Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Used To Smile All The Time

Yesterday, I punched out a smiley face in the big pile of soap in the sink.  Because everything deserves to be happy.  

Recently, my girlfriend told me to smile more.  I was upset about this, because I tend to think I'm one of the happiest and most carefree people in the world.  I have the history of manifesting positivity in the face of great tragedy to prove it.  After I thought about it, however, I began to realize that although I think about the world now in very clear, concise modes, and although having such a clarity of perspective is inexplicably amazing, it doesn't necessarily mean that happiness will automatically follow.

I've been under a dark cloud for a long time, and my goals and my perception have been crystal clear since I was diagnosed.  "I want this, this, and this," I said, as soon as I found out I had cancer.  And I immediately set out to achieve those things.  Some of them were easy, others of them aren't yet fully realized.  I'm still hurting in certain ways after my experience, and the fact that I'm focusing on ways to fix that, instead of complaining and feeling sorry for myself is great, but it doesn't mean that it makes me happy, entirely.  Because happy is an attitude, and I'm working on that.  I still feel like I'm happier than the average bear, especially considering I know for a fact it's worthless to go through life being anything but.  I just think I've been too concerned lately about conditional happiness.  "When I get XYZ, I can finally relax..."  Except that getting to XYZ is a huge journey, full of unforeseen obstacles and circumstances.  And you still have to live your life while you get there.  This is a pretty common attitude, and it manifests itself in several ways:

"When I get that promotion I can finally relax" -- Spoiler alert; it'll never be enough money.

 "When I meet someone who makes me happy, everything will get better," -- Not necessarily; you generally need to be happy with yourself in order to attract someone in the first place.

"When I lose the extra weight, I'll be so much happier," -- I don't know, will you?  You'll still be you.  Be happy now, and lose the weight if you want to, not because you feel pressured to do so.

Conditions, conditions, conditions.  It doesn't matter what level of priority they have in the grand scheme of things, all the way from "I'm unhappy at my job and won't be satisfied until I get a new one," and all the way to, "I'm killing my family financially post-cancer and need a book deal soon or we'll all starve."  Conditions are a matter of perspective, but that's a thought for another time.

So, stop focusing on the conditional.  It'll be great when it comes.  But deal with your life while you have it, in the most fundamentally satisfying way possible.  Because, seriously, what's the alternative?

Friday, August 9, 2013

I Wrote My Will at 26: Part 3, Health and Finance

I felt selfish for writing my letter, and sending it out to close friends I knew would follow through on my wishes.  I only asked that my family be looked after when I was gone.  Most of the guilt came from the fact that I hadn't really been able to look after them myself yet.  My family had always looked after me, and supported me monetarily when the occasion called for it.  After my first year in NYC, I began to gain financial independence.  I worked in project management and brought home a decent salary.  But I was a contracted employee, and eventually my contract ended.  It wasn't long before I was on my own again, with a dwindling savings account in a city that's prohibitively expensive.  I spent a few months toying with the idea of writing for a living, and I even worked on a book project.  The money was going fast, and I was only able to work a few days on another project.  It was at that point I noticed that something was wrong, and a cancer diagnosis promptly followed.  I didn't have much of an opportunity to pick myself back up after that.  It was on to surgery and immunotherapy instead.  I didn't fully know it yet, but my working days would be over for a while.

I wondered if I'd actually done something wrong.  If I'd made a mistake and hadn't prepared to the best of my ability, even though I could never have predicted what happened.  All the same, I began to wonder what I should have had in place at that point, in order to protect myself against unexpected hardship.  To answer that question, I spoke with Bryan Mills, a financial consultant with Investors Capital.

"I'm not made of money, but my clothes are"

"One of the biggest things I always ask someone I speak to is, do you have six months of living expenses in the bank?  Six to twelve of months of real cash.  Whatever your monthly expenses are, you have to be able to cover at least six months."  It's no secret that the average person needs to be saving, in order to cover their bases.  But how do you go about this?  "Write down what's called a T-Chart," says Mills.  "Income on the right side, outflow on the left.  Write down every single expense: food, bills, car, gas, insurance, travel.  Go through line by line and see if there are things you can cut if you need to."

Seems simple enough.  But what about when something serious happens?  What can the average person do to protect themselves in case of an unexpected health crisis?  "Level premium term life insurance is important for everyone to have," says Mills.  "You can usually get it dirt cheap.  The average cost of a funeral today is over $10,000.  A 20-30 year term policy is relatively easy to qualify for and would cover the expense, instead of leaving your family to pay out of pocket."  Age and health are a factor though, and policies will cost you more as you get older.  "Most people think they're safe.  'My company is going to give me all this insurance,' they think.  But what happens if you leave the company?  Most group insurance isn't portable.  Personal insurance is the best way to make sure you're covered.  And it has to be through a company with a superior credit rating, otherwise they might not be able to make good on their obligations in a really bad situation."

What if you're just starting out in life?  And you can't afford a term policy, even though Bryan would argue that a lot of them are very affordable, there are still instances in which any expenditure seems like too much.

"Budget yourself," says Mills.  "Don't spend wildly or erratically.  You can treat yourself, but really be conscious about what you're spending.  There are apps that can help you." 

Apps!  Apps!  Of course!  As a millennial, born into an era of increasing technological dependence, I was very happy to hear that.  In my day-to-day adventuring, I use a host of apps to make life easier, to entertain myself, and to annoy as many people as possible.  And so I figured that being a financial consultant, Bryan would have the skinny on the best gadgets in the financial field.  Turns out, he does.  So what are these magnificent software-laden golden geese?  Bryan gives us the rundown:

From the glorious minds behind, the app version of the site provides all of your financial needs at the tips of your fingers (or thumbs).  It tracks your spending habits and cash flow, and creates a personalized budget based on your needs.  Just add your banks and credit cards, and watch your custom graphs load up and head deep into the red (oh, that doesn't happen to everyone?). 

Run by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, a nonprofit that helps people find the insurance that's right for them.  They offer options based on your current needs, providing various calculator and estimator tools to help you figure out what kind of coverage you require.  They have an Iphone app, and a website with resources for consumers and advisers alike.

This is Bryan's very own app.  "For someone who just started a job or is new to the workforce, it'll help you plan for the future," he explains.  His goal is to get you from here to a healthy retirement, without pushing expensive products down your throat.  The app is completely unbiased, and comes with two categories: "Retire Logix," for those looking to plan for the long-term, and "Student Logix," designed specifically for the academics among us.  Anytime you feel like talking to Bryan in more detail, click on "Consult with Bryan?" and you can dial him up or send him an email.  I personally send him life-sized cardboard cutouts of my face, but he tells me that emails work just as well.  Retire Logix was rated among the top 100 apps of 2011 by Money Magazine.  

It turns out there are options for protecting yourself financially in a crisis.  Granted, it's very difficult to manage, and no one knows this better than myself.  But I'm trying my best to get back on my feet, and if you're looking to do so as well, I hope this information will be of use.  

Image Credits:  Top -- Pumice on 20 dollars, by Robert DuHamel via Wikimedia Commons; Middle -- I'm not made of money, but my clothes are, by Craighton Miller via flickr; Bottom -- I am PRETTY give me MONEY, by dtchn via deviantart

Disclosure: I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it.  Bryan E. Mills is a financial consultant who offers securities through Investors Capital Corporation.  Member FINRA/SIPC.  800-949-1422.  The views and opinions offered by Bryan Mills in this piece should not be construed as specific investment advice.  You should consult an investment professional regarding your unique situation.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jackie Chan Dies on the Internet Every Five Minutes

Yes, it's true folks.  The interwebs doesn't lie.  It's very sad; believe me, I know.  But Jackie Chan, the action star whose movies I grew up watching, is dying at a rate of at least once every five minutes.

Image: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Jackie Chan  Uploaded by maybeMaybeMaybe) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

"How can we stop this from happening?" you might be asking yourself.  Well -- and I legitimately believe this -- the only way to stop Jackie Chan from dying on the internet every five minutes is to buy my book, Astral Imperium And Other Stories.  Otherwise, he may never recover.  You might also decide to donate vast sums of money to a charity I invented just now as I'm typing this, called Save the Whales, Children, Homeless Ostrich Farmers, Jackie Chans By Donating Your Entire Net Worth To My Fake Charity (identified by the easy-to-remember acronym: STWCHOFJCBDYENWTMFC).

I hope at least someone is sitting down after a long day at work, reading this and thinking, "Yes, that seems legit.  I will do these things to save Jackie."

My question is: Why do people want other people dead so very much?  What's going on here?

We are, as a culture, fascinated with tragedy.  Ironically fascinated.  We push death on others just as quickly (if not more quickly) than we push it away from ourselves.  We're just as likely to slow down along the highway to crane our necks at accidents, staring at crumpled cars pulled to the shoulder and spread open by the jaws of life, as we are to hope that something like that never happens to us.

Celebrities are easy targets -- they're highly visible and often idolized.  What's more gripping than a story about the fall of an idol?  Tragedy gets ratings.  But the problem with the pursuit of ratings is the culture of yellow journalism it creates.  Why rush Jackie into the grave?  I'm sure he's a little more than weirded out about it.  In my opinion, it would be much easier not to make designs on him; he's going to go at some point anyway.  We all are.  You can write about it then.  Why not enjoy the time we have, instead of obsessing over when it's going to end?