After nearly two weeks, Kim and I are finally feeling settled here in Savannah. We’re learning the layout of the city, and discovering how to get around our neighborhood. (I like to walk almost everywhere, which is a challenge in the South. But I’m making it work.)

Both of us have started working on our respective online projects too. Kim is taking Steve Chou’s online commerce course, and last week placed her first order for sample products from China. I’ve been learning my mailing list software, and last Friday sent out the first test email for Money Boss. (Here’s the online version of that test email.) If all goes according to plan, I’ll send out my first real Money Boss email later this week. And once the designer is finished with the website, we can launch the darn thing!

I’ve been disconcerted, however, to find that I’m struggling at times to get work done on Money Boss. I’m making great progress, sure, but not as much as I’d hoped. I get distracted. Blame it on my ADHD or blame it on simple lack of willpower, but I have too much email to wade through and too many open tabs in my browsers. I feel overwhelmed.

Because of this, I’m actually getting more work done when I leave my computer and go for a walk. I carry a notebook with me so that I can scribble down stuff as I stroll through the nearby marsh/forest. (I’m not sure what to call this sort of terrain.) But this isn’t an ideal way to work. I want to be able to sit at my computer and get stuff done. The fact that I can’t has been very frustrating.

So, yesterday morning I decided drastic measures were in order. I sat down at my computer and gave myself a workflow makeover.

Too Many Tabs

You see, part of the problem is that I’ve been doing things the same way for years. In some cases, decades. And nothing about my workflow has been thought out. It’s all just sort of evolved over time in a haphazard sort of way. It’s less than ideal.

“How can I improve the way I do things?” I asked myself. “What are the things that frustrate me and slow me down? What are the things that make me feel overwhelmed?”

The first thing I tackled was my problem with tabs. I’m the sort of guy who has dozens of tabs open in his browsers (yes, plural) at any given time. Yesterday morning, I had nine browser windows open between Chrome and Safari, and each window had 8-12 open tabs. You do the math. No wonder I always feel overwhelmed by my browser! This seemed like a good place to start my workflow makeover.

When I thought about why I had so many open tabs, I realized that the pages fell into a handful of categories:

  • My email and social media tabs.
  • The sites I read regularly.
  • Articles I want to read when I have time.
  • Articles I’ve already read and want to save for later.
  • Pages I’m actively using to complete my work.

Obviously, the latter group of tabs is acceptable — but they could all fit in a single browser window. But the other pages? There’s no reason I should have all of them open on my computer. I set about finding ways to keep them closed.

Taming Email and Subduing Social Media

Long ago, when the internet was young, I managed my email with a stand-alone program called Eudora. When Eudora became defunct (2007? 2008?), I switched to Mac Mail. Mac Mail was terrible, so I opted for web-based email. The problem with this? For one, more browser tabs. (I have three email accounts that I use regularly.) For another, I have a bad habit of checking my email tabs over and over and over again.

My best bet, I decided, was to return to a stand-alone email client. I bit the bullet and set up Mac Mail again. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t love it, but it helps me get email out of my browser. (For a program that’s been around for so long, it has some severe problems.) If it doesn’t work well, I’ll try to find another option. Anyone have recommendations?

At the same time, I tackled social media. I’m not a huge sucker for Facebook, but it does drain time now and then when I ought to be focused on other stuff. So, I installed the Kill News Feed Chrome extension. I can still see notifications and I can still post to Facebook groups, but I can’t look at cat photos are read about what my friends have been up to. Now I need to pull out my iPhone or iPad to waste time in this way.

Plus I set up a Buffer account, which will allow me to schedule posts to Facebook and Twitter. Now I can batch-process my social media work once each week. Yay!

My Reading List

Next, I had to refine the way I read the web. Instead of browsing to my favorite sites and leaving open tabs with articles to read later, I decided to relegate most of my reading to my iPad. (I don’t do work on my iPad. I use it purely for entertainment at the end of the day, which is a good time to read the interesting articles I’ve found.)

I divided the sites I read regularly into three groups:

  • For the sites I value most, I subscribed by email. I don’t like getting swamped with email updates (which is why I intend to keep Money Boss emails to a minimum), but I don’t mind getting occasional messages from places like Nerd Fitness, James Clear, Afford Anything, and Mr. Money Mustache.
  • I subscribed to other sites I like by RSS. Yes, I know RSS seems to be dying, but I think it’s still a great way to get updates. Because I already had Reeder installed on my iPad, I downloaded the desktop version of the app. Now I can sync sites between devices.
  • Finally, I banned Reddit and Wimp and similar sites from my browser. I don’t know a way to actually block myself from these time-wasters, but I found iPad apps for each and will do my best to train myself to not open them on my laptop.

Once I’d set up my reading list, the next problem was figuring out what to do when I find articles I want to read later. I find interesting stuff all the time that I can’t (or don’t want to) read at the moment. In the past, I’ve just left these articles in open tabs — tabs that sit there for weeks at a time. (Or months! As I was cleaning things up yesterday, I realized I’d had one article open since late May. Yikes.)

I remembered that I once downloaded an app called Instapaper, which was designed to do exactly what I wanted: save interesting articles for later reading. A quick search revealed the app still exists and that there’s a desktop client that syncs with the iPad. Perfect. I installed the Chrome extension and quickly archived all of my open tabs. (I’m not sure if I can tag or categorize the articles I save. It’ll be nice if I can, but it’s not a dealbreaker if I can’t.)

Lastly, I had to find a way to save websites and articles for future reference. The obvious solution was Evernote. I’ve had an Evernote account for five yeas, but have never been able to incorporate it into my workflow. Now, however, I see that it fits perfectly into what I’m trying to accomplish. Whenever I need to save something (whether on the web or in Instapaper), I’ll simply funnel it to Evernote.

In theory at least, this new workflow should keep my open-tab problem to a minimum. Best of all, it lets me offload my reading lists to my iPad, which is where I prefer to consume this sort of stuff anyhow.

Writing with Purpose

The final problem to solve? How to write.

I’ve been using BBedit (and/or Text Wrangler) since the 1990s. It’s great. Except that it’s a Ferrari when all I need is a Honda Civic. So, I looked around at other text editors. I found Sublime Text 2.

Why a text editor?I use a text editor for all of my writing. People often ask why. “Because I can’t use a typewriter,” I sometimes joke, but it’s not far from the truth. When I write, all I want to do is write. I don’t need the fancy stuff that comes with a word processor. And I don’t like composing in a web browser (too many things can go wrong). A text editor lets me focus only on writing. It’s just what I need.

Surprisingly, Sublime is, well, sublime. In fact, it’s almost perfect for me. The interface is clean clean clean. I’m able to customize the display (I prefer light text on a dark background). It has handy HTML syntax highlighting. And there’s a distraction-free mode. I’ve only been using it for about an hour — to write this article — and I love it already.

Back to Work

There you have it: In just a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, I managed to overhaul my entire workflow. I upgraded my computer to the latest version of the operating system, changed the way I read articles on the internet, and — I hope — made myself a more productive writer.

I’m not sure if these changes will stick, but I suspect they will. It’d be awesome to stop getting distracted and frustrated, and instead get more done!

(Obviously, if you have any suggestions for how to reduce distractions and improve productivity, I’d love to hear them. What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?)


Everything in life is a trade-off. If you choose to do one thing, you’re implicitly choosing not to do other things. If you choose to have children, for instance, you’ve made a tacit choice to forego many of the things you valued before. Or, if you choose not to have children, you’re making an indirect choice to never experience all that parenthood has to offer.

Sometimes these trade-offs are obvious. We all know that when we choose to buy a new car, that’s money that can no longer be used for, say, buying a boat. Or a house.

Most of the time, though, trade-offs aren’t so obvious. It’s tough to take into account all repercussions of every decision because usually we don’t even know what all of the consequences will be.

What do I mean?

Trying to See the Future

Let’s take our year-long RV trip, for example. When Kim and I set out on our quest to drive across the United States, we did our best to plan for what lie ahead. We talked with other trailerites. We read books and websites. We considered our own personalities and preferences. For the most part, we did a fine job prepping and packing for life on the road.

We knew that our trip would require certain trade-offs, and we were ready for these. We trimmed our wardrobes to just the essentials. We filtered through all of the Stuff in our apartment to choose only the things we truly valued. (Or, if you prefer, those items that spark joy.) We negotiated living space. We planned an itinerary. We talked about how we were going to eat right and exercise while constantly on the move.

For the most part, our planning paid off. For those trade-offs we could foresee, we did a great job of coping with compromise. Obviously, however, I wouldn’t be writing this post if we’d planned everything perfectly.

There’s No Write Time

There were certain trade-offs we failed to foresee before setting out on this trip. We didn’t anticipate just how exhausted we’d get (mentally and physically) from the constant migration. We should have known — but didn’t — that by drinking beer and wine every night, we’d not only consume way too many calories but also thwart our motivation to work out in the morning. (And we didn’t count on just how frustrating road workouts could be.)

But for me, the primary problem has been a lack of time to write. “I’ll just squeeze my writing time between the cracks,” I thought before we left. But when you fail to make time for your big rocks, they don’t fit between the cracks!

Once on the road, I realized that regular writing would be almost impossible. Kim and I were constantly on the move, either traveling across the country or exploring the places where we parked. Even when I did have time to write — usually early in the morning — it was tough to do so without disturbing Kim in our tiny motorhome.

So, I haven’t written nearly as much as I’d wanted, neither here nor anywhere else. (Only our travel blog has received regular updates, and those haven’t been frequent.)

This lack of writing time was fine at first. It was like a break. I’ve spent the past decade of my life writing constantly, so it was relaxing to not have to think about putting pen to paper.

In time, though, the break became a burden. I’m a writer. It’s not only my vocation but also my avocation. I do it for work and play. Writing is a release for me, a way for me to unburden my mind. When I take a week or two off from writing, it’s a vacation. But when I take a month or two off from writing? I get cranky. And five months — or six? Prolonged torture!

Money Boss

Things came to a head at the end of July. While we were stranded in South Dakota, I wrote an article here about the cost of living. That one article lit a spark inside me that has grown into a raging fire.

“I want to write about personal finance again,” I told Kim on the day I published that piece. “I want to start a new money blog.” I shared my vision with her: A site that built upon the work I did developing the “Be Your Own CFO” guide I wrote a couple of years ago.

“That message seems to resonate with people,” I said. “They get it. When I say you should manage your personal finances as if you were managing a business, it seems to make sense.”

That conversation gave birth to Money Boss, my new blog about money. I’ve spent the past two months talking with friends and colleagues about the site, planning its future, trying to find time to write for it. Things may have been quiet here, but they’ve been busy behind the scenes.

And here’s another unexpected consequence: For the past few weeks, I haven’t been able to focus on our trip. All I want to do is work on Money Boss. I haven’t appreciated anything we’ve seen or done since northern Indiana (except for Niagara Falls, which was awesome). Kim too has been struggling to enjoy our adventures.

Solving the Problem

Instead of slogging through six more months on the road, we decided to take action. We need to rest. We need to eat right and exercise. We need to work. To that end:

  • We’ve rented a condo in Savannah, Georgia for six months. We’ll be here until the end of March.
  • Our number-one goal while we’re here is to get back in shape. We’ve already begun eating right and exercising. We both know what we need to do, and we’re doing it.
  • While we’re here, I’m going to write. (Hallelujah!) My primary goal is to launch Money Boss. But be warned that I also plan to post lots around here.
  • Kim too is going to work. She hopes to find a temporary position as a dental hygienist in town (she’s getting certified in Georgia). Plus she wants to launch an online store.

We moved into our new place last Thursday. Boy, does it feel good. We love our motorhome, but living in 250 square feet is confining. This condo is four times as large, so we have space to spread out. We’re close to a Whole Foods, so it’s easy to find and stock healthier food. There are also lots of ways for us to exercise here. (There’s an HOA fitness center thirty seconds outside our front door, so no excuses!)

Best of all? You guessed it: Time and space to write. This morning, I was able to do the same routine I do at home in Portland. I woke up, grabbed some coffee, and sat down in front of my computer. I wrote an article for Far Away Places. I wrote this article. In a moment, I’ll write an article for Money Boss.

It feels amazing to have time to write once more.

I’m happy happy happy.


Yesterday, I gave a presentation on my “Be Your Own CFO” concept to subscribers of Leo Babauta’s Sea Change program. For an hour, I talked about how (and why) to treat your personal finances as if you were managing a small business.

As always, one of the key components of my message was that people ought to do what they can to save money on the big stuff. By making smart choices in just three areas — housing, transportation, and income — you can achieve outstanding personal profit with minimal effort. That is, you can create a huge gap between your earning and spending if you’ll take steps to reduce your housing costs, trim your transportation expense, and increase your income.

Obviously, these things are easier said than done. If you’ve already bought a large, expensive house in suburbia, it’s tough to simply say, “I’m out of here.” For one, it takes time to sell your place and move into something smaller (and cheaper). For another, if you’re accustomed to a certain lifestyle, the transition to something more minimal can be shocking at first. (Although, from the people I’ve talked to, once the transition is made, it’s easy to maintain the new modest lifestyle.)

What was different about yesterday’s presentation, though, was the role that cost of living played in my thoughts — if not my actual delivery.

Right now, Kim and I are stranded in rural South Dakota. While driving from the Badlands to De Smet (real-life site of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “little town on the prairie”), our RV engine blew up. For the past week, we’ve been stuck in Plankinton (population 707) while we wait for a new engine to arrive and be installed.

I won’t pretend that Plankinton is paradise. It’s hot and humid here. There’s little to do besides sit and drink beer with the locals during the evening. (Which is fun, don’t get me wrong.) There aren’t a lot of job opportunities. The socio-political vibe doesn’t match our own.

What Plankinton does have, however, is cheap prices. This morning, for instance, I paid $10.60 for a fancy men’s haircut. At home in Portland, I pay $28 for the same fancy haircut. Six weeks ago, I paid $30 for the same cut in Fort Collins, Colorado. In Santa Barbara, California, I paid $50 or $60 for the same fancy cut.

Gas is cheaper here too. So is food. So is beer and whisky. So are movies. So is just about everything, including housing. Housing prices follow a similar pattern to the haircut prices I mentioned above. A $280,000 home in Portland might go for $300,000 in Fort Collins and $500k to $600k in Santa Barbara. Here in South Dakota, that same home would cost about $106,000.

Cost of living differences can be huge from one country to another, from one state to another, and from one city to another. In large cities, there are even differences between neighborhoods. (Groceries are more expensive in Portland’s posh West Hills than in low-rent Oak Grove, for instance.)

For fun, take a look at CNN’s cost-of-living calculator, which will allow you to compare expenses from one city to another. For instance, here’s the difference between home and here:

Cost of living comparison
My money would last longer if I wanted to live in South Dakota. But I don’t.

The lesson here? If you truly want to achieve a Big Win on your housing costs, it pays to expand your search, to take into account cost of living. If you have a fixed budget, you’ll get more bang for your buck by buying a house in Oklahoma City or Sioux Falls than by purchasing in San Francisco or Seattle. If, like me, your work is location independent, it makes much more sense to live in Omaha, Nebraska than New York City. Your income is the same in both places; but in Omaha, your get much more for your money.

Now, obviously there’s more to consider in a decision like this than pure price. As I always say, money management is more about mindset than math. We are emotional creatures, and we don’t make financial decisions based purely on the numbers. When you choose a place to live, you do so because of the climate, the politics, and the people. You want to live close to friends and family. You want a nice school district. You want people who think and act the same way you do. For those reasons (and others), South Dakota might not be a good choice for you.

But I believe you should take cost of living into account when deciding where to live. Housing is far and away the largest piece of the average American budget, roughly one-third of the typical household spending. The best way to cut your costs (and, therefor, boost your profit/savings) is to reduce how much you spend on housing. And the first step in reducing your housing expense is to choose a cheap place to live.

Note: Other ways to make the most of your housing budget? Live close to where you work so that you can walk, bike, or take the bus. (I don’t think I’ll ever live anywhere else that I cannot walk for my daily errands and my work. The health and financial benefits are just too great to live somewhere that I have to drive all the time.) Choose to buy as little home as you can get away with rather than the commonly cited “buy as much home as you can afford”. The latter is self-serving advice from real-estate agents and mortgage brokers. You don’t need a big place. You just need a comfortable place.


As Kim and I slowly make our way across the United States, we’re learning a lot, both about ourselves (individually and as a couple) and about others. We’re spending extended time with family and friends, and we’re meeting strangers in the places we stay. Through this constant exposure to a diverse population of people, we’ve come to realize how each of us tends to live out the stories we tell ourselves.

Many people we’ve met, for instance, are living a story in which taking a year off to travel is impossible. It’s not that taking a year off to travel is actually impossible for them, but that these folks believe it’s impossible, and that’s the story they live.

At the same time, there’s a small handful of people who decide to live a different story. We met a man near Sedona, Arizona who had been living the “I can’t travel” story but decided to re-write the ending. He quit his corporate job on the east coast and moved to Arizona with only the vague outline of a plan. He’s now giving donation-based tours of the Sedona area while maintaining a modest lifestyle. He decided to live a different story, one that (so far) has a happier ending.

We don’t just tell ourselves about travel. We tell ourselves stories about every aspect of our lives — and most of these stories can be changed, if we have the guts and gumption to change them.

  • We all know folks who live stories in which they are the victim of circumstances, in which fate has laid them low. My mother is a prime example. Ever since she was a girl, she’s told herself a story in which her mother didn’t like her and favored her siblings. She’s allowed that story to dominate her life, to define her as much at sixty as she did at sixteen. My father tried for decades to get her to live a different story, but he failed.
  • My ex-wife lived a story in which she hated camping. She didn’t want to spend the night outdoors in a tent or a camper or anything else. In this story, camping was a bother. Now, thanks in part to her current boyfriend, she’s re-written this small part of her life. Today, Kris enjoys camping and how close it brings her to the outdoors (especially birds!).
  • As part of the story I told myself, I was an introvert. I didn’t like meeting new people. I couldn’t make small talk and I was overwhelmed by crowds. But in discovering the power of “yes”, I changed the story I was telling myself. I discovered (decided?) that I enjoyed chatting with strangers, that meeting new people was part of playing the lottery of life. Now I’m happy to make new friends.

Generally speaking, no one story is more true than any other. Each tale is simply a different way of viewing our life. If one story makes us unhappy or uncomfortable, it’s possible to tell ourselves a different version of the story, one that creates a more positive experience. (It’s like the story of the blind men and the elephant.)

My mom’s story that her mother treated her poorly didn’t have to dominate her life for fifty-plus years. At any time, she could have chosen to live a different story. But she didn’t. Now it’s probably too late.

Similarly, I know folks who’ve struggled with family members or former friends. They’ve fought over something and the relationships have suffered as a result. These folks tend to tell themselves stories in which they cannot repair the relationships because the other party has made it impossible to do so. But again, that’s just a story. In almost every case, it’s possible to write a different ending, one in which the person repairs his relationships by choosing to tell himself a different ending.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with my friend Tyler Tervooren. He and I were both going through a lot of life changes, and we were each trying to re-write parts of the stories we’d been telling ourselves. Tyler shared a technique he was using to change his belief systems.

“I have a list of qualities I want in myself,” he told me. “I’ve written them on index cards in a specific format and I read these to myself every day.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “one card might say, ‘I am the sort of man who always keeps his promises.’ Another might say, ‘I am the type of man who makes exercise a priority.’ I have about twenty of these cards, and I review them every day. This is a way for me to stay focused on what’s important to me, and to remind myself of my values.”

What a great idea!

The bottom line is this: If you don’t like the story you’re living, only you can change it. You are the author of your own life. You didn’t write the beginning of the story, but you have the power to choose the ending. In so many ways, life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Choose an adventure you love instead of one that makes you unhappy.

I know, I know. All of this is easier said than done. Once you’re thirty or forty or fifty years old, you’ve had decades to tell yourself certain parts of your story. You may have written yourself into a corner. Changing plotlines can be difficult. Still, it is possible — and nobody else is going to change the storylines for you. It’s up to you to live the story you want.


18 May 2015

An Update after Two Months on the Road in an RV

So far, so good. Kim and I are now 52 days, 2500 miles, and $4000 into our planned year-long RV trip. We’ve made it to Page, Arizona, which sits just south of the Utah border. (Technically, our RV is currently parked a few feet into Utah, but we’re counting this as time in Arizona. Because […]

Read more →
27 February 2015

Far Away Places: Announcing Our Year-Long Cross-Country RV Trip

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains…” — John Muir Whenever I conceive of some bold idea, it comes with a potent mixture of enthusiasm and fear. I’m […]

Read more →
12 February 2015

How to Survive Long Flights

My friend Lane wrote the other day with a question: Do you have an article somewhere talking about how to survive long flights? I’m making my first ever trip to Europe in May and have no idea what I am in for on the flight! Unfortunately, I’ve never written about this topic before. So, I […]

Read more →
4 February 2015

My Experience with an IRS Audit (Video Edition)

After my complaints that I performed poorly during my interview with Yahoo Finance last week, it’s interesting to see how everything turned out. Here’s the article and video about my experience being audited by the IRS: It’s instructive to see how professionals take thirty minutes of footage and edit everything down to two minutes, fifteen […]

Read more →
28 January 2015

Never Give Up: In Praise of Failing Forward

I was interviewed this morning for a segment on Yahoo Finance. It didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped. I was nervous. I fumbled when I spoke. I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say, even though I was speaking about my own experience. Here I am, talking to thin air… As I […]

Read more →
21 January 2015

The KonMari Method: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I stopped by to visit with my friend Amy Jo the other day. While reading this blog, she had noticed I made an off-hand comment about wanting to sell my old laptop. “I’ll buy it,” she said. “Great,” I said. “And while I’m at it, I’ll bring Ossley some books. I’m purging again.” Long-time readers […]

Read more →