The Problem with Today’s Society

I have always enjoyed philosophical debates and pondering big problems and questions in the world. If you are ever unlucky enough to get involved in an extensive, in-depth conversation with me about anything related to finance, fitness/nutrition, physical therapy, or the current state of our society, you better watch out. Fortunately for most, this torture is usually only bestowed upon Whitney or the occasional unsuspecting patient trying to engage in casual conversation. I often find myself thinking very in-depth about broad questions, and for some reason this occurs most frequently in the gym. There is something about suffering through a grueling set of heavy deadlifts that makes me reflect not only on myself and my life but the world around me.

With all of that being said, here is what I was thinking about today through most of my workout and a topic that I have thought about extensively in the past. Why is there so much unhappiness, hatred, and violence in our world today? Although I haven’t been around a long time (I’m 27 right now), it seems to me that our society has been deteriorating in the past decade or so. I realize that there were points in time when things were probably much worse than they are now (for example the World Wars), but I feel that there has been a steady decline in happiness and an increase in violence in my lifetime. It seems like there are daily reports of some new tragedy in the world involving the deaths of multiple people. Much of this is blamed on terrorism, and probably rightfully so, but what about all of the other evil acts that seem to be commonplace? It is obvious that part of this is due to the fact that these crimes get more media attention than ever before, but I don’t think that is the full story. I find it extremely ironic that with all of the modern conveniences that we have these days, which make our lives easier, quality of life and happiness should be at all-time highs, but from my perspective that is clearly not the case.

My theory on this revolves around technology itself. I believe that technology which is made to improve our lives has actually done the opposite for many people as time has gone on. This may sound crazy to you, but hear me out. In the past, our predecessors had to constantly be working to meet their basic needs. They did not have nearly as much free time as we have today with all of our modern conveniences. This leaves us with a lot more time to think and reflect on our own lives (possibly at the gym like me J).

When I begin thinking about things like this I am always reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The two largest building blocks of his pyramid include physiological needs and safety. These are things like: food, water, clothing, shelter, etc. For most of us (living in the United States and other first world countries) these needs are met for us throughout our childhood and are relatively easy to meet in adulthood. In the past (200+ years ago) meeting these two levels of the pyramid could be very difficult and often involved significant amounts of time and effort. When those needs are met, we then move up to love/belonging. This is where I believe technology is having a detriment. I would imagine that I am in the majority when I say that face to face communication skills are fading quickly as people move toward text and social media conversations. It is not uncommon to see a family sitting at a restaurant with everyone completely quiet while looking down at their phones. This simply would not have occurred in the past. I understand that digital communication would also count as communication, but I have to believe that text messages do not create the same feeling of connection and belonging as face to face interaction. I believe that this can easily lead people (especially teenagers with raging hormones and emotions) to feel disconnected, misunderstood, and like they don’t belong. I also think that all of this is only a small piece of the puzzle.

When all of our basic needs are met and we don’t have any “real” problems (lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of clean drinking water), our insignificant problems seem to be a huge deal. I may not speak for everyone, but I know that I have gotten very frustrated due to traffic, upset because of a poor internet connection, or disheartened by a poor workout performance which puts a damper on my entire day. In the grand scheme of things, those problems are extremely insignificant, but they seem very big to us because they are at the forefront of our mind and all of our essential needs have already been met. We fall into the trap of not being able to see the big picture and how fortunate we really are for all that we have in our lives. So even though the biggest problem in our life is that our phone is slow compared to 500 years ago when the biggest problem was having not eaten for several days, we still get very stressed about these small problems. I don’t know what the solution to this is besides very frequent reminders of how fortunate we really are and taking time to stop and reflect on how insignificant our problems are in reality, but this is often neglected. But what else feeds into this?

So you might think, many of our modern conveniences have existed for several decades, so why would you claim that things suddenly have gotten worse in the past 10 years? This is very true; we have had more free time for a long time now, probably since the industrial revolution when daily tasks began getting easier. Why would there be more anger and violence now than there was 50 or 100 years ago? I think this again comes down to technology, but more specifically social media. In the past that extra time was likely spent with family, friends or learning, but now it seems that most of the extra time is squandered on useless superficial internet interactions. The amount of time wasted on social media itself is bad enough, but I believe that there is an even bigger issue with social media. For most people (myself included) social media is a highlight reel of sorts. This is not on purpose, but mostly by design. It is much more accepted and appreciated when people post positive things than when they post negative things. I frequently post pictures from weekend trips and cool places I visit, but I don’t post all of my daily inconveniences or problems. I believe this to be the case for most people. What this leads to is a news feed full of your friends’ best moments, which you then compare to your everyday life. This is not a fair comparison and leads to jealousy and feelings of inadequacy because your life is not as great as your friends’ lives seemingly are.

One more factor that I would like to mention is that with increased reliance on technology, there is a steady decline in activity levels. This leads to several movement issues that I deal with on a daily basis in the clinic, but it also leads to a decline in health and happiness from things like weight gain, minimal/no endorphin release from exercise, poor self-image, and chronic fatigue. It is no secret that the world as a whole is now faced with an obesity epidemic, and it is getting worse by the generation. Anyone that lives an active lifestyle knows how good it feels to exercise and be active not only because of the physical and health benefits but also from the sense of accomplishment. Sedentary people seem to not understand this or quickly forget this while citing the fact that they don’t have enough time to exercise, likely due to spending hours mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching TV.

I don’t believe that the problem is just one of the things that I mentioned but a combination of all of them. Extra free time is great if it is spent in positive ways but is extremely detrimental when spent comparing oneself to others, especially their “highlight reels.” Conveniences can be beneficial in the context of a busy, active life but are terrible when they lead to less activity and ultimately obesity and health problems. Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with people but can also be a slippery slope to attention seeking behaviors, comparisons to others, and depression. With all of these things combined, I can see how people would begin to feel disconnected and not good enough, which can easily lead to lashing out at others in varying degrees.

I have a bleak vision of the future, and I can’t see things getting any better as technology continues to advance and these problems are compounded. I honestly can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel on the path that our society is on, but I desperately hope that it is there somewhere. What is your opinion on this matter? Am I completely off base with my theory? I would love to hear differing opinions on this matter!

Travel PT: Moving Deeper into Southwest Virginia

-By Whitney-

Timeline: Dec 2015-March 2016

So, as our second (or third for me) round of contracts were winding down, we again started looking for the next one. Have you gotten the theme yet? Working as a traveler really reminds me of being in school and going from one internship to the next. You think about an area you’d like to go, you research the jobs in that area, you might talk to your recruiter about it or take an interview or two before choosing, you search for housing in the area (or in our case, a campground), and you plan your next move. The turn around can come up really fast (usually 3 months), so you almost feel like you’re always job searching. That’s why whenever possible we’d like to extend our contract at the same location for longer than 3 months to cut down on the hassle, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Any-who, there I was finishing up my 2nd round at the retirement community in Blacksburg, very ready to move on, while Jared was enjoying his time at the small hospital-based outpatient in Pulaski and was considering extending his contract again. This left me searching once again for jobs nearby, and not coming up with much. We again started looking for 2 jobs in an entirely new area as an option, but weren’t having much luck there either. (Traveling as a pair can make finding jobs tough sometimes!) At this time we were only licensed in Virginia, so that was a limiting factor. We were also in the process of really finalizing our decision on a truck and a camper to buy, so we weren’t sure if it would be such a good idea to plan to move to an entirely new area during our first few months of  living in the camper. Weather was also a factor when planning to first start living in the camper, as it was approaching December at this time.

I ended up finding a job at a SNF/LTC facility about an hour away from Jared’s site in a small town called Chilhowie, even further into Southwest VA from where we were living at the time, close to the Tennessee line. We had identified that if we were going to start living in the camper the same time I changed contracts, there was a campground in between those two jobs in Fort Chiswell, VA which would be about a 20 minute commute for Jared and a 45 minute commute for me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was our best option at the time. I ideally wanted an outpatient job, but I had a great phone interview with the clinic director who was also a PT, and it sounded like a lot better of a place for a Travel PT than my first retirement community job. So I went for it, and Jared extended his contract at the outpatient in Pulaski.

This was a hectic and exciting time. We to this point had not had to take any time off between jobs, and we were trying to keep up that momentum. This meant the process of actually going and buying the truck and camper was done on weekends while still working. After searching at several different RV dealerships and looking online, we found a few top choices in Southern VA and NC, then drove down on a weekend to look at them and make a choice. We picked one at Camping World in Concord, NC while we were there, and put a deposit on it. We planned a date in December to go back and get it. In the meantime, we were on the hunt for a truck. We did the same thing, found some online, went and looked at a few in 1 day to narrow down our choices, and picked one in North Carolina. We thought we would be driving it home that day, but we ended up having to drive home and go back and get it another day due to a delay in the wire transfer to pay for it. We though having cash in the bank to pay for it would make things easier than getting a loan, but apparently it’s not easy to access $17k+ in cash when dealing with an individual seller. (Cue JG Wentworth commercial: “It’s my money & I need it now!”) Next, we had to go back with our truck a different weekend and pick up the camper. Luckily due to the proximity of everything, we were able to drive south to get the camper in NC, drive back north and drop it off at the campground where we would be staying (paying for a couple weeks of time there when it was only being stored on site, we weren’t actually living there yet), and keep on heading back north to where we were living in the apartment.

So, among all this craziness, we were still working. I finished my job in Blacksburg on a Friday; we picked up the camper on Saturday; stayed in the camper for the first time in NC on Saturday night; drove it back and dropped it off on Sunday; and I started my new job in Chilhowie on Monday. I only worked for 2 or 3 days that week, because I had planned my contract around taking a vacation with my family to California for Christmas. I wouldn’t have started until after the trip, but the manager asked if I could come in for a couple days and get oriented before I left. This way I would be prepared to cover evaluations on my own when I got back on New Year’s Eve because the manager (PT) would be out of town. Meanwhile, Jared stayed at the apartment in Dublin and worked right up until Christmas Eve. He then got to go home for the long weekend and see his family, and returned right back to work. I chose to take a week or so off to spend with my extended family out of town, and I was right back at my new job on New Years Eve to cover a few evaluations. So, needless to say we had a really fun New Year’s Eve – we spent the evening at the apartment packing up our belongings and preparing to move into the camper, and January 1st was our first official day of camper living.

Over the next three months from January to March, we lived in the camper in rural Southwest VA – which included fun times dealing with below freezing temps, and snow, and freezing water hoses, and breakers kicking off, and frozen water tank valves, and getting to know the on site bath house pretty well. It was definitely a learning experience, and if we had it to do over, we would probably not have lived in a cold climate as our first time living in the camper – ha.

As far as my new job went, working in Chilhowie was like taking a step back in time. Chilhowie is a one-stoplight, small town deep in Southwest VA. It was a unique small-town feel that I enjoyed. The facility was one building with SNF, LTC & Assisted Living units, instead of a large campus with several different buildings like where I was before (I liked this better because it made getting around to the patients & overall scheduling a lot easier). The crazy thing was that the rehab department used paper documentation (think, carbon copies on carbon copies on carbon copies). I remember telling my coworkers I had never written a paper evaluation before, and the older therapists had a good laugh! This was a big challenge for me, and really made me still hate the documentation-productivity part of working at SNF’s. My  manager was a lot better than the ones I had at the last SNF experience, and I wasn’t hounded about my productivity, but I did end up working quite a bit off the clock to finish my paperwork like the rest of the staff. I really hate those standards. Some pros to this location were that I could set my own hours (I’m not a morning person, so this was wonderful, plus I had a 45+ minute commute which was rough), my boss was a PT which was very helpful, my co-workers were great, and most of the patients were very sweet (but they did have a large psych & dementia population which kept things interesting). Overall I liked it there and enjoyed the experience, but I was ready to get out of nursing homes & ridiculous documentation standards for a while.

Meanwhile, Jared was pretty much a permanent employee at Pulaski at this point. He ended up working there for 9 months, which is just about the limit of how long you can stay in one place as a traveler before you would be considered permanent and stop getting travel benefits. During that time, I had worked in Blacksburg, Pulaski, Blacksburg again, and Chilhowie. We enjoyed our time seeing different parts of our region of Southwest Virginia (future posts to come about the fun things we did outside of working while in Southwest VA), but after 9 months we were ready to head out of the state and see a completely new part of the country. Stay tuned for my update on our next move!

Options for Where to Invest Money in Retirement Accounts

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed financial advisor and the information in this article is not meant to be individualized financial advice. Everyone’s situation is different, so if you are unsure about what to do with your funds, please seek an advisor that can consider your own individual case and make recommendations to you.
Once you have opened your IRA or brokerage account and have begun contributing, you may run into a problem. Where should you invest the funds in the account? Is it worthwhile to try to choose stocks on your own to invest in? Are mutual funds the best option for safety? What about index funds? This can all be very complicated as there is a nearly unlimited number of options for your investment accounts. After reading several books on the subject, as well as blog posts and podcasts, I determined how I will invest the majority of my funds. Before I talk about what I chose, let’s discuss some of the options. There may be additional options for very high net worth individuals, but I will keep this more geared to the new investors which will mean that you likely don’t have millions of dollars to invest.
  • Choosing your own individual stock funds: This is by far the most risky option and not one that I would recommend for 99% of people. There are people who choose stocks for a living and still lose money in this realm. The possibility of someone with no investment knowledge and limited amounts of time to study individual stocks succeeding here is very rare. Please do not buy stocks of a company just because you like the company but have no knowledge about the business aspects or finances of that company, this is just asking for trouble.
  • Picking a mutual fund and letting the fund manager choose where to put your money: A mutual fund is a collection of individual funds. These could be stocks, bonds or other assets. Because of this, mutual funds are less risky because your money is more diversified across multiple funds instead of just one fund. At any given time an individual fund could drop significantly in value due to some unforeseen circumstance, but it is much more unlikely that this will happen to several funds at the same time. This is a much better option that choosing individual funds for the majority of people. So what about the cons of mutual funds? Mutual funds charge fees for managing your money and this fee is charged no matter whether your money is increasing or decreasing in the market. In addition, although some mutual fund managers are able to do a good job of picking funds and “beating the market” in an individual year, the amount that are able to outperform the market in the long term is very low.
  • Investing in index funds: An index fund is a fund that literally tracks an index. An index is made up of many, many individual stocks. You’ve probably heard of the S&P 500- this is an index made up of the 500 biggest stocks on the New York stock exchange. If the majority of the individual stocks contained in the index increase in value, then the index also increases. It is possible to put your money into an S&P 500 index fund or into the index fund of any number of other indices. There are also index funds for different sectors of the market such as energy, precious metals, international funds, etc. Since an index fund’s holdings are based on the index it tracks, it is considered a “passive” investment. That means that there is no manager who makes decisions regarding the fund, but instead the holdings adjust based on the holding contained in the index that it tracks. This means that you can achieve the same amount of diversification, or more, than you can with an actively managed fund without the extra fees associated with having someone “actively” make adjustments to the holdings.
  • Exchange traded funds (ETF): These are very similar to index funds and for most part time investors, it won’t make a very big difference if you chose an index fund or an ETF of a certain index. To learn more about ETFs vs. Index funds, here is a very good article.
It is important to take these options into account and fully understand what they mean before making a decision on the matter. Due to the fact that mutual funds charge fees and are only occasionally able to outperform the market, I choose to follow a more “passive” strategy with a portfolio of index funds. This makes the most sense for me because I do not have the knowledge or time to allocate to choosing individual stocks. If the indices in which my money is invested go up, then my money will increase; but the opposite is true as well.
It is also important to come up with an “asset allocation” and consider it before making choices. Your asset allocation is a very individualized decision and where a good financial advisor can really be of value. I will write more about asset allocation in a later post, but this is basically where you decide how much of your money you would like to have in stocks (domestic or international), bonds (domestic or international), and cash equivalents (cash, gold, silver, etc.).
There are two books that I would highly recommend on the topic of investing and those are:
I have read several others, but these were the two that taught me the most about the stock market and investing. They both strongly support index fund investing as well, which I believe is the best option for the majority of people reading this post.
Where do you put your money? Do you believe that index funds are the best option? I would love to hear other opinions on the subject. Thank you for reading!

Progress to Financial Independence- July 2016

First off, I’d like to appologize for writing so little lately. Whitney and I have been taking a lot of weekend trips and also the wifi at our current campground is terrible which makes doing anything online very difficult (one of the downsides of living at campgrounds).

This month went really well financially. There are several reasons for the rather large jump in my net worth this month and those include:

  • Five paychecks in the month of July
  • Strong growth in my investments this month (S&P at all-time highs)
  • Selling some of my credit card points for cash

The five paychecks was very helpful and pushed me over my monthly savings goal by a significant amount. I’ve gotten very lucky in some of my investments since the beginning of this year. Part of this is because the market doing well overall but some is also because of beginners luck with some index funds that I chose to invest in. I decided that I had accumulated way too many credit card points to use for travel over the next few years so I sold some of my points for a little over $2,000. I still have quite a few more that I may sell as well for another $3,000 or so but I haven’t decided yet.

My new estimated date of financial independence is July, 2020 which is really crazy. I’ve been working only a little over one year and that date is only four years from now. Even though the estimated date has changed based on my projected savings rate and current net worth, I’m still going to plan on September, 2020 as being my target. This is because finding new contracts that match up exactly with the end of the old contract is very difficult as a travel PT. There is a very good chance that over the next four years there will be times when Whitney and I will be out of work for a couple of weeks, not by choice but because we were unable to find suitable jobs that match our start dates. An example of this can be seen in our current assignments.

Here is our current situation. Our end date was supposed to be 8/19 and we wanted to find new jobs in VA or NC to start on 8/22 but we couldn’t find anything that would work for us. After some negotiating, we were able to extend our current contract for another week full-time and then two more weeks at 20 hours per week. This was far from ideal for us and basically means that we will lose the equivilent of three weeks of pay during the month of September. After our full-time contracts end on 8/26 now, we will work two weeks part-time, then have to take a full week off of work prior to going on vacation the week of 9/19. At that point we will just have to hope that we can find two fitting jobs that start on the Monday that we get back from our trip, otherwise we will miss out on more work. This is just one of the occasional sacrifices that have to be made as a travel PT.

Since I will likely be far from hitting my savings goal in September, my projected financial independence date will probably get pushed back to August or September, 2020 again but I’m okay with that. Whitney and I haven’t taken more than a weekend off since the beginning of June last year so a break should be nice. I’m going to do my best to enjoy the time off and catch up with family during that time. The pursuit of financial independence isn’t everything and I’ve got plenty of time to get there.