(Posted here because Instagram doesn’t let me be long-winded enough)

Yesterday marked my two-year anniversary of becoming debt-free. Two years ago, I removed that monkey off my back and was overjoyed. I’m just as happy now to say that I’ve stayed debt-free ever since. In a weird twist of fate, yesterday also became the day I hit another major milestone. Up to this point, I’ve felt extremely awkward sharing actual numbers regarding my finances, despite talking incessantly about investing and such online. A lot of finance bloggers share their assets freely and others keep things private, even keeping their identities hidden for fear of judgment from friends or bosses. Hell, I’m not even a damn finance blogger! I’m too lazy/unfocused for that or any serious article-churning venture concentrating on one particular subject (Hence the state of this half-abandoned site).

I just like sharing the occasional thing to help inspire/motivate/educate friends if they’re interested. Because when you learn helpful shit, you want to share with the people you care about. So in the spirit of transparency, and to hopefully inspire (not gloat), I hit $200k yesterday. $200k net worth. Mind you, I didn’t go from 0 to 200,000 just in those last two debt-free years. I already had a decent amount building in my 401k for the last ten years. But I barely had a clue how the damn thing worked, just a vague notion that it was “important to save for retirement”. I put the bare minimum in throughout my twenties, all the while continuing to struggle with my no-budgeting, debt merry-go-round from hell, convinced that I would NEVER have enough to retire. And the only reason I saved what I did was because it was pulled from my pay before I got the check. If it dared hit my bank account, you best believe it would be SPENT. But after clawing my way to zero debt and sticking to it, I managed to grow my net worth three times as much in the last two years than I did in the last ten.

Furthermore, I didn’t actually save a whole $200,000! Plenty of that is investment growth. Which is why I harp on the importance of investing. If I just stuffed that extra cash in a savings account, it would have added up to a lot less (not to mention, taxed to hell). I ran some numbers yesterday and discovered that while I saved and invested plenty last year, I made an additional $27,617 in returns. That’s over $27k extra in one year for doing absolutely nothing, just for having the money invested in the total stock market instead of sitting in a bank account. True passive income.

I didn’t have any special insider information, I didn’t scour message boards and finance articles from “experts” predicting what hot stocks were about to skyrocket, and I didn’t sweat bullets nor develop an ulcer watching the news as stock prices yo-yo’d up and down because the winds changed, a mouse farted, or Elon Musk tweeted something wacky that day. I just continued to budget and stuck whatever extra I had at the end of every month into my total market fund (and into an S&P fund through my 401k which happens automatically before I get paid). Set it and forget it. Kinda like a savings account, but a savings account that actually GROWS.

I’m digressing. I just hope this paints a clearer picture as to why I’ve become passionate about this stuff. Am I obsessed with money? No! Frankly, I hate it. I hate that our lives are dictated by it. I wish we lived in a Star Trek future in which money was obsolete, we all freely had our basic necessities, and everyone simply worked for the betterment of mankind. Also, rad spaceships and transporters. But we’re not there yet. What I AM working toward is freedom. Freedom to spend the limited time I have with this life how I see fit. Freedom to pursue what matters to me regardless if it brings in a check. And freedom to joyfully and generously give to others in need without thinking twice. And investing (after mastering budgeting and living below your means) is a powerful tool to yank that goal line of financial independence much closer.

And by the way, investing is not the ONLY WAY to financial freedom. I enjoy it because it’s essentially the most powerful-yet-lazy path to wealth. Some people get into real estate, flipping houses and/or renting them for ongoing income. Some people start businesses. Some people don’t worry at all about financial independence because they’re already doing what they love and will do it forever! Regardless of your personal aspirations, it is still imperative to save. I think the pandemic solidified that to everyone if it wasn’t clear already. Life happens, the unexpected happens, and we all know how much housing and healthcare costs in this country… ☠

All that said, if you’re currently feeling helplessly trapped under your own debt mountain, if you’re feeling intimidated rather than invigorated, defeated rather than inspired… don’t worry! I know, I know, easier said than done. Despite how far I’ve come, there are still days when all I can focus on is how far I still have yet to go, how life is short and it feels like I’ll be in this grind forever, etc, etc. But that thinking is destructive. As corny and old-fashioned as it sounds, the usual advice for life’s lofty challenges rings true: One step at a time. Just focus on that one step in the right direction, that one little change you can make. Work on saving a little bit more this month, paying a little more off the credit card, saying yes to a couple hours of overtime for that little boost. Just try. Make it your mission. Try, stumble, get up and try again. You can do it. I believe in you.

We were meant to do more than just pay bills and die.

Dax Turns 2

Happy Halloween!

My goofy little sci-fi adventure (which has nothing to do with Halloween but just happened to be published at such a rad time) turns 2 today! Holy crap, time is flying. Sadly I can’t say the sequel is out today, but I’m aiming to get it done next year or die trying. Might do something crazy and lock myself in a hotel room for a few days. But hotels cost money, so if you don’t have a copy of this fun little read, you can get one at or click the link at the top of this blog. Keep hustling and keep making art, people! ✌🏼📚🚀

In other news, as you can see I have not been keeping up with this blog, and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon. What can I say? I don’t have much writing advice to give. I DO get excited about my journey with my finances and health, but I tend to share all of that stuff on Instagram where there is an instant sense of community. Basically, I’m telling you to follow me on Instagram if you enjoy good vibes, dumb jokes, tips on getting your finances and mental/physical health in order, and yes, the occasional book progress update. DAX HARRISON WILL RETURN. And so will Tony Valdez.

CHEERS! Now enjoy the full soundtrack to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride just because.


I just finished meditating and am feeling super groovy, so I figured it was about time to stop ignoring this blog.

I’ve been struggling for months with the notion of writing on here (which I fully anticipated when I started). What I assumed I would be filling these pages with, I’ve instead been throwing up on Instagram, because I waste all my time on there, and it is just SO much more shiny and convenient to post or re-share a quick something on social media than travel to Ye Olde WordPress blog, where I feel like I’m just farting useless words into the wind where no one sees or cares, like the high school days of LiveJournal/DeadJournal.

But I wouldn’t say I’ve been completely “wasting” my time. In the same spirit of my long-winded February rant, I’ve been continuing to seek out the happiness in my days, and thankfully have found myself in a much less manic state as of late. (Yeah, I thought I was over that whole Early Midlife Crisis bit. Nah, I still had some work to do)

And we always still have some work to do. That’s the point. This is all one big ongoing process until we’re in the damn grave, so we better get comfortable with being a work in progress. (Oh! Look! He said the name of the title! Just like they do in the movies sometimes!)

I was just speaking with a writing buddy this morning about re-learning to appreciate the now whilst still having goals and consistently working toward them. It’s a tricky thing. It’s human nature to get overly excited about new things, especially new ventures in self-improvement. Whether it’s health and wellness, finances, getting more involved with politics (God, probably not the best thing for your mental health), etc, etc. There’s that initial period of time when you get all hyped up about something you learned or a thing that’s making your days a little brighter. Like that jolt of energy or quick 5 pound drop someone may experience at the start of a fitness journey, for example.


Positive energy is good. But obsessing over your goals, if you’re not careful, can lead you to a less than ideal head space. Once your thoughts start to dwell around the notion of “I’ll never be happy until I accomplish [this], or weigh [this much], or have [this much money],” etc, etc, you’ve begun to filter out the positives that surround you today. Yes, yes, have those goals. Crush ’em. Work on them constantly if they’re important to you. Determination and drive are essential to reaching for those stars. But when you’re hyper-focusing on those things that are important in your life, remember to include what you can appreciate about the present.

“Be present”. If you’ve ever even glanced at a self-help book, or heard some wellness guru speak for 5 seconds, or ever looked at a fucking decorative throw pillow on Pinterest, you’ve probably heard or seen that cheesy-ass phrase. Be present, or “be mindful”. Despite the reflexive cringe you may feel regarding those words (probably because you’ve heard them a hundred times, just like an overplayed pop song in a department store elevator makes you want to flip a table), there’s some really truth in that message.

That’s why I’m on Day 2 of meditating. Along with a healthier mindset I’ve been building on for a while now, I’m adding daily meditation to my repertoire. I actually mentioned this in an Instagram story the other day, in which I shared my August goals and asked people to chime in with their own.

So here’s my list (Tony’s August Fuck Yeah List):
-Financial: Save $1K in the Emergency Fund
Did okay with the July budget, but not as well as I’d hoped. Going to do better this time!
Physical: Exercise. Put in some decent work at least 3 times a week
Been lagging here hard, but I’ve at least been eating healthy AF!
-Mental: Meditation, once or twice daily
On Day 2 today, using the Waking Up app. I’ve heard it recommended a few times. I’ll let you know how it goes.
-Creative: Write something. You know, like that 2nd book I’ve been talking about for almost 2 years now.
Still lagging here, but I at least wrote in this blog today!

The wife and I are also planning a TV cleanse. No TV for a month. That is, AFTER finishing this last season of The Magicians on the DVR. She has art projects, and I have writing to do. This will hopefully boost our productivity. Worst case, we can at least break the monotony, the bad habit of being a TV zombie. We’re nerds. We enjoy our shows. But if we keep going the way we’re going, we’ll risk spending too much of our lives staring at screens instead of each other, or watching other people’s awesome works instead of creating awesome shit of our own.

I encourage you to find where you might be defaulting into zombie mode in your own life, and shake things up a little. You never know. You might learn an instrument, or end up reading more, or get down and dirty with the Mr or Mrs some more.

(Snooty voice) “Just remember guys: Be present.” 😉

And seriously though, I’d love to hear your goals! I got some awesome replies on IG. “Lose some pounds”, “Get back in my Marine Corps shape”, “Take a solo roadtrip”, “Move out on my own for the first time ever”, “Just remember to have fun everyday”, and more! I guess that’s what I’ve been enjoying on social media, especially Instagram. The community. Hopefully I can wrangle some of you over here. You are the company you keep, so let’s keep lifting each other up. Tell me your goals in the comments. Other than that, I’ll catch you next time!



“If you could do anything with your life, what would you do?”

There’s that annoying question that self-help gurus, motivational speakers, and therapists asks. (I’m assuming. Never actually been to a therapist.) Among co-workers and friends, we sometimes play a slightly different game: “What would you do if you won the lotto?”

In your early years, you naturally imagine all the ridiculous shit you would buy. Then your thirties hit, and you become painfully aware that material things don’t necessarily buy happiness, and you’re forced to re-evaluate your life, your spending habits, the job that you feel trapped in, etc, etc, etc, until you feel yourself in the midst of what you half-jokingly call your “early mid-life crisis”.

It’s okay. This is normal. If you’ve luckily avoided any major health problems, substance addictions, and are not wanted by the law for any reason, then huzzah! You’re ahead of the Early Mid-Life Crisis game! (That’s it. We’re shortening that to EMC now.)

As mentioned in previous posts, I have spent quite some time now desperately analyzing, optimizing, and attempting to re-form my life after realizing in my late 20s to early 30s that I was just plain unhappy. I felt weak and always tired, likely due to working at a desk job, never exercising, rarely getting enough sleep, and eating a lot of garbage. I felt trapped in a vicious cycle of consumer debt, which is bullshit, because it was COMPLETELY self-imposed. And I had almost entirely given up on any sort of creative hobbies and careers because I couldn’t see any possible way out of my circumstances. Stuck in the 9 to 5 for all eternity. Farewell, dreams of being a professional actor, musician, etc. That stuff is sealed away back in your high school theater days, never to be pursued again. How could you possibly have the time for that, short of quitting your job and living on someone’s couch for free?

In an effort to make this post shorter than The Iliad, let me sum up the beginning few years of my EMC journey like this: I began reading the occasional self-help book. I wrote my first feature-length film script. I cleaned up my eating habits. I eventually re-wrote the film script into a novel and published with a small online publisher after running a (barely) successful crowdfunding campaign which secured said publishing. I made efforts to exercise until I finally hired a trainer, lifted heavy weights for 6 months, and got in the best shape of my life. I worked harder at improving my marriage. I felt strong. Empowered. I still wasn’t where I’d like to be, but the days were getting brighter.

Then the cracks began exposing themselves again. In a breakdown to my wife, I realized I was still feeling like I was barely holding it together. There weren’t enough hours in the day (or week) to attend to all areas of my life, and I felt that because of that, I was always failing in at least one or more. With precious little hours of free time, I constantly had to decide where I wanted to succeed and where I wanted to fail. No matter how many different strategies I attempted, a perfect balance never seemed possible. I was either diligent about health and exercise, spending quality time with my wife, trying to work on anything creative (which mostly failed because I was too burned out to THINK at this point), or spend time with friends and family. I would juggle these plates like the worst circus act you’ve ever seen until I would lose my cool, flip the hell out, and demand JUST TO GET A SECOND OF PEACE TO MYSELF FOR ONCE IN MY DAMN LIFE. And this happened repeatedly over the last year or so. Also, I was still repeating the same stupid money mistakes and therefore still in perpetual debt. (Footnote: I don’t even have kids. I am very aware that my “lack of time” issues are the merest of molehills compared to the mountainous sacrifices of my friends who are parents. I salute you.)

Finally, I started asking myself: What do I REALLY want out of life? REALLY. I thought I had the answer figured out before, but I needed a refresher. Or better, a re-framing of the question: What do you NEED? What things do you truly need in your life that in your experience give you joy in your days, give you hope for the future, and/or spark a feeling that you are on a path toward lasting happiness in your life?

Now THAT’s a question worth asking. Try to answer it yourself, right now. Start writing a list down on paper if you have to. Just do it as honestly as you possibly can. Maybe these thoughts have been brewing in your head for a while now, and this might be easier than you think. Or maybe you’re just beginning to ask yourself these things. It might be tough. Chisel away at the answers if you have to. Take a break and come back to it later. Sleep on it and revisit the list tomorrow. But get it done.

I am not a therapist. But I would imagine that if you are feeling truly lost at this point, without an inkling of what you really need from your life, than perhaps professional help may be a wise idea. I’m a bit of a hypocrite, as I’ve never done it myself, but I have countless friends and loved ones who have. If you need help, it is worth it to seek help. (This has been a half-assed PSA by Tony.)

Now, I surmised that there are a few key pillars in my life that tend to keep me sane and happy. Which I kinda already knew, but it helped to ground them in terms of “THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT ARE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY TO MY WELL-BEING IN LIFE AND ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE.”

  1. Taking care of my health. I said it in an earlier post: if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. I’m only 33 and I have already seen several friends battle terrible health conditions. Many likely unavoidable, genetic, shitty luck of the draw, etc. And some avoidable. We are no longer twenty-somethings that can eat and digest endless streams of fast food and alcohol. That Weapon-X instant healing ability is long gone. It takes work to stay functional and just plain feel okay as you age. And I plan to stick around for a good long while.
  2. Spending time with loved ones. Life gets in the way of seeing friends and family far too often. Days, weeks, months slip by too damn fast. There are friends I see more than my family. I see my coworkers far more than my friends and family combined. No offense to my coworkers, but that’s a dynamic I really wish I could flip 180.
  3. Pursuing creativity. Nothing in this life fulfills me, gives me a sense of purpose, direction, accomplishment, and satisfaction more than creativity. Even if I’m not actively working on a project, it’s the gear my brain is in. It’s stuck there. The transmission broke sometime in my childhood and I have no plans to fix it. I don’t go a single day without singing to myself in the car, or anytime/anywhere I’m alone, or simply humming epic movie soundtracks below my breath in the break room. I have dialogues with myself out loud like a crazy person, because I’m working out a new scene for a book in my head. Or re-writing a scene from an existing movie/tv show just for the hell of it. Whenever I see a live performance of music, theater, or musical theater, it lights me up like nothing else in my life. No offense to my wife, friends, and family, but you know what I mean. I feel PURPOSE and PASSION. And then I come down off that wave, and I get very depressed. Because I’ve been sitting in a 9-to-5 job for seemingly eternity, meanwhile my soul is screaming “THAT IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE DOING WITH YOUR LIFE!!!!”

It’s that simple. Crisis defined, confronted, analyzed, explained. So what do I do with this knowledge?

“Build a life you don’t need a vacation from.” That’s a quote I’ve seen floating around the internet a lot. Sorry, I don’t know who said it first and I don’t care to go searching. I’m just assuming versions of that same quote have been passed on by supportive dads throughout generations. Build a life you don’t need a vacation from. Sounds like a dream reserved for lottery winners, right? Wrong.

I may not have complete control over my circumstances, but there are steps to be taken. I mean, us dreamers COULD all just quit our jobs tomorrow and say “I’m going to go be a successful movie star/rock star/author/painter/etc and everything’s going to be A-OK!” But I’m 33, and I have half a brain (rough estimate), so I’m not going to take that leap without looking. I need a plan.

Most people hate their jobs. I’ve gone through that pattern of thinking countless times. But my job is mostly fine. What aggravates me is not the job itself but the time it takes away from the rest of my life. 40-60 hours a week dedicated to the paycheck life. More accurately, 50-70 due to commuting. Hence, my constant struggle to fit my 3 pillars in on a consistent basis.

Last year, I listened to an episode of The podcast, The Upgrade. It introduced me to the concepts of financial independence and early retirement. This became my new obsession. Over a few short months, I’ve listened to the entire back catalog of the ChooseFI podcast, a show dedicated to spreading financial knowledge, tips, tricks, and sharing personal experiences of overcoming debt and saving toward retirement and other life goals. While I don’t expect to be retiring from the 9-to-5 life anytime soon, these resources have helped me finally do some simple adult shit in which I was displaying some severe incompetence for far too long. Things like cutting down my spending habits FOR GOOD, rather than paying down a little credit and then IMMEDIATELY filling it back up like an idiot. Also, doing a little research and actually understanding how the hell my 401k works. I’ve only had it for 10 YEARS, so I figured it was time. And finally, setting real goals, short term and long term, even lofty stretch goals which still feel like foolhardy dreams. But the point of it all, is that I’m PLANNING for them.

I’m learning to appreciate my present day more and more, but I am very much planning for where I’d like my path to go. THAT’s how you combat those feelings of hopelessness. “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” That’s a quote the internet apparently credits to Benjamin Franklin. Did he really say it? How the hell should I know? The internet gets these things wrong all the time.

“Don’t look at me, bro. Maybe I said it. I dunno.” – Benny Franks

So what am I planning EXACTLY, you ask? I wish to restructure my financial life so I can survive in modern society, meaning keep a roof over my head and food on the table, whilst dedicating less time to a day job and more time toward the pillars of life that bring me sanity and happiness. How do I do that? I have ideas. Ideas probably best saved for our next episode. This post is long enough, and I want to go snuggle my wife on the couch.

Because it’s cold in here and I want to use her for body warmth. Also, I guess I love her and stuff.


An ill-advised scramble of words but with very good intentions and love for the universe

My heart is pretty damn full today.

This 2nd post was originally going to be much different, and I had it all mostly brainstormed. But life intervened over the last week, I got busy as hell, and I set it on the back burner. And then today turned out to be just a really good day, so I’m not in the mood to write about that other stuff.

It’s been raining WITH A VENGEANCE (said in booming voice with thunder strike) in southern California all day, and I love it. I know it makes for a lousy commute and other frustrations, but hey, I love me some rain. I was glad that I just happened to shower last night (usually a morning shower person) because I found myself with extra time to sit on our balcony and enjoy it for a while before getting ready for work. If you’re at all cynical, you might be annoyed by the parade of people on Instagram telling you to start your day with meditation and yoga and avocado toast or something to cure all your ails. But you know what? Something as easy as sitting on a balcony, setting the smartphone down, and watching the rain for ten minutes? That’s meditation.

So what else is on my mind? Part of that original post was going to be diving into what’s been driving my “early midlife crisis” (which I’ve half-jokingly dubbed it), but there were too many good vibes in the air today and I just didn’t feel like sullying it. Yes, yes, I’m fine and I’m getting my shit together, but here’s what I really want to share at the moment: things that made me exceedingly happy and grateful in the last two weeks or so.

-Reconnecting with several friends
-A weekend trip to Sacramento last week with some of those friends. Art museums, board games, and actual winter weather!
-All this rain that we’ve been getting lately. I guess it followed us back!
-Seeing/hearing of people close to me getting their lives in order (like you do in your thirties, or so I’m told)
-Friends accomplishing amazing creative/entrepreneurial goals (more in another post soon)
-Quality time with the wife. Taking time out and working on relationship stuff, and going on romantic IKEA dates together like the disgusting married folk we are. She’s my lobster.
-Having my faith in humanity replenished with stories of people helping people. If that’s the kind of thing you enjoy, I highly recommend checking out @tanksgoodnews

Yes I am fully aware how sappy and saccharine and rambling in vague detail that this post is. Regardless of whatever I’m blabbing about on this blog, what I’d like to do is give you guys a little something special with every post. A life hack, a cool nugget of knowledge/wisdom. Today is simply just a bunch of warm and fuzzy feelings, but I WILL LEAVE YOU WITH THIS:

Part of this journey through my previously mentioned “early midlife crisis” (should we shorten that to EMC?) has included an obsession with optimizing as much of my life as I can. I work 40-60 hours a week and have limited time to accomplish everything I want/need to accomplish. Staying healthy is a major one of those things. Because without your health, everything suffers. So here’s something I started doing every workday morning to stay healthy AND optimize my time getting ready for work:

PROTEIN SHAKES. Every. Damn. Day. I’ll usually have one on the weekends too as an easy afternoon snack. My favorite recipe that I’ve been doing for a while now is as follows:

-10oz unsweetened cashew milk
-1 scoop of protein powder (I use Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey)
-handful of frozen spinach
-handful of frozen blueberries
-1 banana
-scoop of peanut butter

Blend that up and drink it on the road to work for quick, healthy deliciousness. (EXTRA PRO TIP: sometimes that chopped frozen spinach turns into giant bricks that are hard for your blender to break down. Buy the fresh bags of leaves instead and freeze them at home. Much easier.)

There you have it! A nugget of wisdom and a preview of the madness to come. Next time, I’m going to spill my guts on my PILLARS OF LIFE (working title), which include the health stuff and more, and which I believe are the keys to my leading a happy and fulfilled existence.


P.S.: The Austin Powers trilogy Blu-ray set came in the mail today. So yeah, it’s a good day.

Press Start

Here we go. Every few years I get the wild idea to try blogging again, and beyond the initial “no really, I’m really going to do it this time” post, I end up with a site full of digital tumbleweeds.

But my head has been a cyclone of Kansas-To-Oz-Or-Bust proportions as of late, and instead of bottling up all that nonsense, only to have it occasionally spew out in the direction of friends and family… Here we are. No real agenda other than having a journal-like place to ramble so my loved ones and/or the bathroom mirror don’t have to be subjected to my constant rants about my neuroses, my fears, my anxieties, my hopes, my dreams, my struggles balancing the necessary day job while pining for a life of financial and artistic freedom, whilst also keeping in shape, eating right, writing that next book, practicing guitar or photography once in a while, keeping up with house chores, seeing friends and family, spending quality time with my wife, and so on. Did I mention I ramble?

This will also serve as a one-stop shop for any and all of my creative endeavors to be found. (So I guess I lied. There IS an agenda! *GASP*) The thing is, I have a lot of interests. I wrote and published my first sci-fi adventure novel Dax Harrison on October 31st, 2017, and I’m currently planning the sequel as well as matching audiobook versions. So if you enjoy that kind of thing, you’ll find my author updates here.

But I’ve also dabbled in music, photography, acting, video editing and other randomness over the years. So who knows? Maybe you’ll find some of those experiments on here in the near future. If I know anything about myself, it’s that I get into deep ruts in my life when I STOP CREATING. It’s just not optional. It’s a habit I need to keep up for survival. Not quite as crucial as breathing or eating, but definitely along the lines of brushing my teeth on the regular, eating green things and doing a push-up on occasion. Life just starts sucking hard and fast without doing some creative shit.

Anyway, enough of the doom and gloom tone. This is a super positive thing to keep me active and to share my weird little life with you all. I promise the next post will have more effort and positive vibes. To be fair, I’m tired from a 12-hour day at the office, bloated from a bunch of Martinelli’s sparkling cider (BUT I CAN’T STOP DRINKING IT), and I’m also currently on the couch with my wife as she’s watching some Jeffrey Dahmer documentary on TV so I keep getting distracted.

Happy New Year, kids. Let’s have some fun.