made that up), it was time to move on to Vermont. We had a couple stops to make on the way.

Acadia was beautiful:

I love Stephen King and I knew that I’d be passing through his hometown. Mr.King wanted to meet with me to get some writing tips*, but I explained that I didn’t have time for him. I promised King that I’d meet him for lunch next time around:

Stephen King’s home

Frugalsaurus is a King fan too, but took his love of the horror genre a little too far. Spendosaurus wasted money on a stupid souvenir and Frugalsaurus lost it:

Luckily, I intervened before Spendosaurus lost his head.



This was my first time to Vermont and I had big expectations. But first, I have to tell you how I ended up there. Continue reading

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The Bigger Picture

While I’m on the road, I’m featuring guest posts! Today’s comes from my friend Mrs. WoW  from Waffles on Wednesday. I love this post because it reminds us that money is never the end goal. However, figuring out exactly what that big goal isn’t always easy…

The other day I sat on top of the world.

I had seen it numerous times before: pictures, websites, social media, but nothing beat seeing Machu Picchu in person.

As I sat there in utter amazement, I took a moment to reflect:

  • How did I get here?
  • What does this mean?
  • What is next?

The Background

Let’s back up.  Although I can argue that all my life events led me here, I’ll jump to 8 years ago, where this story starts to come to life.

So, how did I get here?

The Work Part

While most people in the FIRE world are in software, I surprisingly am not.  In 2009, I became an occupational therapist. My specialty is working with at-risk children, birth to three years of age, helping them learn necessary skills to meet their developmental milestones. My usual bag o’ tricks include balls, tunnels, play dough, pool noodles, piggy banks, you know, super technical medical equipment (computers not required).  It’s really rewarding (and fun) minus getting bit, kicked, hit, sneezed/puked/pooped on and my hair pulled, but from what I hear from Mr. Wow, that part isn’t much different from an office job.

After some rotations on the traditional employee hamster wheel, I started my own private practice.  This decision opened up a world of new opportunities and allowed me to shape my career how I wanted.  Unlike many in the FIRE community, I genuinely love my profession.

Yep, I totally threw a Maury meme into my post

The Travel Part

But there’s more to life than work, right?  When timing allowed us to take six weeks for our honeymoon, Mr. Wow and I found ourselves all over Europe.  I quickly discovered that travel and I were BFFs. What was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, actually became the catalyst for my life plan.

What does this mean?

The Passion Part

I began thinking…

I love my job and travel, what if I combine them?

Continue reading

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Epic East Coast Vacation Update 1: Maine Event

I’m on vacation, but I can’t quite stay away from the blog, so I’ll regale you with vacation pictures and tales from the road.

We landed in Newark last Friday. I researched which side of the plane to sit on so we’d have good views. When we landed, we saw the New York City skyline. I’ve never been to NYC, so this excited me greatly:

We stayed in Connecticut and our evening was equally exciting, but not in a good way. The hotel had good ratings, but wasn’t in the greatest part of town. Every hooligan in a 30 mile radius was staying in the room next to ours. They were up until at least 3am drinking and shouting. I couldn’t let this inconsiderate behavior go unrewarded.

I’m an early riser, even when I don’t go to sleep until 3am. I woke up at 6am and gave the jerks next door a wake up call. I let the phone ring long enough to wake them and then hung up. Shouting ensued from the other side of the wall, but this time it was extreme anger instead of drunken raving. I repeated the call at 6:15 and then at 6:30. They were not happy. They were also not smart enough to unplug the phone.

Before we left at 8:30am, I pulled the car up next to their room and laid on the horn for at least 5 seconds. I hope you enjoyed your wake up call jerks.


Tree House

I told my girls that we were headed to a tree house and they were overcome with joy. The joy quickly faded when they realized what tree house we were actually visiting: Continue reading

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