If you read my previous post, you will know that I shared some of my favorite little things: fresh coffee, good whiskey and hot shaves.  I truly believe that the small things in life are what make us happy, but unless the big things are properly managed, we won’t be able to enjoy them.  The big things may not be exciting, but they are important.  Here are some of my big things.

Three years ago my wife insisted I go to the doctor.   The fact that I work in healthcare pretty much guaranteed that I would not see a doctor unless a loved one forced me to go.  Because I value a happy wife, I acquiesced and made the appointment.  As I am sitting in an assess gown on the exam table that is covered with butcher paper I am reminded why I don’t like to go.  The assistant enters the room and asks me to step on the scale, which I assume has not been properly calibrated because the number is far too high.  She then takes my blood pressure, which I assume she is not practiced in, because yet again, the number is way too high.  Thankfully, the incompetent assistant leaves and I can finally speak to the ARNP.  

“You are too fat Mr. Man and I want to run labs,” says the ARNP dryly?  

I think to myself, “Run labs?  I am in my early thirties, why would I need labs?”

I assume they are likely running up the bill, but what do I care, I have insurance.  Thanks Obamacare! I get a call a week later informing me that I need to come in to discuss my lab work as soon as possible.  The primary care provider explains that my good cholesterol is low, my bad cholesterol is high, and my very bad cholesterol is immeasurable because my triglycerides are dangerously high.  The PCP recommends several medications and lifestyle changes. I respond completely rationally and tell the PCP, “NO DEAL!”.

I make a bargain for a three month reprieve and promise to make lifestyle changes. I will retest and if I am still high, I’ll concede to the medications.  The PCP reluctantly agrees, sharing that when TGs are as high as mine, he has never seen diet alone correct the problem and it is most likely genetic. I decline to share with my wife the seriousness of my visit, because I don’t want her to worry, and make no mention of the risk for pancreatitis with which I was cajoled.  

I confess, to enjoying the finer things in life, especially rich food, wine, beer, cocktails, whiskey and lazy days lounging by the pool.  The day I left the doctor’s office, I cut all calories out of my drinks. No more booze, sodas or sugary coffee drinks. I greatly restricted my carb consumption and drastically reduced my portion sizes.  I fasted one day per week for 24 hours to shock my system.  In three months I had lost over twenty pounds and cut my TGs to one third of the original, which were still above normal, but good enough to avoid medication.  My PCP asked to see me in six months and if I had not reached normal levels, still wanted to start me on a much smaller dose of medication. I agreed to the terms and decided to redouble my efforts.  I joined a gym, started doing circuit machines and rowing, and then strong lifts 5×5.  Next came Mad Cow and now a strength program that Leap at the Wheel helped me design and some mixed cardio of biking and boxing.  I am proud to say I am in better shape at 38 than I was as a teenager.  I’ve keep the weight off and normalized my labs without medication.  

Another key to a healthy life is reducing stress.  A major source of stress for many Americans is debt, which brings me to my next story.  In July of 2010, I got married and significantly increased my debt.  I graduated from the University of North Florida the year before with six figures of college loans.  My wife had graduated not long before the wedding with nearly six figures in debt as well. On the bright side, I was able to pay for the ring and honeymoon in cash and her parents helped pay for the wedding, so at least we had no matrimonial debt.  I purchased a Tacoma after graduation, due to having crashed my RX-8, but luckily my wife was still driving her paid-in-full Jetta.  We shared an inexpensive apartment while my wife looked for work and I worked long hours at the trauma hospital.  

Then we got robbed.  Cash, computers, televisions, and several firearms were stolen.  Most heartbreakingly, my wife’s camera, with our honeymoon pictures, was gone.  Needless to say, we no longer felt safe in our current lodgings, so we sought new accommodations.  It was the end of 2010 and the housing market had mostly finished collapsing, so we decided to buy a bank-owned home.  We found a home that needed some TLC and made the purchase in January 2011. I had just turned 30 and now had a mortgage, car payment, two grad schools worth of loans and a home depot credit card maxed out to pay for flooring and a new AC unit for our home.  

Looking back, I have no idea how we made those payments, especially in the summer when my wife was not earning a paycheck.  In 2012, we added a new RAV4 to the family as we felt life was too easy with only stifling debt, instead of crushing debt.  I wish I could tell you when or why my interest sparked in finance, but I can’t remember. I do know it started with Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor and more books than I can remember going forward.  The wife and myself decided to get debt free and paid the Home Depot card and closed the account.  Then I paid the Tacoma off and focused on the student loans. Luckily I had avoided conventional wisdom and had not consolidated my debt nor my wife’s, so we could pay the fourteen loans off smallest to largest.  With each reduction in minimum monthly payments we could save to tackle the largest loans.  

In 2015, I refinanced our mortgage to a 15 year loan with a 3.5 percent rate. In 2016, we made the final payment on my wife’s car, leaving only the mortgage.  It took a lot of sacrifice to get out from under our debt and years later our home is still mostly empty as we chose not to use credit to fill the house with furniture or pay for the remodel.  We may not drive the latest cars or wear the fanciest clothes, but we do not fight over bills we can’t pay either, and not fighting with a wife is priceless.  

July 2020 will be the tenth year spent with my wonderful wife.  We have decided that a vow renewal is in order and we will be inviting friends and family to celebrate what is increasingly becoming a rare event.  I attribute our longevity to similarity in personality, compromise and luck. My wife and I have different politics, religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds. Our mutual respect for each others differences, while focusing on shared values is crucial.  I am an atheist, my wife a catholic, but she doesn’t try to convert me and I accompany her to mass whenever she likes.  Politics is the third rail in our family and is best left untouched, however on occasion we remind ourselves why we don’t discuss the topic.  Regarding our ethnic differences, with her being a first generation American with South and Central American parents and me a white redneck/southerner, we still have common values.  Thrift, work ethic, honesty, politeness, and kindness are shared values that are much more important than skin tone or nationality. 

It was blind luck that after we married we discovered we have similar spending habits and agreed where we should live.  We have learned to compromise, communicate and give each other space to be individuals within our marriage.  She meets friends for movies and book clubs, while I do poker nights with the boys and Halloween Horror Nights.  We still have our fights about house chores and little annoyances that are unavoidable when you live with someone, but we are fortunate that we have no big problems in our marriage.  That part didn’t just happen through blind luck. It came with hard work and understanding that no one person can be your everything and no one is perfect. We are all humans with insecurities and imperfections.  You have to be able to forgive and move on or ill feelings fester. I am no relationship expert and am probably the last person you want to listen to, because without my wife it is very likely I would be a hermit due to my social anxiety.  I do know if you are unhappy with a relationship, whether it be family, friend or lover, you must make an honest effort to improve the relationship or chose to lose the connection.  Doing otherwise just leads to heartache.

Do I like working out and restricting my diet?  Do I enjoy paying off debts instead of vacationing in Vale?  Do I enjoy the hard conversations with my wife and reflecting on my own flaws?  Absolutely not. But if I don’t make the effort, I will be broke, fat, alone and all the coffee, whiskey and hot shaves in the world wouldn’t make me happy.  I would love to hear about your big things (phrasing). Please share in the comments.