Family Spending Principles

West Ridge, Eldora

An observation that I am trying to pass along to my kids.

My never ending desires are rooted in a false idea of what will make me happy. I have a clear idea about the structure of the days that are “better.” Achieving better is easier, and more rewarding, than chasing pleasure from purchases.


To help me achieve “better”, I have a series of principles.

1/ Visible spending for wife, first // This works on a number of levels.

  • Don’t buy something for yourself that you wouldn’t buy for your entire family.
  • It easier to be value conscious when I remove myself from the purchase equation.
  • It’s just good policy.

2/ The minimum outlay to meet the underlying need

Strangely, I got this via Joe Friel on coaching masters athletes => the minimum, and the most specific, training to get the desired physiological adaption.

Capital takes time to acquire and is easily squandered (spendthrift heirs and lottery winners are common examples).

A default to the minimum reduces the scale of my (inevitable) errors and increases the ability to change my mind later.

3/ Do not sweat the small stuff – set a Give A Hoot threshold (links to Marriage Money article)

Set an annual plan, track the cash quarterly and promise you will not sweat the small stuff. Good people are made miserable by tracking every nickel.

Stay out of the weeds so your mind is able to think and get the big things right.

4/ Avoid Choices That Have A Material Cost to Hold => this applies across domains (assets, leases, friends, family, commitments, Facebook/eMail). The math from yesterday.

There are many ways to find yourself over-extended… debt service, cash flow, emotion & time.

Exit bad decisions => they crush you on all levels.

Mark Allen on pacing…

just because you’ve made a bad decision, doesn’t mean you have to continue it


Combine these principles and you’ll find the sum is worth more than the parts.


Dropping into West Turbo. Pali Chair, A-Basin.

My son asked about the last big purchase I made, other than real estate.

My off-the-cuff answer was “we don’t spend much money” but that didn’t line up with what I know about our cash flow statement.

So I spent January thinking about it. Next time, the best financial choices I’ve made across my marriage (16 years this summer).

Writings for an expecting father: Where the rubber meets the road


The second birthday of your first child is a key milestone.

Life’s about to get real.


I think a lot of guys would be more involved if they knew, in advance, what long-term female bitterness does to a marriage.

How much risk do you want to run?

What sort of role do you want to create for yourself?

  • Take a dominant kid away so your wife meets the other kids (this comes later).
  • Taking a toddler away on an overnight trip so your wife can put her adrenal system back together.
  • Lock in a Daddy Day once a week.
  • Lock in a time slot 5 days a week so your wife can exercise.

Smart, tactical choices will help create the woman you’d like to spend the rest of your life alongside.



What do you do best?

For me, it is 1-on-1 time in nature. Whatever your skill happens to be, do not expect it to be a whole lot of fun at the beginning.

The “win” happens when your wife uses the space you create for her own needs.

To create space for meeting our own needs, I was rarely supportive of “getting exhausted together”.


Also invert the situation and consider…

What does your partner like least? …but maybe that’s outside your skill level. In that case…

What can you subcontract? Teaching your kid(s) to be put to bed at an early age from someone other than their mother is one of the best things you can do for your marriage.

I experienced some resistance to outside help with our first kid. The resistance was _completely_ gone by the time our 3rd arrived.

Subcontracting is not a clear cut issue. I can easily subcontract cleaning but it’s one of the highest return things I do in my house. Unassailable authority when I assign chores or ask for help.

Do no expect your kids to thank you => remember you’re doing this for your marriage and to hedge your bets for tomorrow.

You can not do it all => What are you willing to give up to create space for this new initiative?

In the short term, as you adjust to your new reality, it will feel like you’ve given up everything => Because you have!

It’s a brand new life you’re creating.

Writings for an expecting father: The Start


Three things:

  • Learn to swaddle
  • Focus on your wife’s sleep
  • Babies cry

Nothing else matters until you’ve mastered these points.

Why?

Done well, these points bring relief and create space for the rest of your life.


Downstream effects

Where you’ll be sleeping => I spent a lot of time, alone, in the basement.

Sleep schedules => Baby, Mom, You => in order of priority.

Use of outside help => support the marriage by supporting your wife’s sleep and up-skilling everyone’s ability to swaddle and deal with the reality of the baby (they cry).


Pay attention to what works, and doesn’t.

Keep what works and build a schedule.

Writings for an expecting father: Why


How do you deal with the risk that your body lasts longer than your mind?

Serve the young.


A pregnant wife is the start of an outstanding opportunity to de-risk the back end of your life. The skills required to take advantage of this offering are likely to be very different from what you’ve been using so far.

You don’t need to be a father to take advantage of these posts – young spouse, young students, other people’s kids, grandkids, neighbors… the key element is consistent service to others.


Now, in my own case, it wasn’t a desire to “get” future help.

Rather I had a strong desire to “avoid”.

  • Avoid another divorce.
  • Avoid the pain of future regret.

Still not sure? Listen quietly while grandparents talk about their life decisions.

My New Year’s Resolution

…was made ten years ago.



Last week. my wife and I were chatting about her needs.

They were modest => a daily swim and an outdoor walk with a friend.

It brought me way back, and made me smile.


Byrn Family 2010. Pearls, Lace and Savagery!

The last time we’d spoken about her needs was a decade earlier.

We had a two-year old in the house and my wife was pregnant with our son.

Actually, we didn’t really talk much.

I broached the topic of changing how we were living. It went something like…

I have neeeeeeeeds.

One of the better things I’ve EVER done was not engage.

Non-engagement was a general policy during pregnancy and, fortunately, my wife was pregnant enough that the habit stuck with me!


Upper left hand corner could be my son’s first photo

Back to “needs” circa 2010.

I looked around:

  • 2,000 sq ft per person
  • 3:1 adult-to-kid ratio
  • weekly cleaners
  • professional kitchen

I did not say a word but I made a mental note.

The situation around us, I had created. All our needs were created by me.

It was time to own the outcome.


Roll forward a decade, add a global pandemic, and we’re down to a walk and a swim.

50% of our baseline cost of living => gone.

I even got rid of cable (took me five years).

Stay focused on where you want to go.

Own the outcome.


We kept the mixer.

Together

Quick note so I remember this moment – optimism with vaccine news balanced with concern as our hospitals fill up – schools closed again, and tempers strained due to grief and many days of kid bickering, which is normal but exhausting. As we see the light at the end of the tunnel, now is the time to recommit to modeling better behavior.

One other quick note: one of my wife’s friends sent us three picture frames. The idea is each kid gets to put a favorite Andy memory into their frame. Wonderful gift idea that I wanted to pass along. Our oldest added a note at the bottom of her frame, “Thank you Andy for being a great uncle.” Gratitude in the face of grief.


OK, now an idea about relationships for you.

When death, divorce or another life changing event takes place, we might have a feeling that we need to rebuild. Rebuilding, after everything fell apart.

Alternatively, we might get caught in a victim mentality. The shock of the event leaving us feeling angry, hurt or disoriented – feeling like the world, or a specific person, did us wrong.

We’ve been done wrong!

Two things I shared with my oldest daughter.

Yes, your uncle dying is the worst thing that has happened to you. However, it’s unlikely that this moment is going to be the worst thing that happens in your life. [I avoided the temptation for us to brainstorm future tragedies.]

No, we are not being singled out. Death is a natural and universal human experience. Everyone you meet will have their own story about death.


In terms of tough moments, I have a buddy who started 2020 with his spouse dying after a long journey with cancer. I followed them for many years. They packed a lot of living into those final years.

Roll forward into COVID, into grief and he shared an observation about a person he’d met.

We have an opportunity to build a life together.

Opportunity, Build, Together

I wanted to pass those words to you because they are very different from the way I saw relationships as a young man.

My ideas of the past, at best, were to find someone to share MY experience with ME.

Or perhaps, someone to follow MY instructions and serve ME.

Far more useful to be thankful for the opportunity to have loved, to have had the opportunity to raise kids and then focus on what’s next. Life after children, life after his spouse has died.


When I place myself in my friend’s mindset, certain things become clear.

Don’t seek to nudge others towards my view – share experiences and change together.

Know that shared experiences, particularly struggles, are what it’s all about. Embrace the opportunity to face life together, as those will be the moments that bring us together.


If my time allocation reflected my values, then what would it tell me?

Be grateful for an opportunity to build better together.

What’s Your Filter

Our youngest told me our cat needs a Halloween costume. I laughed while realizing that my home-school internet monitoring system might need improvement.

Most of us will be “adulting” for 50+ years.

Half a century is more than enough time for choice to impact outcome.

Here’s how I stack the deck.


Understanding three things greatly simplifies decision making:

  • Payoff function
  • Worst-case scenario
  • Who bears the worst-case scenario

In most cases, knowing the above eliminates the need to make any prediction (of an unknowable future).

In investing, you can bet big when someone else bears your downside (non-recourse leverage, other people’s money). At home, you will want to be more careful.

You are going to be tempted to spend most of your time predicting an unknowable future.

Don’t.

Instead, figure out the payoff function, what’s the worst that can happen and who bears that downside.


Previous writing touched on the payoff functions for fame, financial wealth, strength training and personal freedom.

Tim’s blog did a great job of laying out on his worst-case scenario – shot in his own home as well as a brain dump of everything that can go wrong, and right, with fame. It was an enjoyable read but life is too complex to perform cost-benefit analysis for every choice.

Sounds good, doesn’t scale.

One of my favorite shortcuts is to teach myself the areas of my life where I have a lousy track record, and defer to my expert advisor(s). I look for advisors with domain-specific experience and a temperament different from my own then… …I do what they recommend.

There’s deep wisdom in stepping outside ourselves => What Would Jesus Do, or Buffett, or your coach, or whomever you think knows better than you.


Each time I choose, I open the opportunity to make a mistake. To reduce unforced errors, there are filters I use to eliminate the need to make a choice and to make the correct choice obvious.

First level filter => repeat my choice for a decade, where’s this likely to take me?

What’s the worst that can happen? Live long enough and you’ll see it happen.

Specifically, I want to stay well away from:

  • Prison
  • Permanent Disability
  • Bankruptcy
  • Divorce
  • Violence
  • Self Harm

The first three are obvious, but that doesn’t stop many, many people from surfing close to the edge, or getting an emotional rush from having charismatic risk-seeking friends.

Sometimes I need to phase out a relationship, sometimes I need to adjust my own behaviors.

With marriage, specifically, it’s impossible to “see” just how challenging your life will become if you have kids. You’re going to be really, really stressed out for a decade. Every single one of my prior bad habits tried to make a re-appearance in my life!

There’s no easy way around it but you can significantly reduce your chance of disaster if you pay attention to how your potential mate approaches risk.

Personally, I like to drive with people. You can learn a lot about someone by chatting, and watching, while they drive in traffic.

It is difficult to let charismatic sociopaths out of our lives. These people are a lot of fun to hang around with, especially when we aren’t the target of their ire. It gets easier with a few bad experiences.

When you need to make a change, resist the urge to justify your choices.

Learn to ghost with grace.


What if we are the person that needs to change?

Owning my choices and considering where they might take me.

Mountaineering, peer choice, alcohol use, cigars, bike racing… as my life changed from “just myself” to “my young family” the following became clear to me…

The people who were bearing the downside had no choice in whether to take the risk.

To make myself feel better, I took out a long-term care policy. The insurance reduced the financial burden if I was disabled but didn’t address the mismatch between who was taking the risk and who was bearing the downside.

In my 40s, severe permanent disability could have been worse than death. In 2013, with three young kids and an impaired balance sheet, I was in a very different place than I hope to be when our youngest graduates high school (in 2030, or so).

Perhaps I’ll add back risky stuff in my 60s… right now, I doubt I’ll have the energy.

🙂


Divorce, violence and self-harm => the bottom half of the list.

  • Nobody gets married hoping for a divorce.
  • Nobody starts a drive hoping to get their car shot up in a road rage incident.
  • Nobody repeats a pattern of justified rage hoping to create a crisis.

But these things happen, and their seeds are small choices, repeated.

I try to be alert to habits that can lead me astray.

Anger remains a challenge for me.

I pay attention to situations and habits that reduce my faults.

I focus on better.


My definition of winning has changed over time. However you define it, success is more likely with a plan, a couple well chosen peers and a habit of referring to a clear filter.

Making a habit of the first-level filter, tosses all kinds of stuff into the forget-about-it pile.

Reminder about the 1st Filter => repeat for a decade, where am I likely to be?

The first filter very quickly gets rid of (most of my) bad ideas.

Then what.

Here’s how I set priorities and shape my “to do” pile.

When I was an elite athlete, every decision I made was passed through a filter of, “Will this help me win in August?” At that time, the filter worked very, very well.


August 2007, with my real 1st Place Trophy. Before kids, we took ~1,000 days for ourselves. Highly recommended!

In 2005, I married and quickly realized my filter (of winning) would, if applied over many years, make a second divorce more likely. Deeply seared from my divorce, I really, really, really didn’t want another divorce.

I wanted a different result so I needed a different approach.

I needed to change my filter to…

“How will this impact my marriage?”

Your situation is likely different, but your need to know, and direct, your filter is the same.

Baby, or COVID, arrives… “How will this impact my family?”

Allocating time week-after-week… “What’s my real priority?”

Trivial irritations, the opinions of strangers… “Who gets my emotional energy?”

Every single person we meet has a filter => victory, vanity, external wealth, fame, likes, validation, please the person in front of me, attention, minimize conflict, how do I feel right now, what is the last piece of advice I heard… lots of people, lots of different filters.

Make a choice.

Iterate towards better.

Marriage Money

The progression: Magna Tiles, Legos then Erector Set. So far, Magna Tiles were the best money spent. The kids love them after many years. I’m told Meccano is a new level of complexity. He’s loving the challenge. I bought the Meccano as a consistency prize for daily Spanish Duolingo.

It’s tempting to think that more money will result in less financial conflicts. However, I haven’t found that to be the case.

The habits that lead to conflict follow us up, and down, the socioeconomic ladder.

Similarly, if I can make a habit of de-escalation in one area of my life then my approach will follow me into other areas.


Earlier this year, my wife had her eye on a very nice jacket. For some reason, I became obsessed with the cost of this jacket.

Where did my feelings come from? I have no idea but I knew my feelings were unproductive. I knew because of the filter I apply to my marriage, “Where are these choices likely to take me, and my marriage?”

I knew it would be helpful to move on but I wasn’t able to shake my opinions.

So I funded the jacket.

Actually, I funded 7x the cost of the jacket.

That jacket was a massive write-off…

😉

I placed the money into an account that is invisible to my internet banking.

I asked my wife to pay cash so I would have no ability to track her spending.

I felt better immediately.

It was one of the best deals I did pre-COVID.


I’ve been running my financials since I was 16 and managed to save 50 cents of every dollar I earned from 16 to 40 years old.

My first job out of college was in finance. My mentors made two observations about spending that stuck with me:

  • From the Managing Partner, “We could keep a better eye on the small stuff but that would make this place a lot less fun to work at and it wouldn’t make any difference to my financial life.”
  • From a Young Up-and-comer, “If you ever want to get someone then start by auditing their expenses.”

Apply these to myself

=> make sure my choices can survive an audit (by anyone, but especially my spouse)

=> being a stickler for fine detail will make the people around you miserable (especially if you have a life that can’t survive an audit)

As a leader, what does that actually mean?

In 2009, unexpected unemployment left us facing a financial crisis. I started by cutting my personal budget by 80%. I laid that out to my wife and said we needed to cut our family budget by 50%.

We made a budget, we implemented the changes and we went on with our lives.

Good enough was good enough.


Endless optimization makes everyone miserable.

Often there is a fear-based motivator that is driving our attention to fine-detail.

It can be near impossible to transcend fear-based habits!

Two things that might help:

1/ Set a “give a hoot” threshold.

Each year, I set a dollar-amount that is my “give a hoot” threshold. If something is below that threshold then I promise myself that I_will_not_give_a_hoot.

My total spend in the “give a hoot” category is ~2% of my total budget. The 2% spend cuts 90% of my external annoyances and gives me a lot of internal credibility when I say “we don’t have the money for that.”

Not getting wrapped up in the little stuff makes my internal life better and gives me the authority to direct the big stuff.

This policy is a bargain (but letting go is oh-so-tough).

2/ What about when the threshold is triggered?

When something big pops up, I like to pause and distance myself from the decision.

I’ve set my financial life up to create friction in my ability to spend money. The friction gives me time to ask…

What’s the goal? => How does this choice benefit my family, my marriage, myself…

If it won’t make a difference then wait.


Another filter => Am I willing to spend this money on someone other than myself? If not then wait, again.

Investing and spending => I do a lot of waiting and that’s OK because anticipation is often better than reality.

I spent yesterday afternoon at a car dealership and traded my car for a newer model. The new car will be “my wife’s” and I’m going to roll in the oldest car we own.

Knowing that my family is seeing me roll in the “old car” will make me at least as happy as a new car, which I can always get later.

Here’s why…

Your spouse, your kids, your unborn descendants… all will be impacted by the choices you make with regard to spending and investment.

Financial values scale across generations.

Chose wisely.

15 Years


Today’s my 15th wedding anniversary. I thought I’d leave something for my daughters.

I was born Canadian and figured if you’re going to marry an American then best to do it on the 4th of July.

In normal times, the benefits of a strong domestic partnership aren’t obvious. These aren’t normal times!

Being locked down with my wife is great. The other night I shared, “I could roll this for another 75 weeks, no problem.”

I saw my wife’s silent reply in her eyes… 75 frickin’ weeks?! Anyhow, she might not feel the same way about lockdown but she’s happy for me.

That might be a good first tip => the capacity to be happy for other people.

I had zero empathy through my 20s. Which bring us to the next tip…


End bad relationships early

You’re unlikely to get to a great marriage via a rocky courtship.

How will you know it is a bad relationship? Turn that question on its head.

Is it going to be the greatest mistake of your life if you let this person go? That’s how I felt when I proposed to Monica.


Be willing to be alone

A good marriage is an outstanding deal. It is worth a lot of effort to get there. There is so much stuff I don’t have to deal with.

However, there’s no rush to get there. It wasn’t until my 30s that I started to show any potential to be “marriage material.”


Don’t marry the prettiest girl in high school

This observation isn’t about being pretty, or being female.

It’s this… being treated like you’re special, for no good reason, from a young age, will skew your perception of the world.

All my best relationships, male and female, have been with people who grew up lower middle-class. The exceptions were financially comfortable but had to overcome significant emotional challenges growing up.

Pretty, gifted, athletic… from an early age… can make the rest of your life seem like a downer.

Don’t peak in high school.


How to spot a husband

Is he kind? Kindness takes time to develop in many people.

Will people work for him? You’ll be doing a lot of work together.

If people like working for him then you’re less likely to resent him. Female-to-male resentment is the #1 trait I come across in unhappy marriages.

A kind guy, that “people” enjoy working for.

You, and your kids, will become his people.

Good luck.

Dealing With Really Difficult People

To offer my very best to these four people, I say “no” to drama

Over the course of your life, you will be sucked into many unnecessary arguments.

With the stress in our societies right now, I thought I’d share some hard-won wisdom.

Something I do well is deal with extremely difficult people.


Difficult people tend to divide into two camps.

  • Someone who is nuts, addicted or abusive => your best outcome is a clean exit
  • Somebody who is very comfortable with conflict => your best outcome is a mutually beneficial relationship

It is essential to know the difference => are you seeking a relationship or an exit?

Remember, it only takes one side to make a relationship completely impossible. You might never get the chance for a relationship. Likewise, no one can create a relationship without your agreement.

Keep your desired outcome front and center.


For the merely difficult, the best resource I’ve found is a book called B.I.F.F. => BIFF stands for Brief Informative Friendly and Firm.

BIFF is how I deal with every email in my life => when it spills into my marriage, or my family, it can get me into trouble. Still, on balance, it’s a winning strategy.

The BIFF method has saved me thousands of hours of hassle. You might not realize the psychological, and energetic, cost of the difficult people in your life.

Quick read => $10.

The book helped me see my own role in the conflicts that follow me around. The BIFF techniques work when applied with myself => Time to move along & What’s important now?

It takes discipline, and training, to avoid spinning my wheels with people, and situations, that have no good outcome (other than an exit).

With the Buddhists in my life, I joke, “that situation might need to wait for my rebirth.”

With the secular folks, “I have realized there are going to be some loose ends at the time of my death. This situation might be one of them.


So… onto times when you desire an exit.

Once you’ve decided your best outcome is an exit you need to constantly remind yourself of your goal.

Beware of the tendency for self-sabotage via:

  • Self-justification => forgiveness can come later => you don’t need victory or the last word => you need an exit
  • Helping => unless you’re a board-certified medical clinician, working in a professional capacity, you will not sort this person out => you need an exit
  • Obligation => this is a big one for people caught in a multi-year abusive relationship => you might feel that the person’s place in society (boss, relative, child, spouse, priest, coach, doctor) requires you to put up with their abuse => hell no => you need an exit

I struggled with the above in my 20s, so it’s probably going to take you a few years to get it right.

Some family systems train their members to put up with abuse across multiple generations => break the chain, if not for yourself then for your children.


Protect your exit – there will be many attempts to pull you back in => block, filter, never reply, don’t answer unknown calls, don’t open letters, don’t post your travel schedule, change your mobile number… whatever it takes. I’ve done it all.

The craftiest manipulators will use people close to you to advocate for them. These people will be happy to do so – in the hope that they will successfully pass the abuser off to you!

I defeat these attempts by asking an advocate, “Do you want more of XXX in your life?” and noting “I don’t have any interaction with them and that is plenty for me.” We then share a smile and move on.

Over time, there will be fewer and fewer attempts to rope you in.

It is no fun to “play” with a person who never responds and you must remember, never respond to sociopaths.

Don’t poke the bear.


I use similar rules on Social Media.

One strike you’re out => mute button on twitter, unfollow on FB => much less triggering than blocking, allow difficult people to move along to their next obsession.

How do they make you feel? Some people bring out the worst aspects of my personality => politicians, of every political stripe, do this on purpose => mute them down. Don’t water the worst seeds of your personality.

Discipline is freedom => execute my advice and pay attention => Is your life better without the drama? It is easy to develop a habit of engagement, of not leaving well enough alone.

What are you trying to achieve? Don’t rope yourself into a mess, just to give yourself something to do.

Fill your life with something more than emotional highs from justified rage and lows from sadness.