Part of the side effects from my PTS means the wrong damn song, movie, book, or thought can be problematic from time to time. This happened recently. While I was typing an article about pensions and streaming some music, a sad song played over my headphones. That’s not always an issue, except I’d never heard this song before, so I didn’t know to skip it. The song’s subject related to one of the causes of my PTS. As a result, I scrambled for the volume control before tears erupted uncontrollably. Alas, I was too slow. As a result, I spent the next few hours trying to control the flood of emotions that washed over me.
Unlike my previous articles on my mental health and job struggles, this article isn’t about anger. It’s about sadness. In true Grumpus Maximus form though, the article is still relevant to the topics of personal finance, careers, and the Golden Albatross. Yet, much like my Worth vs. “Worth It” article, this story is raw and personal. Even more so than my previous article in fact. If that isn’t your thing, I completely understand and don’t hold it against you. Click away now.
Am I only one I know, waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?
— Twenty-One Pilots, Migraine
How Was Your Week?
Last Friday wasn’t the best day for me mentally. I don’t know if the stress of a few hectic work weeks which included a lot of travel finally caught up, or if I missed my meds the night before. Maybe it was both. Maybe it was something else entirely. Either way, I didn’t feel the most stable. I think it was fairly apparent to several of my co-workers as I lost my cool (just a wee bit) during a meeting. For a moment, it felt like the bureaucracy was going to grind my bones to grist before I could escape. As a result, several hours after the meeting the weight of the Golden Albatross still felt insurmountable. Never a good feeling.
As one of my Facebook readers once wrote, “Some days you slay the dragon, some days the dragon slays you.” Friday the dragon slew me, and it caught me off guard. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced a day like it. In fact, it might be the first day in over a year that I’ve lost my cool in a work environment. Home is a different matter, and the typical battlefield where I struggle to keep these sort of emotions in check (which of course is worse, and a different story altogether). Losing it at work, on the other hand, is an anomaly. As a result, I wasn’t ready to handle it. Continue reading Work and Mental Health: Slaying the Dragon
My brothers and sister used to call me Charlie Brown because of my epic bad luck. Well before the horrible accident which I touched upon briefly in Unintentional Meander Up Grumpus Ave Part 1, the family knew the only law which applied to me was Murphy’s. Mostly this played out in harmless ways, such as all my toys breaking. If there was one kid in the family whose Christmas toy broke on Christmas Day, it was me. Birthdays too. The phenomenon didn’t stop at the end of adolescence either. In fact, Mrs. Grumpus often mutters that if she’d only known about this “Charlie Brown thing” prior to our marriage, she would’ve re-examined her options.
All joking aside, the “Charlie Brown thing” really cheeses Mrs. Grumpus off because it makes my purchase decisions more complex than they need to be. It also turned me into a cheapskate. In my mind, what’s the use of buying something nice if it’s just going to break? On the plus side, I’m not materialistic. Since material items break easily in my world, I don’t get attached to stuff.
I am sitting at home on Thanksgiving 2017 with a turkey breast on the smoker and some time on my hands to reflect. I find the Grumpus Minimi (pronounced min-EE-my) thankfully entranced with Charlie Brown specials, and Mrs. Grumpus busy making the pumpkin pie. Yes, for this five minutes my life feels like a Norman Rockwell painting (ignoring the Hawaii climate). I have much to be thankful for with respect to my life, this year more than any other. I hope as you’re reading this you feel the same way. If so then I believe our thoughts are aligned with the original intent of this holiday.
I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. A day set aside by one of the richest nations to ever exist in human history in order for its citizens to reflect with friends and family on the bounty that life found fit to bestow upon them, always appealed to me. Declared a national holiday in 1863 at the height of the U.S. Civil War, I would also suggest that part of the original intent included a belief by then President Lincoln that we should be thankful despite the hardships life has set in our path. As any student of U.S. history can tell you, my nation has thankfully never again seen such hardship as the Civil War. Continue reading Thankfulness and Bounty
For those veterans in the audience, Happy Veteran’s Day 2017. Veteran’s Day in the U.S. is celebrated on 11 November, which in many other parts of the world is celebrated as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. While originally designed to commemorate the sacrifice of those who served in, and the devastation caused by, World War I; there are nuanced differences in how the holiday is marked presently. The most obvious difference in the U.S. is that Veteran’s Day is not designed to celebrate those who died (that’s what we call Memorial Day), but those who currently serve and formerly served in the military. It’s meant to provide the nation an opportunity to pause, be thankful for, and engage with its veterans.
Given that less than 1% of the U.S. population currently serves in the military, and as little as 9% have previously served; a holiday like Veteran’s Day provides a rare but important mechanism for renewing the Nation’s commitment to both its current and former military members. Conversely, it also provides those in the U.S. military the opportunity to connect with and renew their commitment to the populace it protects and the democratically elected civilian-run system which guides it. It’s most appropriate to thank a veteran for their service on Veteran’s Day.
Controversially, perhaps, I believe it’s less appropriate to thank current serving members for their service outside of Veteran’s Day. Not that I believe it’s wrong to thank service members on all occasions outside of Veteran’s Day. There might be plenty of good reasons from the ultra-personal to the ultra-obvious for a person to do so. But, I believe as a U.S. citizen you shouldn’t feel pressured into thanking service members simply because you think it’s the required thing to do, or because you believe we require it from you. You shouldn’t and we don’t. It’s neither healthy for a democracy’s citizens to feel pressured into supporting its military blindly, nor is it healthy for a democracy’s military to believe your thanks is some sort of right to be demanded from its citizenry.
“Thanks” should be genuine and not built off some misinformed interpretation of what it means to be patriotic, or a mistaken belief that your military requires it from its citizens. Furthermore, while your thanks is appreciated, your obligation as a voting citizen runs deeper than simply thanking service members. We are, after all, a military 16 years into the Nation’s longest conflict. We are overseen and run by civilians appointed by the President and the Congress. Your tax money pays our salaries. Your elected officials decide if and when we go to war. The constitution we swear to uphold and defend provides all us the liberties we enjoy and love. Thus, we are your military. As a result, I believe it’s important that taxpayers and voters engage at a more intimate level with the military than what a simple “thank you” conveys.
In that vein, I pulled the following story out of the Grumpus Maximus historic annals to provide you just that opportunity to engage more intimately with one military member. Given that this is a personal finance blog, I kept it related to my experience with the interplay between remuneration, service, and the issue of “thanks”. You might think the three have nothing in common, but my experience will hopefully change your mind. Continue reading Service, Thanks, and Remuneration
Americans abhor failure, or so we’ve been led to believe. I joined the U.S. military in the late 1990s and can remember the Zero Defect Mentality the post-Cold War peace dividend bred into our military leaders. While I would like to think the longest-running armed conflict in U.S. history (Afghanistan), and the most controversial since Viet Nam (Iraq), bled our military leadership dry of the Zero Defect Mentality, I’ve watched it slowly creep back into prominence since 2010.
My current Commanding Officer (CO) is an exception to that trend. He uses a term to describe his willingness to accept failure: Recoverable Training Failure. It essentially means he allows people to learn from their mistakes, as long as those failures are recoverable (i.e. no one died or was seriously injured). He’d rather people fail in a training environment, take the hard lessons learned, apply them, and succeed operationally when it matters most. It’s a combat veteran’s mentality and is a good leadership philosophy in my opinion.
Over the past two work weeks, I’ve helped financially counsel a fellow officer whose residual financial issues from the Great Recession stood to impact their career. There we were, almost 10 years from the start of the downturn, looking at foreclosure documents starting in 2009. They’d settled the foreclosure within the last year, and the DoD wanted answers. In some ways, I could hardly believe it. In other ways, it was a sobering reminder about the lasting impact that event will have on American society for years, possibly generations, to come.
It also proved an interesting glimpse into another financial way a life. I found a life almost alien to me because decades ago my fellow officer chose to build wealth through rental properties. Despite my personal negative history with a 2004 property purchase (as related previously on this blog), I hold no strong opinions about those who choose property investment as a method for building wealth. If it works for them, that’s great. However, my comrade-in-arms had specifically chosen a highly leveraged method for acquiring rental properties. As I questioned them on the simple details they should’ve known from using this strategy, I quickly realized they lacked the acumen for it.
The other day Mrs. Grumpus tried to kill me … twice. She sent me an email while I was at work, asking if our budget could support her joining a new community center with gym, childcare, and pool akin to the YMCA. The price tag attached to her query nearly gave me a heart attack. Fortunately, my bike commute has paid off, and my heart withstood the initial shock. To put this in context, since our marriage I’ve adamantly refused to pay for a gym membership since all military bases, big and small, have gyms — many with the type of classes she likes to take. It is an expense that does not make sense in the overall context of the benefits that the military affords its members. With that said, we’ve paid for outdoor exercise classes before, and at the time she asked about the possibility of joining the new community center, she had just stopped going to her latest outdoor class due to the summer break. In her email, she also listed several other memberships she was willing to let lapse. When I did the math though, the memberships she proposed to let lapse did not add up to the cost of the new community center. I sent her an email stating such. I expected much foot stomping and toy throwing when I got home.
If you are one of my three avid readers, then you may have wondered if I was ever going regale you with more (true) stories about my rather substantial money mistakes. Well wonder no more, the time has come. And while this story does not have the “I sold 300 shares of Amazon in 2004 to buy a house in the height of the market in Southern California” hook that An Unintentional Meander Up Grumpy Avenue Part 1 did; it does have an otherwise avoidable $20,000 dollar tax bill waiting at the end of it. Not as memorable as my $750,000 opportunity cost? Fair enough, that sum still makes me light-headed. However, what if I told you I paid someone for the privilege of the $20,000 tax bill? And it was potentially avoidable? Stick with me and by the end of the story if you are not busting out the tried and true “Man that Grumpus is an idiot” line, then I promise you a full refund on your time and a beer next time we meet.
“You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.” — Warren Buffett
Learning Lessons the Hard Way
In the fall of 2004, I sold 300 shares of Amazon stock as part of a down payment on my first, and to this point only, home. Wait, before you say “Man, that Grumpus is an idiot” there is more to the story. To further rub salt in my wounds, I was buying a home in Southern California only eighteen months before we hit the height of the housing bubble. For those of you unfamiliar with historical SOCAL housing prices, I’ve posted the below chart of what housing prices did in San Diego from 1987 to 2015:
Yep, that’s bad. So bad that my home’s value only recently passed the price I originally paid for it, for the first time since the bubble burst. In the meantime the amount of Amazon stock I sold in 2004 would have done this: