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Phone a friend

It’s hard to avoid the turmoil of the last few weeks, especially as we get closer and closer to Inauguration Day this Wednesday.

It can be really easy to fall into the trap of doomscrolling social media or constantly hitting refresh on news sites.

I implore you to do something else – check in on a loved one. See how they’re doing. If you feel like you’re constantly bombarded by negativity, do something positive for you and someone you care about.

Why You Should Monitor Your Parents’ Finances – And How To Do It [Cameron Huddleston] – “I started getting involved with my mom’s finances after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 65. It was a role I never expected I would have to take on. I had no choice, though, but to help her.

My mom was living on her own at the time of her diagnosis. So, I couldn’t sit by and let her declining memory lead her to financial ruin. In fact, it took a lot of oversight and careful planning to ensure she had enough money to cover the cost of her care as Alzheimer’s disease left her unable to care for herself.

Truth be told, I should have been paying more attention to my mom’s finances before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. As I learned, waiting for an emergency to get involved can be a mistake. And new research backs that up.”

The worst financial decisions I’ve made [The Twenty Percent] – “A lot of the time money bloggers seem to have all the answers and get it right all the time. But, that’s simply not true. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. To boost transparency and show we really are all in this together, I’ve decided to share some of the worst financial decisions I’ve made.” I made the list with my whoopsie!

Ivy Bells: A Spyhunter Series Story [Truly Adventurous] – “After plans for the most expensive covert operation in U.S. history are stolen, the future of the free world rests in the hands of two teens and a professional spy hunter.”

Reasons to be cheerful.

It’s Friday, my friends, which is usually a light-hearted day at Apex Money. But I’m not feeling light-hearted. My heart is heavy watching the deep divisions in the U.S. manifest themselves as violence.

On Facebook, I’ve been vocal about calling for my liberal friends to listen to conservatives. I’ve been vocal about calling for my conservative friends to let go of their crazy conspiracy theories. As you might expect, both sides think I’m nuts. Each side thinks that it holds the moral high ground while the other side is dead wrong. Both sides think that I’m a fool for trying to get people to talk to each other.

This is the way the world ends.

I’m not joking.

Fortunately, I think that most Americans want the country to survive. We don’t want revolution — not even those who support Trump. One of the things that gave me hope this week was Arnold Schwarznegger’s amazing (and spot-on) video response to the Capitol violence.

Here are some other things that give me hope…

Resources for taking care of your mental health and wealth. [Dear Debt] — “What we’ve gone through this week with the siege of the U.S. Capitol is traumatic and unsettling…I wish I had something amazing or profound to say to help us get through. But I don’t. What I do have are some tools and resources that may help you take care of yourself during these difficult times (and any time).”

1273 people share their best life lessons from 2020. [Mark Manson] — “A couple weeks ago, I reached out to my email list and asked, ‘What have been your biggest lessons from 2020?’ Over a thousand people replied…After spending the greater part of a week combing through the emails, some major themes emerged.”

112 bits of good news that kept us sane in 2020. [Reasons to Be Cheerful] — “You could be forgiven for thinking that 2020 was little more than a slow-motion train wreck broken up into 365 individual units..Yes, it was a most difficult year. But it was also a year of problems solved, hopes sustained and seemingly insurmountable challenges met.”

Why we can’t stop longing for the good ol’ days. [The Wall Street Journal, so possible paywall] — “When exactly were the good old days?…The most popular answer seemed to be the 1950s, so Mr. Feifer asked historians whether Americans in that decade thought it was particularly pleasant. Definitely not, they said. In the 1950s, American sociologists worried that rampant individualism was tearing the family apart. There were serious racial and class tensions, and everyone lived under the very real threat of instant nuclear annihilation.”

And that’s it for this week in money. We’ll be back on Monday. We hope you will too.

A brief history of consumer culture.

Today is Thursday, and you’re at Apex Money. I wish we could keep it Thursday for a few days. Maybe a few months. You know, like the movie Groundhog Day. I have some very real trepidation about this weekend — and next week. Can’t we just freeze time?

We cannot freeze time of course, so instead let’s dive into our money stories for today.

A brief history of consumer culture. [The MIT Press Reader] — “The notion of human beings as consumers first took shape before World War I, but became commonplace in America in the 1920s. Consumption is now frequently seen as our principal role in the world.”

Lazy: A manifesto. [Stay Strong] — “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice: It is an indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration.”

The more we can google, the less we know. [Real Life] — “Not-knowing, however uncomfortable or painful, is intrinsic to life. Science, art, religious practice, relationships with other people, attempts to understand politics or history: all arise from the kind of curiosity we ask Google to release us from. To the extent that it hides the unknown behind a scrim of facts, and encourages us to see the world’s plurality as something we can skim, Google also reduces our equipment for living.”

I really like today’s video feature. It’s so…nerdy. While watching a James Bond movie from 1985, Max Piantoni became fascinated by the spy’s computer (an Apple IIc). He wondered if he could learn to replicate in real life (and in 2020) what he saw on screen. So he set out to do it. Here are the results:

Like I say, it’s pure nerdery. But it’s fun nerdery.

Speaking of fun nerdery, I’ll be back tomorrow with one final installment of Apex Money for this week. Join me, won’t you?

Whatever happened to waterbeds?

Welcome to Wednesday, my friends. We’ve reached the middle of an especially long week. I don’t usually celebrate Wednesdays, but this feels like something to celebrate for once. Let’s do that by looking at some money stories.

What’s the secret to working quickly and productively? [Harvard Business Review] — Fascinating interview with Philippe Starck, a French product designer. “I am sort of a modern monk. My wife and I have a collection of cabins in the middle of nowhere, and we stay out of everything. We don’t go to dinners. We don’t go to cocktails. We don’t go to movies. We don’t watch TV. I don’t use my energy on other people. I just work and read.”

What hundreds of American public libraries owe to Andrew Carnegie’s disdain for inherited wealth. [The Conversation] — “Carnegie argued that handing large fortunes to the next generation wasted money, as it was unlikely that descendants would match the exceptional abilities that had created the wealth into which they were born. He also surmised that dynasties harm heirs by robbing their lives of purpose and meaning.”

Whatever happened to waterbeds? [Mental Floss] — “For kids and adults alike, waterbeds used to be the coolest—until suddenly they weren’t. After a heyday in the late 1980s in which nearly one out of every four mattresses sold was a waterbed mattress, the industry dried up in the 1990s, leaving behind a sense of unfilled promise and thousands upon thousands of unsold vinyl shells.”

Lastly, here’s a clever 4-1/2 minute mash-up of fifty years of music (51 years, actually). The always-awesome DJ Earworm has selected one song from every year between 1970 and 2020, then smushed them together into this video. It’s fun!

And that’s all I have for you today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more of the best in personal finance. Until then, take care…

Do you love me?

Ah, Tuesday. In January. It’s cold. It’s dark. Chaos consumes the world. But here at Apex, we have money links for you. Juicy, delicious money links. Let’s taste them, shall we?

How to teach kids about money, saving, and investing. [Refined by Fire] — In July, I heard Mr. Refined by Fire give a presentation on how he’s taught his children about money. I was impressed. His approach is smart and effective. Over the past several months, he’s been compiling his approach into a series of articles. This is the seventh of that series (and it links to previous pieces).

Keeping your medical records could save your life. [One Frugal Girl] — “If you’ve never experienced a major medical crisis, you’ve probably never thought or worried about your medical records. Before I got sick, I believed doctors quickly diagnosed patients, medical mistakes rarely happened, and medical professionals were the keepers of my medical history. Then I fell ill with a condition doctors couldn’t identify. The experience forever shattered my beliefs.”

“Why I’ve changed my mind on Bitcoin.” [Of Dollars and Data] — “Though I have changed my mind on Bitcoin, I haven’t necessarily changed my view on how one should invest in it. I believe that the only prudent way to invest in this asset class without any long-term negative repercussions is to hold no more than 2% of your portfolio in it.” [Related: what’s driving Bitcoin mania on Axios. The answer? Institutional investors, which means this time is different.]

You might have already seen today’s video. More than 25,000,000 have since it was released a couple of weeks ago! It’s a three-minute clip of the robots from Boston Dynamics dancing to “Do You Love Me” by The Contours. Wow.

Here in 2021, we have robots that can frickin’ dance, but we still have humans who refuse to get along with one another. What a world.

The truth about inflation.

Good morning, money nerds! Are you ready for another week? I am. And I’m hopeful that everyone will remain calm, cool, and collected. Please?

I’ve gathered some top recent stories about money and personal finance to share with you. Let’s dive in!

Today I’m leading with a story from my Apex partner, Jim. I like it.

What you should do with all of the financial advice on the internet. [Wallet Hacks] — “The internet makes financial information accessible to a lot more people, which is great. But it also comes from generally unknown sources which means you have to do your homework. As they say, you can’t believe everything you see on the internet.”

“How spending 13 minutes a day on self-care changed my life.” [Fabric] — “The term ‘self-care’ comes with so much baggage and has been hijacked by brands to try to sell us something. But if I’ve learned anything in therapy, it’s that if I’m not well, nothing in my life is. So I knew I had to do something to engage in self-care that was meaningful, easy and free.”

The truth about inflation truthers. [A Wealth of Common Sense] — “The government isn’t suppressing the ‘actual’ inflation number. And if they were, they would also be suppressing reported economic growth which is something no politician in their right mind would ever do. Inflation is a tricky concept to understand but that doesn’t mean you should listen to the inflation truthers.”

And on a related note (actually taken directly from that blog post), here’s a seven-minute video comparing life in 1973 with life today…and how today’s life is actually less expensive. It’s an interesting look at the changing cost of goods and services, and why it’s so difficult to compare the past with the present.

And that’s all I have for this Monday. I’ll be back tomorrow to share more fun money stories with you. See you then!

Subsidies aren’t always visible

The first article today is about Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, and talks about the wide world of travel “hacking” and travel loyalty points. It’s interesting on its own but the biggest piece in all this is that these programs create two side effects (quotes are from the article):

  • Airlines make a fortune off these points – “A major reason points-and-miles trips exist is because airlines turn a more stable profit by minting their own currencies than by selling actual airline seats.”
  • And people who use cash are subsidizing people who use rewards cards – “According to a 2010 policy paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the average cash-using household paid $149 over the course of a year to card-using households, while each card-using household received $1,133 from cash users, partially in the form of rewards. It remains a regressive transfer to this day.”

Users of cash are paying more because of these programs – they, in effect, are subsidizing the programs. And people who use cash are often poorer than those who have better credit and can get these more valuable cards.

The Man Who Turned Credit-Card Points Into an Empire [New York Times] – “Brian Kelly, The Points Guy, has created an empire dedicated to maximizing credit-card rewards and airline miles. What are they worth in a global pandemic — and why are they worth anything at all?”

My Cost of Mindlessness: A $500 Insurance Deductible [Budget Life List] – “As I am speedily exiting our driveway, I am jolted from my mindless reverie as I smash into my neighbor’s parked pickup. I feel blood drain from my face as I hear the backup camera screaming at me.

What a way to meet my new neighbors.” The importance, and practice, of being present cannot be overstated.

Money Laundering Via Author Impersonation on Amazon? [Krebs on Security] – “Patrick Reames had no idea why Amazon.com sent him a 1099 form saying he’d made almost $24,000 selling books via Createspace, the company’s on-demand publishing arm. That is, until he searched the site for his name and discovered someone has been using it to peddle a $555 book that’s full of nothing but gibberish.”

This next story is one I’ve read before, it follows Michael Larson and his epic run (he won over $110k) on Press Your Luck, but it also includes what happened after he left the show. Be warned, and you probably expect this, it’s sad.

Who Wants To Be a Thousandaire? [Damn Interesting] – “Larson was not allowed to return as champion since he had surpassed CBS’s $25k winnings limit. As all of the perplexed parties parted ways, CBS executives were called to a meeting to dissect the episode frame-by-frame. In spite of their efforts they could find no evidence of wrongdoing or rule-breaking, so after a few weeks they grudgingly mailed Larson his check. Some people at CBS didn’t want the over-extended episode to be released to the public at all, but it was ultimately decided to air it in June as an awkwardly edited two-parter.”

How to Set Money Goals for 2021

I’ve known Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez for several years and I found her latest post on setting goals for 2021 to be especially valuable given her 2020. She lived in New York City last year and her business was shut down for 7 months. Her husband was out of work for 10 months (he’s a stagehand on Broadway).

Oh, and this was right after they got back from their honeymoon in New Zealand.

So if there’s anyone who is at the intersection of “smart with money” and “severely impacted by the pandemic,” it’s Stefanie.

How to Set Money Goals for 2021 [Stefanie O’Connell] – “While I may not know when my husband will return to work, or whether my business will continue it’s post-lockdown recovery, or when we’ll be able to return to our life in Manhattan, I’m setting resolutions for 2021 as a practice of financial optimism.

Research shows that optimism pays – literally. Optimists are more likely to have an emergency fund, to enjoy greater career gains and higher incomes, and to experience less financial stress.”

How Billionaires See Themselves [Current Affairs] – “… if there is a central recurring theme to billionaire literature, it is this: an insistence that what has made the billionaire rich is helping other people rather than helping themselves. The billionaire wants to explain to us that what might look like the steady hoarding of wealth and a feudalistic imbalance of power is, in fact, the product of defensible moral choices and a fair system.” So many good nuggets in this one – even if it is a wee bit cynical (and long). 🙂

A Massive Fraud Operation Stole Millions From Online Bank Accounts [Wired] – “Researches from IBM Trusteer say they’ve uncovered a massive fraud operation that used a network of mobile device emulators to drain millions of dollars from online bank accounts in a matter of days.”

This one has nothing to do with money but I found it so fascinating I had to share it with you:

How the placenta evolved from an ancient virus [WHYY] – “Viruses such as HIV have been infecting vertebrates for probably a couple hundred million years, according to Chuong. So, according to evolutionary biologists, once upon a time some retrovirus infected an egg-laying vertebrate. And by chance, that virus settled into that animal’s egg cells. And it just so happened that that particular infected egg met a nice sperm and got fertilized. The baby that was hatched — whatever kind of protomammal it was — now had copies of that virus’ DNA in all its cells. This virus didn’t kill the baby — if it had, we wouldn’t be sitting here as humans telling this story. What it did was give this offspring a premium feature.”

Reading that was like reading about how there were once 9 different species of “human beings” – homo sapiens, homo neanderthalensis, Denisovans, etc.

I try to be “directionally correct”

When it comes to goals, I don’t set them. I know folks who set concrete goals (SMART!) and that works very well for them.

Personally, I like to set directional “sign posts.” These are things I hope to accomplish sometime in the next few years. They’re not necessarily goals, in the traditional sense (they fail the T in SMART), and they can move as I see fit. The way I think of them in my head is that “I want to go in this direction at a relatively quick speed.”

When I read this article by Darius Foroux, I was struck how I basically create his version of a 5-year plan, except I don’t think of it as a five year plan. I also don’t focus on the sign posts themselves and focus more on my output towards that sign post:

The Life Plan: How To Plan Your Days, Months, and Years [Darius Foroux] – “We have so many opportunities and shiny things that grab our attention that we’re likely to get paralyzed by indecision. So many of us just wander around without a clear purpose. With planning, you can avoid that type of time-wasting and aimlessness.”

Inside the Surprisingly Big Business of Spotify’s Secretive White-Noise Spammers [OneZero] – “Primarily through a shell label called Peak Records, Ameritz fuels hundreds of generically named Spotify artist pages, such as White Noise Baby Sleep and Relaxing Music Therapy, with literal static. There appears to be a real appetite on the platform for music to play while you fall asleep, with some of these artist pages reaching hundreds of thousands to millions of streams every day, according to data viewed by OneZero via Spotify for Artists. With Spotify paying around a third of a penny per stream, revenue from few of these top accounts can be comfortably estimated at upwards of $1 million per year, each.” Only a matter of time before Spotify cracks down and removes these – not sure why these people are agreed to get interviewed though!

10 Best Money Tips for 2021 From the Experts [Smart Money Mamas] – “When it comes to running a profitable business, most people think that if you make more things, you make more money. Not so. The million dollar business owners do one thing really well.” (that tip comes from Dana Malstaff of Boss-Mom and I love it.

Incidentally, “directionally correct” refers to a business consultant term that means “let’s not quibble over the details, this is roughly correct.”

100 Tips For A Better Life

A fun, and accurate, list that’s quick to go through and worth the time.

100 Tips For A Better Life [ideopunk] – “4. “Where is the good knife?” If you’re looking for your good X, you have bad Xs. Throw those out.” Lots of good gems in this one.

We all make mistakes but we don’t all recognize them and this is an honest introspection that everyone should be doing:

A Reflection on my 2020 Financial Mistakes [Thrifty Hustler] – “2020 is a rollercoaster ride for me as I have mentioned in my 2020 Year End Blog Post. The first quarter was awesome and then it went downhill from there and then it sort of picked itself up before the year ended. Even though my perspective of 2020 is on the optimistic side, mainly because of the growth of this blog that I’m really really surprised to see, my financials were not doing that great.”

A little look back, now a little look forward:

My Top Money Moves For 2021 [Banker on FIRE] – “Thus, as boring as it may sound, my biggest focus area for 2021 by far is to continue doing well at work.” Not something you see often from folks writing about early retirement, focusing on doing more at work today.

Anti-New Year’s Resolution: 21 Things You Need to Try in 2021 [Money Life Wax] – ” No doubt, 2021 will be the year you finally stick to your New Year Resolutions. You are going to make it happen. There will be no turning back and you will finally hit all of your goals!

The last 15 years are behind you… you mean business! But then, something happens… in what seems like in instant, February 1st rolls around and you have already resorted to looking towards 2021!

So what if instead of adopting a million goals for 2021, you joined the “Anti-New’s Year Resolution” movement and focused on things to try in 2021?”

I love the idea of Anti-resolution. 🙂