Weekend Reading: The Power Of Anti-Goals Edition

Weekend Reading: The Power Of Anti-Goals Edition

The self-improvement market is estimated to be worth more than $10 billion in the U.S. and $40 billion globally. Indeed, there’s no shortage of books, blogs, and online courses designed to boost your productivity and life satisfaction.

Hey, if morning routines, vision boards, and setting smart goals gets you motivated to make positive changes in your life then knock yourself out.

I like to set goals every year for my personal finances and for my business. But the truth is my life changed for the better when I thought more about what I didn’t want my life to look like. I’m talking about anti-goals.

Think about your worst day. Is it packed with useless meetings? A soul-sucking commute? A never-ending list of household chores? Stuck at the office until 7pm? Missing your kid’s after-school activities? No time to exercise?

Unfortunately, that’s what almost every day looks like for so many of us.

Then we read self-improvement books and life hack blogs to help us squeeze extra time out of these dreadful days. Wake up at 4:30am. Set up phone calls or dictate emails during your morning commute. Spend your evenings cleaning and doing chores. Spending your weekends driving around for your kids’ activities.

What if we flipped the script and designed our life to reduce the time we spend doing things we hate, or avoid doing those things altogether?

  • Living within walking / cycling distance from work. Or, negotiating a remote working arrangement.
  • Blocking out time in your work calendar to do your actual work.
  • Paying for a house cleaner. Hiring a handyman. Arranging a grocery or meal delivery service.

I recognize that I live a very unusual lifestyle compared to the average person. I am self-employed and work from home. I set my own hours, working as much or as little as I want. I have a home gym. I travel 8-9 weeks per year. I eat a plant-based diet.

I’ve used the power of anti-goals to help design this lifestyle. Some of my anti-goals include:

  • No daily commute
  • No meetings before 9:30am
  • No meetings / work after 12pm on Fridays
  • No Disney / Vegas / Stampede
  • No truck / trailer / boat / vacation home
  • No scheduled weekend activities for the kids
  • No clutter in the garage or spare bedroom

I started to design my ideal lifestyle with these anti-goals in mind. I quit my job to focus on my online business. I set up a home office and a gym. I work out for 60 minutes every weekday morning. I use Calendly to block off early mornings, Friday afternoons, and travel days. We aim to travel 8-9 weeks per year, with emphasis on the U.K. and Europe. We enrol our kids in after-school activities (two each) during the week. We regularly declutter by donating or selling unused stuff. 

Anti-goals have worked well for us to help design our weird but wonderful lifestyle. Let me know if they work for you.

This Week’s Recap:

We’ve returned home from an incredible 24-day trip to the U.K. We visited London, the Lake District, Stirling, Fort William, Inverness, St. Andrews, and (our favourite city) Edinburgh.

I got out of my comfort zone and rented a car for our three-night stay in the Lake District and for nine days as we explored the Scottish Highlands. I’m pleased to report that no side-mirrors were harmed during the road trip.

I managed to publish two posts while we were away. A Weekend Reading: London Edition, and a post about mental accounting.

Now that I’m back home I hope to post a bit more regularly here. And, stay tuned for my DIY investing course to be launched shortly.

Promo of the Week:

Repeating this from a few weeks ago –

The most frequently asked question about our travels this year? How did you earn enough points to fly a family of four to Europe / U.K. three times in 2022?

My wife and I each have our own American Express Cobalt cards and make sure to charge $500 per month in groceries (not hard these days!) to the cards to earn 5x points on groceries plus a 2,500 point monthly bonus for the first 12 months.

That adds up to 30,000 points for regular spending, plus the 30,000 bonus points for hitting the monthly spending target. There’s 120,000 points combined, which we transfer to Aeroplan to use for flight rewards.

We also signed up for the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card, where right now you can earn up to 90,000 in bonus points when you spending $1,000 per month over six months ($3,000 in the first three months, and a total of six monthly billing cycles where you spend $1,000).

I know many people will balk at paying a $599 annual fee. But you need to look objectively at your net return after fees. You can earn up to $2,800 in travel rewards with the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card in the first year of card membership. Subtract the annual fee and you’re still netting $2,200. 

For me, as long as I can meet the spending requirements without making meaningful changes to my normal expenses, these cards can make good sense. For example, I just got our house insurance notice in the mail. It’s up 15% and will cost us about $2,600 this year. Fortunately, I can pay upfront with an Amex card.

Weekend Reading:

I should go away more often. After a brutal first half of the year for stocks and bonds, investors were treated to an exceptional month in July. The S&P 500 was up 9.1% for its best month since November 2020. Vanguard’s Balanced ETF (VBAL) was up 4.92%, while Vanguard’s All Equity ETF (VEQT) was up 5.96%.

It’s funny, I received several emails from clients and readers wondering if they should sell their balanced portfolio and buy a GIC at 4%. This is a reminder that the worst stock and bond returns are often quickly followed by strong performance.

Selling a balanced investment portfolio at a loss and locking in a 4% return may sound sensible if you expect your investments to continue losing money. But we don’t know when things will turn around, and the turnaround can often be lightning fast (see April 2020).

That’s why it makes sense to stick to your plan and ride out the temporary volatility. It’s the world’s best stock market tip.

Portfolio Manager Markus Muhs wrote an excellent primer on RRIFs – what they are, how they work, and how to convert your RRSP into one.

Millionaire Teacher Andrew Hallam explains how to retire early with less than you might think:

“Coupling a lower cost of living with lower taxes (or no taxes) can supercharge the buying power of the money you saved.

Not everyone will want to retire in a different country. Some might miss family and friends.

But in an age when adult children often scatter to different cities (even different countries) plenty of retirees in beautiful destinations report seeing their family more because they live abroad.”

Retirement ‘like winning the lottery’: How these retirees are enjoying the summer despite economic concerns.

Boomers are exiting the workforce in droves, leaving more job vacancies than there are people to fill them.

The hedonic treadmill of conspicuous consumption is difficult to escape. Ben Felix answers an important question on whether people with luxury vehicles actually enjoy their vehicles more:

Rob Carrick says it’s time to cancel the idea that a big mortgage is a noble burden because home prices will rise.

Finally, it’s an Andrew Hallam trifecta – here he explains why young ETF investors should be partying in the streets right now.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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  1. Ritchie on July 30, 2022 at 11:31 am

    Hello – I am 70 and have an RRSP. Can I withdraw funds from the RRSP and also make a spousal RRSP contribution? My wife still works and is younger. I am hoping to deduct the spousal contribution from my income which will include a withdrawal from my RRSP. My current income is close to the maximum allowed before OAS clawback.

    • Robb Engen on July 30, 2022 at 2:47 pm

      Hi Ritchie, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do what you’ve described -assuming you have RRSP contribution room.

    • Ron on July 30, 2022 at 2:48 pm

      You can contribute to a spousal RRSP provided you have earned income (ie) employment income for the most part. The income you will receive from withdrawing monies from your RRSP does not qualify as earned income.

  2. Frito on July 30, 2022 at 11:35 am

    Explain your anti-goal of no Disney/Vegas/Stampede, please. Isn’t that just places not on your travel bucket list?

    Had to talk down my spouse this month on the sell & buy GICs. Used your mantra “stick to the plan”! Rebounded 3%+ so feeling better about holding on. 🙂

    • Robb Engen on July 30, 2022 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Frito, that’s sort of a catch-all for the type of vacations that we’d like to avoid (the crowds, the lines, the crappy food and cheap souvenirs). If the goal is to travel 8-9 weeks per year then we need to know what that looks like, and what it doesn’t look like.

      Not to say we won’t ever wait in a line or brave a crowd, but we won’t design our whole trip around that type of activity.

      Nice work on sticking to the investment plan. The trap we often fall into is using forward looking language to talk ourselves into doing something.

      For instance, most of the client and reader emails I alluded to used language like “markets are falling, or stocks will continue to decline” and I’d have to remind them that we only know what happened in the past (stocks fell) but we have no idea when that will turn around. All I know is I’d like to be there when it does turn around, and not locked into a GIC.

      • Barb on August 12, 2022 at 9:12 am

        As usual your blog is timely, educational and encouraging. Thank you for taking time out of your very deserved vacation to write the blog and respond to my questions and others.

  3. Carol on July 30, 2022 at 1:32 pm

    Not sure what is wrong with Disney, Vegas or the Stampede if you are looking to have some fun. Is it the costs of these places or the stress of going with younger children? I loved doing those things with my kids when they were younger.
    I would also assume the no trailer, cottage, boat anti-goals are also cost related as, yes, the costs associated with maintaining those things can be unpredictable sometimes.
    Of course, life goals are always fluid depending on the parents’ life stage and those of your children.

    • Robb Engen on July 30, 2022 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Carol, these are my goals (or anti-goals), not anyone else’s. Many people enjoy going to Disney and Vegas, or going to amusement parks. Many more love escaping to their cottage, or taking their trailer out camping, or going boating or off-roading. That’s fantastic, but it’s not for us.

      And it’s not the cost of those activities – I’m sure we’ll easily spend $30k on travel this year on trips to Maui, Italy, the U.K. and Paris.

      We like exploring new places, so having a dedicated vacation property doesn’t align with that goal. And while we enjoy camping, owning a trailer would likely mean buying a truck to pull it, paying for storage, and using it enough to make it seem worthwhile (which again doesn’t align with exploring new places).

      As Ramit Sethi says, your Rich Life is yours. It’s not anyone else’s. The idea, then, is to design your life around maximizing the things you enjoy and minimizing the things you don’t enjoy. That’s going to look different for everyone.

      A former colleague enjoyed Vegas so much that he visited 5-6 times a year, including every New Year’s Eve. That was his Rich Life. I loved that for him.

      Another former colleague loved buying fixer-upper houses and living in them for 2-4 years while he fixed them up. It brought him so much joy.

      Neither of those things are for me, but I’m not here to judge. This post was about my goals and anti-goals, which hopefully got you to reflect on your own.

      • James R on July 30, 2022 at 5:43 pm

        I hear that, but I confess I had to read your reply to the comment to really “hear it”

        My “rich life” is renting a cottage on a great fishing lake and spending 3-6 hours fishing every morning and then taking some time to explore or relax with the rest of the family.

        For me, it can be hard to hear that’s not everyone’s idea of a good time. LOL!!

        I really appreciated your colour on how we ought to design our own “rich lives” and simply be happy when others are able to design theirs.

        Thanks for the perspective!

        (BTW, looking forward to rebooking our 2020 cancelled Scotland trip in 2023)!!!

        • Robb Engen on July 30, 2022 at 8:43 pm

          Hi James, thanks! Yeah, I’m definitely not out to try to convert anyone to my lifestyle (or start selling some bogus course on how you can escape the rat race and work from anywhere). I fully recognize the privilege in being able to do something I really enjoy and get paid fairly well for doing it.

          You’re absolutely right, we often think that everyone does or should enjoy the things that make us happy. But the world is much more interesting when people have different tastes and preferences, and enjoy different experiences.

          Glad to hear you’re rebooking a trip to Scotland. There’s something magical about that country!

      • Catherine on July 30, 2022 at 8:28 pm

        Hi Robb, completely agree with the “anti-goals” idea! Curious about why you chose a plant-based diet? Was it primarily (or solely) for health, ethical or environmental reasons? Fellow plant-based dieter over here (ethical reasons primarily but the other two are huge bonuses!)

  4. Robb Engen on July 30, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    Hi Catherine, thanks for your comment. I think it initially started when my wife cut out dairy from her diet (intolerance). When we were in Scotland in 2019 she met up with a Canadian living in Inverness who makes her own vegan cheese (Left Coast Culture). My kids and I tried it and loved it. Then we went to a vegan restaurant and I had a delicious “pulled pork” sandwich made with jack fruit. It was so easy to find plant based options there (much easier than Lethbridge, Alta!) and I was blown away with the food quality – it was all so interesting.

    Anyway, we got back to Canada and decided to cut beef out of our diet. Then we cut out chicken and pork a few months later and went fully plant-based in the fall of 2019.

    Without getting preachy (at all!) I’d say our primary reason was ethical, then environmental. Health is up there, too, but less so for me because there are certainly issues with eating a plant based diet (protein, iron, B12, etc).

    I will say that eating great food is one of our Rich Life goals and I do not find that eating plant based hinders that at all. In fact, I’ve probably eaten more interesting and tasty foods over the past three years than I ever have before.

    • Catherine on July 30, 2022 at 11:15 pm

      That’s awesome!! I have found the same thing in terms of food quality and variety! Bonus is that I have gotten much more creative in the kitchen and have created vegan versions of my favorite dishes 🙂
      Cheers and thanks for the response!

  5. Bryan on July 31, 2022 at 11:57 am

    Great post and a nice reminder to assess life from both sides of a goal. Sometimes we all need a reminder of what we don’t want to do and stick to it.
    And some totally unsolicited travel spots for you: Chamonix and Annecy in France. Chamonix boarders Italy and Switzerland in the Alps. Gorgeous mountains that you can take a chairlift up and down (or hike if that’s your thing). Annecy is like a small Venice, with canals built within the city. Didn’t see any graveyards in either spot so might not be your cup of tea haha
    Always enjoy the travel-based posts too!!

    • Robb Engen on August 14, 2022 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Bryan, thanks so much for the travel tips. Just Paris for this trip, but I’d love to explore more of France in the future. Graveyards are a must, though!

  6. Nicole on August 14, 2022 at 9:27 am

    This anti goals idea really resonates. Likely because my anti goals are similar to the ones you describe. We used to have a lake lot, trailer, boat, and truck to tow it. It used to make us happy to drive 4 hours each direction to our lake lot, but, after 8 years it began to feel like a burden and we wondered what else was out there. Since then we have simplified our belongings and have travelled to wonderful places, spent vacation time enjoying others’ lake lots and secondary homes (and their company!), took amazing holidays with friends, and were able to afford moving our primary home to a beautiful mountain resort community that still feels like a holiday home 5 years later!
    There remain aspects of my life design that are not yet optimized, but as we endeavour to design a life we don’t want to retire from, I find hubby and I are making better daily decisions to support our long term vision of a rich life.
    Enjoy the journey!

    • Robb Engen on August 14, 2022 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Nicole, thanks – I’m glad you liked the post. Your experience is sort of what I had in mind. I didn’t want the burden or obligation of going to the same place. Plus, we change as we get to different ages and stages of life. As you said, you used to love the trip but then couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of your life.

      I love the idea of designing a life you don’t want to retire from. That’s exactly what we’re after!

      Thanks again for sharing.

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