My second unannounced hiatus from the blog has concluded, and over 5 months after my last activity here I’m dusting off the Frugal Flannel servers. Life has been a bit busier than the last time I disappeared for half a year. One of the first things I did upon getting the desire to start this blog back up was to go read the post I made last time I disappeared. I was happy to see that all my reasons for recommitting to the project back then still felt right, but also disappointed in my own lack of discipline to uphold those commitments.
Let’s reverse the order this time though. I’d like to start by catching you up with what I’ve been up to in 2021. Then I’d like to take another look at examining my own mentality as it relates to running a blog — my motivations, self-discipline (or lack thereof), and goals — which also apply to other pursuits and projects in life.
Jake’s 2021 to date
In January I bought myself a guitar. I was one of those teenagers who had a guitar and always dreamed of being able to play it. But I never got anywhere despite taking lessons, because I never set aside time to practice. I’m still not commuting to work which saves an hour of time per day, so I figured I had no excuse to keep pushing it off as something I’ll do “later” or once I retire early and have all the time in the world. So I bought a guitar, a Yamaha FG830 acoustic, and I’ve been practicing an hour per day, at least 5 days per week. It’s been 5 months so I’m obviously no pro, but I’m happily in the advanced beginner stage where I can play a variety of chords and assemble them into songs that people recognize. Huge shout out to Justin Sandercoe who offers what must be hundreds of free lessons over at www.justinguitar.com.
We’ve also spent a lot of time looking at houses this year. Several hours per week in total spent driving to open houses and showings, waiting in line, doing research on comparable properties if we wanted to put an offer in, and working with our agent to do so. I think we put in four offers in total, most of which were over asking price and offering appraisal gap coverage, though carefully researched and never waiving our inspection contingency. We were blown out by insane offers each and every time. We’re actually taking a step back from trying to buy a house until something fundamentally changes in the market. These winning bidders don’t seem to care about pricing in factors like proximity to highways or flood zones. It’s just been too much time and emotional investment, and there’s so many irrational FOMO buyers out there that it feels nonsensical to even bother if you’re not going to join them and do something stupid.
In possibly the most exciting news that occurred, we’ve started the engagement ring shopping process. I selected the stone just last week, and we’ve still got to design her setting with the jeweler. I’m going to end up spending quite a bit on this, and it will certainly go down as my biggest expense of 2021. Frugal or not? Certainly a question worthy of its own article in the coming weeks.
Financially I’m doing excellently. I began 2021 with a net worth of $200k, and today it sits at $241k. I’m continuing to save and invest as per the plans I’ve previously laid out on the blog, and a 12% YTD stock market gain certainly helps. I’m a ways off from FIRE, but it feels nice to have worked my way to the point where I could leave my job and not have to worry about money for many years. A quarter million net worth is coming up fast and feels like a huge milestone.
I wish I could say that I’ve been too busy with life to write for the blog, as that’s certainly a valid excuse. Unfortunately I think that’s only half the story, and for the other half I’ve got to take a look inward.
Why I stopped blogging
Shortly before I stopped posting here, I broke my “sobriety” with posting on Reddit. My account on the site had been dormant since May 2020, when I ended my first hiatus from Frugal Flannel. In December 2020, I re-engaged with several of the finance, investing, and FIRE boards that I used to hang out on. I started off slowly at first, and it didn’t take more than a couple of weeks before I was back to my old habits, probably spending an average of over an hour per day on those sites.
Social media (and I include Reddit in this definition) can be an insidious time suck. I feel like my usage of sites like that has reached problematic levels. And despite me recognizing over a year ago that the value of these sites has declined to the point where I personally feel that the negatives outweigh the positives, I still went back. There’s quite a bit of research out there on social media addiction and how these platforms take advantage of our psychology to both hold our attention and keep us coming back for more. Some aspects of Reddit that I feel really draw me in is the gamification aspect with the voting system (other users upvoting your comments makes you feel like your contribution was valuable), and the infinite scrolling: there’s really no end to your feed, so you will be served content for as long as you want to stay on the platform.
They’re a business of course, and eyeballs on the page equals more revenue for them. But it doesn’t take long for the time that we spent on these platforms to add up to the point where it’s pushing other activities that we’d rather be doing out of our lives, but which require more activation energy than opening an app on your phone. 15 minutes spent on Reddit before getting out of bed. 10 minutes here or there throughout the day just three times. Another 15 minutes before bed. You’ve lost an hour per day to one social media platform. And it’s not just one hour out of a 24 hour day. If you work full-time, sleep, eat, shower, commute, it’s more like one hour out of your 3–6 hours of free time each weekday. If you drastically increase your usage of social media on weekends like I do, maybe you’ve lost 20% of your valuable weekend waking hours to these platforms.
And honestly, I felt happier and more satisfied with my life during the period that I wasn’t on Reddit or other forums at all. But I still keep going back for more, like a self-aware addict to mindless digital consumption and shallow pseudo-anonymous interactions with other users.
I guess my cognitive dissonance here is that I feel like I’m not receiving a fair exchange of value from these platforms for the time spent on them, but I still feel this compulsion to continue using them once I get involved. I don’t feel like I’m learning, growing, or developing from my time spent reading and commenting on Reddit like I do after finishing my guitar practice, or writing a good article for this site. I’m not one of those productivity-obsessed freaks, so I’ve got no issue with downtime or entertainment. But I now realize that I never close social media feeling satisfyingly entertained like I do after listening to one of my favorite podcasts or watching a good television show. It’s all superficial, bite-sized content, distilled down to the lowest common denominator to capture your attention for a few seconds before you scroll to the next one. Utterly forgettable, rinse and repeat.
So the short and truthful answer to why I stopped blogging: lack of self-discipline.
What I’m doing about my Reddit addiction
Last time I committed to spending less time on Reddit and other forums, I just walked away. That was that, for about 7 months. The downside of that method was it made it quite easy to go back, and I was surprised at just how quickly I fell back into old habits once I re-engaged with the site.
This time I’m going to take a scorched earth approach. I want to quit Reddit for good. I’d like to break the mental link between wanting to procrastinate another task, and picking up my phone or opening a new tab on my desktop and navigating right to Reddit. So I deleted my account. I can no longer comment, vote on other users’ content, or even subscribe to boards to create my own custom feed. My years worth of comment contributions and meaningless “karma” points are all gone.
I will admit there is some useful content buried on Reddit. Particularly when you’re trying to research a product or troubleshoot something, the Reddit pages that come up in search results can be treasure troves of first-hand experiences and solutions. That use case is the difference between using the site as a tool versus a distraction, so I want to leave that open.
I found a nifty little browser extension called LeechBlock, which blocks any sites that you specify. Either fully preventing the site from loading, or with a countdown delay before you can access the site. I found the latter to fit my use case and I’ve set it up with a 30 second delay. This will still allow me to access Reddit pages for research or troubleshooting fairly easily, but give me time to realize what I’m doing and redirect my attention if I mindlessly navigate to the site. I’ve got LeechBlock for Firefox installed on all of my devices, so here’s to reclaiming my time from social media!
Why I’m back to the blog, again (and hopefully for good!)
As I’ve already noted, after a review of my reasons for recommitting to this project following my last hiatus (which in turn echoed my reasons for starting Frugal Flannel in the first place) I’ve found that they’re all still valid. Enjoyment of the art of writing. Ownership of my own content, on my own platform. Creating the type of content that I want to see in the financial independence and early retirement niche.
Forums and social media may feel like they fulfill the desire to write, but they don’t completely satisfy it. If you submit effortful content to Reddit, you’re working for free for their platform and earning them advertising revenue. And your ideas, thoughts, or advice are often not judged on their own merit, but rather by how well they conform to the existing views of the community in which you’ve shared them.
Reading articles and posts on small, independent sites seems like a throwback to the early days of the web, before everything became so loud and commercialized. But more importantly, writing for a small, independent site helps keep that portion of the web alive. I can write about what I want to write about; what I think you, or any of the other few hundred people that stumble onto this site each month will find helpful or valuable in some way. While making some beer money eventually would be nice, that was never the primary motivator here. Web hosting is cheap enough these days that I don’t mind floating the cost out of my own pocket.
This website is my own little zen corner of the internet. It’s the kind of thing I need more of in my life. It’s one of those activities that requires a bit more effort than the alternatives, but is many times more satisfying and rewarding in the end.