Episode 80: Year-End Reflections

I dispute conspicuous consumption, praise a frugal lifestyle, talk about my goals, and discuss my conception of happiness.

Ep80_YearEndReflections by Justin Vacula on Scribd

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Rough transcript:

You’re listening to the Stoic Solutions Podcast – practical wisdom for everyday life. I’m your host, Justin Vacula with episode 80 – Year-End Reflections. I dispute conspicuous consumption, praise a frugal lifestyle, talk about my goals, and discuss my conception of happiness.

Once again, it’s that time of the year in which commercialism rears its ugly head and people are scrambling to make purchases for themselves, friends, and family members as they mimic social conventions at least here in the United States. There are some nice things about the holiday season, but there are also many pitfalls. I’ve been considering my spending habits and am quite content with what I have; I don’t see a glaring lack in what I own. In fact, I’ve exited many stores buying nothing lamenting the spending habits of others who lurk near registers and walk down aisles with carts full of questionable items. As a Stoic, I’m called not to be judgmental of others, but really struggle to imagine a situation in which, for example, a cart full of frozen fried chicken and TV dinners are wise purchases.

I continue to exist within a frugal mindset and lifestyle even with a good amount of money to spend. I have entered the rabbithole of the world of credit card deals and bank account bonuses in September of 2018 mainly to invest in my future, have more financial freedom, and peace of mind not stressing about how I am going to pay my next bill and living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle which can often be alleviated by a change in mindset and spending habits delaying gratification I have mentioned in previous episodes.

It’s really nice to have an emergency fund incase some unpleasant situations develop – the Stoics encourage us to prepare for the worst, to expect the unexpected, to not be caught off guard. It’s nice to have extra money invested which will generate great returns. It’s nice to buy items in bulk having lots in storage, attaining solid discounts, rather than buying little at a time at an increased price. It’s nice to have the ability to spend if needed while also having self-control to not make super optional purchases – it’s carrying a sword but having it sheathed, having power but not always using it: prudence.

I’ve opened about ten checking accounts in recent months with the goal of attaining sign-up bonuses by meeting certain requirements. I’ve opened about six credit cards embracing lucrative sign-up bonuses and perks, clearing so far 5 out of 6 now working on the sixth paying off the total balance in every account to avoid any interest or fees. There’s a good deal of money to be made if exercising discipline, prudence, moderation, and humility – many virtues within Stoicism I’ve discussed in length. With all of the spending power I have, I keep my spending minimal and even engage in some tactics like buying prepaid debit cards and converting them to money orders to meet minimum spending requirements. It’s been a fun journey although there have been some customer service issues mainly in pushback from employees and them not being helpful or knowledgable.

Some question my path noting they wouldn’t be able to keep track of everything, that there would be too much temptation to overspend, that they don’t want to take risks, or that it’s too much work even if the effort is worth a minimum of $1000-$1500 a month. Some look at me like a madman or a scoundrel, but I’m quite happy to turn the tables on credit card companies and banks and have no shame when, for instance, I buy a single banana for 19 cents in order to get a 20% off coupon for a future order or take advantage of new member signup bonuses only to cancel subscriptions soon as soon as possible while getting a nice gift.

It’s a wonder to me, some will spend 30-40 hours a week making a low wage in a job they don’t really enjoy, but are unwilling to spend an hour or two a day browsing websites aggregating information and giving advice; making purchases; and managing accounts yielding a greater profit than their job. Maybe this hobby of deals isn’t for everyone, especially those who don’t have the capital required, but even some low-roller deals with very little risk involved are out there. I’ll also have the advantage of an improved credit score, incoming offers, and more opportunity to save, generate, and invest money.

People try to shame me calling me “cheap,” but I embrace the lifestyle and, in many cases, care little about social validation because I’m happy with myself, my happiness doesn’t depend on others’ opinions of me. Do they want a free ride from me while they contribute little? Do they feel entitled to my money? Do they think that just because I put in the hard work and have money I should feel obligated to give to it them? I’m not here to rescue everyone especially when their financial ruin is their own fault and they neglect to take steps to improve their situation even when I offer the information and guidance being very generous with my time. It was a pitiful sight when recently, for instance, I gave a family member about $200 in groceries using some rewards points I had, providing transportation, and spending my valuable time, but they continued to press me for more even after I said no and they owe me money from years past. I try to help and have hope for people, but sadly their lack of gratitude is apparent and their spending habits and choices continue to be poor especially when much of their money, I know, went to smoking, drinking, and parties. These situations really call for me to reevaluate my priorities and instead help those who are more grateful and I will not enable. It’s probably dealings with other people which test my Stoic mettle. We desire good relationships and appreciative people, but won’t always get this. Still, the social shaming and ingratitude continues.

The Stoic aspirant ought to be immune from social shaming from those who don’t seem to have a good argument, but rather advance personal attacks. What am I really missing anyway? I’m content with my living quarters; I find fulfillment at work and am advancing within my company; my car just passed inspection, is great on gas, is paid off, and runs well; I have my basic needs covered; I have good friends; I enjoy my hobbies; I’m in good physical health; I have plans for travel and vacation I spend with others; and I just completed requirements for my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I doubt that lavish or conspicuous spending will make me much happier and research suggests it won’t lest the boost just be temporary. I’d like to invest more mainly in a Roth IRA and the stock market and am working towards that goal. I will have the ability to invest more or redistribute funds when many of my current investments, mainly money parked in checking & savings accounts to gain a short term bonus after a few months of funds remaining in the account, mature.

I can keep my spending low and invest in my future…and the world of deals I mentioned opened many doors allowing eating out for a low price which saves some time of preparing food at home and cleaning which I think is an inexpensive luxury. I’ve enjoyed extreme discounts on groceries, gas, travel, and much more. I’ve even been able to share the wealth with others by giving them free groceries, food from restaurants, special items I’ve received in the mail I won’t use, and much more. I’m content with what I have, but yearn for more to invest in my future and help others as, sadly, the shadow of student loan debt is coming closer although I’m planning on student loan forgiveness and income-based repayment, still, hopefully, it’s a good investment.

It’s quite the advantage, I think, to shun luxury and say I don’t find value in this while the masses will highly value fine-dining, expensive clothes, jewelry, lavish weddings, and other pursuits I couldn’t be bothered with. Occasionally, yes, I’ll spend on travel and entertainment, but even then keep costs low especially enjoying bi-monthly weekend Dungeons and Dragons conventions and other pursuits. People will create misery for themselves through overspending and being focused on the wrong things, Stoic authors repeat this theme in their text most notably Epictetus noting that under a thatched roof dwells slavery.

Rather than making sudden new year’s resolutions, I, on a regular basis, reevaluate my goals – I think about whether something is missing in my life, consider areas in which I can improve, and maintain to be a better person. I keep informed, continue learning, through podcasts, YouTube, friends, and various internet sites. I have a humble attitude knowing I can improve and strive towards self-improvement.

I monitor my use of time and work towards balance not overly committing myself to one domain of life. I continue with goals of healthy eating, social interaction, exercise, thrifty spending, and enriching others’ lives. I continue working on episodes of this podcast, keeping up-to-date with other Stoic content I’m grateful for, and read to improve my knowledge base. I continue to volunteer as organizer of a local philosophical group, the NEPA Freethought Society, and bring discussion I see as valuable to others.

Let’s not wait until the end of the year or beginning of the year to make a resolution, let’s not procrastinate, let’s set some goals for a lifetime and working towards them rather than being one of the many who will surely populate the local Planet Fitness for a few days but never been seen until next January.

At the end of 2018, I’m quite happy with my life and am grateful for many opportunities, many of them surprising, which have enriched my day-to-day living. My happiness, as the Stoics fashion it, is largely based on contentment and fulfillment. I embrace gratitude and acceptance which help me along my path. Life’s not always easy, there will be some trying times, but Stoic training should allow us to successfully cope with intense negative emotions. I look forward to what’s in-store in coming months, I think, equipped to face the upcoming challenges and successfully navigate success which, in many cases, has people spending above their means and making poor decisions. I hope to maintain my frugal nature and Stoic path. Thanks so much for being part of my project through listening to and supporting my content. 80 episodes came fast and more are to come!

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Podcast music, used with permission, is brought to you by Phil Giordana’s symphonic metal group Fairyland from their album ‘Score to a New Beginning.’ John Bartmann offered free consultation and audio edits for episodes 51-63. Thanks to generous patrons and fans of this podcast who help support my work. Have a great day.