Solutions & Problems

My wife and I are planning on attending a wedding later this summer and she decided she wanted to purchase a new dress for the event.  Yet after searching a few stores she couldn’t find anything she liked or what she did like she didn’t want to spend that much money on.  She was looking at one dress but at $100 for it and knowing she would likely only wear it once or twice she couldn’t justify the cost to herself.

Then the other day she mentioned to me that she realized she was getting too worked up on finding a new dress.  She realized she had assumed she needed to find a new one.  Yet in reality she had a dress she could wear that she did love.  So instead of assuming she needed a new one she changed her point of view.  She would look for a dress and if she didn’t find one for under $50 she won’t worry about it and use the backup dress instead.  Then with terrible irony, the very dress she was lusting after went on sale for $49.  So now she has the dress she wanted at the price she was willing to pay and is extremely happy about it.

I’ve seen this very situation so many times in my own life it isn’t funny (well obviously not the dress part 😉 ).  People have a nasty habit of focusing on problems rather than looking for solutions.  We tell ourselves we can’t retire early (the problem) and then fixate on that thought and often end up reenforcing it in our mind.  When in fact we should be looking at solutions like what can I do differently to retire early.  Could you spend less than you do right now, or perhaps get a higher paying job or explore retiring in a different location with lower costs or do all of them? Those are solutions, rather than looking at the problem.

Unfortunately I think our training at elementary school often makes people assume there is only one solution to every problem rather than realizing with a bit of creativity there is often thousands of solutions.  The trick to finding those solutions is getting into the habit of looking for potential solutions and then tossing the ideas out there to help others come up with additional solutions.  This isn’t to say that the majority of the solutions you come up with will be viable, but don’t bother discarding them until you have a look at them to check.  Impossible often used as an excuse just because no one has bothered to try out a solution yet.

I’ve often found my education as an engineer has helped me out in my personal life on focusing on solutions rather than problems.  After four years of repeating the same process when getting my degree I now do the following  steps automatically:

  1. Define the problem.  What exactly are you trying to solve?  What is your desired goal or output?
  2. Define what you know. Figure out what you already know related to the problem and write it down.
  3. Define what you don’t know.  Often you won’t know everything up front so figure out what you don’t know and write that down as well.
  4. Research the missing pieces.  It’s ok to not know some things as long as you can look them up and hopefully reduce the amount of unknowns.
  5. Generate solution ideas.  Try to come up with at least a few different ways to solve the problem.  Since often your first idea can end up being impossible or not very practical.
  6. Test solutions.  Now you give some of your solutions a try and discard the ones that don’t work out well.

The method isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it does tend to help you focus on solutions which is helpful.  The other big suggestion I have for finding solutions is not to bother trying to solve everything at once, give it some time if there is no rush.  Often a better solution or idea will come up if you just sit on the issue for a while.  After all it has taken me several years to refine my early retirement plan to a workable solution and I’m still modifying the plan as I go.

So how do you focus on solutions rather than problems?  What method helps you out the most?

“A $40 Steak, Please”

Dave is also looking to retire no later than 45, but unlike Tim has no kids and doesn’t want any. Dave is from Ontario and is working towards his CGA certification.

One of the main ways that my wife and I celebrate is to eat and drink. Sometimes that means sipping on a nice (to us) scotch or bourbon. Sometimes we go out and let other people cook for us, which also allows us to partake in one of our favourite pastimes – people watching (when you don’t get out that often, seeing other people in social situations is great entertainment). This past weekend though, due to my wife finding out that she has food reactions to the vast majority of “fun” food we would normally eat – we stayed in to celebrate.

We were celebrating paying off our mortgage – which we made the last payment for on Friday, the 23rd – completing the payoff within our 5 year term (which was our goal). When I asked my wife what she would like to eat, she said “A $40 Steak, Please”. In the past, both of us had eaten $40 restaurant steaks, but never had purchased one from a store to cook. I wasn’t even sure it could be found locally (we do not really have any specialty butcher shops around), but we happened to be in the Thornbury area over the weekend and found a really awesome butcher shop, “Black Angus Freezer Beef”, for anyone in Ontario who’s interested. There, we were able to buy a 1.5 lb, 60-day dry aged ribeye, which I cooked for Sunday evening dinner.

Besides the steak, we also bought some specialty meat – some bison burger, a kangaroo loin, a piece of crocodile meat, and a python filet, all of which we will cook this weekend to have a super eclectic dinner.

Other than the steak, we didn’t really do anything – which kind of matched the anti-climatic feeling we got when we requested that our mortgage was closed to the bank. On the Friday afternoon that we made our last mortgage payment, I was having troubles logging into my account. I called the company and was waiting on hold for 20 minutes until someone finally came on to tell me that because I didn’t have a mortgage, I no longer could access my account.

I asked the representative if they could please e-mail me something showing a $0 balance, as both my wife and I were a little excited. I was told that no such document exists, and I would receive a legal document in the next 30 BUSINESS DAYS saying that the mortgage company no longer has any financial interest in my house. The whole thing was kind of a letdown – we were going to hang the $0 balance on our wall, which would have been a huge achievement for us because we don’t really hang anything on our walls due to some disagreement whether this job falls under a “boy job” or a “girl job”.

With our house paid off and being debt-free, we are now (hopefully) one-third complete our financial plan. The next 10 years should be interesting.

How do you celebrate exciting happenings in your life?

I Don’t Want to Be Rich

It’s sort of amusing to me that when ever I mention my plans to retire by my early forties that the average person assumes I’m trying to be rich.  When in fact, that never was part of my goal at all.

Why? Being rich in my mind always means more than I already have.  Rich conjures images of exotic vacations, buying whatever you want and fulling my even whim.  Which in theory I could reach if I kept saving and worked until I was like 65 at the same rate of savings I could manage to have over $4 million dollars saved.  So I could be rich if I wanted, yet I don’t want it.

What I really want in my retirement is to be comfortable and perhaps the odd little luxury beyond that.  Why?  Because that is all I really need to be happy in life.  I’ve never spent $100,000/year so even if I had it I won’t know how to spend it, expect on things that really don’t matter much to me.  So what is the point of being rich and having everything if that won’t really give me what I truly want in life: time.

I want time to write, to read, to go for walks, to help others, garden, visit friends and family.  I want to live my life not chained to a job.  I want time to nap when I feel like it, cook, research a new interest, build things with my hands, watch movies, play with my kids, go for a run or anything else that comes into my head.

To me that level of freedom is worth giving up being rich.  We often mistake money for freedom, because we are sold the idea we can buy ourselves out of any problem.  Yet in reality, there are often many other solutions we fail to realize exist.  For example, we often complain how we have no time now to do things, but rarely do people consider part time employment.  I know I’ve previously done by 80% and 90% time and I have to say both were eye opening experiences.

For example, 90% time gives you an extra 26 days a year off (or equal to over five weeks of unpaid vacation).  In my case I took every second Friday off and it was wonderful.  You could do errands on that day and then actually leave your weekend free to relax and enjoy the time with your family.  Why wait to be rich when I could enjoy more time now?

So in the end, I’ll keep my modest lifestyle and my dream of more time.  It seems to work for me.  How about you?  Are you ever tempted to be rich?