Everything I Do and Think I've Read in a Book (or, exploring the relationship between books and money)

Here's yet another big post on money and income and saving and reading. I tried to write everything on my mind in one massive letter, so I could write a really detailed answer once, rather than a less-useful but less-thoughtful email that I can never reuse.


Hey there,

I'm enjoying our slowly-evolving conversation-by-text. Since we're many time zones apart, and I like to think and digest between texts, it's been a slow conversation.

We've "uncorked" two topics so far:

  • Am I living on 50% of my income, per my stated goal last year?
  • "I read really slow" which I repackaged as "what's the 'break-even point' on reading to justify prioritizing it above other items in my life.

The 50% of my income thing is a whole long thought on it's own, but I'll take a quick stab.

Am I (Josh) living on 50% of my income?

No. For two reasons.

  • I don't have my income. We have our income.
  • It's hard to track that exact percentage, so I don't know what percentage we're living on. I think it's about 65% of our income.

"My income" doesn't exist

Kristi and I have 100% combined finances, so it's our* money. Not my money. For a few months last year Kristi was not working, and at no point did the thought pass through my head that she was not pulling her weight.

*For our sanity, we both have "fun money" budgets of about $100/month. We can spend it however we want, but it's to remove any guilt or justification around small purchases. I want to buy {frivolous thing}? Great. I've got fun money. Kristi wants to withdraw five $20 bills and light them on fire? No problem. It's her fun money.

It started as $50/month, and we've bumped it up a bit over the last two years.

The tool I use to track all of this is called "You Need A Budget", and is worth every penny.

I don't know the exact percentage that we're living on

I've got 30% of my paycheck going to retirement funds, and have a 4% match from my employer, so before a paycheck lands in our checking account, 34% of that money has gone to savings. I earn about 2/3s of our household income, so that accounts for the first 17% household savings rate.

Beyond that, we've been putting money aside in our checking account, with the plan of investing it. The reason we have a lump sum of money sitting there is because of friction. I've not set up an automatic investment strategy yet with Vanguard, and it's a pain in the butt to do, so I've just not done that. This is bad, and writing these words makes me want to fix that.

What I do know, doing back of the envelope calculations, once you throw in all income/expenses and close one eye and squint the other, I think we're saving ~30% of our income every month. Maybe more

I still want to get to 50% saved, at least a few months this year.

Cool, so you save a lot of money. What's that have to do with reading?

The relationship between money and reading

Just about everything I think in the world I've gained from a book. I don't have original ideas. At best I might combine an idea about one thing with a new topic, and poof, it seems new. (To me, a coworker, a friend, et.) But it's really not new. It's the same old idea applied to a new thing.

Books are where you get the ideas to apply to new things.

The two big things that have helped us save a lot of money is "earn more" and "spend less".

I just spent a long time googling around for a good list of reasons to prioritize reading, and couldn't find any lists that I really liked.

I do not like the lists because the lists were all about reading books. I don't read books because I like to read, though I do enjoy it. I read books because it's a small investment in my life. Reading is the quickest, most effective way to grow my knowledge, and who I am as a person.

Every book, fiction or non-fiction, is a tiny little addition to who I am as a person. Over time, those additions add up. Some books contribute more than others.

Reading feels like a delightful obligation I have to myself, my family, and those around me. Every bit of knowledge I glean or idea I have from a book can benefit me and Kristi, directly.

Here's a list of topics I've read about in the last year or so:

  • Marriage
  • Relationships (with my wife, with God, with others)
  • Finances
  • Physical fitness
  • Happiness
  • Solitude
  • Mental fortitude/independence/self-control
  • Lots and lots of fiction. (I love sic-fi and fantasy, but read plenty of other fiction too)
  • Economics
  • Habit building/morning routines
  • Thankfulness
  • Money (again)
  • Autobiographies of accomplished people (the two best autobiographies I've read were written by felons-turned-consultants)
  • Relationship building (social skills, ways to add value, etc.)
  • How to build an audience
  • How to set healthy boundaries in your life
  • How to identify and pursue the "essentials"
  • How to roughhouse with kids
  • How to grow your career by doing better and better work
  • Happiness (again)
  • How to become an authority on a topic
  • How to charge more as a freelancer
  • How the food we eat impacts the world around us
  • More books about money
  • etc.

I said a moment ago that reading feels like a delightful obligation? Why did I say obligation? Easy. If you boiled the themes of the above list down to just the basics, you could say that these books cover:

  • ways I relate to others
  • ways I relate to myself
  • Ways I can deliver the most value possible for anyone who hires me, and in return can ask for a larger and larger piece of compensation.
  • Ways I can manage my resources (time, money)

All of these themes are so important that anyone alive today would be well-justified to study these topics to learn more about them. By reading, you do just that.

I get it. Reading is cool. You've STILL not tied this back to making phat stacks of cash

Lets imagine Joe makes $40,000/year. Lets imagine that Joe gets a raise tomorrow and doubles his annual income. Good for him! What does he do now?

If Joe is average, his lifestyle inflates. He was living on $40k, but in six months, he'll be living on that full $80k. If he loses his job and has to go back to $40k/year, he'll quickly rack up big debt, because he's used to spending more.

On the other hand, if Joe makes $40k, but lives as if he makes $35k, and gets a raise to $80k, and does not increase his spending, he can start putting away $45k a year in the bank. Whoa.

Now, there's three things going on with this story:

  1. Joe starts earning more money
  2. Joe keeps his life style from in flaring
  3. Joe saves the extra money

Each of these three topics is the subject of many books. Sometimes one book touches on all three, but usually not.

If "make more money", "don't spend it all", and "save the difference" is an appealing plan, the only option is to read. Online articles are not sufficient, though they are a great place to start.

Blah blah blah, books books books. Fine, I'll read one. Can you make some recommendations?

Sure. We'll start high level and go down from there:

  • I Will Teach You To Be Rich Super sketchy title, but at the end, you'll angrily say "How has no one told me this before?" before overhauling your financial life.
  • The Slight Edge (about the long-term impact that trivial daily decisions can have. I.E. things that are easy to do, but just as easy not to do.) It's not specifically about money, but offers a very valuable framework for that kind of decision-making. Unfortunately, it does come across as self-helpy quite a bit, talking about how "readers of this book have changed their lives". I don't like that kind of stuff, but the content is quite good.
  • Your Money or Your Life This book is sort of the bible of the "financial independence" crowd, and explains how it's possible to become financially independent without making millions. This gets into the "why" and the "how" of "make more money, avoid lifestyle inflation, save the rest."
  • Fearless Salary Negotiation Self-explanatory title. This is the "how to make more money" step in a very practical way.
  • The Millionaire Next Door A encouraging reality check - most millionaires in America don't look like millionaires. They drive used vehicles, they live modest lifestyles. This is exactly how they have become millionaires, and nothing changes when they cross that seven-figure line. Of course, a million dollars in 1980 is worth $2.8MM today (Bureau of Labor and Statistics), but it's still a nice round number to aim for.

There's a starting point. I would argue that one could not read these five books and be unchanged by them. If you read ten minutes a day, you will finish, on average, one book a month. This is an excellent pace.

Pick the most interesting looking title, go order it from Amazon. (And, none of these are affiliate links. I don't do that, never will)

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