Buying an Investment Property: The Update

We just closed on the investment house I wrote about here.  Or, rather, maybe we just closed on it. It isn’t clear. More on that below.

This post is a summary of what I’ve learned and the process so far.

Be warned; this is a long post that will be dull if you’re not looking at turn key real estate investing.

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The Biggest Problem With Financial Independence for Lawyers

A few years ago I was at a turning point in my career. I had a job that was ok. I was working for the government in a job I really liked. I thought the work was important. The pay was relatively low, but the hours and stress were high.

But I could tell I was burning out. I had two young kids at home and I wanted to spend time with them. Even when I was with them, I was thinking about work. So, stuff was bad, and I needed to change jobs.

We make our own chains.

I did what people do when they’re looking for a new job – I called people and asked them what I could do. I asked them to introduce me to people they know who might be willing to talk to me about what to do.

A friend of a friend got me in touch with a lawyer whose career was on the rise. He was short on time, but gracious about talking to me.

At least until I told him I wanted a job where I could stay involved in my kids’ lives, and that being a good parent is a priority for me.

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Charitable Giving and Teaching Kids About Money

At the end of each year, we give money way. Even though I’m trying to pound cash into investments, I think it’s important for a few reasons:

  • It’s good to help people.
  • It’s good karma.
  • It’s tax deductible.

Beside that, it presents a good opportunity to teach my kids both about other people in the world and about money.

This is something we have that others don’t.

Our system is this – I sit down with the kids and we review a list of nonprofits. (my wife and I divide our contributions in half – she gives her half away in a different way.) The kids and I look at groups in four buckets: international; domestic anti-poverty groups; the arts; and political/advocacy.

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Lawyers Are as Bad at Running Law Firms as They Are at Money

I love Lee Rosen.

His is one of the few blogs I read close to daily. He writes about law practice management from a perspective that would be massively familiar to anyone interested in financial independence. Basically, burn the conventions of the past, focus on what matters, and create the life you’d like to have for yourself.

“Hello, please be impressed with me.”

It’s inspiring stuff that he’s put into practice in his own law firm in North Carolina (that he runs from all over the world).

As a partner in a small firm, I find his management advice very sage, even though I’m not planning to live out of a suitcase any time soon.

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Fighting the Causes of Stupid Spending

My super unscientific conclusion, based on watching myself and how I act and comparing that to how other lawyers act, is that when lawyers are overworked and under slept, we make really stupid decisions about money.

We also make stupid decisions about money when (a) we’ve just been given a lot of it (e.g., during bonus season); or (b) we notice that we have a lot of money in our bank accounts. Your brain knows that you have money, and it reduces your discipline to not be dumb with it.

There are two enemies of savings: stress and feeling like you have cash to burn. Here’s how I fight them.

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I Bought an Investment House

I bought a house.

Actually a second one – we already own the house we live in. And it isn’t strictly speaking true that I bought it – my wife and I bought it. Also, as of this writing, we’re only buying the house; it’s under contract. Still

I’ve been looking at picking up an investment property for a while. Years ago we did some landlording and it was both kind of fun and profitable. Like a fifty-five year old partner with a sad marriage, I like a little side action, only amount money. So, with this year’s bonus, I put some of it into a downpayment on a rental house.

Here are some of the details.

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The Millionaire Next Door

The Millionaire Next Door is a classic in personal finance literature. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s less a prescription for how to invest your cash but a description of who actually becomes rich.

Lawyers tend to want to think through what principles ought to apply in order to get to a certain result. Here are some examples: Make a lot of money, then you will be rich. Go to a good law school, then you will be successful. Make partner, then you will be rich.

These are all fine inferences if you want to think your way into disappointment.

This person’s net worth is probably higher than yours.

Another way to figure out what gets a result is to look at when that result has happened, then study how it happened.

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Should You Pay Off Your Student Loans With Your Bonus or Invest that Money?

Most lawyers come out of law school with a massive amount of student loan debt. I know my wife and I did.

So, when you get your year-end bonus – or you’ve got a good chunk of cash saved up from your salary – should you invest that money or pay down the principal on your law school loans?

money-trap1-1238807First kudos to you for thinking of it that way. We’ve all heard the stories of lawyers who spent their bonus on a super-fancy vacation or car. Don’t be that guy.

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Budgeting is Fundamental

If you want to lose weight, you should create a record of each and every calorie you consume, and record how much you exercise. This is a pretty successful approach when it’s followed, but it’s pretty tricky to follow.

Similarly, if you want to build wealth, you should spend less and save more. As with losing weight, gaining wealth comes from awareness. If you’re mindlessly eating in new restaurants night after night, you will be fat and poor. (Unless you’re also working out all the time and cutting back in other areas, of course).

A fun way to spend Saturday afternoon.
A fun way to spend Saturday afternoon.

So, if you want to save more – and if you don’t want that then I’m not sure why you’re on this page – you should have a budget.

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Lawyer Unhappiness and Money

Lawyers are known for being broken people. Compared to the average person on the street, we’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol suffer from mental illness, or commit suicide.

There are a lot of reasons for this. For one thing, the law attracts and rewards pessimists and being pessimistic doesn’t really correlate with happiness. For another, much of law is zero sum; someone loses every case that goes to trial or a contested motion. Lawyers are second guessed often, and we often see people at their worst.

Probably a lawyer.
Probably a lawyer.

All of that is important for why lawyers tend to be miserable. But I think there’s another important problem – lawyers think external rewards bring happiness.

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A mid-40s lawyer in a small firm, writing about financial independence, money in a small law firm, and why lawyers aren't as rich as you think.