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Author: J.D. Roth

The most overrated concepts in personal finance.

At this point, I’m mostly retired. I officially stopped blogging about money nearly a year ago. I do update my personal blog from time to time, but not on any regular schedule. The only “work” I do on a regular basis is this: sharing interesting stories at Apex Money.

I’ve been wondering recently how much time I spend on this site. It’s not much, I know, but it’s not nothing either. So, this week I timed my Apex hours to quantify the work I’m doing. The result? I spent exactly three hours working on Apex this week. Not bad for a retirement hobby.

Let’s take a look at what those three hours of reading/watching yielded for you today:

How to stop catastrophizing. [Vox] — “Catastrophizing is a common thought pattern where you assume the worst possible scenario…Climbing out of the spiral that is catastrophic thinking requires both in-the-moment grounding techniques and big-picture reframing. Focusing on the reality of a situation — and not the story you’re telling yourself — can help blunt the anxiety of catastrophizing, experts say. Here are more therapist-approved tactics to help you avoid catastrophic thinking.” [I feel as if the entirety of U.S. society has become one extended exercise in catastrophic thinking. It’s so dumb.]

The most overrated concepts in personal finance. [Of Dollars and Data] — “In the world of personal finance, we are constantly bombarded with messages about the ‘one thing’ that could significantly improve our financial lives. Whether it be a particular kind of investment, a novel mindset, or the latest money-saving technique, there’s no shortage of ideas on how to get ahead. Unfortunately, while many of these ideas are great in theory, they tend to not measure up in practice.”

Our complicated relationship with Stuff. [The Root of All] — “Material objects allow us to explore not just space but also time, even fueling nostalgia for a past we’ve never experienced through collections of vintage cameras, records or typewriters. Moreover, certain possessions mark life’s milestones, such as your first car, home, or stroller. Whether right or wrong, these items have become modern rites of passage. In essence, our belongings make the abstract tangible, serving as anchors to our past lives or stepping stones toward our future aspirations.”

Our final “bonus video” of the week isn’t a single clip. No, it’s an entire YouTube channel! Here’s the home of Ron Calverley, a typical (?) older Canadian gentleman.

Why is this channel remarkable? Because for the past several years, every day Ron has documented his progress building model ships. Here, from five years ago, is the first day of Ron’s model-building series.

It wasn’t until episode 31 of this series that Ron acquired the model ship he intended to build!

It took Ron over a year to build his ship. Here, in episode 474, he gives a tour of the completed project.

And here’s a recent installment (part 1894!) in which Ron continues to build models.

There’s something tremendously comforting about Ron and his videos. It feels like hanging out with my father (who died thirty years ago) or his brother.

Anyhow, I’ve subscribed to this channel now, and I’m perfectly happy to play this in the background while I do other things. It’s homey.

That’s all I have for you this week. Jim will return on Monday, and I’ll see you in ten days. Adios!

How to afford a house these days.

Today is Thursday, my friends, and this is Apex Money. As it always is. And as we always do, Jim and I have gathered some stories to share with you, stories about money (and more). Here they are:

The six spheres of life. [The Honest Broker] — “I set out the laws I want to live by. It doesn’t mean I always succeed—in fact, I frequently fall short. But, when that happens, I need to be the sheriff of my six spheres. I’m the only person who can fix things, and return to the right course.” [I think this is a great article. I enjoy learning how others construct their world views.]

How to afford a house these days. [Mr. Money Mustache] — “The solution to this is the same as most other problems: to stop thinking in the way our culture likes to train us (as a victim of outside forces beyond our control) and go back to thinking like a Mustachian. Houses are just like any other manufactured product, and as such they come at a wide variety of prices, subject to supply and demand. And just because you happen to live in a certain place (even if you were born and raised there), doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be able to afford to buy a house there.”

Is F.I.R.E. really a movement? [rich & REGULAR] — “FIRE may not be a political movement, but it is a political statement. It shows a strong desire for autonomy and a willingness to take matters into our own hands. It’s a lifestyle choice that defies the norm by opting out of the typical template of a lifetime of work, retirement, and reliance on a depleted Social Security system. There are plenty of people in our community who plan to work as long as possible, their freedom comes from their ability to show up knowing it’s a choice and not a mandate.” [I think this is a great article too, and I especially like how it frames FIRE as deliberate rejection of societal norms.]

Lastly, here’s a short (three-minute) video from 1930 (ostensibly — looks a bit later to me) in which a man born in 1967 describes what it was like to work during the 1880s.

Unlike most videos I post here, this has some personal-finance chatter in it, especially about wages. Also, the fellow talks about “retiring under the old-age pension scheme”. If he means Social Security, then that places this video after 1935. That seems more likely than 1930. (See? Remember how yesterday I talked about the way I notice errors in movies and TV? This is a prime example of that. The claimed date of 1930 just doesn’t work for a number of reasons. But 1936ish? Yes, that works.)

Okay, that’s it for today. See you all tomorrow!

The acceleration of addictiveness.

Welcome to Wednesday, Apexians. Today’s stories are especially interesting, and I encourage you to read each of them. (They’re all short.) Take a gander, eh?

The acceleration of addictiveness. [Paul Graham] — “Unless the rate at which social antibodies evolve can increase to match the accelerating rate at which technological progress throws off new addictions, we’ll be increasingly unable to rely on customs to protect us…Most people I know have problems with Internet addiction. We’re all trying to figure out our own customs for getting free of it. That’s why I don’t have an iPhone, for example; the last thing I want is for the Internet to follow me out into the world.” [A 14-year-old essay that seems even more relevant today than it did in 2010.]

“How I used the 4% rule over the past 29 years.” [The Retire Early Home Page, via Rob Berger] — “I’ve had confidence over the years in the long-term stock market return data and just maintained my asset allocation through thick and thin. I don’t time the market. Stocks go up and down, but the money you lose to financial advisor fees, commissions, trading costs, and taxes is gone forever.” [From (one of?) the first-ever early retirement site on the interwebs. Still rockin’ the old-school 1994 aesthetic. I love it.]

“I cancelled Amazon Prime, and you probably can too.” [Big Technology, also via Rob Berger] — “Last June, on a whim, I canceled Amazon Prime…I planned to return to Prime soon after canceling, but then never did. At first, I figured I’d wait to pay its $139 annual fee until I had something to buy or watch. But within a few months, I realized I didn’t need it.” [As I’ve mentioned before, I hate what the internet has become. Modern Google and modern Amazon are the two worst offenders. I’m mostly out of the Google ecosystem now, and leaving Amazon is my next project.]

So, here’s a “fun fact” about me: I notice many of the little details that are off in movies and TV shows. And these things bug the hell out of me. I notice when the level of somebody’s drink jumps around from full to empty to full again. I notice when the time on the clock is inconsistent, or when the “summer” leaves are all falling colorfully to the ground.

But I didn’t know until today that this quirk of mine is actually a job in the film industry. Apparently, I’d make a good script supervisor.

The script supervisor is the person responsible for catching continuity errors, for thinking like the J.D.s of the world.

Maybe I’ll move to Hollywood to hire out my services.

For now, though, I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of Apex Money.

“How I got scammed”

Here’s the thing about cyber security: Even smart people can get scammed. Even when you know what to watch for and how to prevent problems, you can be taken advantage of. All it takes is a momentary loss of vigilance. Our first story today is a prime example.

“How I got scammed.” [Pluralistic] — “Goddammit. The thing is, I know a lot about fraud. I’m writing an entire series of novels about this kind of scam. And most summers, I go to Defcon, and I always go to the ‘social engineering’ competitions where an audience listens as a hacker in a soundproof booth cold-calls merchants (with the owner’s permission) and tries to con whoever answers the phone into giving up important information. But I’d been conned.”

Everyone’s a sellout now. [Vox] — “The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from nine-to-five middle managers to astronauts to house cleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s ‘building a platform’.”

The mind-boggling reach of Super Bowl commercials. [Stat Significant] — “Super Bowl ads have become an object of cultural celebration, with a reach that greatly surpasses most movies and TV shows. Consider the collective hours spent viewing a single year’s Super Bowl commercials. Assuming a base of 120 million viewers watching 70 advertisements with an average length of 40 seconds per ad, we can project nearly 79 million hours of total watch time for this year’s commercials (and that doesn’t even include their afterlife on YouTube).”

I know that a lot of you probably already see Casey Neistat’s videos and don’t need me to point you to them. But I thought his most recent piece was excellent, and I want to share it anyhow. Here’s his 12-minute look at how it took him seventeen years to achieve a personal goal: Sisyphus and the impossible dream.

That’s all I have for you folks today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more great stuff! See you then.

Budgeting has become a flex.

Good morning, money nerds, and welcome to Monday. It’s J.D. here — a few hours late, I know — with our latest collections of cool stories about money (and more). Take a look!

The ADHD taxman cometh. [Slate] — “Spend enough time in ADHD forums or even just a few minutes scrolling #ADHD TikTok and you’ll see the term ‘ADHD tax’ pop up with some regularity. It’s a made-up term for a very real problem: the extra costs incurred as a consequence of executive dysfunction.” [As a guy with an ADHD diagnosis (and medication for it), this article hits home. Even on ADHD meds, my executive function is…minimal.]

Budgeting is officially a flex. [The Cut] — “Unlike conventional budgeting, which is traditionally associated with spreadsheets, anxious math, and hushed lectures from your parents, the ‘loud’ version is out and proud — you’re comfortable telling the world what you’re willing to spend and what you aren’t.” [“Loud budgeting” is a new name for an old concept: mindful spending. We money bloggers have been writing about this for twenty years! It’s cool to see it catching on with the youngs…]

The cost of raising a child. [Retire by 40] — “Will kids ruin your plan to FIRE? (Financial Independence Retire Early) Kids can be expensive, but don’t let that stop you. They might change your plan a bit, but FIRE won’t be out of reach. You just have to adapt your plan to include them.”

Our last story today has nothing whatsoever to do with money. It’s just for fun. Here’s a 16-minute video of a paleontologist answering dinosaur questions from Twitter. It’s fun!

That’s all for this Monday. See you folks again tomorrow…

The Stanley water bottle craze explained.

We’ve made it to Friday, fellow money nerds. And as I have all week, I have a handful of stories to share with you about money (and more).

First up, here’s a detailed review of Apple’s new Vision Pro augmented-reality headset, which releases today. Like a lot of Apple fanboys, I’m fascinated by this product. But as a personal-finance dude, there’s no way I’m touching the $3500 price tag. After all, my primary use case for the device would be the same as my iPad: watching movies. Anyhow, we start today with a thorough (and balanced) Vision Pro review.

Apple Vision Pro review: magic, until it’s not. [The Verge] “It sounds amazing, and sometimes it is. But the Vision Pro also represents a series of really big tradeoffs — tradeoffs that are impossible to ignore. Some of those tradeoffs are very tangible: getting all this tech in a headset means there’s a lot of weight on your face, so Apple chose to use an external battery pack connected by a cable. But there are other, more philosophical tradeoffs as well.” [See also: video review from Marques Brownlee]

Questions to ask before moving in with your partner. [The New York Times gift article] — “Talking about money openly makes you better at talking about money. You’ll get to know each other’s abstract beliefs about money and how you want to translate them into concrete actions. Your shared vision as a couple will take on more dimension, and as you get comfortable with each other’s money habits and hangups, you’ll also be more readily able to ask and offer help to other loved ones in your lives.”

How to talk about money as a married couple. [Thomas Kopelman] — “If you ask your parents or someone of the prior generation, they’ll likely tell you that your finances should all be joint and your property becomes your partner’s and vice versa. There is merit to this option, but it may not be right for everyone. I’m going to discuss three separate methods of handling marital financing.”

Finally, in a week full of great videos, here’s an 11-minute segment from Phil Edwards on YouTube in which he explains the Stanley water-bottle craze. How did we get here?

In a way, I can relate to this. Not because of Stanley water bottles. Because of watercolor paints. And not because of artificial manufactured scarcity but actual scarcity.

You see, during the few months that I’ve been painting, I’ve learned that not all paints are the same. Some are better than others. Some are much better than others. In November, I discovered paints from A. Gallo. These paints are handmade in Italy and use a honey-based binder and pigments from across Europe (Icelandic volcanoes!).

A. Gallo is a small company that can only produce so much product. At the end of each month, the open their online store to sell whatever they’ve managed to produce. Their stock sells out in hours. Like I say, it’s similar to the Stanley water bottle craze, but not artificially created.

How to turn your smartphone into a dumbphone.

Can you believe it, money nerds? We’ve already completed one month of 2024. We’re on to month two! That’s right: Another month of money stories here at Apex Money. Take a look at day one…

The two ways of doing. [Raptitude] — “I don’t think anyone sustains a gym regimen, or anything similar, if they’re motivated only by the future rewards. Everybody who keeps at it past January resolution season finds something about the toil itself to embrace…It might be the reassuring sense of self-discipline. It might be that they like who they are when they’re doing it. But it’s got to be something, because embracing the reward while resenting the price just isn’t a viable way to go about something for long. You’re always in inner conflict.”

How to declutter items you thought you couldn’t. [Becoming Minimalist] — “There are some people who can get rid of everything in one weekend, but that personality-type tends to be pretty rare. For most of us, the journey takes a bit longer. There are some things that are easy to remove, others tend to be difficult — for any number of reasons…Just because something is hard to part with, doesn’t mean we should keep it.” [I don’t share a lot of minimalism pieces here because they’re too “same-y”. I like this one, though, because it touches on some things I’ve been thinking about lately myself: curation, keeping the best, etc.]

The joys of getting organized. [Zen Habits] — “This isn’t about keeping things empty, or having things organized all the time. The nature of things is entropy — every day, you’ll get new emails, tasks, messages, etc. Things will pile up. Don’t create an ideal where you have everything sorted and you have to keep it that way. It’ll just create more stress. This is about the joy of getting organized, not being organized all the time.”

To wrap things up today, here’s another great video. Like I’ve been saying, I’ve watched a bunch of great stuff lately, but I think this is the video that’s personally been most useful. It’s a nine-minute look at how to turn your smartphone into a dumbphone.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a dumbphone (such as the Light Phone) is deliberately designed to not do fancy internet tricks. No social media, no web browsing, etc. Nothing but phoning and texting and mapping — and perhaps a few other utilities.

I’ve actually taken the leap and modded my phone so it’s very much like the one in the video. I love it. Maybe some of you will too.

Why do so many people hate their jobs?

Welcome to Wednesday, my peoples. J.D. here with another day of interesting stories about money (and more).

Why one millennial game up on overemployment. [Business Insider] — “Balancing his work while avoiding suspicion wasn’t easy, among the reasons William ultimately decided to leave both jobs. But despite these challenges, he said his overemployment experience was well worth it for the financial benefits. It was so worth it, he said, that he’s considering a return to one of the jobs he left.”

Why do so many people hate their jobs? [The Escape Artist] — “If you are doing a job that doesn’t feed your soul, it is vital that you don’t fritter the money away on fleeting dopamine hits (see above). If you are doing a job for the money (most of us), then it’s vital that you create a surplus and put that money to work in your compounding machine. This buys you options in the future.”

Little luxuries: The affordable treats driving consumer spending. [BBC Worklife] — “This desire for these ‘affordable luxuries’ is common in difficult economic times. Some economists refer to the phenomenon as the “lipstick index”: a small economic bump led by budget-conscious consumers seeking out relatively affordable splurges, like small cosmetics and perfumes.”

And look! It’s the third day this week that I have an excellent YouTube video to share with you. As always, it’s nothing to do with money. (Well, actually it is, but not in any useful way.) It’s a 25-minute deep dive trying to discover what’s going on inside a crater in Madagascar.

Stick with it. There’s an answer to this riddle, even though it takes a while. And that answer is very much money-related.

Okay, that’s it for Wednesday. I’ll be back tomorrow with more.

Riding the rails.

Hello, Apexians, and welcome to Tuesday. Let’s call this one two-fer Tuesday because that’s what I have for you: two stories. But I am not kidding when I say I think both stories are fantastic.

First up is the only installment (so far) of Cate Hall’s Useful Fictions newsletter: “How to be more agentic.“. This piece is all about how to get more of what you want.

Radical agency is about finding real edges: things you are willing to do that others aren’t, often because they’re annoying or unpleasant. These don’t always surface in awareness to the point one is actually choosing — often they live in a cloud of aversion that strategically obscures the tradeoff.

It would be difficult for me to overstate how valuable I think this article is. It contains some fundamental truths about how to get the most out your life and the world around you. The story is short. I urge you to read it.

Yesterday I promised that I had an entire week of great video features. It’s true. I watched some neat stuff last week, and I’m eager to share it with you.

Today’s video feature might be my favorite. It’s an hour-long audio cassette from 1980. It chronicles the cross-country “hobo” journey of young artists James Gurney (Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade (like you don’t know who he is) as they “ride the rails” on freight trains.

I tell you, this thing is a delight. It’s so fun. It’s a peek into the past, a glimpse of a period when this country was undergoing some marked transitions.

I also want to encourage you to check out all of the fun stuff James Gurney does. He’s best known for his Dinotopia books, but the dude is a polymath adventurer artist. His YouTube channel is great (I like this video of him painting an airliner while waiting in the terminal), and his blog, Gurney Journey, which he’s been keeping almost daily for seventeen years is even better. (Here’s his blog post about riding the rails with Thomas Kinkade.)

I promise you there are hours of entertainment if you follow those links. As I’m at the start of my own artistic journey, I’m grateful for folks like Gurney who are so open and generous with their knowledge. I’ve never read Dinotopia before, but you can bet I’m going to buy it next time I’m in a bookstore. I want to support him. Dude is a sparkling gem.

Lose yourself.

Why, hello. It’s good to see you here. I’m J.D., of course, and you are you, and this is Apex Money. All week, I’ll share some of my favorite stories about money (and more). Plus, for once, I’ve managed to find five awesome videos to share with you. Not kidding: These are all great. Ready? Let’s dive in!

The knowledge economy is over. Welcome to the allocation economy. [Chain of Thought] — “What happens when that very skill—knowing and utilizing the right knowledge at the right time—becomes something that computers can do faster and sometimes just as well as we can?…It means a transition from a knowledge economy to an allocation economy. You won’t be judged on how much you know, but instead on how well you can allocate and manage the resources to get work done.”

30 dying people explain what really matters [The Guardian] — “Anything that doesn’t make my heart sing is less important to me these days. I don’t sweat the small stuff any more. Life is too short for cleaning. The laundry pile will wait. And if I want to eat a piece of cake, I damn well do.”

How to train your budgeting brain. [Refinery29] — “At its simplest, budgeting is about being aware of what’s coming in and going out so you can make informed decisions about your money. This is what I call the budgeting brain. Activating the budgeting brain requires four stages of engagement — think of the acronym LOAD: Look, Organize, Assess, Decide.”

Lastly, here’s a bonus video that has absolutely zero to do with money.

If you know me, you know that I love movies (I’ll probably watch 50 in the month of January) and I love music (if I’m not watching a movie, I’m listening to music). Well today’s video is a mash-up of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” synchronized to clips from over 100 movies. I think it’s awesome.

SO FUN!

Okay, I have four more great videos coming to you this week. Plus, lots of great stories about money (and more). Come back tomorrow for the next installment…