What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Designer kindling. The internet just tried to sell me a $50 cardboard box of L.L. Bean branded kindling. The biggest problem I have with any of this is that if Bean has bothered to assemble a 35 pound box of kindling and put it on their sales rack, more than one person has actually bought it. That means there are people out there among us that spent $50 to have kindling shipped directly to their door. It feels like there are so many better ways to start a fire – shred a bit of newsprint, tear off some parts of that empty cereal box, soak a few cotton balls in petroleum jelly, or put a match to some of the lint you cleaned out of your clothes dryer. Throw a few small, dry sticks aboard and you could have saved yourself $50 plus shipping. Then again, you’d have missed out on the chance to impress your guests with your big box of designer kindling. The deeper we wade into it, the more I really do hate the 21st century.

2. Freedom of Speech. No, the NFL is not taking away anyone’s “free speech.” The First Amendment specifically prevents government from restricting speech, so unless you live in some Bizzaroland where you’re being governed by the commissioner and franchise owners, you sound like a ranting lunatic when you make that argument. The league, like most other business, is identifying what they deem acceptable behavior in the workplace. Knowing those conditions, people are then free to work for the NFL or not. As it turns out, even millionaires aren’t exempt from having a few limits placed on what they can say and do at the work place. After all, if it weren’t for those kind or rules, who in your office would decide that their version of “free expression” was dispensing with pants for the duration of their 8-hour shift?

3. LED bulbs. Over the last 3 years I’ve worked steadily to replace all the incandescent light bulbs on the homestead with LEDs. There’s been a surprisingly respectable reduction of power consumption (and corresponding reduction in cost) over time. This week, the bulb in one of the garage door openers went out and I dutifully replaced it with one of the spare LEDs I had laying around. It turns out there’s enough wattage running through the opener even when it’s “off” that it keeps the bulb lit at what I’m guessing is about 10% of it’s full output. It’s probably not enough to burn the house down, but it’s enough to be aggravating. I’d rather have a old-fashioned bulb burning for 5 minutes than a fancy new LED that burns all day every day until the end of time.

Divisible by ten…

Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.

Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.

It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.

I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.

By 35…

I’d never really thought of MarketWatch as a leading newsmaker, but after their social media post noting that “By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts.” They’ve experienced their 15 minutes and then some.

The thing is, if you’re contemplating what it takes to achieve a “normal” retirement at the “normal” age in the “normal” way, their post isn’t broadly off the mark. Their point, beyond being something that seems to beggar belief to millennials, is that if you ever want to retire in the traditional sense of the word, you need to plan for it… and more importantly you need to save for it. Only you know for sure what right number – 2x, 10x, or 50x your annual salary invested – is going to meet your needs at any given time along your glide path.

“But,” you say, “Everything is so expensive. I have loans, and bills, and kids, and a master’s degree in advanced basketweaving. I can’t save anything.”

That’s fine. In many cases those expenses came along with decisions you made. That means you placed a premium on those other options rather than building a stable platform for retirement. It means you’re going to have to work past the traditional retirement age or contemplate a significant lifestyle change in order to realign you financial priorities. In some cases, especially for those who decide the whole long-range planning things is just too hard, you may have to accept that there’s a good chance you’re going to die in harness.

I got my first “grown up” job at 22. Making about $30K a year, paying rent, a car note, household bills, buying groceries, and all the other expenses that come along with being a grown ass man. It sucked. Money was always short, but before I saw a nickel of it in my checking account $25 of every check that first year went into my retirement account. Let me be clear on this – to me, back then, $50 was a shit ton of money to “do without” from month to month. There were a lot of things I could have spent that cash on to make life a little more civilized and comfortable that first year. The thing is, even at 22, when I still believed I was on my way to a long and fulfilling teaching career, I knew I didn’t want to still be touching America’s youth when I was in my 70s.

Here’s the kicker: Life isn’t easy. It’s full of hard decision, medical emergencies, and events that don’t work out quite as you had planned. Take it from a guy who changed careers, lived through five regional or cross country moves in 18 years to follow better opportunities, and then took a bath on a house he bought at the height of the real estate bubble. I know this shit isn’t easy.

There are precisely 300 million websites out there that can help you develop the mindset and skills that make retirement a thing that’s possible. But it means you’re going to have to do more hard work and educate yourself on the topics and the tools available. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to do it for you while shitposting on Twitter, well, I guess you’re right – retirement is definitely never going to happen.

The so what…

For the last few days I’ve seen a lot of people asking why anyone cares about a Royal wedding – or really why do we here in the States care at all about the Royal Family.

I can’t answer that question as far as why you should be interested, but as for me, I’m an unapologetic, unreconstructed Anglophile. I watched because no one does pomp and ceremony like the British. Even a “small” private wedding (i.e. not an official State occasion) demands a herculean marvel of planning. Trust me, as a glorified wedding planner myself I know these things.

So much of what makes the British who they are also makes we Americans who we are. Our shared past as mother country and far off colony is imprinted on our national DNA – the shared history, laws, and blood ties are those things that bind us together across the Atlantic.

Lastly, as a life-long student of history, I’m in awe of an institution that stretches back in an (almost) unbroken succession for over a thousand years. From our place here at the bleeding edge of the 21st century, I find nearly anything that stands the test of millennia something of remarkable interest.

If you think of it as just a wedding between some minor foreign prince and a Hollywood starlet, I can see why you’re not interested. But frankly, the spectacle was worth watching just to get an extended look at the architecture and design of Windsor Castle and the St. George’s Chapel. The fact that it put a large part of the pomp, pageantry, and nobility of the United Kingdom on display for the camera is just a perk.

So, in conclusion, God Save The Queen.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Snap judgement. I’ve got a pretty good record of making snap judgements about people and situations. Occasionally, though, I’m proven utterly and unequivocally wrong. Just occasionally people really do surprise me. That seeds chaos and discontent in my universe and really does annoy me to no end.

2. Email. Actual it’s the lack of email that’s the problem. If we’re going to pretend to be an organization that lives and dies by electronic communication, keeping this most basic of those tools available feels like a reasonable place to start before we dive in and try to tackle the more complex stuff. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a guy sitting here because the damned email isn’t working.

3. Anyone who asks why I like animals so much and people so little. Seriously with that question? Have you met animals? They’re awesome. Sure, some of them will kill you if given half a chance, but on the whole they’re endearing and some of them are downright adorable. They can be expected to go about their lives doing basic animal things. On the other hand, have you met people? Some of them will kill you given half a chance too, but they have far fewer of the animal’s redeeming qualities and are, as a group, far less adorable. Unlike the other members of the animal kingdom, a large percentage of people can be expected to wander through their lives oblivious to the world around them and behaving in as obnoxious manner as possible. Given the choice, I don’t see how it’s even a contest.

The virtue of Prime…

After getting my notice of another Amazon Prime subscription price increase, I’m realizing that I either need to start using it for more than watching 10 episodes of The Grand Tour a year or get rid of it. I signed up way back when Prime’s major benefit was two day shipping on books. Although it offers many more features now, I find I’m barely using it for any of them. With many of items I’ve bought from Amazon recently not making the 2-day shipping window and/or being damaged to some degree in packing or transit, it’s starting to feel like less of a bargain overall – especially when Amazon has opted to push it over the $100 price point.

I’m well aware that arguing over the value of $21 per year increase is patently ridiculous on its face, but there’s just something about that three-digit bill that really sets me wondering just what the hell I’m paying for and if it’s actually worth it. In all likelihood I’ll just go along letting apathy and inertia carry it along, but don’t let that in any way be confused with my willingness to bitch and complain every year when that $120 bill shows up in my list of financial transactions… because I still want my dented and damaged crap showing up in two (or three or four) days.

I supposed that’s what Amazon has been counting on all along.

The forgotten Monday…

I was home yesterday. I had plenty of time to write and post a normally scheduled addition to the blog. I have no excuse other than the fact that I really kind of forgot that yesterday was Monday. Weekdays are usually hard to miss based on my level of aggravation and discontent, but being a big, beautiful day full of annual leave, this particular Monday wasn’t so afflicted.

I should probably take it as some kind of a warning sign that so much of my content is driven by the annoyance and general disgust generated by the average five-day work week. On the other hand, the fact that I don’t have much to say about the other 80 hours each week may speak loudly about how low key and relaxing I find the time not spent dwelling in cubicle hell.

I may have missed Monday, but you can rest assured that Tuesday more than made up for it. After all, where else could I put my 15 years experience, bachelor’s degree, and MBA to work putting giant hard-backed posters on an easel and then taking them off again all while working two hours of unscheduled overtime?

You’re welcome for my service.