One Year Later: Financial Independence Follow Up


[This post is brought to you by my cousin Ross! If you’re interested in contributing at The-Military-Guide.com, please see our posting guidelines.]

[For those who haven’t read this series before, here are the links to Ross’s first post about bumbling into financial independence and his second post.]

Dear reader,

Don’t be mad, but I bought that expensive TV.

The one I told you about last time, the very contemplation of which helped me realize I have a spending problem. I bought it. Sad face emoji.

Image of a large curving wall of hundreds of TV screens against a black background. | The-Military-Guide.com

Well, maybe just one TV.

But before you judge me, permit me just a few moments to explain how I justified the purchase. You see, I actually followed through and did the right thing. I called the manufacturer and arranged for a technician to repair the television under warranty. He came out and performed the repair, but also left me with a word of warning. You see, he’d performed this same repair for countless models of the same television, and it almost never fixed the issue. Sure enough after he left, and we went back to consuming gobs of media, the darn thing still kept going on the fritz.

I can’t be sure, but it actually felt like the problem became worse after the repair. Wonder of wonders, contrary to my previously profligate proclivities, I did the right thing again and called the manufacturer to request a refund. They promptly processed it and they didn’t even want the old television shipped back to them. Apparently the cost of boxing, shipping, repairing, and re-marketing it as a refurbished model was more than they expected to make in return.

This, of course, left me with a dilemma. I was newly on the active FIRE train, after all, and I was spending a lot of mental energy doing so. I was in the midst of attempting to repair my own long standing tendency to spend every dollar that came into the bank account. But… as a couple, my wife and I are your typical Netflix-addicted Millennials. We also have a young toddler who’s in love with all the Disney classics, old and new. And we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, so we don’t exactly have the luxury of spending a lot of quality time outside the home. Lemme tell you, a two year old who doesn’t have the opportunity to spend much energy outside the house can make a BIG distraction inside the house.

I was in the midst of reworking our budget, including allocating money to savings and investments, and plucking down $2000 for a television certainly didn’t feel like the most rational economic decision at the time. But I ran the numbers anyway. Not the financial numbers – as fellow passengers on the FIRE train I don’t blame you for going there first. No, I ran the numbers on time. Time using the television, and time it had already cost me to coordinate the repair of the original television, and time it would require to re-research low to mid range televisions compared to the research I’d already done.

On usage, well, it’s hard to overestimate how much time our household spends with the television on. I’m not necessarily talking about active time watching it, you understand, but as background noise with the news on as my bleary-eyed wife and I wake up and prepare for our days working as young professionals. Time spent plunking our toddler down with his 118th showing of Moana so we can have just a moment of reprieve peace in the house. Time spent winding down together after a pair of tough days as we binge the latest Netflix release. Or just a chance to turn our brains off over baking shows or bad reality competitions after my wife has a really rough day of treating COVID patients. I’d wager that television is on for 6-8 hours a day, at least 300 days a year. Run the numbers, and even that super expensive TV set drops down to $1/hour of use. That’s not bad compared to alternative entertainment options.

On time, well, I’d already sunk at least four hours into what I term “frustration time” by arranging for the television to be repaired. I won’t technically count the additional hours of frustration time I spent consumed with anger that the repair hadn’t fixed our increasingly fritzy set. (I wasn’t pouting, I swear! I was understandably upset.) At a guess, I’d spent two to four hours of high-intensity “concentration time” prior to the unsuccessful repair researching the best television to replace our old set. And that combined frustration and concentration time is extremely precious to me. It’s time spent not being a quality father, or husband, or worker.

To put this in context, as you can if you re-read the posts I wrote last year, I realized at a young age that it would behoove me to out-earn my tendency to spend. Last year I was in the midst of trying to both maintain my status as a high income earner, and also to finally rein in that spending so I could actually hop on the FIRE train. And at the end of the day, frankly? The frustration time and concentration time costs of reworking that original TV replacement decision were too consequential compared to the usage time we’d get out of the new television. Put another way, if you’re a high income earner who hasn’t yet managed to stop hemorrhaging money each month, the most important task you have is to keep the gravy train running until you’ve fixed your budget. (Oh, but those golden handcuffs are lovely aren’t they?)

Frustration time and concentration time are limited resources, full stop. And I prefer to invest those precious hours at my high-intensity corporate job. Each additional hour spent on them outside of the workplace takes an emotional toll, and saps my willpower as I strive to be the best dang worker on my team. I made the calculated decision to cut off additional contemplation, and just run with the previous decision. We bought the TV.

Was it worth it? Well, I stayed employed until my daughter was born five months later. Shortly after, I was admittedly swept up in a wave of departmental layoffs at my old job, but I’d maintained enough wits about me to see the writing on the wall. (And if I’d invested a lot more frustration time and concentration time on tasks not related to work, who knows?) After a one month sabbatical, I joined a new company where I enjoy my work even more, and got a >25% raise in the process. We’ve watched the heck out of that new television for the past year. Our son has moved on from Moana to Coco and now to Encanto. I invested some time growing my home repair skills, rather than paying a contractor instead, and personally mounted that big new TV set on the wall – win! And ultimately, I’m in a happier, better place than I was the year prior, despite the need to close that $2k hole in our budget.

All that said, did buying that monstrosity throw us off our FIRE journey? I’ll answer that in the next entry.

About the author:

A Florida native, Ross enlisted in the Army after high school. He served as an infantryman in the 75th Ranger Regiment for three years prior to his acceptance to West Point. He deployed three times to Afghanistan and Iraq during the first years of the War – Ross likes to brag that he’d invaded two countries by the time he was twenty-one! After graduating from the Academy, he spent five additional years as an infantry officer with the First Cavalry Division, including another deployment to Iraq. During his final months in the Army, Ross considered a career in medicine as either a doctor or nurse before deciding he was best suited for work in “Corporate America.”

After transitioning from the military, Ross spent an additional year as a proud Army spouse supporting his wife, Camilla, at her terminal assignment with the 10th Special Forces Group at Ft. Carson. He worked as a telecommunications sales engineer during this time. When Camilla was accepted to the Premedical Post-Bacc program at Goucher College he happily followed her to Baltimore, where he worked as a project manager for a residential construction company. After Camilla graduated from Goucher, Ross decided to attend the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business, where he graduated with his MBA in 2016. Post-graduation Ross first worked as a consultant with Bain & Co., then in direct mail marketing as a Senior Business Manager at Capital One. Since 2019 Ross was happily employed as an internal consultant at Fannie Mae, where he continued to polish his financial services pedigree.  Just a few months ago he started his next job at ScienceLogic.

Ross is passionate about giving back to the veteran community. He and his wife co-founded Vet2MD, a non-profit organization that exists solely to increase awareness about the medical profession as a career option for transitioning veterans. He has been a volunteer with Team Rubicon since 2013, and is an active member of the DC chapter of Operation Code. Ross also enjoys serving as an informal transition coach to veterans, helping them talk through their background and passions to understand their best fit in the civilian world. After holding a string of jobs that weren’t great fits and finally stumbling into one that is, he’s well positioned to talk to most industries and roles! You’re welcome to connect with Ross on LinkedIn.

Related articles:

Reader story: “How I Bumbled Into Financial Independence”
Reader story: “How I Bumbled Into Financial Independence” (part 2)

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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