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Author: J.D. Roth

The illusion of control.

Welcome to Friday, Apexians. Before you head off to enjoy the first weekend of autumn (or spring, if you live in the southern hemisphere), I’ve gathered some interesting stuff for you to read.

Participating in your own rescue. [Money and Meaning] — “Financial independence is available to most anyone in this audience. It takes your participation too: caring about your personal finances, your life energy, your future self. You have to be willing to learn to be liberated. I recently heard a great phrase from the rafting community. They tell it to everyone: from world class athletes to the physically disabled: when you get tossed over (and if you raft long enough, inevitably you will), you have to participate in your own rescue. No matter how strong or weak you are, you have to actively help in your own salvation.”

How social media has supercharged our online-shopping addiction. [Bravely Go] — “with two clicks, you can be spending money on any social media platform. Much of our identity has become wrapped up in what we’re buying. And it’s exhausting. It’s bad for us. It’s bad for the planet and it’s bad for the world that we are bringing future people into.”

The return-on-hassle spectrum. [Of Dollars and Data] — “This is where so much online discourse goes awry. One party is focusing on one set of tradeoffs while ignoring others and vice versa. As a result, everyone ends up talking past each other rather than realizing that all of this comes down to personal preference. For this reason I’ve created the Return on Hassle Spectrum to help you decide which kind of investments might be right for you. Let’s look at that now.”

And lastly this week, here’s a nice article that encapsulates one of the core ideas I’ve taken from my recent exploration of Taoism.

The illusion of control. [More To That] — “I used to think of freedom as the ability to do what you want at whatever pace you choose. While I think that’s a solid start, I’m beginning to realize that freedom is less about doing what you want, and just allowing life to be.”

A younger me — hell, the me of two years ago — would dismiss this idea as ludicrous. But the J.D. of 2023 finds the concept liberating. Just allow life to be. Beautiful.

And that’s all I have for you this week. Jim will be back on Monday to share more stories about money…and everything else.

The principles of organization.

Today is Thursday, my friends, and this is Apex Money. I’m your host, J.D. Roth. Here are the stories I’ve gathered for you this morning.

The rich are not who we think they are. (And happiness isn’t what we think it is.) [The New York Times gift article] — “If pop culture is right, getting rich is a path to happiness. Is that true? Does money actually make people happy? Just as anonymous tax data, which has been made widely available to researchers only in the past few years, has led to credible research on what actually makes people rich, new sources of data in the past decade have given us many insights into what actually makes people happy. And money is not a reliable path to happiness.” [This article “rhymes” with The Millionaire Next Door, which I find interesting.]

How to say no. [Psyche] — “If you, like many people, have the sense that you’re constantly trying to please others or you’re forever acquiescing to a litany of requests, comments and external pressures – then this Guide is for you.”

“Why I let my kids go into debt.” [Frugalwoods] — ” At last year’s county fair, there were inflatable unicorns for sale. Kidwoods fell deeply in love with a turquoise one and was adamant that she wanted to spend her money on this plastic horse with a horn. As it turned out, the unicorn was $13 and she only had $9. I told her I was willing to pay the extra $4, but that she’d have to work off her debt. She agreed and clutched her unicorn with glee. Once home, the reality of ‘work off your debt’ began to sink in.”

Finally, here’s my first video this week. It’s a five-minute look at the principles of organization. I love this video.

There are some good tips here. I especially like the admonition to “kit your shit”. It took me a l-o-n-g time to learn this, but man has it been a revelation. By keeping stuff together in “kits”, I’m much better able to keep things organized. (I find this especially useful for travel.)

Tip: The entire Van Neistat channel on YouTube is great. His brother, Casey, is much more famous (and produces great videos), but for my money Van’s stuff is better.

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

How not to be fooled by charts.

Welcome to Wednesday, money nerds! J.D. here with more of the best from the world of personal finance.

On Friday, a new iPhone will arrive at my doorstep. It’s been several years since I bought a phone, and I’m excited to play with my new toy. One of the dilemmas I had during the purchase process was: Do I pay for insurance or not? Generally, I avoid extended warranties of any kind. But in this case, I gave it some consideration. But did I make the right move? That’s what today’s first article is about.

Is AppleCare worth buying for your iPhone? [Consumer Reports] — “There’s really no right or wrong answer about whether you should pay for AppleCare+ coverage. It’s all about how much risk you’re willing to assume. But the higher the price of the device, the more it might make sense to pay for a little peace of mind.”

Yeah, that article’s bottom line isn’t especially helpful, is it? But the info leading up that point was actually useful, and it reinforced my decision to not purchase protection. For my girlfriend? Hell yes, she needs an AppleCare plan when she buys a new phone. For me? No. Even though I don’t use any sort of case, I’ve never had any problems (other than poor battery life).

Okay, back to our other stories…

Study something you love in depth. [Austin Kleon] — “Chew on one thinker — writer, artist, activist, role model — you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go.”

People often forget to cancel their monthly subscriptions — and the costs add up. [NPR] — “For shoppers who regularly use a product or service, subscriptions can offer convenience and valuable discounts. And economist Mahoney acknowledges it might be annoying if consumers had to actively renew a subscription every month. Still, he argues a periodic reminder — perhaps every six months — could help cut unwanted payments in half.” [I perform irregular “subscription inventories” to determine which subscriptions I have active — and to be certain I’m using them all.]

How not to be fooled by charts. [Noahpinion] — “In general, the first rule of…charts is that the more eye-popping and startling they are, the more likely it is that there’s something fishy going on. As they say, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.'”

That’s all I have for you today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more fun stories. See you then!

Why do we collect useless items?

Hey, everyone. J.D. here with another week of Apex Money. The week started yesterday, of course, but I had a busy Sunday so didn’t get time to sit down and write up my posts, as I normally do. I’m a day late and a dollar short, as my high-school English teacher used to say.

But I’m here now. I have some links to share with you — and a bit of a rant at the end of today’s post. I apologize in advance…

What’s behind our drive to collect useless items? [The Guardian] — “How did it become normal – or at least not abnormal – to own a hundred of something you’d traditionally only need one of? While hyper-consumers are not new, social media has amplified their behaviour, allowing it to influence consumption and production.” [I am a compulsive collector, but I cannot imagine buying duplicate items just because they come in multiple colors.]

“This is my bridesmaid resignation letter.” [Glamour] — “While money does talk, it’s not giving a solo performance in this decision of mine. It’s also about the mental gymnastics I have to perform to keep friendships unscathed and the internal tug-of-war between keeping my brides happy and my sanity intact. And I know I’m not alone in that—even among you bridesmaids who claim to love the whole experience.”

The food industry pays ‘influencer’ dietitians to shape your eating habits. [The Washington Post] — “Companies and industry groups paid dietitians for content that encouraged viewers to eat candy and ice cream, downplayed the health risks of highly processed foods and pushed unproven supplements — messages that run counter to decades of scientific evidence about healthy eating.”

I wish I could say that last piece shocks me but it doesn’t. I’ve had an inside look at how the world of “influencers” was first born and is now evolving. I trust almost none of it — not the blogs, not the podcasts, not the social media, not the videos.

Why not? Because there are no real standards. Slap the legally-required disclaimers on your website and you’re pretty much free to say anything you want. Even if it’s bullshit. And people are happy to publish so many flavors of bullshit in their quest to chase even more dollars.

Now that I’m (mostly) retired from that world, I’m proud to say that I never took the bait. Oh, I was tempted, no doubt. When companies dangle tens of thousands of dollars in front of you, it seems foolish not to promote their products. After all, who is it really hurting?

For me, hurting even one person was too much.

Anyhow, I’m on a high horse here and I apologize. Plus, I sound like I’m bragging. I don’t mean to. What I really want to do is advise you all to be careful of the advice you get from folks online, especially those who are clearly making money from dishing out that advice. All too often, glowing recommendations turn out to be bullshit.

My time machine.

Howdy. It’s one of those days where the stories I’ve collected are all about a theme. And today’s theme is aging. The past few years have made me acutely aware that I am no longer young. I am 54 now, and many days I feel it. But you know what? A lot of the time I feel 24.

Anyhow, these stories are all about the implications of growing older.

Dying at home. [Humble Dollar] — “For my father, the shift from living pretty well with cancer to being told he had ‘about a week to live’ was head-spinning, although it shouldn’t have been. My dad’s fallacy — and that of his four kids — had been thinking he could delay death forever. While I’d convinced him to fill out his advance directives before he had undergone a surgery a few years previously, he had engaged in little other planning or discussions.”

Believing myths about aging makes growing old worse. [Time] — “Changing your mindset toward aging has as much impact on longevity as quitting smoking, and more impact than losing weight, even if you’re obese. And this matters — a lot.”

My time machine. [Granta] — “What an amazing ability, to be able to travel through time, to inhabit the different moments of one life simultaneously, to be both then and now. We often marvel when we watch the minds of children develop, but the degenerating brain tosses out fireworks of the soul.” [I love this piece. Love love love love love. It tackles some of my favorite themes: history, time, aging, death.]

“Hello, I must be aging.” [Drezner’s World] — “I still have a lot of areas of self-improvement that merit further investment. Still, my 55 year-old self finds itself extremely grateful towards my younger self — let’s call him Past Dan. Looking back, Past Dan wound up making a lot of good decisions at a young age that have yielded enormous returns over time.”

Let’s finish things with a thirteen-minute video from the LifeHunters channel on YouTube: lire lessons from 100-year-olds.

These folks are charming. It’s lovely to listen to them talk about their lives and what they’ve learned. They’re a happy, healthy bunch.

That’s it for this week, my friends. Jim will be back with you on Monday.

Everything makes time.

ey hey, my friends, welcome to Thursday. Today we have four excellent stories for you. It’s one of those days where I think each item is especially good. Enjoy!

Everything makes time. [Everything Changes] — “The question to ask with all those things isn’t, “how do I make time for this?” The answer to that question always disappoints, because that view of time has it forever speeding away from you. The better question is, how does doing what I need make time for everything else?” [See also Jason Kottke’s response to this short essay.]

How to build a DIY identity-theft protection system. [Wallet Hacks] — “For $15 a month, you can get identity theft protection from one of the credit bureaus or third party companies. That’s $180 a year! What if you want identity theft protection but don’t want to (or can’t afford to) spend $180 a year to get it? Do it yourself. Here’s how to build your DIY identity theft protection system for free.”

Trader Joe’s: The anti-grocer. [SatPost] — “Coulombe made one crucial decision early — pay people well — and all of the future strategic choices (product, ads, stores) followed from that. A notable comparison is Costco: since it makes most of its money on memberships, its strategic decisions revolve around selling products to customers at the thinnest margins possible.” This is a fascinating article, and if you’re a Trader Joe’s fan (like me) it’s well worth reading.

To close out the day, here’s a great Tom Scott video (all of his videos are great!) that examines why advertisements are so loud.

Okay, that’s all I have. I’ll be back tomorrow to take you into the weekend.

How to ask for a raise (and actually get it).

Welcome to Wednesday, money nerds. J.D. here with a collection of interesting stories for you.

I don’t often share podcasts here because I don’t listen to podcasts. They just don’t work for me. That said, our first item today is a podcast that sounds interesting. If I were to listen to podcasts, I would listen to it. 😉

How to ask for a raise (and actually get it). [The Struggle is Real podcast] — “Negotiating a raise early in your career can lead to a 6-figure increase in your lifetime earnings. And that is just one negotiation. By developing your negotiation skills and making a habit of consistently asking for a raise throughout your career, you’re bound to outearn a peer who starts at a similar salary by a long shot.”

“One hundred things I know.” [Mari Andrew] — “In this newsletter I’m more interested in exploring what I don’t know rather than what I know, but I’ll make an exception to share a few things that have made my life richer, and could potentially make yours a bit easier.”

Feeling mortgage-rate envy? You’re not alone. [The New York Times gift article] — “American homeowners now stand on two sides of a divide. On one side are those who had the good fortune to buy or refinance between 2020 and early 2022, and now enjoy notably low monthly interest payments on their principal. On the other side: everyone else.” [Kim and I bought in August 2021. Our mortgage rate is 2.63%. With that rate, we would be insane to ever sell this house.]

How much does it cost to build a house? [Architectural Digest] — “According to the National Association of Home Builders, the sale of newly built homes is on the rise as of May 2023. Still, the home building process can be a daunting task, though with proper research and planning, owning your dream home is a possibility. In this guide from AD, we break down everything you need to know about home building costs.”

Lastly, here’s a video I enjoyed last week. It’s a sixteen-minute look at the most popular junk food from the 20th century.

I was born in 1969, so a lot of the stuff from about 1959 to 1989 is right up my alley. Why was pizza so popular when I was a kid? Because it became popular in the late 1950s. Chips Ahoy! Pop-Tarts. Pringles. Pop Rocks. Sour Patch Kids. All part of my childhood. And all things I crave as an adult haha.

How to remember everything you learn.

Good morning, Apexians, and welcome to a shortened week. J.D. here with another round of tasty personal-finance treats.

I hope everyone in the U.S. had a fine holiday weekend and said a fond farewell to summer. September is here, and with it comes meteorological autumn (followed in a few weeks by calendar autumn, of course). The hot weather seems to have left us here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It feels nice to have a break.

To get us started with fall, here are a few stories we’ve enjoyed recently.

How to manage money as a committed couple. [XY Planning Network] — “Every person comes with their own money story. It’s important to mention that you can’t project your own money story onto your partner. Your relationship with money is your own but it’s important to also make space for your partner’s money story as well.”

How to live with lifestyle inflation. [Money with Katie] — “Once I found myself graduating from a median income to a higher one, I straddled the line between two worlds: Do I maintain my exact same lifestyle and invest everything extra, or do I recognize that I can afford a little lifestyle creep?”

Robot Recipes. — “If you’ve ever tried to find a recipe on the internet, you know that most recipe pages have frustrating popups and endless advertisements that are completely unrelated to the recipe. It’s nearly impossible to find the actual instructions or a simple list of ingredients. You have to scroll past a constantly changing and slowly loading page to get there, and once you’re almost there another ad loads and moves the page content down. By the time you find the recipe, you’re no longer just hungry – you’re downright hangry.”

Why note-taking apps don’t make us smarter. [The Verge] — “Note-taking, after all, does not take place in a vacuum. It takes place on your computer, next to email, and Slack, and Discord, and iMessage, and the text-based social network of your choosing. In the era of alt-tabbing between these and other apps, our ability to build knowledge and draw connections is permanently challenged by what might be our ultimately futile efforts to multitask.”

To wrap things up, here’s a twelve-minute video from Ali Abdaal on YouTube explaining how to remember everything you learn. I think it goes nicely with that story from The Verge.

Abdaal’s channel is one of my favorites. I know you’ve probably already heard of him (and might even subscribe to him), but he’s popular for a reason. He’s got great info presented in a pleasing style.

Okay, that’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stories about money. See you then!

Help us! Which money blogs do you love?

It’s Friday, folks! But before you head into the weekend, I’ve gathered some interesting money stories for you.

First, though, I have a favor to ask. Jim and I do our best to scour the web for interesting stories about money. In my dream world (and Jim’s dream world, I think), we’d feature more personal blogs and fewer big media sources. But there’s a problem: The traditional personal money blog seems to be fading away. (I mean, look: I retired from Get Rich Slowly earlier this year, so I’m part of the problem, right?) And those blogs that do remain are more SEO-driven than helpful.

So, I guess what I’m asking is this: If you have a favorite blog (or YouTube channel) that you think we ought to feature more often at Apex Money, let us know. If you’re reading this by email, just hit reply and let us know your favorite sources. If you’re reading on the website, leave a comment. (Comments are usually closed. They’re open for this post.)

Help us broaden our horizons!

Okay, with that out of the way, here are the links we’ve gathered for you today:

The stuff you buy is getting worse. [Vox] — “I hate to say that the onus is on us, but in many ways it is. Corporations aren’t going to do this work for us, or without us. Consumers need to be able to identify quality, learn to take care of what they own, and advocate for regulations and legislation wherever right-to-repair doesn’t yet exist. Buy less or secondhand, and when you do buy something new — it happens! — make sure to do your research.” [I may have linked to this before. That’s okay. It’s worth reading again. It reinforces my recent drive to buy ONLY quality.]

Unlock your home’s potential with the magic of margin. [Becoming Minimalist] — “No matter what space you’re working on, the key is to declutter first and organize second. It’s the margin in these spaces that has the most impact, especially when it comes to staying organized. Because when you reduce the volume, spaces have a way of organizing themselves.”

How to stick to long-term changes. [Zen Habits] — “It’s hard to stick to long-term changes when you don’t get very immediate results. Seeing progress quickly can be very encouraging — so how do we find encouragement when we don’t see that quick progress?…Let’s look at some of the things I’ve found helpful in sticking to long-term changes when we aren’t getting immediate results.”

That, my friends, is all we have for you this week. Jim will be back on Monday. I’ll see you in ten days. Have fun!

The benefits of taxable accounts.

Hey hey, it’s a Thursday! Welcome back to Apex Money, your source for premium personal-finance posts delivered fresh daily. Have a bite!

What happens when people start reading privacy policies? [The Markup] — “Earlier this week, Zoom, the popular web-conferencing service that became ubiquitous when pandemic lockdowns shifted many in-person meetings to in-little-boxes-on-laptop-screen meetings, was the subject of sharp criticism from users and privacy advocates recently, when an article from the technology news site Stack Diary highlighted a section of the company’s terms of service that said it could use data collected from its users to train artificial intelligence.”

You probably need less money than you think for retirement. [A Wealth of Common Sense] — “Look, I’m not saying everyone has to die with zero. Having a low burn rate is certainly the best hedge against longevity risk in retirement. But what’s the point of saving in the first place if you’re not going to spend some of it?”

The benefits and drawbacks of taxable accounts. [Can I Retire Yet?] — “Taxable accounts, despite their name, can actually be pretty tax friendly. They are particularly valuable to early retirees because they allow access to money without the restrictions of retirement accounts. So it is important to understand the role taxable accounts can play in retirement and the rules that govern them.”

That’s all we have for you today. Come back tomorrow for more great stuff as we head into the weekend…