There is this idea that since we have only this one short life to live we should maximize what gives us pleasure throughout the entirety of our lives. If you died leaving some pleasure on the table then you didn’t live your life to the fullest.  We’re only on this earth a short time so why not enjoy it the most we can? I think most people would agree to this idea on at least some level. Most people though, go in completely different directions. This is my prescription for those that want to live life to the fullest.

     “YOLO!” (you only live once), “live each day as if it’s your last”, or “we only walk this rock once” are things you’ll hear people who adhere to the maximum pleasure philosophy. “Live each day as if it’s your last” is without a doubt the dumbest saying of them all. The consequences of making decisions based on the notion that this is your last day alive when indeed you have many more to live would be absolutely devastating to yourself and society. Thankfully, no one really does this and if they tell you otherwise chances are they are full of it.

     My focus is on the people who don’t know when they’re going to die but like to throw around phrases similar to “YOLO”. Their idea of maximum pleasure is doing things that are wild, crazy, spontaneous, fun, and dangerous all while ignoring consequences and repercussions because ultimately, consequences and repercussions won’t matter when we’re dead. Dangerous things are fun. I love doing them. Danger is like bacon, it makes everything better. Some people pay the ultimate price and die too early for living life on the edge. Dwain Weston, Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr., Mark Wolford, and Chris Benoit all took YOLOing too but far but that’s not what this is about. It is so much fun to throw caution to the wind and live life on the wild side.  The problem is these moments are short lived.  There are 168 hours in a week and it is unrealistic for a majority of your week to be filled with these spontaneous pleasure maximizing activities. The people that put too much emphasis on this type of behavior ultimately discover the dark side of too much YOLOing and I’m not talking about dying.

     A personal friend of mine used to live the good life. With plenty of money and the YOLO mentality he went all out on maximizing his pleasure. He travelled the world, ate the finest foods, drank expensive champagne, frequented the best parties and hottest night clubs, and bought whatever things that made him happy.  A couple of months ago he was talking to me because he was having trouble with his finances. I gave him my advice and his response was he believed that because life is short you should have as much fun as you can. At the time of this writing he is bankrupt and locked up in jail facing 8 years in prison. I’m probably not going to know what it feels like to own jet skis or buy Dennis Rodman a bottle of champagne at a Las Vegas night club but I don’t imagine those experiences are comforting him in prison.

     The point I want to make is that there are other facets of life that require attention in addition to maximizing pleasure. So many people ignore the finer points because they don’t directly maximize their pleasure and they fail to see how they do in fact indirectly maximize your pleasure. Sometimes in order to climb to the top of the ladder you have go down a rung before going up 2 rungs. What are these finer points I’m talking about? My vision for YOLO is living a lifestyle of good habits but for this post I’m narrowing the scope down to 2 specific habits. If you’re not doing them already, these 2 habits will dramatically improve your life and allow you to YOLO it up with the best of them. I’ll explain the most important one first in case you’re ADHD kicks in or “The Walking Dead” is about start and you can’t read this post in its entirety.

     First and foremost, get your money right! Finances should be your number one priority. There’s no stress like money stress. I can’t tell you how many people (because there are too many to count) I have known personally who pay off the minimum balances on their credit cards every month, have no savings but plenty of debt, and live pay check to pay check. I don’t care how much fun you have, this is no way to live. Do you work for your money or does your money work for you? Do you want to never have to worry about money again? If you’re a rational person I’m guessing you’d rather not worry about money. Alright here we go. I’m going to break it down step by step for you for free.

1.       Know where your money is going.

     This sounds easy and sounds like common sense, but can you answer any of these questions? What is your total amount of fixed costs every month? How much did you spend on gas last month? How much did you spend on food last month? How much did you spend partying last month? If you can’t answer these questions I suspect you think if you had just a little more money every month things would be a lot easier. What would make things a lot easier is if you would count your pennies. Yes, all of them!

     First, list all of your fixed costs. These are you costs that are constant every month. They include rent/mortgage, car insurance, cable, phone etc. These are usually the costs that don’t change from month to month and big burly men show up at your door when you miss paying them. Second, create a list of categories for your variable costs. Variable costs are things like food, gas, entertainment, clothes, and cleaning supplies. Every dollar you spend must be accounted for so make sure every type of spend can fall under a category. Now the hard part, every time you spend money take out your phone, go to the calendar app, and enter in the expenditure as an event. Once a week you will open your calendar app to review all the events you entered *. Every spend gets allocated to the appropriate category and your costs get totaled. At the end of the month you will know where your money went. By the way, don’t forget to make a record for every time you receive money from things like paychecks, birthday cards, or your local sports betting house. You have to know exactly how much comes in and how much goes out, just like a business. No business that doesn’t have its accounting intact succeeds. Why would your life be any different?

     Counting your pennies is the most difficult habit but the most important one.  It took me a long time for this practice to become habit but once it did my life became substantially easier. Habits are hard to break but the difference between good habits and bad habits is good habits are hard to start. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort (at first) to record all of your expenses and you’re not going to succeed first try. You’re going to miss a few, tell yourself you can no longer accurately total this month’s spend, and try again next month. This is exactly what I did, over and over and over, but I never stopped trying. Eventually, recording each transaction on my phone became a habit and doing so was second nature. I didn’t have to think about doing it, I just did it.

     * I record all my transactions with the calendar app on my droid phone and then manually enter all the information into spreadsheets on Microsoft Excel. This process is tedious and time consuming. If you know of a more efficient method then by all means do it and please share it with me.

2. Set goals

     Now that you know where your money goes every month you must set goals in order for that information to be useful. Here is the number 1 rule of thumb. Save 15-20% of your income every month! It doesn’t matter if you make $1,000 a month or $100,000 a month. If you can discipline yourself to live off 80% of what you make you will eliminate money stress quickly. If you think right now you don’t make enough to be able save that much you’re just making excuses. I used to tell myself the same thing until one day I told myself that I was just making an excuse and to try it. What I did was opened up a savings account and had my employer automatically direct deposit 15% of my check into the account. I didn’t have a checkbook or debit card for the account so if I ever wanted the money I’d have to physically go to the bank to make a withdrawal. I soon realized that I barely noticed I had a little less money to spend every month.

     The 2nd rule of thumb for saving is to have 3-6 months living expenses saved as cash. This is also known as a rainy day fund. Imagine your car breaking down, your hot water heater exploding, or even losing your job. With 3-6 months worth of cash attached to your debit card you can take events like these in stride and not even blink. Talk about living stress free.

     In order to reach the 1st and 2nd rules for saving you’ll need to manage your expenses. Some ways to lower your fixed costs are renegotiating a loan payment or getting rid of premium cable channels. Extreme cases may call for trading the BMW for a Honda or moving into a house with one less bedroom. Set goals for your variable expenses. If you spend $150/month on gas try getting it down to $110/month. I bet there’s room in every category for improvement. Soon you’ll find yourself not taking unnecessary trips in the car and eating more meals at home instead of a restaurant.

     Okay things are really starting to look up! You paid off your credit cards and you’ve got a nice rainy day fund set aside. Where do the extra savings go? In order to achieve financial independence when you get older you need to invest. Just remember this; consistently saving a little money over a long period of time is much better than saving a lot of money over a short period time. The earlier you start the better. The 1st two investment vehicles you should consider are the IRA/Roth IRA and your company’s 401K plan. If your company has plan to match your contribution then do it! Even if your 401K goes down in value chances are you’re company’s contribution will be more than enough to make up for it. An IRA or Roth IRA is also a great way for your money to grow over a long time.

     If you can get your finances under control most of your stress will vanish and you’ll be able to YOLO like never before. Here is a simple list to guide you on your effort to making money work for you.

1.       Count your pennies

2.       Get rid of your debt

3.       Set Goals

4.       Save 15-20% of your income

5.       3-6 months of cash

     Okay last but not least, the 2nd most important habit to reduce stress and live YOLO. You might laugh when you read this but I swear by it. I have a theory, if your house in chaos your life is in chaos. That’s right, the 2nd most important habit to living life to the fullest is keeping your house clean, especially your bedroom.  There is an immeasurable level of comfort that a clean house provides and an immeasurable amount of stress that a messy house adds. There’s just something about coming home to clean house that makes life more comfortable. A clean house even allows you solve problems easier. Try finding lost car keys, doing homework, or brainstorming ideas to improve your career in a messy house. Now try those same things in a clean house. Tell me the clean house thing wasn’t a good idea. You don’t have to go crazy clean freak style with it but make sure your bed is made and room is clean every single day. Always put things away before you leave a room. Keep the bathroom clean, floors vacuumed, and counters wiped as necessary. I’m telling you you’ll have a mental clarity and lower stress lever than you ever would living in a dirty house. Besides, cleaning with your favorite music playing and an ice cold beer nearby is a stress reliever in and of itself.

     I firmly believe the best way to live life to the fullest is living a lifestyle based on good habits. Everything of importance that you do on a regular basis should be done in a positive habitual manner. Taking care of your finances and living in a clutter free environment are two of the best habits you can have. Good habits are hard to form so never give up. Keep trying and eventually they will become part of your persona.

     Now you can go out and do all the crazy things you feel like. Drive 150 mph on your motorcycle, hit the strip with your friends this weekend and go ape shit, take a trip to Mexico City, or go alligator hunting. All these things are super fun and are what make life worth living. Now that you’ve got the other aspects of life taken care of you don’t have to stress when the adrenaline wears off.