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The cost of thriving.

Say it with me, money nerds: “Thank god it’s Friday!” Some weekends feel especially good, and this is one of them.

Yes, I know we’ve all been holed at home for a while now, doing what we can to avoid the spreading plague. The notion of a weekend seems a little strange at this point. Yet, here we are. At the weekend. Let’s celebrate by taking a look at some of my favorite recent articles about personal finance.

The value of low-cost financial experiments. [CityFrugal] — “If you’re like me, there are a dozen areas or your life that you could improve (if only slightly) by conducting financial experiments. Continuing to do so is crucial to fighting inertia as you become more successful. Thinking differently and testing that thinking is what got you to an unprecedentedly strong financial position in the first place. Continuing to test means continuing to improve.”

The invisible city: How a homeless man built a life undergrounds. [The Guardian] — I couldn’t find a good pull-quote for this piece, but it’s worth reading if you have the time. It’s long. This is the story of how a homeless Londoner set up an underground bunker in a public park — and then lived there for several years. I find it fascinating.

The cost of thriving. [American Affairs] — “Alongside both the formal concept of “inflation” that measures the economy-wide price level, and a technical ‘cost of living’ that aims to price a fixed level of material consumption, an accurate depiction and understanding of economic trends requires a measure that tracks the evolving basket of things a family needs to achieve the financial security and social engagement typical of a flourishing middle class. Call it the ‘cost of thriving’.”

People who grew up rich but turned out poor, what is your story? [/r/AskReddit] — Nothing to summarize here. Just a simple question with 6300 responses. People lose their wealth for a variety of reasons. They make poor choices. They have bad luck. The economy crashes. But often the answer is: It’s complicated. The stories here are interesting and instructive.

Well, Apexians, we’ve done it. We’ve made it to Friday. For a while there, I wasn’t sure we’d reach the end of the week, but we have. And, fates willing, we’ll be back again on Monday with more of the best stories about Monday. See you then.

How advertising molds and manipulates you.

Today is Thursday, money nerds, and it’s not the end of the world.

While my girlfriend and I self-isolate (with three cats and a dog), we’re watching the news way too much. When she gets up in the morning, she pours coffee, sits down at her laptop, and asks, “Has the world ended yet?”

It hasn’t. And here’s proof. Here are some great money stories I’ve been reading lately.

How advertising molds and manipulates our identities. [/r/technology on Reddit] — “I think that we should really consider to what extent advertising has an effect on one’s identity and identity-shaping process. As someone who wrote their thesis on the subject of how advertising affects a persons autonomy, let me leave you a few breadcrumbs on this.” This reddit comment is a terrific look at how advertising molds and manipulates us.

The hidden value of gratitude and your money. [Wallet Hacks] — “As I write this, it’s mid-March 2020, and we are in the early stages of dealing with the coronavirus. Our kids are home from school for the foreseeable future, we are thankfully still in good health, but we’ve chosen to isolate ourselves. There are a lot of things to complain about but there’s also a lot to celebrate and be grateful for.”

Be the friend who talks about money. [NerdWallet] — “I know my friends’ joys and anxieties and Hogwarts houses. I can even identify their shoes from under a bathroom stall. (“Is that you, Lindsay?”) They know my family members and preferred pizza toppings. But we know squat about one another’s finances. That’s pretty wild, given the enormous role money plays in our lives.”

There is not perfect personal-finance plan. [My Own Advisor] — “There is no getting out of this healthcare and economic crisis unscathed – everyone is impacted to a degree. I suspect how much you’re impacted depends upon how much you’ve planned over the years for events (that could be…) like this. Even then, nobody knows how this might play out – for you, for your family, for your loved ones and friends. That thought can be downright scary. This means there is no perfect personal finance plan to combat something like this.”

To wrap things up, here’s something that has nothing whatsoever to do with money. It’s simply a cute golden raccoon snacking on cherries.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything as adorable as that. Such a happy little critter!

Well, that’s all folks. I’ll be back tomorrow with one last roundup for the week. Until then, stay healthy and grow wealthy.

My ten favorite money blogs.

Happy birthday, money nerds! Well, it’s probably not your birthday but it is mine. Today I am 51. To celebrate, I’m going to do something a little bit different. Today, instead of sharing some favorite recent money stories from around the web, I’m instead going to share some favorite money blogs.

I know you’ve probably heard that blogging is dead. As a blogger, I hear this all of the time. And there’s no doubt that blogging isn’t what it was ten or twenty years ago. But good blogs do still exist. That includes good money blogs.

Today, I want to share a few of the sites I love. These are ten money blogs with strong personal voices, blogs that haven’t shifted to the “income over readers” model that’s become so prevalent. (I have no qualm with blogs that have made this change. I just don’t enjoy reading them.)

Ready? Let’s go.

Dave at Accidental Fire has been producing top-notch material for several years now. He does a fantastic job of exploring common subjects in early retirement, but I like it best when he wanders farther afield, when he talks about his personal journey and struggles. Good stuff.

Bitches Get Riches is an irreverent (and hilarious) source of financial advice for everyone — but especially for young adults, and especially for young women. It’s no secret that Piggy and Kitty write my favorite blog right now. I like it so much that I donate $50 every month to them via Patreon. (For real!)

John at ESI Money is a frickin’ workhorse. For years now (previously at another money blog), he’s been churning out high-quality (almost) daily content. At ESI Money, his focus is on earning, saving, and investing for early retirement. Particularly impressive is his weekly “millionaire interview” series, which is now up to 179 installments!

At The Fioneers, Jess and Corey document their personal journey to financial independence. They do so with thoughtful, introspective pieces that cover traditional FIRE topics while diving into new ones. (They popularized the notion of Slow FI, for instance.) They’re doing great work.

At Four Pillar Freedom, Zach frequently tackles the technical side of personal finance. Some of his best articles dive deep into the numbers with custom charts, graphs, and spreadsheets.

Frugalwoods has been on fire lately. I know many people are already familiar with Liz and her adventures on a 66-acre farm in Vermont. If you’re not, you should check her out. She and her husband have done FIRE the right way — high incomes, low spending, and a dedication to the things that bring them meaning.

Minafi documents “the intersection of financial independence, minimalism, and mindfulness”. It’s filled with great info and Adam adheres to some of the highest ethical standards in the biz.

Strictly speaking, Raptitude isn’t a money blog. It’s a site about “getting better at being human”. But David Cain’s thoughtful approach to life and its challenges has plenty of applications to the world of personal finance.

Retire by 40 has been around since 2010, and has quietly become a favorite for many other money bloggers. It’s easy to see why. Joe is a quiet and unassuming guy, but he’s full of good advice and interesting stories. My favorite articles are the ones where he talks about teaching his son about money.

As you can tell from its name, Women Who Money is a team blog focused on financial advice for, well, women. But the advice is generally useful for everyone. Amy and Vicki produce consistently excellent articles with practical advice about real-world situations. Highly recommended.

These are my ten favorite personal personal-finance blogs, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the great work being done by advisors and advisory firms. Michael Kitces, of course, has been blogging for a while and continues to produce in-depth, interesting pieces. But many of his colleagues are producing great work too.

In particular, Ritholtz Wealth Management — a company about which I know nothing — has a stable of excellent sites.

  • Co-founder Barry Ritholtz writes The Big Picture, which has been covering investing-related material since 2003.
  • CEO Josh Brown offers quick thoughts about money (and other topics) at The Reformed Broker.
  • At A Wealth of Common Sense, Ben Carlson writes about the stock market and market history.
  • Director of research Michael Batnick calls himself The Irrelevant Investor. He too tends to focus on big-picture stock market topics. He also hosts a podcast.
  • Blair Duquesnay shares her thoughts at The Belle Curve (love the name!). She’s particularly focused on women and money.
  • Tony Isola’s A Teachable Moment is aimed at helping educators save and invest.
  • Nick Maggiulli writes the outstanding Of Dollars and Data, which is probably the best-known of the Ritholtz blogs. He tries to explore personal finance (and investing) using data analysis. I look forward to every post.
  • Last — but far from least — is Tadas Viskanta, who writes Abnormal Returns, a twice-daily source of curated links. If I could only read one of the blogs I’ve featured in this installment of Apex Money, it would be this one. It’s a gold mine.

In my dream world, the Ritholtz folks would join us all at Fincon, the annual conference for money and media. They’re doing great work, and I think the exchange of ideas between them and traditional bloggers could be amazing.

What are your favorite money blogs right now? Shoot me an email. Or, if you prefer, leave a comment here. (That’s right. For the first time in the history of Apex Money, comments are on for this post.)

The very best coronavirus resources

Wow. What a week. On the surface, not much should have changed for me. Generally speaking, I work from home. (Or, more precisely, I’m perfectly capable of doing all of my work from home.) As a writer for the web, it’s not like I have to go into an office.

Still, I haven’t been able to get much done for the past ten days. Current events are just too distracting. I can’t focus on the things I’m supposed to do. Crazy.

In an effort to get some of this out of my system, today at Apex we’re going to share a few of the very best resources we’ve found for our current coronavirus economy. Then — maybe — we can get back to regular personal-finance stories for the rest of the week.

Coronavirus statistics and research. [Our World in Data] — “The mission of Our World in Data is to make data and research on the world’s largest problems understandable and accessible. While most of our work focuses on large problems that humanity has faced for a long time – such as child mortality, natural disasters, poverty and almost 100 other problems – this article focuses on a new, emerging global problem: the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease [COVID-19].” This enormous page of information includes tips, but its best feature is all of the charts graphs and up-to-date statistics.

Coronavirus pandemic page at the World Health Organization. [World Health Organization] — There’s a metric shit-ton of misinformation on COVID-19 floating around. Some of this misinformation is obvious — those conspiracy theories your cousin posts on Facebook — but some of the bad advice actually sounds plausible. Will warm weather kill the disease? Are you safe if you can hold your breath for ten seconds? The WHO is an excellent, reliable source for the facts. (Check out their mythbusters page!)

Similar to the World Health Organization page, there’s a coronavirus hub from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Plus, Consumer Reports has set up their own guide to the coronavirus.

If you’re a nerd with too much time on her hands, you might want to spend a few minutes playing with this epidemic calculator. You can change variables — death rate, recovery times, communicability — to see how different factors affect the spread and severity of a pandemic.

Finally, our pal Erin Lowry from Broke Millennial has spear-headed and effort to collate as much personal-finance info as possible related to this crisis. She’s collected it all into a handy Google spreadsheet. You might want to bookmark it. (Yes, I know Jim shared this same link on Friday. But it’s so useful and important that we’re sharing it again today.)

We’ll close things out today with our usual bonus video. This one isn’t much fun though. It’s an animated look at what the coronavirus does to your body — and what you can do to prevent its spread.

That’s it for a rather melancholy Monday. We’ll be back tomorrow with more of the best money stories from around the web.

Recession preparation and the coronavirus

A recession is a lagging indicator. You’re already in one before it’s “official.”

(A recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP “growth”)

A recession is coming. Everyone knows it.

We expected it after so many years of economic growth but the coronavirus was the straw that broke the economy’s back. And in a very serious way.

There are steps you can take right now to better prepare for the coming months. We won’t know how deep or how long the recession will be but you can prepare for when it comes.

First, here’s a massive resource you can use for some coronavirus relief, courtesy of Erin of Broke Millennial:

Broke Millenial’s Covid-19 Relief Hub – It has everything you could possibly need to get up to speed and assistance dealing with COVID-19.

Next, to help with the coming recession, an article from the May 2010 issue of HBR that was meant for businesses but there are lessons you can take and implement in your personal finances too:

When You’ve Got to Cut Costs—Now [Harvard Business Review] – “You’ve been a good manager of a large department for some time now. You’ve run a tight ship. When possible, you’ve cut costs. But now an order has come down (from high enough above that you don’t have the liberty of debating its wisdom or feasibility) decreeing that you must find an additional 10%, 20%, or even 30% in administrative cost reductions, severance aside. You just don’t see how it can be done.”

Next, we have what the Frugalwoods are doing right now:

How We’re Managing Our Money During the Coronavirus Pandemic [Frugalwoods] – “Nothing good comes from panicked investing/un-investing. Pulling our money out of the market right now would be the equivalent of selling at a loss. Additionally, trying to time the market and shoveling more money into it could prove unwise since we have no idea if the market has hit bottom yet. For me, the key to weathering a storm like this is to stick with the plan I created when the markets were good.”

This last one is again focused at business but you can do this yourself to help with thinking of the future. Make sure you get to the part where you take two axes and write headlines, that’s when I had my “a ha” moment:

How Futurists Cope With Uncertainty [Amy Webb on Linkedin] – “Futurists use a simple tool in times of deep uncertainty. It’s called the Axes of Uncertainty, and it’s easy to understand and apply. I’m going to walk you through how to use the tool in your organization, and even to help you grapple with disruption in your personal life. Some of what you surface in this activity will highlight opportunities you didn’t see before, and you will likely also see existential risk you’d never imagined. The more plausible outcomes you can discover, and the more flexible you can be in your thinking and planning, the more assured you will feel about your futures. That’s how you break the vicious cycle of corporate anxiety. And there’s an added benefit: if you identify existential risk early, you have time to take action.”

From the Axes of Uncertainty to the Axis of Awesome, a fun video about how many pop songs are the same four chords:

(I know I’ve shared this video before but I couldn’t help the cheesy “Axes to Axis” line!)

The economics of your local eateries

One of the unfortunate effects of the coronavirus and mandatory lockdowns is that some of the most vulnerable small businesses will be lost.

We’ve all probably heard how slim the margins are in restaurants but did you know how slim they were?

What Does It Really Cost to Run a Restaurant? [Eater] – “Restaurants have notoriously slim margins. Mei Mei in Boston reveals just how slim they really are. […] Today, every single staff member, from the dishwasher to the line cook, can interpret and speak to the restaurant’s entire profit-and-loss statement because, for two years now, Mei Mei has been opening its books to its staff.”

That said, we still need to maintain our distance:

The Power of the Individual in an Exponential Crisis [Kottke]

This image sums it up:

The Quick and Ubiquitous Economics of Bodegas [Mel Magazine] – “Convenience stores: Imagine a world without them. You wouldn’t wanna live in it! Whether you’re cruising in for a six-pack, or you live in the big city and depend on your corner store for, well, just about everything, they’ve usually got you covered. But how do they survive selling nothing but inexpensive merchandise? Also, what’s with all the random stuff on the shelves — detergent, a key-making machine, old DVDs, dollar-store toys — and how’d they get there?” A surprisingly fascinating look at the corner store and the price of convenience (20-30%).

And just because we need a little fun in our days, enjoy this 6-minute video comparing the relative sizes of fictional buildings:

Numismatics rejoice!

I never got into collecting coins but I do have a 1957 Quarter that I stumbled upon in a field behind our first house.

I remember seeing it in the grass and thinking it looked awfully gray.

That’s because, during this time period, quarters were made of 90% silver. The coin is pretty beat up and worth about $5 or $6.

It sits on my desk as a reminder that you never know what you’ll find when you aren’t looking for something – which is pretty much my internet career! 🙂

Buffalo nickels: How to start building a collection [CNN Style] – “Millions were made, so rather than rewarding finders with the promise of riches, the coins simply offer a window into US history. ‘When you hold a 1913 buffalo nickel in your hand, you are holding the form of payment used to watch short films at nickelodeons,’ said editor of CoinWeek, Charles Morgan, referring to an early type of movie theater that charged 5 cents for entry.”

Did you inherit a coin collection you don’t want? Our boy J has your back!

How to Sell Your Inherited Coin Collection [Budgets Are Sexy] – “Here are the best ways to sell a coin collection, ranked in order of getting the most profit for them, but also proportionate to the amount of *time* you want to spend too ;)”

I remember reading about how you could “invest” in junk precious metals (specifically copper) by way of old nickels. Miranda has an explanation:

Coin Hoarding Idea: Nickels [Miranda Marquit] – “While people are looking for older pennies, the relatively high copper content of current nickels might make them well worth hoarding right now, as long as you think that there is a chance that the nickel could be abolished at some point in the future as well.”

Finally, I leave you with this counter-argument against (modern) coin collecting:

Modern coin collecting fun but useless for preserving wealth [Mighty Bargain Hunter] – “A coin collection that stores value better has coins that are rare and in good shape, with precious metals like silver, gold, palladium, or platinum.”

Collectible items, or at least those that go up in value, need to be rare. A lot of the newer coins, much like baseball cards in the 80s and 90s, are produced at such a scale that they are easy to find. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!

Growth mindset >> fixed mindset

By now, the idea of growth mindset vs. fixed mindset is relatively well understood. More to the point, a growth mindset is better than a fixed mindset.

And you don’t even really need data to support this idea because it’s supported by their very definitions!

Growing is better than not growing.

All that being said, it’s still helpful to read reminders of this from time to time, including this one:

How a ‘growth mindset’ can lead to success [BBC] – “If they are to be believed, passion isn’t only essential for success. It’s essential for happiness.

It is only relatively recently, however, that psychologists have started to test these assumptions.”

3 Indicators of A Successful Early Retirement [Retire by 40] – “Retirement isn’t always an easy transition. After the initial honeymoon period, many retirees become bored, lonely, and even depressed. That’s understandable especially if you’ve worked your whole adult life and built your identity around a job. Work gives you structure, goals, social outlet, a sense of belonging, and income. On the other hand, retirement is totally unstructured. You have to define your own goals and figure out what to do with your time. This can be jarring if you aren’t prepared.”

How North Korean Hackers Rob Banks Around the World [Wired] – “They scored $80 million by tricking a network into routing funds to Sri Lanka and the Philippines and then using a ‘money mule’ to pick up the cash.” What do you do when the entity committing fraud is a foreign government?

To help you take your mind off current events and onto something you may have wondered but never read up on…

What’s the deal with airplane food? [Vox] – “Most passengers don’t question where their complimentary food came from or how it got to them, despite how little information is given about the meal selection and preparation process. Would anyone stuck 35,000 feet up in the air turn down free food? Not me.”

Yummy, right? 🙂

Where to Invest $1 Million Right Now

Every quarter, Bloomberg updates an article on how to invest $1,000. This last one was written on January 30th, 2020, and I am interested to what folks say at the end of this month!

Where to Invest $1 Million Right Now [Bloomberg] – “To help with that, our panel in this issue of our regular series for those with $1 million to spend, looks a little deeper at some green homes for your greenbacks. Is the answer blowing in the wind or swimming in the sea, and what exactly is the nexus between AI, blockchain and garbage? Read on.”

I’m sharing this so you can bookmark it and check on March 31st (or April 1st).

Nobody Told Me [Humble Dollar] – “I HAVE DEVOTED my entire adult life to learning about money. […] For more than three decades, I’ve spent my days perusing the business pages, reading finance books, scanning academic studies and talking to countless folks about their finances. Yet, despite this intense financial education, it took me a decade or more to learn many of life’s most important money lessons and, indeed, some key insights have only come to me in recent years. Here are 10 things I wish I’d been told in my 20s—or told more loudly, so I actually listened.”

Pandemics, Portfolios and Perspective [bps and pieces] – “Last week was one of the worst weeks in history for global stock markets, as the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outside of China began to worsen. The S&P 500 dropped over eleven percent for the week. There were three days that each saw declines of over three percent. Selling beget selling which beget even more selling. Investors looking for a bounce or buyable dip later in the week were met with utter disappointment.” It’s short so make sure you read to the end… it helps put the current epidemic in a little perspective.

Meet the Man Who Tracks Down Stolen Watches [GQ] – “Only 30 of Richard Mille’s RM-030 “Argentina” watches, with their juice box-sized cases and vibrant blue Laffy Taffy-like bands, exist in the world. On a late November night in 2017, one of them was yanked from the arm of its owner, carried at a sprint down a sidewalk, then swerved through London traffic on the back of a moped. Security footage later showed that two people had allegedly stalked the watch as it traveled, on its owner’s wrist, through London’s upscale department store Harrods. Eventually one of the men split off, presumably to get the moped stationed. When the watch’s owner stepped out onto the street with his wife and young daughter, the man still following him ran up, grabbed his arm, and made off with the $100,000 watch.”

Stay safe Apexian!

35 jobs that no longer exist.

Hey hey, Apexians. It’s the end of the week. Before you clock out, though, I’ve rounded up a final batch of great money stories to share with you. Let’s dive in.

Our first feature today isn’t an article — it’s a website. I recently discovered the uber-nerdy Spreadsheet Man and I’m in heaven. The site is just what it sounds like: A collection of spreadsheets, some of which are free, and some of which cost money. (Most of the good ones cost money.) My favorite part of the site, though, is the blog, which covers spreadsheet tips and tricks. Subscribed!

How and why you should dox yourself. [Slate] — “The best defense is to make it harder for abusers to track down your private information. That’s why newsrooms, including the New York Times, are starting to train their own journalists to dox themselves. Not literally, of course — I’m not talking about posting all your information on Twitter. Rather, put yourself in the position of someone trying to mine your personal information to attack you.” This is a useful article for anyone interested in online security.

How delivery apps eat up your budget. [The New York Times] — “When you order through a delivery app, you pay multiple parties, including the driver and the companies that offer the apps, like Uber Eats and Postmates. In some cases, you pay the restaurants extra fees as well. The markups can be downright egregious.”

How does it feel to get everything you ever wanted? [Ryan Holiday] — “So how does that feel? How does it feel to have everything you ever wanted in life? To have it earlier than you ever could have realistically expected? I can tell you: It feels like nothing. Hitting #1 on the bestseller list? Looking at a comfortable bank balance? Sitting across the table from some powerful person as they hang on your every word? Nothing.”

Last but not least, here’s a YouTube video from Mental Floss that looks at 35 jobs that no longer exist. Thimbleriggers! Dogwhippers! Herbstrewers! Haberdashers! Hey, wait. Haberdashers still exist. We have one here in Portland, and it’s awesome.

That’s all she wrote, folks. It’s time for me to head into the weekend. Jim will be back on Monday to share more great money stories from around the web. Until then, stay healthy and grow wealthy.