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Saturday, August 5, 2017

It's a Great Time To Have Chronic Pain (Part I)

You'll have to forgive the title. Obviously there's no great time to have chronic pain. I suppose a more accurate title would be "I'm slightly more hopeful that effective treatments for chronic pain are being recognized" but that didn't have quite the same ring to it.

Why am I writing about chronic pain? I have no medical background. No, this is more about my experience as a chronic pain... victim? Too defeatist. Sufferer? More accurate, but we'll just say "as someone who experiences chronic pain".

It's something I've actually wanted to write about for months now. But it's also a hard subject to tackle. Eventually though, when something bubbles up enough, it eventually needs to be spilled. I'll do my best to keep things concise, but no guarantees. It's a difficult subject to tackle not only because it's personal but because it's complex.

My story with pain starts all the way back in 2011. I started having back pain while sitting at work. Nothing in particular provoked it. When it didn't go away, I went to the doctor who referred me to physical therapy. And so began the carousel of treatments which provided no relief. Much work was missed, much money was spent. Frustration and despair grew after each failed treatment.

Finally, about a year later and at my wit's end, I mentioned an approach to my girlfriend at the time (now wife). The testimonies had intrigued me before but the method also seemed to go against everything I thought I knew about how the body worked so I hadn't taken it too seriously. However, after explaining it to her, Jen's simple response was all I needed to hear: "That sounds like you. You've tried everything else. What do you have to lose?".

Thus began an almost religious leap of faith and turbulent journey into my own psyche as I began to treat the pain as psychosomatic (which refers to a physical illness or other condition caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress).

The book that introduced me to this approach was called Healing Back Pain by the late Dr. John Sarno. In the book he talked about his realization that many people's pain stemmed not from structural issues, but instead repressed emotions such as rage. He called the phenomenon TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome). Once this diagnosis was accepted, many patients healed very quickly, often by simply reading one of his books.

Despite significant anecdotal evidence of success, this unconventional treatment did not lend itself well to rigorous clinical trials, and Dr. Sarno was ignored or even scoffed at by almost all of his peers. Nevertheless, for a desperate pain sufferer like myself who's tried just about everything else, I was willing to give it a shot.

I didn't get better after reading one of his books (how nice that would have been). But I still believed that I fit the profile of someone with TMS. The good news is that as Sarno had treated other doctors & medical professionals dealing with pain problems of their own, these professionals then began to find success treating patients in this way as well. The bad news is that the closest one of these "TMS Doctors" was about 4 hours away. And while I came very close to making the trip to see one, I decided instead to move on to the next step which I imagined would be the recommendation of the TMS Doctor anyway- find a psychoanalytic therapist to address the emotional turmoil happening in the unconscious.

I'd been to see therapists before for a number of things (OCD in high school, anxiety and depression both in and after college), but analytic work (think old school, Freud & Jung) was very new to me. New & effective. By cancelling any other sort of physical interventions and simply treating my back pain as rooted psychologically, I was able to find relief from my pain after just a couple months. It definitely wasn't easy (and for awhile the pain also moved to my wrist & I thought I had carpel tunnel- more on that another time), but it was oh so worth it.

Shortly after my symptoms cleared up, I changed jobs, moved, and got engaged. Life was good. And things went smoothly for the next few years as well. Even with the challenges of the new job & stress of wedding planning, I don't recall having to worry at all about pain. In the years that followed, bouts of pain would come up, but introspection into the stresses of my life or a few visits to the therapist would clear things up. I also felt like I since I now knew the source of my pain, I no longer had to fear it. I was managing quite well.

I'm sure my use of the past tense has tipped you off- it's not all sunshine and roses from that point on. When I return, I'll talk dive into the more recent chapters of the David vs. Pain saga.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Update

Well it's been about a month and a half since my last post. I would prefer a higher frequency but that's how life goes sometimes. Safe to say it's been an eventful summer.

I'll start off with the biggie. In June, my wife and I announced that we're expecting our first child! The baby is due in January and we will not be finding out the gender beforehand. Safe to say our lives are about to change like we can't imagine!


In September, my wife and I will also be traveling to South Korea! She was adopted from there at a very young age and has never been back. It's become a bucket list item of hers and as we talked it over, we figured we may end up waiting many years if we didn't do it before the baby arrives. I've since been encouraged by several people to not let having a small child prevent us from traveling, and while I do hope that we do continue to travel, I'm glad we are making this "babymoon" happen nonetheless! Around the time we first began discussing the trip, I had heard a discussion of "travel hacking" on a podcast, and that strategy made the possibility of affording flights to Korea much more feasible.

You may have also noticed a change in the appearance of the blog. I put a link to my blog up on the r/blogging subreddit (wouldn't be a David Bartels post without a reference to Reddit!) and the fine folks gave me a bit of feedback- mainly that it was lacking visually. I had some fun customizing the themes that Blogger offers so you may notice more changes as I continue to play around with the options.

Obviously as my previous two posts discussed, I'd been thinking a lot about financial independence in the early summer. While it's still a goal of mine and something I may come back to, it hasn't been as big of a focus for me during the second half of summer. And fortunately since right now this blog is just a hobby for me I can move on to "the next big thing". I have a pretty good idea about what that's going to be, but it's more fun to be cryptic so sorry, no hints. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

More Thoughts on Financial Independence

In my last post, I gave some introductory thoughts on the concept of financial independence. I touched on what I would consider to be traditional thinking about when someone should retire. To close out the post, I asked why more people aren't retiring early. I claimed the short answer is that it's not easy. Other short answers that come to mind are that we can't afford it or that it's not the way we do things- we should remain a "productive member of society".

Before I go any further, I want to give credit to the places that have been helpful as I've been learning about personal finance & financial independence. They've been instrumental & inspirational as I've developed some new ways of looking at the world:

  • The Root of Good blog. I'm not sure how I stumbled upon this one but his post $150,000 Income, $150 Income Tax was especially eye-opening to me. His monthly financial updates have also given insight into how a family with kids can keep expenses low while still living a fulfilling life.
  • The Radical Personal Finance podcast. Initially I found this podcast about a year ago simply by searching for a podcast on finance. But I came back to it recently when I saw that there was an interview with Justin from Root of Good. Joshua, the host of RPF, puts out a crazy amount of content.
  • The Early Retirement Extreme blog by Jacob Lund Fisker and his book of the same name. I found out about Jacob's work via the Radical Personal Finance podcast. He is an incredibly smart guy. I am halfway through his book so far and really enjoying it. He has a lot of great points but my biggest takeaway from his work so far is a shifting in thinking from "get really good at one thing so I can afford to pay people for everything else I want" to "strive to learn to do a wide variety of things myself".
  • Finally, I must acknowledge the work of someone close to home. David Carlson went to my high school and college and has been putting out great content for 4 years at Young Adult Money. Whenever I'm learning about a financial concept I'll often cross-check it on YAM to see if David has anything to say on the subject, and more often than not he's written about it. David is an extremely hard worker and has at several times since I've known him given me encouragement to keep writing.

Now back to the topic at hand. I think it's important to ask the question "why?" in response to the short answers I proposed. Why isn't it easy to retire early? Working 40+ hours a week for 40+ years of your life isn't particularly easy either, but plenty of people do that. I would venture to say what makes it especially "not easy" is that it's not "normal". More to come on this in a future post.

Why can't people afford to retire early? The typical responses might be as follows: "Because the cost of living is too high." or "Because the wealth is all concentrated in the hands of the 1%, and we are lucky if we can get by while putting a small portion away".

The first two answers are complaints about the economy. In the first case the complaint is about the cost of basic expenses in the local economy, while the second case focuses on economic inequality. The political and moral implications of these complaints are beyond the scope of this post. Instead, let's focus on the areas one can have a real impact. In my opinion, one is going to have far greater success in changing their own "economy" than in changing the local or national economy (or waiting for it to change, for that matter). There are certain ways one can go about this. One can relocate and effectively lower their cost of living. I acknowledge there are certain limits which may prevent one from picking up and moving on the spot, but I do think this is more of a short term barrier, especially in the internet age. Maybe you've decided to stay where you are despite the high cost of living because you enjoy the amenities too much to consider living somewhere cheaper. This is fine- just recognize that it is a choice. And yes, there is a large income disparity, but putting all that aside for a minute- is there anything you can do personally to increase your income or decrease your expenses? Voting for the politician that makes better promises regarding taxes doesn't count. I am going to bet that there is at least one thing. And no, that one thing is not going to mean suddenly you are on track to retire early, but it may start the momentum in that direction.

Finally we reach the last short answer- "it's not the way we do things." If you've made it this far you know I'm going to ask "why isn't it the way we do things?" Is it because the government has encouraged arbitrary ages to withdraw from the workforce based on tax code for retirement accounts? Do we trust the government to know when the best time for us to retire is?

Now to address the part about being a "productive member of society". This idea operates on the assumption that having a traditional job is the best way to contribute to the economy. (It also is indicative of our dismissive attitude toward the elderly). I would point out that many people who retire early are often still involved in the workforce in one way or another. It just happens to be on their own terms and may take a less traditional form than we are used to. But isn't it possible that a person working under these favorable circumstances is going to be even more productive? Or let's even say that the early retiree does no work whatsoever and instead lives off dividend income. But maybe doing so allows them to be around for the formative years of their children. Would we not say this is a benefit to society as well?

I'm sure there are plenty of other responses someone might give for why more people don't retire early. But I hope this post has at least got you thinking about the reasons it is so uncommon, and maybe even breaking down some of the assumptions we hold about work.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Getting Acquinted with Financial Independence

The idea of financial independence is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I recall coming across the term several years ago, before I paid too much attention to personal finance. I figured it sounded nice but was something reserved for the very wealthy. Either you inherited a lot of money or easily made six figures. A person in that situation, I thought, would then be able to save so much money in a short period of time that they would not longer need a job, therefore becoming financially independent. Since I had not inherited a large sum of money and didn't see myself making over 100k anytime soon, I wrote it off as unattainable for someone like me.

Now, while an inheritance & large salary can certainly help in the path to financial independence, what I have come to learn is that they are not requirements, In fact, I don't even think either of those would be considered the number one contributor to achieving such a goal. At the end of the day I think it's more about spending less than you earn, and investing the difference wisely. Now, that's easier said than done. Especially in America. Land of the "upgrade" and the "bundle". So many sources willing to lend me money for the right fee. So many Jones's to keep up with. But I digress.

"Ok", you might be thinking, "but I do save money & invest it wisely. It's call my 401(k)/IRA/Roth IRA/etc. But those funds are reserved for when I'm 65 and retire for good. That could be considered financial independence, right?" Technically, yes. However, I should mention that another term often comes up when discussing financial independence, and that is early retirement. You may come across the acronym FIRE (Financial Independence and Retiring Early). And here is where the biggest shift from the traditional American career arc takes place. Most people can accept the idea of saving  money in a retirement account until 65. Not everyone may do it, but at least they know they should. But to retire before that age? The general response is most likely something along the lines of: "If I were a government worker, then maybe at 55 or 60. Otherwise, you'd have to be crazy to even consider it. We all know social security is heading the wrong direction and pensions are mostly a thing of the past. Medical bills are going to be huge and my kids aren't going to let me stay with them. If anything, I should consider working past age 65."

Are these valid arguments? They are not without merit. You'll often hear reports about the high percentage of people that are not prepared to retire. So I propose the question, "does it have to be this way?" If there's a chance it doesn't, and financial independence and early retirement would generally be considered good things, then why aren't more people doing it? The short answer is it's not easy, but the better answer is more complicated than that, and requires it's own blog post, which will be coming next.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

What's Next for This Blog?

I've been thinking a bit lately about what direction to head with this blog. As I mentioned in my first post, I'm committing one of the bigger blogging "no-nos" here by not having a focused topic. But I'm still okay with that for now. For the most part this is mainly a place for me to experiment with writing and maintaining a blog. Other than a few Gmail contacts who get this emailed to them and a few twitter followers, the audience here is really just me.

By the way, I'm finding out that html, while not necessarily difficult, can be very time consuming. The layout here is pretty bare bones but a few things I've experimented with have been a pain. I can't imagine the time that goes into some of the better looking blogs out there and can see why it's so worth it to hire design people.

So, what keeps me coming back? I think part of me just wants to prove to myself that I can keep a blog going beyond 5-10 posts, that this won't end up just another failed venture where the first few posts are easy while excitement is high. I think that if I can get some momentum and stay consistent with this thing it could be very rewarding.

What will upcoming posts be about? I am still playing around with ideas in my head. For whatever reason, I have recently been very interested in learning about the concepts & tactics surrounding financial independence, tax planning, travel hacking, and credit card churning. There is a plethora of personal finance blogs out there, many of them doing it better than I ever could, so while that's not what I expect this to become, at the same time I am going to write about what excites me at the moment. And who knows, maybe writing as someone who's learning as he goes along will help others who are coming from a similar place.

Lastly, I am unsure about what to do with regards to a platform & hosting. I chose Blogger as a platform because I wanted something simple, familiar, & free. I realize Wordpress is probably the standard in that area and I've enjoyed using it in the past but I guess I wanted to change it up. The one thing I most wish these platforms had when creating a post is a "format painter" like you'd find in Word or Excel. But maybe there's a good technical reason they can't implement them.

 At times I contemplate buying my own domain & hosting. I did that once with Bluehost for a Wordpress blog and learned a lot but I remember it being a fair amount of work to setup. I'm sure Squarespace would be an easier but more expensive option if I was worried about having to put too much time into the behind-the-scenes stuff. At this point I'm still leaning toward keeping it hosted here on Blogger while I navigate what things to write about, but I'd be curious to hear from others about the pros & cons of different approaches.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

List of Side Income Sources

In my last post at the beginning of April, I mentioned a few of the ways I’ve been making extra cash online. Since then, I’ve had more time to research, explore, and test out different options. I also understand that different people are looking for different things, so what I find to be the most beneficial may not apply to you. It really does seem that the options are limitless, and in this post I hope to provide a more varied and comprehensive list. Because these types of things are frequently changing and new opportunities popping up, I plan to use this post as sort of a “home base” for everything I’m utilizing.  I will also try and categorize the methods as best I can.


Leave a comment below, fill out the contact form in the upper right, or drop me a line on twitter if you have questions, comments, or would like an invite to one of the apps/programs that require a unique code.

This list was list updated on June 25, 2016.



Like Venmo, But Better

Circle App – Send money instantly to your friends and family, with no hidden fees. Plus, they are currently offering a $10 bonus to both parties after the new user sends $25+ from his/her debit card. So far I’ve earned an extra $40 just for transferring money back and forth with people.

Square Cash App - This app is super sleek and I actually like it even better than Circle. But the bonus is not quite as great- $5 for both parties once the new user sends $50. Highly recommend it though- if you are currently relying on Venmo, paypal, cash, or checks to repay people, this should be your new go-to.

General/Miscellaneous


Amazon Mechanical Turk is a popular task completion site. HITs (which stands for Human Intelligence Tasks) vary from receipt itemization, to surveys, to transcription. For those who don't mind putting in the time, this one might have the highest earning potential. There are certain plugins & scripts which even help with efficiency. I haven't gotten into them yet myself but the mturk subreddit would be a good resource. I also recommend checking out /r/HITsWorthTurkingFor to find the tasks, aka "HITs", with the best bang for the buck.

Earnhoney is a rewards network which allows you to earn points (called HoneyDollar$) which can then be redeemed for paypal cash or gift cards. The best earning opportunity comes through streaming videos on your computer. They've been running a lot of promotions recently as well and I've been making over $5/week recently on very minimal effort.

Qmee is a simple browser extension that offers up additional but relevant search results occasionally while you are using Google, Bing, Amazon & Ebay. Each time you click on an extra result you will be rewarded 5-15 cents.

Swagbucks is one of the sites many already may have heard of. It’s a “get-paid-to” site with a wide variety of way to earn money, from taking surveys, to searching, to watching videos. They have a number of video streaming smartphone apps as well.
Ref / Non-Ref

1Q - Huh? I love the simplicity of this app, starting with the name. It stands for "1 Question", and they aren't lying. Install the app on your smartphone and from time to time they'll send you a survey consisting of, you guessed it, 1 question. Each one you answer gets you 25 cent transferred immediately to your Paypal. 
Ref / Non-Ref

The Placed Panel App is an easy option- you are agreeing to be part of a location-based panel, but you just install the app and let it run. Per their website, “location data is collected for the purpose of analytics, and is pooled with data collected from thousands of panelists to provide meaningful insights to third parties. Opt out at any time by uninstalling the app.”

Shopping

Ebates is a “shopping portal” where you can accumulate extra cash back on your online purchases. Right now they are offering $10 to all new users who make purchases totalling $25 in the first year after signup. It was pretty easy- I bought a Groupon gift card a few weeks later I cashed out $13 from Ebates, although they only pay out quarterly so my timing was ideal. A trick I like is stacking the Groupon purchases- so buy the gift card via Ebates, and then when you actually use the Groupon, go via Ebates for that purchase as well.

TopCashBack is another shopping portal. To my understanding it’s one of the better ones, often offering some of the highest percentages which you can also check from the shopping portal aggregator, Cash Back Monitor. Right now new signups get a $5 Amazon Gift Card once they earn $10 in cash back.

Yaarlo is a receipt scanning app. Just take a picture with your smartphone and get up to 5% of your purchase. It takes awhile to accumulate but it’s also pretty easy. Use code DAVIDBAR494 when you sign up for a $1 bonus when you scan your first receipt.

ReceiptPal is another receipt scanning app. It has a nicer interface than Yaarlo and receipts are approved more quickly, however there is no signup bonus and there are weekly caps on the amount of receipts you can submit.

Checkout51 is a rebate app. Select one or more products from a list of offers and then once you’ve bought that item at any store, snap a picture of your receipt and get cash back. Right now through June 15 they are offering $5 to any user who signs up through a referral link and uploads their first receipt.

Ibotta is very similar to Checkout51,although it is limited to certain stores. Right now if you sign up with a referral link you’ll get a $10 bonus, which isn’t too shabby.

MobiSave is another rebate app like Checkout51 & Ibotta. It does not require a certain store, and certain offers are also for any brand, with the trade-off being that these rebates are smaller. The beauty with MobiSave, though, is that there is not a minimum cashout of $20 like with the other two. After every submitted receipt, the rebate goes directly into your Paypal account, which is pretty nice.

I find these apps most useful when you can stack 2 or 3 of them together. If you’re getting multiple rebates on one item, the savings really start to add up.

Saving & Investing

Acorns Investing is an app that you can set up to “round-up” transactions in your bank account so that the remaining amount is invested in the stock market. For example, if you use spend $4.70 on your debit card, Acorns will transfer $0.30 to your portfolio. You can also make deposits of any amount manually. If you are under age 24 or have an .edu email, there is no cost, otherwise they charge a $1/month management fee. They are also currently offering a $5 to both parties when you invite a friend and he/she starts investing.  So even if you do not qualify for the free account, it may still make sense to invest if you think you can generate some referrals or are planning to invest near $100/month (making the fee 1%). I personally have already maxed out my referrals for the year at 20, but will share the general link with you here:

WiseBanyan is another automated app/website. It’s similar to Acorns but isn’t focused on round-ups. They don’t charge a fee either. They plan to generate revenue based on add-on services such as tax-loss harvesting, but a few websites I’ve seen question the sustainability of this model. Regardless, right now they are offering a $15 bonus to new accounts that complete a $10/month auto-deposit for 6 months.

Qapital is an app that is aimed at helping you save for different goals, Much like Acorns, it rounds up transactions from your bank account. The difference is the money is not invested and there is no management fee. I signed for this app to get the $5 referral bonus, but have since cashed out because the money it sets aside does not gain any interest. May be helpful for some people with starting to save- wasn’t for me, but I still feel it’s worth doing for the bonus.

Seashells is another a round-up app. Once your round-ups total $20, you have the option to transfer the $20 plus a 15% bonus to your Seashells account, where the money can then be used to purchase gift cards. Right now you can get $2 added to your account if you enter promo code twFH_x in the settings once you download the app:

Bitcoin Earning Sites (aka Bitcoin Faucets)

freebitcoin – In exchange for viewing a page with a bunch of ads on it, you are able to enter a captcha and claim a certain amount of bitcoins (a tiny fraction of one bitcoin). You can do this as often as every hour. You also have the option to wager your bitcoins in order to win more. Definitely can take a long time to accumulate even a few cents worth, but if you're curious about bitcoins like I was and want to acquire some in a low risk way, this is an option.
Ref / Non-Ref

moonbitcoin- Very similar to the site above, except that you can claim every 5 minutes. However, there is no option to wager your coins.
Ref / Non-Ref

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Grinding out a few extra bucks

One of the great things about the internet is it's provided a multitude of new opportunities for making money. If you're like me then you've come across plenty of blogs and articles describing "side hustles" or  ways to earn "side income". Unfortunately, I imagine many people have a glamorized view of how lucrative these ventures can be. Usually, I've also found that many of these sources have contributed to this glamorization- they simply want to drive traffic to their website, and if they make it sound easy and/or lucrative then people are much more likely to look into it.

I'm hoping to take a slightly different approach. While I'd be lying if I said I'm not at least partially motivated by getting a few referrals from this post, I hope I can also present a more realistic view of what to expect. I also hope to help inform you about what might work best in your situation by talking about the good & the bad from my personal experience. Any time I link to a site, I will be providing both standard links and referral links (if available) and that way you can choose how you want to sign up. I'm modeling this linking method after the /r/beermoney subreddit. That subreddit has been an extremely helpful resource for me in the last month or so as I've looked into new ways to make extra cash. And without further adeiu, onto the sites.

Shortly after college I began taking online surveys. The good news here is that there are almost endless opportunities with many market research companies willing to pay for your opinion. The downside is that these take an incredibly long amount of time. And it's not unlikely you may fill out screening questions only to find you don't qualify for a survey. This is not based on any calculations but it also seems like the payouts have been scaled back recently as more competitors have entered the arena. For those curious, I would estimate that I made about $10/month back in the day. However, since I no longer have the time to sit and fill out surveys and am not current on which sites are the best, I am not going to be recommending any survey-specific sites here.

For a few months I've been using Bing Rewards (referral / non-referral) to earn points for performing internet searches. I would estimate it took me about 3 months to earn my first $5 Amazon gift card so it's clearly not a cash cow but it's a fairly well known site which may attract some people.

Moving on to a cash back site, Shop At Home (non-ref) credits you for a portion of purchases you make using their links. Now obviously this is more similar to a credit card rewards program in that you have to spend money to make money, but I have found that there is a wide variety of sites I already use to shop online anyway. I've made about $25/year for the past couple years with this site.

I've recently learned of sites and apps that will pay you to "watch" videos. One such place is Perk (ref / non-ref). At one point, it was apparently quite popular to buy a bunch of cheap phones and create a "phone farm" by leaving all those devices running the Perk videos all day long. But from what I gather and by my own personal experience, earnings potential has fallen off greatly in the last couple months.

Lately I've also been starting to utilize "Get Paid To" or GPT sites. These sites encompass many of the rewards opportunities mentioned above: search, cash back, videos, and surveys. The most popular of these websites is probably SwagBucks (ref / non-ref). SwagBucks has been especially good to me as I recently won the /r/beermoney Referral Contest, so again, a shout out to that subreddit. Swagbucks is a relatively user friendly compared to many of the other sites and offers a diverse pool of opportunities, so I would put it near the top of my list of recommendations.

Just about a week ago I also downloaded the shopping app Ibotta (ref / non-ref). What you do is unlock cash back deals which are applicable to a wide variety of stores. I found it worthwhile as I was able to get cash back on milk, eggs, and bananas. Since you get $10 just for unlocking and redeeming your first offer, and $5 for each friend you refer, I've already earned over $15 dollars. The cashout minimum is $20 so this really is an easy option in my opinion. The app and website also have a very clean interface.

Alright, on to more of the bad. InstaGC is a GPT site that I'd seen mentioned fairly often but it's quite possible they've gone downhill. The interface is not very appealing and the earnings potential seems small as well. Next up is Earnhoney. It's predominately a video site that is only for desktop and while I'd seen a few people talk it up, I've found the return to be quite small.

I think I'll stop here for now. There are many more sites out there than this but these are some of the most well known. As things change, or I hear about good opportunities elsewhere, I will try and do another post. The goal is to continually weed out low-return or spam-like sites and find the best ways to earn extra cash in as little effort possible.