Start the Weekend Right Link Series – Volume #3, Edition #1

It has been a long time since I posted one of these Start the Weekend Right Link Series entries. But I have too many posts building up behind the scenes on this blog and in my Feedly reader so I need to start clearing them out and getting them out there for you to consume. Before you check out of work and begin whatever celebrations you’ll be involved with this Easter weekend, take a look at some of these links – I think you might enjoy this content.

Before we get to the links this week I again recommend signing up for a free Feedly account. I get absolutely no kickback for promoting Feedly, but I’m so appreciative of their product being the best RSS reader on the internet that I encourage everyone to use it. If you’re using another RSS aggregator, please consider following JerseySmarts.com at http://www.jerseysmarts.com/feed/. If you’re already on Feedly, then you can follow us by clicking here. Thanks!

No, You Are Not “Running Late,” You Are Rude And Selfish, Vitamin T
The message of this article is, as the title alludes to, that all of those times you or a coworker comes to a meeting late are not driven by outside factors, but rather by the fact that you’re a rude person. And on top of that rudeness, you’re a selfish punk who only cares about themselves. Personally, I agree with the message here, but living in New Jersey drops more than a few grains of salt on this article. When I was in college, I knew a kid who showed up to all of his classes late – and always with a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in his hand. He was a rude, selfish idiot. On the other hand, I’ve seen people arrive to work (and even meetings and appointments) over an hour late because of the completely ridiculous nature of the traffic and road construction in most of this state.

Death By Degrees, n+1
The best preview I can give for this article is this quote that is taken from it: “Like the market for skin care products, the market for credentials is inexhaustible: as the bachelor’s degree becomes democratized, the master’s degree becomes mandatory for advancement. Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly — and very dimly — a system for imparting knowledge.”

Manual Labor, All Night Long: The Reality of Paying for College, The Atlantic
Typically, the commentaries that The Atlantic publishes are too buried in far left talking points (and shoddy ones, no less) that I can’t find the usefulness of their content. This article is a little bit different, though I don’t take the same bleeding heart stance as some of the folks quoted in the article. In short, the article talks about how some students opt to work an overnight shift to get tuition reimbursement for their local college. I believe the writer’s stance is along the lines of how we could allow this type of near-torture for someone who wants to get a higher education. As someone with a deep history in student loans, I don’t often feel bad for others who have to go through difficulty to get a degree. My comment on this topic, though, is that we should be looking at the larger educational system and why we push nearly all high school students to pursue a college degree when many of them should be pushed towards vocational and technical schools instead.

An unusual victory for donor intent at Trinity College, The Pope Center
One of the topics that I love following is how a donor’s intent is followed – or completely ignored – by organizations that are the recipients of the donor’s financial contributions. Martin Morse Wooster details a recent victory for donors that took place at Trinity College. This is really fascinating stuff (or at least I think so). And if you’re an active donor to your church, college, or any other cause, then I encourage you to give this article a read.

Google rethinks Google+, spinning off several successful pieces, Christian Science Monitor
Goodbye, Google+! Several years ago I wrote about how I was shutting down several of my social media accounts (MySpace and LinkedIn) because it was just becoming too much to handle and all I really needed was Facebook. As the years went by and Google tried to shove Google+ down our throats, I had to open up one of their silly accounts and – like the majority of their users, apparently – I almost never used it. Now, hopefully, Google will retreat from social media and I can put that silly, useless Google+ profile to rest!

Homeless man of deep faith given funeral, burial in Vatican City, American Catholic
I just thought this was a touching story and a reminder that there are good people out there who will do good things for people of devotion. I’d like to believe that this homeless man’s soul was received into glory with the same reverence that his body was received by the Vatican.

A New Life for Dead Malls, The Atlantic
Alright, so The Atlantic gets two mentions this week because this story is just awesome. I’ve written on here in the past about how I can go nuts trying to use all of my “stuff” before buying new things. For me, it’s not a matter of frugality, but rather a matter of not generating the need to create additional products and/or waste to give me something that I already have possession of in one form or another. That’s the point of this article – that old, dead malls are actively being repurposed for a wide variety of uses – and it’s pretty cool!

7 Basic Life Hacks Men Shouldn’t Ignore, Return of Kings
Simply put – if you’re a guy and you’re reading this, then you should stop and click over to Return of Kings to read this article. It’s excellent, direct, and gives you good advice on what you should be doing to improve yourself. Some of the advice that the writer offers includes reading daily, working out, eating right, and not watching porn. Each of these “life hacks” have intensely positive outcomes for you as a man and when combined they can lead to a dramatically improved life. Take five minutes and give it a read.

Before you go, I want to recommend one more time that you consider opening a free Feedly account. You can follow JerseySmarts.com on Feedly or you can add us to your existing RSS aggregator. Enjoy!

Are You The Victim Or The Victor? The Choice Is Yours!

About two weeks ago I was at an auction with a few friends of mine – one of whom I haven’t seen in two years. During our general catching up with one another, I mentioned that I was in the process of buying a house (which is true and I have yet to cover on the blog yet – in due time). He was a bit shocked and wondered how I could buy a house when I still owed so much on my student loans. When I told him that I fully paid off my students loans this past August, he nearly fell out of his seat!

Remember when I paid off my student loans?

Remember when I paid off my student loans?

Now I’m not going to go into another discussion here about how I paid off my student loans and you can, too. Lord knows I’ve written enough about that stuff that if you really wanted to learn how I was able to pay off those loans and pay them off quickly, then you can find that information on the blog.

And yet, I was struck by my buddy’s utter shock at my having paid off my student loans. And this had me thinking about something for the rest of that night and for the days since the auction ended. Namely, there are some people in life who are victims and there are other people in life who are victors. I’m not suggesting that my buddy is a victim. In fact, he’s the furthest thing from a victim.

There are people out there, though, who look at the hand they were dealt and hang their shoulders in defeat; they essentially turn into Droopy. They may as well turn around and ask everyone to go ahead and kick them in the ass. That’s the victim mindset. That’s the mindset that takes whatever the world gives you and says, “Oh, I was hoping for something better. But okay. I guess this will do.”

It won’t do, damn it! Be a victor! Be someone who makes their own way on this planet. If you don’t like the hand that you’re dealt, then get a new hand. If you don’t like the new hand, then stop playing that game and get up and make something else of your life! We are all the end result of the various choices that we make – choose to be a victor. Choose to be the person with their hand raised at the end of the fight. Choose to win!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made many mistakes and I’ve not always made the choices that led me to be the victor at the end of a particular fight. But when it came to student loans I made a conscious decision that I was winning this fight. In fact, I made the decision that I wasn’t just going to be the victor, I was going to be the conqueror! And I was…

Throw your excuses to the side and make this world your own. Be a victor – the choice is yours!

A Very Brief, Personal Year in Review for 2013

As 2013 comes to an end, I thought it might be worth writing a few words about this past year in terms of what’s going on in my world. I selected the three categories below to highlight certain major events that took place in my world in 2013. These categories do not represent the totality of my life. For example, there are no categories for my social life, healthiness and working out, religious life, etc. However, I think these categories adequately reflect some of the biggest items that I’ve managed over the last 12 months.

Taking a quick inventory of some major events that took place during my 2013

Taking a quick inventory of some major events that took place during my 2013

Without further adieu, here is a brief review of my 2013.

Personal Life
The biggest event in my personal life this year occurred this past summer when my younger brother broke his neck and nearly killed himself. He broke his neck by overshooting a landing while riding a BMX bike over a jump in a wooded area near his house. My younger brother went over his handlebars and landed directly on his head (with no helmet). In what is honestly a graceful gift from God, he didn’t die in the accident – he didn’t even become a quadriplegic or even a paraplegic. In fact, as of about a month ago he has regained most of his range of motion.

My family shared some pretty mentally draining moments leading up to the series of surgeries that put my younger brother’s neck back together again. I think that my younger brother believes that the rest of us in the family want him to stop riding his bike and give up on the whole pastime of being an amateur BMX rider. That’s not true. What we do hope for, though, is that he understands how each action (and inaction) that he takes has a direct impact not just on himself, but on his family and friends and those who love him. And, hopefully, with that fundamental level of understanding as a base, he might ultimately figure out that as we get older at some point we stop doing the things that thrilled us when we were younger because there are more people relying on us as adults than as children.

Financial & Economic Review
This one’s pretty easy, right? The biggest thing that happened in my financial life in 2013 was finally repaying all of my student loan debt. As I noted in the entry linked above, before my student debt was repaid this past August I was paying an average of $2,500 per month in an effort to accelerate getting rid of these loans. A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend of mine about his student loan debt and I commented to him that I hadn’t really started to reap the accumulative financial benefits of no longer making these payments. In other words, that $2,500 in extra money that I should have been realizing each month didn’t seem to be in my budget. Well, after some quick analysis it turns out that I was depriving and starving other areas of my financial life such that the extra money I should have seen in my account each month had to be immediately spent on other items (ranging from charitable commitments, professional development commitments, a busted laptop, and regular annual costs).

Now that those payments and commitments are complete I expect to see an immediate impact in my monthly budget. In fact, I began to see that impact during the second half of this month. And I’m confident enough in that increase that I’ve already automated certain funds to be extracted from my checking account and placed into my Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) account beginning in January 2013. If you know anything about Capital One 360, then you know that you can set up multiple savings accounts within your master savings account. The different accounts that I’ll either begin bolstering or funding for the first time in January 2014 include my master savings account, an account focused on paying the additional taxes that I usually owe each April, another account focused on setting money aside to purchase a home, and an account that is focused on saving up for a down payment whenever I need to buy a new car. One of the things that I’ve learned in life is that you need a reliable set of wheels, so even though I’m driving around a relatively brand new 2012 Ford Escape, I’ve been saving for my next car since I bought this one. Reliable transportation from Point A to Point B is critical.

The Business World
There were two major events in my business world this year. The first was Superstorm Sandy hitting New Jersey in October 2012. And yes, I know that October 2012 took place last year, but the aftermath of the storm had me helping to lead a new effort at my company that took me all over the state promoting my company’s new disaster recovery product.

On a personal, entrepreneurial-level the biggest thing in my world in 2013 was the founding and re-opening of a fraternity apparel company with one of my younger alumni from Monmouth University. We’ve spent the better part of 2013 re-establishing the brand and getting it back into the minds of the 130 chapters of our fraternity around the nation. And in just the last week alone we commissioned a new designer to create two designs for us to kickoff 2014 with a bang. I’ve seen one of those designs and it’s absolutely outstanding. The second one should be completed soon and I expect that it’ll be absolutely outstanding. Also in 2013, we began a very small brand extension by beginning to print high quality apparel for local groups.

And there’s a brief review of my 2013. I stopped making resolutions a few years ago because I realized that they’re all eerily similar to one another. Thus I don’t have much to write about what I want to accomplish in 2014. Among my own personal goals are the same old, same old including greater financial stability, becoming healthier, continuing to improve professionally, etc. I guess one item that I really want to focus on in 2014 is reading more. I’ve noticed that over the last 5+ years I haven’t been reading as much as I used to read. One of the greatest ways to differentiate yourself from the pack at work and in life is to read more; and as a guy who was an English major in college (i.e. I like to read and write), I should be reading a lot more than I do right now. I expect that this particular goal will obviously be helped by the fact that I just signed up for a library card (and Lord knows what type of stories I’ll have from visiting the local library).

That’s it, folks. I hope you each have a prosperous and rewarding 2014!

The Major Connections Between Psychology And Paying Off Debt

Recently, the FOX Business website posted an article called The Psychological Perks of Paying Off Debt. As a guy who just finished a long-term repayment plan that ended in fully repaying some $121,000 in student loan debt plus another $28,000 in interest, I was obviously interested in reading this article! Of course, not much of the information in the article was new to me, but it was reassuring to read that the way I’ve always interpreted what that immense amount of student loan debt was doing to my physically and mentally is actually true and not just my machinations. Here are some of the interesting quotes from the article that I wanted to share:

“Getting into debt beyond means of repayment” is ranked No. 5 on the Society of Occupational Medicine’s 2001 “Life Events Inventory,” which ranks the psychosocial stress of 100 life events. “Stress is one of the drivers for health conditions related to cardiovascular disease, allergies, diabetes (and) gastrointestinal disorders,” says [Carole] Stovall. That’s why paying off debt can result in physical healing. “When people pay off debt, they’re going to say ‘My stomach feels better, my heart feels better,'” says Stovall.

Regardless of what my doctor thinks is going on with my body, I’m convinced that my enjoying my return to the gym is directly related to not having a six-figure cloud hanging over my head. Now I workout not just because I need to for my health, but because I actually enjoy the entire working out process. It’s fun!

Eliminating debt is more than just a numbers game. It’s an act of breaking free from difficult past experiences. Debt associated with rough events — such as divorce or a reckless phase in life — is painful to carry around. So when you finally cut that debt from your life, you’ll likely “experience tremendous emotional liberation,” says Dallas-based financial adviser Derrick Kinney.

I guess I’m not the best person to make a comment on this particular outcome of paying off your debt because I don’t really carry around any emotional baggage. How this particular blurb translates to my life is that I can now actively plan and work towards achieving certain life goals that I should have achieved 6 – 8 years ago (for example, buying a permanent residence, building a sufficient retirement fund, and fully funding a just in case savings account). The article actually talks about these types of life goals in the context of buying a house and starting a family, so if you click on the link at the top of this entry, then you can read their take on achieving major life goals for yourself.

When you pay off a big debt, you strengthen your resolve to stay financially solvent. That comes with one important caveat: Your ability to stay out of debt likely depends on how you paid off your debt, says [Derrick] Kinney. If you worked hard to steadily pay off your debt, you likely have practiced discipline to keep your finances in check going forward.

Not only did I work hard to steadily pay off my debt, but I worked hard for years on end to pay off that debt! Even though I had a strong work ethic heading into my major repayment all of those years ago, there is no doubt that my work ethic and determination were both honed during this process. By adding precision to determination I believe I’ve developed a dangerous calculus for those obstacles that may get in my way in the future. There are a lot of ancillary skills that come along with devoting so much time and effort to a successful debt repayment – too many to list here. However, suffice to say that I agree with the point in the blurb above and I believe that my financial discipline is stronger than most individuals my age.

Click on the link above if to read more about the connection between psychology and paying off debt. Enjoy!

Finding A New Laptop Computer And Life After Student Loans

Since my last update, things have been moving at what seems like an incredible pace. As you probably guessed, life got crazy about three weeks ago when classes started up again at the local university where I serve as an adjunct professor. In addition to that part-time gig kicking in, on September 1st I also kicked in my commitment to getting back into the gym on a regular basis. Since this month began, I’ve spent every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning (before work!) at my local Planet Fitness. Okay, I admit that on Fridays I usually go to the gym in the afternoon and not the morning, but that’s because I work from home on Fridays and it’s just easier to go to the gym later in the day when I work from home. More on my experiences at the gym in a future entry…

However, the biggest tangible shift that I’ve experienced since my last update (which was almost one full month ago!) is the new laptop that I find myself typing this entry on. That’s right – after 7+ years as my go-to home computing machine, my HP Pavilion dv8000 finally kicked the bucket. Well, to be honest it didn’t actually kick the bucket – rather the primary hard drive started skipping and slowing down to an unacceptable pace. This is a problem that can be easily fixed by installing a new primary hard drive, but I took the failure of the primary drive as a sign… that it was time to get a new computer. And that’s just what I did! The picture below shows an incredibly bright picture of my new laptop computer – check it out:

There's my new laptop and the free tablet that came with it.

There’s my new laptop and the free tablet that came with it.

The new laptop is an HP Envy 17-j029nr Quad Edition Notebook PC and, if I’m not mistaken, this is the highest grade, pre-configured laptop that you can purchase at HP.com.

It’s a pretty bad ass machine.

There are too many bells and whistles for me to explain all of them, but they include a 24GB solid state drive dedicated solely to making start up and shut down times blazing fast (we’re talking less than 10 seconds and, in most cases, less than 5 seconds). Other cool features are the Beats Audio, the fingerprint scanning and log-in system (now I log-in to websites by swiping my finger across a reader built into my laptop), a terabyte of disk space, a fourth generation i7 processor, Windows 8, and a back-lit keyboard which makes it easy to read the letters and numbers in front of me when it gets dark around my laptop. When you add up all of the great benefits that I’m receiving by using this new laptop over the old one, the relatively few annoyances that I have with the new machine melt away. For example, I really liked the layout, size, and feel of the Pavilion’s keyboard. However, after about a week or so of using this new laptop I’m getting used to the feel and touch of the new keyboard system. Also, the left part of the keyboard on the Envy seems to dip and appears extra “soft” (which isn’t the right adjective to use, but it adequately describes that side of the keyboard). However, I really haven’t experienced any negative outcome because of this “softness,” so I’m assuming that it doesn’t really matter that much.

As a guy who knows a little something about technology – and I admit that what I know continues to decrease in an increasingly technological world – I’m very impressed with this system. And I’m glad that I bit the bullet and purchased the pre-configured system instead of building my own. This configuration is the one that HP knows, trusts, and manufactures in mass quantities. They obviously chose this configuration for a reason and the expertise of their design team is fine for me! Also, as an older “tech head” I tend to suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to buying a new system. If you haven’t heard of analysis paralysis, then you should know that it basically means I analyze and consider different purchase options until I eventually convince myself that I don’t want to be the guy purchasing the system that is either already obsolete or will be obsolete within days or weeks of my purchase. I managed to get over that perspective when buying this laptop and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Two final points…

First, I don’t think that I’m done with the old HP Pavilion laptop just yet. The thing just needs a new primary hard drive and it’ll work fine. I can purchase a new primary hard drive and install it fairly easily. The issue will be kicking the internal backup drive into gear – if that can even be done. My purpose for doing that would be to transform the old laptop into a media hub for my television. Of course, this will all be easier to do and make much more sense once I purchase my own home and I have a living room that I’m setting up, but one thing at a time right now!

And on that note… second, it is really nice to not have the weight of student loans hanging over my head when situations like these come up. I use my laptop on a daily basis not just to browse the internet, but to manage the two small businesses that I own. I also use my laptop on a daily basis to manage my online presence for the classes that I teach and the one that I’m taking. Plus, my laptop allows me to work from home one day each week. So you can see what type of a crisis it is when I don’t have a laptop that is functioning. Before I repaid my student loans, this crisis would still be going on because I wouldn’t have been able to purchase a new laptop right away. However, with the student loans gone and no longer hanging over my head – I was able to purchase a new laptop (and a top-of-the-line one at that) without any problems.

The moral of the story is that being student loan free and facing a crisis isn’t a major problem any more.