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“What I learned in 2021.”

Let’s end our week with something fun! Every year, Tom Whitwell shares a year-end list of “52 things I learned in 20xx”. On Wednesday, he released his 52 things I learned in 2021 list.

You should definitely go check that list out when you have time, because there’s some interesting stuff there. But for the time-crunched among you, I’ve collected a few of my favorite pieces to share in today’s installment of Apex Money.

China’s ‘lipstick brother’ livestream has record $2 billion day. [BNN Bloomberg] — “China’s Li Jiaqi, a top livestream salesman widely known as the ‘lipstick brother’, sold $1.9 billion in goods on the first day of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s annual shopping festival, as the country’s consumers splash out despite an economic slowdown.”

South African students are selling school wi-fi passwords for lunch money. [Rest of World] — “In theory, Wi-Fi at schools across South Africa, like at Thabo’s, is meant for students and their teachers. But many from the poor households dotted around schools feel the free Wi-Fi offered to students should be opened up for households too. While household poverty in South Africa’s townships encourages students like Thabo to leak Wi-Fi passwords for cash, on the other end of the transaction is a desperate need for cheap internet access.”

Daughters, managerial decisions, and gender inequality. [Maddalena Ronchi] — “We find that women’s relative earnings and employment increase by 4.4% and 2.9% respectively following the birth of the manager’s first daughter. These effects are driven by an increase in managers’ propensity to replace male workers by hiring women with comparable education, hours worked, and earnings. In line with managers’ ability to substitute men with comparable women, we do not detect any significant effect on firm performance.”

The differential impact of major life events on cognitive and affective wellbeing. [SSM – Population Health] — “We evaluated the individual and conditional impact of eighteen major life-events, and compared their effects on affective and cognitive wellbeing…Several commonly cited events had little, if any, independent effect on wellbeing (promotion, being fired, friends passing), whilst others had profound impacts regardless of co-occurring events (e.g., financial loss, death of partner, childbirth). No life events had overall positive effects on both types of wellbeing, but separation, injury/illnesses and monetary losses caused negative impacts on both, which did not display hedonic adaptation.”

And to close things out for the week? Well, here’s a fun McDonald’s training video from 1970. I love it.

I worked at McDonald’s during my junior year of high school. People think I’m joking when I say this but I’m not: That McDonald’s gig was probably my favorite job I ever had. We were a good crew, and we had a good manager. We were good, and we knew it. We took pride in doing well, and our store was the top McDonald’s in the state. Ah, good memories.

Okay, that’s it for now. Jim will be back next week — assuming he’s home from his Bahamas vacation. I’ll have more fun stuff for you in ten days. Take care!

Always ask for what you want.

Good morning, friends, and welcome to another beautiful day.

Today, we have a couple of stories about TikTok influencers. I loathe TikTok with a fiery burning passion. I believe it typifies everything that’s wrong with communication and relationships today, and yes I know that makes me sound like an old man haha. Still, it’s interesting to read about folks who are doing cool stuff with the platform.

How an Excel influencer on TikTok manifested her way to making six figures a day. [The Verge] — “Kat Norton is a Microsoft Excel influencer. She has over a million followers on TikTok and Instagram, where she goes by the name Miss Excel, and she’s leveraged that into a software training business that is now generating up to six figures of revenue a day. That’s six figures a day. And she’s only been doing this since June 2020.”

Our second TikTok story is a “bonus” link since it’s from The New York Times (so may be behind a paywall for you) and isn’t really money related…

Performance artist becomes TikTok phenom because of 2007 Starburst commercial. [The New York Times] — “In 2007, the performance artist Jack Ferver appeared in a cunningly strange commercial for Berries and Cream Starburst candy, playing a ‘Little Lad’ in antique garb who sang and danced about his love for berries and cream…Fourteen years and many iterations of social media culture later, the podcaster and comedian Justin McElroy uploaded a clip of the ‘berries and cream’ song and dance to TikTok, where mining 2000s nostalgia had become a trope.”

And now on to our NON-TikTok stories…

Why women may be better investors than men. [The New York Times, so possible paywall] — “Heroes or villains, winners or losers, real or imagined, our iconic investors are very, very male. But that’s a mistake — because it turns out that women are often better at investing. Fidelity offered up the latest evidence this month: Over a 10-year period, its female customers earned, on average, 0.4 percentage points more annually than their male counterparts. That may not seem like a lot, but over a few decades it can add up to tens of thousands of dollars or more.” [See also: Fidelity’s 2021 Women and Investing Study]

Always ask for what you want. [Chris Guillebeau] — “The right kind of risks are asymmetrical, which means that the potential reward far outweighs the potential loss. If you’re looking for a way to level-up your life, start taking more of these risks. You can do so right now, today, by identifying disproportionate opportunities in your life. The easiest asymmetrical risk you can take is to simply go through life asking for what you want.”

Okay, that’s all I have for you. I’ll be back tomorrow to see you into the weekend. Ciao!

Smart year-end tax moves to make now.

Welcome to Wednesday, my nerds, and welcome to a handful of money stories from other corners of the web. Let’s dive right in.

The best damn food and drink guide (2021). [SparkToro] — “Welcome back to the best edible, potable guide to gift-giving the Internet has to offer. Like last year, we’ve assembled a lengthy list of food and beverage gifts from around the web. And, like last year, we have absolutely no ulterior motive. None of these links have affiliate codes, there’s no kickbacks, we’re just sharing products we (and people and our networks) have loved so you can spread consumable joy whenever gifts are called for.”

Smart year-end tax moves to make now. [AARP] — “As 2021 nears an end, you can use strategies that will greatly benefit you when you file your taxes next year. Notice that I said ‘benefit you’, rather than ‘reduce your taxes’, because the goal is to make more money after taxes. Here are a few ideas to consider, along with some caveats.”

What’s a safe retirement spending rate for the decades ahead? [Morningstar] — “Given current conditions, retirees will likely have to reconsider at least some aspects of how they define their ‘safe’ withdrawal rate to make their assets last. Our research finds that retirees can take a higher starting withdrawal rate and higher lifetime withdrawals by being willing to adjust some of these variables — tolerating a lower success rate or forgoing complete inflation adjustments, for example.”

To wrap things up today, here’s a video I shared at Get Rich Slowly yesterday. It’s a long one. It’s a 103-minute look at how the lines work in Disney theme parks.

Perhaps that sounds boring to you. I was interested enough to give it a go, then eventually watched the whole damn thing. There’s more to this subject than you might expect.

And that’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more great links for you. Come back to see them!

Wise words on investor behavior.

Today is Tuesday, and you’re a money boss. Because you’re a money boss, you’ve made your way to Apex Money. It’s here you’ll find fresh new money links every weekday. Let’s look at what I’ve gathered for you today.

Wise words on investor behavior. [Novel Investor] — “When it comes to investing, it’s often what you don’t do that matters most. The best example of this is misbehavior. Unfortunately, not nearly enough investors see it that way. And why should we? We’re bogged down with messages about owning the right investments for today’s environment. Which leads to market timing and forecasts. Two things were terrible at, by the way.”

The long game always wins. [Financial Panther] — “There’s an interesting truth that I think applies to everyone. If you give yourself enough time, you can achieve almost anything. As simple as that sounds though, the reality isn’t so simple. For many of us, time is a luxury we don’t have. Sometimes, it’s on us. We lack patience and we want things to happen fast. And when they don’t happen fast, we give up. We live in a world built on instant gratification.”

Advertising invades your dreams. [Aeon] — “Advertisers have begun invading our sleep in an attempt to place their products in our dreams. This is neither metaphor nor fiction; it’s a fact. The night before Super Bowl LV, the beverage company Molson Coors ran what they called the ‘world’s largest dream study’. They explicitly aimed to place images of Coors beer, along with positive imagery (of refreshing alpine rivers, for instance), into dreamers’ minds.”

Let’s close things out with one non-financial story. It’s a New York Times profile of one of my favorite filmmakers, Hayao Miyazaki.

Hayao Miyazaki prepares to cast one last spell. [The New York Times] — “Miyazaki’s heroines outnumber his heroes. Within the world of anime, these characters are called shojo, girls of an in-between age, no longer quite children and not yet women; but where shojo were typically passive figures subject to romance narratives, Miyazaki’s girls display formidable know-how and independence. They take on jobs, organize households, fight battles and rescue boys from near death — all matter-of-factly, without ever trumpeting notions of girl power.”

Miyazaki’s films are magical. I’ve been a fan since 1997, when my best friend Sparky first dragged me to a screening of Princess Mononoke. I was blown away. If you’re unfamiliar with this Japanese genius, here’s a six-minute YouTube video that collects highlights of his work.

That’s it for today! See you all tomorrow…

How to plan for a No-Buy Year.

Hey hey, Apexians. Welcome to another week in the wacky world of personal finance!

I’ve mentioned before that One Frugal Girl is one of my favorite money blogs. Jewels has been sharing thoughtful, interesting articles for almost a decade now. Lately, she’s been on fire. I want to share every article she writes with you, but I’ve been exercising restraint.

Anyhow, today we’ll lead with just one of her recent articles…

“Did limiting beliefs about money make me a millionaire?” [One Frugal Girl] — “I’ve reflected on that memory many times in my life, and every time I’ve viewed it through the eyes of a child. Every time, until I watched the little girl and her father. As I watched that father struggle with the financial decision to buy his daughter a flute, I thought about the mental hurdles involved in contemplating his options. Should he disappoint his child or go into debt to pay for a flute he couldn’t afford?”

A detailed guide to a No-Buy Year. [Becoming Minimalist] — “With the new year approaching, it’s the perfect time to think about adopting a no-buy year challenge. Let me offer you the benefits of a no-buy year, the challenge rules, and necessary preparation. Plus, eight examples of people who attempted a no-spend year just to encourage you.”

Debunking worthless online security practices. [Ars Technica] — “Many security and privacy practices are things learned second- or third-hand, based on ancient tomes or stuff we’ve seen on TV—or they are the result of learning the wrong lessons from a personal experience. I call these things ‘cyber folk medicine’. And over the past few years, I’ve found myself trying to undo these habits in friends, family, and random members of the public.”

That’s it for this last Monday in November. I’ll be back tomorrow with more juicy links. Come back for a taste!

Thank you!

With the Thanksgiving holiday weekend coming up, this will be the last Apex Money until next Monday, when J.D. takes back the mantle. I just wanted to quickly say Thank you for being a reader and subscriber, we both enjoy sharing these articles with you and hope you enjoy reading them!

Onto a few gems for today:

Avoiding Stupidity is Easier than Seeking Brilliance [Farnam Street] – “We often focus on trying to be brilliant, yet many great people get far more mileage out of avoiding making stupid mistakes. Amateurs win the game when their opponent loses points, experts win the game by gaining points.” Anyone who has played chess or golf inherently knows this. In chess, you want to avoid blunders. In golf, it’s bad shots. Avoid those and you’ll be in great shape!

How to Invest Without Knowing the Future [Compound Advisors] – “In fact, admitting that you don’t know where the markets are going is often the best thing you can do as investor. Why? Because it will lead you to diversify your portfolio and prepare it for the many possible outcomes that may arise. What are some of those potential outcomes that might come as a surprise to market participants? I can think of a few today that stand out…”

The Cantillon Effect: How the Rich Get Richer [The Curiosity Chronicle] – “The Cantillon Effect is an economic concept on the distributional consequences of new money creation created by Irish-French economist and philosopher Richard Cantillon in a 1755 paper. In simple terms, the Cantillon Effect says that the flow path of new money matters—those closest to the source and entry point of the new money benefit first and most handsomely. The robust monetary and fiscal response to COVID-19—and a surging wealth inequality problem—has re-ignited the discussion over the distributional consequences of the crisis response and thrown the Cantillon Effect back into the mainstream lexicon.”

Finally, this last one has nothing to do with money but I found this New Yorker documentary entertaining. How does the Stockholm Boys’ Choir handle their performers going through puberty (and their voices crack)?

Have a good holiday!


Many people have heard of bitcoin, ethereum, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies.

Fewer people have heard of blockchain, DeFi, and DAOs. (maybe more after this past week and ConstitutionDAO)

I’m not particularly Web3 savvy myself in terms of hands on experience but I think it’s important that everyone understand the concepts behind Web3. It’s for sure here to stay and you’ll want to be closer to the leading edge of it.

What Is Web 3.0 & Why It Matters [Fabric Ventures] – “Web 3.0 enables a future where distributed users and machines are able to interact with data, value and other counterparties via a substrate of peer-to-peer networks without the need for third parties. The result: a composable human-centric & privacy preserving computing fabric for the next wave of the web.”

Everything You Need to Know About DAOs… You Learned in Elementary School [Sarah Wood] – “If you’re reading about DAOs, you’ve likely come across crypto jargon like wallet, tokens, governance, proposals, off-chain, on-chain, among other confusing terms. This inaccessible language could make you feel like you don’t belong in the conversation. I know it did for me. The good news is that we actually already know much more about DAOs than we ever imagined.”

10 Lessons from 5 Years of Investing in Crypto [Mr Stingy] – “I can’t guarantee you’ll make money in crypto, but I can guarantee you’ll learn amazing things by experiencing it for yourself. In fact, if you invest enough time in the space, your biggest challenge might not be making money — it might be about crypto taking over your life. Because crypto trades 24/7 and moves so fast, you might end up with unhealthy habits. I’ve been playing around with NFT mints recently so I’ve occasionally had to wake up at 4 a.m. I’ve read too many horror stories of people burning out. Your relationships might also suffer, especially if you’re neglecting face time with loved ones. What good is all the money in the world if you don’t have anyone to share it with?”

How Four NFT Novices Created a Billion-Dollar Ecosystem of Cartoon Apes [Rolling Stone] – “Bored Ape Yacht Club became internet rock stars by making NFTs of grungy simians that aren’t just viral images — they’re tickets to a whole new lifestyle.”

Too ambitious

Ambition is defined as “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.”

But sometimes you share your ambitions with people and they say that you’re “too ambitious,” as if that’s a good thing. This can be especially hard to hear when you’re in your younger formative years and when you hear it from people who are older or that you look up to.

Why I Learned to Keep My Ambitions to Myself [Too Ambitious] – “Ambition is a way of taking yourself seriously, a way of being generous with yourself. Which, if you’re anything like me, is not easy to do. Women are conditioned to tone down their accomplishments and be modest about their aspirations. Ambition also makes people deeply uncomfortable. Which is why, for better or worse, I’ve learned to keep my ambition to myself.”

The vulnerability of being broke (even temporarily) [I Pick Up Pennies] – “This month, the last week was nerve-wracking, as I watched my bank balance drop lower and lower, knowing my check was days away. Then as I started scraping the bottom of the bank balance barrel, checking the mail every day and not finding my check. Every new expense that came up made me more tense. And I despaired as purchases I’d already been putting off from earlier in the month could no longer be put off. I’d stress out each time I bought something I couldn’t pay for immediately.”

Why thieves love to steal catalytic converters [The Hustle] – “Catalytic converter theft has always been a problem. But in the past few years, reported incidents have skyrocketed by more than 11x. Auto repair shops that used to see 2-3 of these thefts every month are now seeing as many as 6-8 per day.” Many years ago, I’d heard about people stealing catalytic converters but I had no idea they were worth this much!

Are cryptocurrency and NFTs a scam? [Bonus Saturday edition!]

Hey, look! It’s a bonus day here at Apex Money.

Generally speaking, Jim and I only publish on weekdays. Today, however, I have a collection of stuff that I feel is worth sharing, but for which I didn’t want to devote a regular Apex installment. So, I’m posting on Saturday.

Astute readers may have noticed that Jim and I have different views of cryptocurrency. He and I have never discussed it, but my impression is that he’s cautiously optimistic and/or intrigued by the technology. Me? I’m pretty pessimistic. It doesn’t feel like the future to me. It feels like a scam.

Obviously, I could be wrong. Time will tell.

Anyhow, I recently read a series of l-o-n-g articles that explore flaws with cryptocurrency (and the related non-fungible tokens). These pieces are interesting and well-worth reading, but I felt like I didn’t want to waste a regular Apex Money installment on them. Thus the weekend edition.

Let’s start with this 21-minute YouTube video from Slidebean that explains how Bitcoin (and the blockchain) works.

And now let’s take a look at this handful of articles that explore real-world reasons that crypto and, especially, NFTs are, well, sort of a scam.

Why NFTs are bad: The long version. [Antsstyle] — “This long article explains technical and economic details to explain both why NFTs are bad, why they don’t work (they don’t do what they claim to do), and explains the hype surrounding them.”

NFT joke

“A lot of people are asking me to make NFT games but I won’t because I’m not an idiot.” [Doc Burford on Medium] — “If crypto’s strength is that there are no banks, no central authority, then you can’t also want a central authority to intervene when someone breaks the rules. You can only have one or the other. You cannot have the government, who you destabilized with monopoly money, intervene (with what budget? you ruined their currency somehow!) whenever your monopoly money is in jeopardy.”

A consistent mistake that cryptobros make. [Doc Burford’s follow-up to his previous article] — “The whole culture would have to change to make your technology work. And that almost never happens unless the use case is simple, intuitive, and the benefits are tangible. Refrigeration made sense to people because it made storing food easier. Cellphones made sense because suddenly you were reachable anywhere and you could play snake. The blockchain? You keep shouting ‘you don’t understand it’ at everyone who tells you it sucks because either they’re smarter than you and understand it sucks, or they don’t understand what it’s used for because it’s a bad technology that isn’t simple and intuitive enough to work.”

Now, I realize that many, many people disagree with me and with these articles. You might be one of those people. And I get it. Like I say, I could very well be wrong. But at this point, I don’t think I am.

Does this mean that I don’t have money in crypto? For the moment, yes. I may indeed put some of my cash there, but if I do I’m not going to delude myself that it’s an investment. Because it’s not. It’d be me deliberately trying to take part in this pyramid scheme and hoping that I’m not one of those left holding the bag

[Important note: Comments are open for this particular article.]

Where Americans find meaning in life.

Hello, money bosses, and welcome to the Friday edition of Apex Money. Today, as I sometimes do, I want to lead with our non-money video.

You see, last night Kim introduced me to a Netflix series called “7 Days Out”. Each episode documents the final week leading up to some big event: the Kentucky Derby, the Westminster Dog Show, etc. Here’s a trailer for the series.

The episode we watched last night was about the renovation and re-opening of Eleven Madison Park, the world’s best restaurant.

My friends, I am here to tell you that this was an amazing 48 minutes of television. It is mind-blowing to watch all of these people — people at the top of their game — and their incredible attention to both detail and quality. I enjoyed this so much (and found it so inspiring) that I’m eager to watch every other episode in the series.

Check it out.

Okay, here are the final few money links for this week. Enjoy!

Experts from a world that no longer exists. [Collaborative Fund] — “Most things evolve, and evolve faster than people’s beliefs. It’s a tricky thing that leads to a long history of older generations whose success came from understanding the new rules of their era not recognizing that the rules may have changed again.” [J.D.’s note: This articulates something I’ve noticed as I’ve entered my fifties. I used to be progressive. But now the world has progressed beyond me — and that makes me feel very, very old.]

Where Americans find meaning in life. [Pew Research Center] — “Fewer Americans now mention finances, jobs or travel as a source of meaning in life than in 2017. The share of U.S. adults who bring up their material well-being – including references to feeling safe, secure, able to cover the basics, living comfortably or being well-off – has dropped from 29% to 18% over the past four years. This decline has been concentrated among two groups in particular: married adults and White Americans. In 2017, both groups were among the most likely to point to material well-being as a source of meaning.”

Ten 5-minute money actions to help your finances. [Becoming Minimalist] — “You’re not going to change your entire financial situation in one afternoon. Making changes in how you spend, save, earn, and give takes time and discipline. But you can make small positive changes in just a few minutes. And those small changes pile up—especially when we do them repeatedly.”

Lastly, over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend about how much I loathe companies like The New York Times, which will allow you to subscribe via the web but which subject you to a stupid, stupid phone-based customer-retention process in order to cancel. “That ought to be illegal,” I said. Turns out, now it is. The FTC is cracking down on this sort of bullshit. Thank god. But what puzzles me most is why a company like NYT, which generally has a good reputation, would think that it’s okay do behave like this in the first place.

That’s all I have. Jim will be back on Monday to take you into Thanksgiving. See you soon!