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The scammy underbelly of online self-publishing.

Hey, my friends, it’s Thursday. As always, I’ve gathered some cool money stories to share with you. Take a look.

The scammy underbelly of online self-publishing. [Vox] — “For the self-publishing grift, good reviews are crucial. The more five-star reviews a book has, the more likely Amazon’s algorithm is to push it toward readers. If you’re mostly publishing trash books, you’re not going to get tons of five-star reviews organically. Big Luca’s Facebook group gave grifters a place to offer to swap five-star reviews or sell five-star reviews.”

How to cancel your credit card without lowering your credit score. [Wallet Hacks] — “If you no longer need a credit card, your intuition would tell you to cancel it. Cut up the card and toss the pieces in the trash. But canceling a card can lower your credit score because of how the credit score calculation. If you no longer need a credit card, here’s how to safely deal with it without putting any pressure on your credit or credit score.” [My credit score is good (~825) and I have no complaints. But it would be outstanding if I hadn’t cancelled my credit cards when I was getting out of debt twenty years ago.]

Money pervades everything. [The Guardian] — “People with substantial debt are reportedly more likely to suffer from ulcers and migraines, and six times more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Clearly, an absence of money can have a serious impact on the quality of our relationships and our health. But Reynal sees money troubles among the wealthy, too.”

I recently spent a long weekend with friends. I brought my French press because I wanted to make my own coffee instead of sharing the communal coffee maker. Watching me brew one morning, my brother told me I was doing it wrong. When we got home, he sent me this video about how to brew coffee in a French press.

That’s like the most Portland video I have ever seen.

The hilarious thing (to me) is that I once lived half a block from the place this was filmed. This was my morning coffee shop. (It was also where I bought motorcycle gear once I bought a motorcycle. The place really is a very Portland hybrid of coffee shop and motorcycle store.)

Okay, that’s it for today. I’m actually in Portland this week for a conference (instead of home in Corvallis), so there’s a chance I’ll go swing by this place for a cuppa one morning. And I’ll be honest: There’s also a chance I’ll miss tomorrow’s post. We’ll see.

The edge of discipline.

Twenty-five years ago, I was deep in my cycling phase. I’d discovered the joys of biking two years earlier, and since then had been riding about 2000 miles per year.

When you ride that much, you learn that bikes break. Things go wrong. And while sure, it’s possible to take your bike into a shop every time something goes wrong, it’s much more practical (and rewarding) to learn to fix things yourself.

This year, for the first time in forever, Kim and I have pulled our bikes out to ride around town. They’re in bad shape. The me of 1999 would have relished in repairing the bikes himself. The J.D. of 2024 feels overwhelmed by the very thought, so yesterday we took them to a local Mom and Pop bike shop for maintenance.

This is all a long lead-in to our first story today. 😉

A love letter to bicycle maintenance and repair. [Tegowerk] — “I realize this may sound overblown, but the changes this hobby has wrought in me go beyond just teaching me a fun and useful skill. Learning to fix bicycles has changed my outlook on manual labor, on the nature of work, and ultimately on life itself.”

The edge of discipline. [Happily Disengaged] — “Discipline has been my super power in this financial independence period of my life. It’s what I used to cut down on spending and up my savings. It’s what I used to keep throwing money each week into two bear markets. And finally, it’s what I used to do four plus years alcohol free. Could it be my discipline is waning? What’s next? More spending? Less investing? Less hard work?”

The great flattening. [Stratchery] — “Change is guaranteed, but the type of change is not; never is that more true than today. See, friction makes everything harder, both the good we can do, but also the unimaginably terrible. In our zeal to reduce friction and our eagerness to celebrate the good, we ought not lose sight of the potential bad.” [I very much enjoyed this thoughtful piece.]

Let’s close today with an arbitrary non-financial video. It’s “Tank!”, the incredible theme song to Cowboy Bebop. No reason to share this other than it’s still awesome after all of these years.

“I think it’s time we blow this scene. Get everybody and their stuff together. Okay. Three, two, one…let’s jam!”

Doing nothing.

Today is Tuesday, money nerds, and I have more fun stuff for you.

A couple of days ago, I had an interesting conversation with a friend about learning to let go of things you can’t control. (The context was how everybody in the U.S. is uptight about everything nowadays.) So naturally I was drawn by the serendipity of finding our first article…

How to stop worrying about things you can’t control. [Country Living] — “Letting go of what you can’t control enables you to regulate your emotions, which is especially helpful if you struggle with feeling the need for control. Acknowledge that there are things beyond your control, such as other people’s actions, external circumstances, or global events. Accepting this reality is an important step in shifting your focus to what you can influence.”

Doing nothing (part one) and Doing nothing (part two) [Money and Meaning] — “We’re so very busy because we want to be wanted. We want to be important, like our heroes. But what if you, like the Dude, didn’t want to be important at all? How much would you work? How much would you spend?” [True story: A couple of years ago, I came to the realization that I don’t want to be important. I’ve spent the time since deliberately learning to “do nothing”.]

How to be enough. [Vox] — “We’ve collectively overcorrected when it comes to the impulse to self-correct. When there’s always a new ideal to strive toward, a new workout to try, a new home renovation project, a new way to hack bodily functions, it can be hard to feel adequate, sufficient, enough. Very real socioeconomic, racial, and health factors impact a person’s ability to feel fulfilled, too.”

I didn’t intend for today’s installment to have a theme, but it kind of does, doesn’t it? Well, today’s video extends that theme. It’s a 20-minute feature from Answer in Progress on YouTube, and it’s all about how to stop scrolling and how to start paying attention.

The video is kind of all over the place, but that’s part of what makes it interesting to me. I too have been trying to find ways to fix my attention span, and my own journey has been just as scattered. (True story: I have a new device arriving later today that’s an attempt to focus my attention. It’s an e-ink phone-like device that I’ll set up ONLY for reading, etc. We’ll see how it goes.)

The most common travel scams.

Hello, my friends, and welcome to another week of Apex Money. I’m J.D. Roth, and I’ll be your host for the next five days. I’ll share some recent favorite stories about money (and more).

Let’s dive in!

The most common travel scams in Europe (and how to avoid them). [The Points Guy] — “Travel is about creating memories, not regretting losses. This summer, arm yourself with knowledge and a healthy dose of skepticism. Whether it’s ignoring a too-good-to-be-true tour offer or sidestepping a street scam in Paris, your best defense is staying informed and attentive. Remember these tips, and you’ll enjoy a safer, more enjoyable European adventure.” [My cousin feel victim tot he Instanbul shoeshining scam. I’ve personally been targeted by the clipboard scam (in Venice, not Paris) and the flower scam.]

You can be “good” with money and still be miserable. [Money with Katie] — “If you, like me, find yourself flinching with every purchase or undermining your own joy in even the smallest of indulgences lest they shave $32 off your net worth, is your metaphoric ‘cheat meal’ really having the desired effect? Even if your results are rapid wealth accumulation, is relating to money in that way healthy? After all, you can have a really high net worth and a bad relationship with money at the same time.

WHat do we do with the stuff our kids don’t want? [Next Avenue] — “Not too long ago, heirs would fight over who gets Mom and Dad’s valuable collections — sterling silver flatware, Lladro figurines or Lenox china. We’re not talking about a couch or a crockpot, but carefully-curated, much-loved possessions that were once considered an emblem of success and gracious living. But now, these once-coveted objects can be seen as more burden than blessing. Their demise has been attributed to everything from changing tastes to smaller spaces.”

Today, we don’t have a bonus video; no, we have a bonus webpage instead. As a budding artist, I think this is hilarious: Famous paintings recreated using only emojis.

For instance, here’s Andrew Wyeth’s famous Christina’s World, both the original and the new emoji version.

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth   Christina's World in emojis

So hilarious. To me, anyhow.

Life isn’t unfair

Everyone, at some point in their lives, have felt that life was unfair. Some people had advantages while others didn’t.

I’m fairly certain that at some point in my life, I said this to my dad and he told me the equivalent of “so what?” Whether life is fair or not doesn’t matter, it is what it is and you have to play within those rules to get what you want. He wasn’t harsh about it but he was matter of fact.

It opened my eyes, fortunately at an early age, to the understanding that complaining about the rules wouldn’t help me accomplish them. I could work towards changing the rules or work towards my goals knowing the unfair rules were in place. But the mere act of complaining would accomplish nothing.

Our first post discusses fairness but not in the way I just did – it seeks to help reframe the rules so you understand them better. It’s not that they’re unfair, it’s that you don’t understand what’s going on… and for many of these rules, he’s right. Please read it:

The problem isn’t that life is unfair – it’s your broken idea of fairness [Oliver Emberton] – “Unless you’re winning, most of life will seem hideously unfair to you.”

Finally, to help you ease into the weekend, two posts about finding peace and also joy:

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life [Lifehack.org] – “In today’s world, true peace must come from within us and our own actions. Here are 30 small things you can do on a regular basis to increase your overall sense of harmony, peace, and well-being:”

10 Ways To Find Joy In Life [The Retirement Manifesto] – “Focus on others over self. Look for a need in your community and find a way to meet it.”

Have a calm and joyful weekend!

Your Neighbors Are Retiring in Their 30s. Why Can’t You?

Our first article today is from the New York Times and features a LOT of familiar names from the FIRE community.

You kind of have to get past the overly flashy start but the meat of the post is great:

Your Neighbors Are Retiring in Their 30s. Why Can’t You? [New York Times] – “Meet the schemers and savers obsessed with ending their careers as early as possible.”

Did Your Child Earn Money Last Year? You Can Open A Roth Ira For Them. [Flow Financial Planning] – “This is the story of how I filed my 14-year-old daughter’s taxes, and then opened, funded, and invested a Roth IRA for her, for tax year 2023. Piecing this process together for the first time was a bit frustrating (even for a financial planner!) so I hope you can follow along with a bit more ease.”

The Club King: The Rise and Fall of Peter Gatien [Another Man] – “Miss Rosen meets Peter Gatien, also known as New York’s “King of Clubs”, who has just released a memoir chronicling his journey from a childhood in a Canadian mill town to the apex of a cultural empire.”

Shinise

Shinise are Japanese businesses that have been around for at least a hundred years.

In our first article, Morgan Housel starts by talking about these businesses and how they all share a common characteristics – they have tons of cash and no debt.

How I Think About Debt [Collab Fund] – “I love the quote from author Kent Nerburn that, “Debt defines your future, and when your future is defined, hope begins to die.” Not only does hope begin to die, but the number of outcomes you can endure does, too.” I think about debt in a similar way.

It Will Never Be a Good Time to Buy a House [The Atlantic] – “It’s a terrible time to buy a house. But that news, bad as it is, seems to convey some promise: Someday, things will change and it will once again be a good moment to buy. You just have to wait. I’m sorry to tell you that the bad news is even worse than it sounds. It’s not going to be a good time to buy a house for a really long time. How long? I put that question to a few housing economists and real-estate experts. Their response? Who knows. A decade. “Maybe in 2030, we would start to see some relief,” Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist of Redfin, told me, before noting that 2030 was so far in the future that she could not make any kind of informed prediction.”

7 ways to stop worrying about things you can’t control [Country Living] – “Worrying about things beyond your control can be a common source of stress and anxiety. Most people worry sometimes, but if it’s affecting your life dramatically there are things you can try that may help.”

“Why I make terrible decisions.”

Welcome to Friday, money nerds. I have one final batch of stories to share with you this week.

“Why I make terrible decisions.” [Killermartins via Internet Archive] — “I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be.”

Why couples are choosing cohabitation over marriage. [Vox] — “Whether people are skeptical of marriage, hold it in high regard, or plan to bypass it entirely, many of today’s couples see cohabitation as another milestone on the way to long-term partnership. Wanting to avoid the headache and expense of divorce, some pairs now consider living together as ‘marriage lite’ without any of the legal trappings.”

The riddle of ambition. [More to That] — “Ambition is a tricky thing because it’s both empowering and pointless. Empowering in the sense that it allows you to look for opportunities that actualize your potential, but pointless in the sense that it prevents you being okay with what is. Ambition helps set your future self up for a better life, but comes at the expense of enjoying that life today.”

Aging with others. [Humble Dollar] — “Will you be happy in a 55-plus community? That depends on the vision you have for retirement. These communities are a good choice if you’re focused on developing a vibrant social network and you can still live independently. But if caring for yourself is an issue and you don’t have family nearby to help out, a 55-plus community probably isn’t a good choice.”

And that’s all for this week. Jim will be back on Monday to share more great stories with you. I’ll see you in ten days. Stay well, my friends!

What makes housing so expensive?

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya, my friends. Welcome to another day of Apex Money. I’m J.D. Roth, and here are the stories I’ve collected for you today.

Masterpost: How to increase your income. [Bitches Get Riches] — “Today I want to round up our best and brightest advice not on reducing your spending or saving your money… but on how to increase your income. Get that bread. Make it rain. Get us the lettuce. Stack them stacks. Bring home the motherfucking bacon.”

What makes housing so expensive? [Construction Physics] — “Because of the enormous costs of housing, it’s worth understanding where, specifically, those costs come from, and what sort of interventions would be needed to reduce these costs. Discussions of housing policy often focus on issues of zoning, regulation, and other supply restrictions which manifest as increased land prices, but for most American housing, the largest cost comes from building the physical structure itself.”

Where you should put your money (and when). [Of Dollars and Data] — “One of the biggest problems people have when it comes to money is figuring out what to do with it and when. Should you save up an emergency fund or pay off your debt first? Should you max out your 401(k) or invest more into your taxable brokerage account? Is it better to pay off your home early or invest your excess savings in stocks? While there is no right answer to these questions, having a financial philosophy to rely upon when thinking about them is essential.”

If you’ve been paying attention, you probably know by now that my recent foray into the world art has led me to become obsessed by something strange: pigments. I’m fascinated by how pigments are created and used.

Later this summer, I’ll take a few art workshops on the Oregon Coast, including two that are specifically about pigments. The first teaches participants how to make their own watercolors from foraged minerals. The second involves foraging for materials (including pigments, I’m assuming) to make inks.

Anyhow, here’s a five-minute video from Tom Scott in which he explores The Forbes Pigment Collection at the Harvard Art Museums. So fun (for me).

(At the four-minute mark, this video mentions YinMin Blue, the new blue pigment that was discovered just two miles from where I’m sitting at this very moment!)

I’m not kidding: One of my current financial weakspots is pigments. When I find a new one (to me), I usually buy it. WHY? I don’t know. I guess just because it’s fun.

Okay, that’s it for Thursday Come back tomorrow for more!

How to increase your luck.

Good morning, money nerds. Let’s look at the stories we’ve gathered today.

Saving time. [The New York Times gift article] — “Any advice I’ve ever been given that’s actually resonated has boiled down to a variation on the same basic theme: Life is short. Stop wasting it. It comes packaged in varying poetic guises, each profound or corny, depending on how receptive or cynical one is feeling.”

Seven rules for happiness. [Scott H. Young] — “Happiness is a paradoxical goal. We all want to be happy, yet we often fail spectacularly at predicting what will make us happy. We pursue goals like wealth, fitness, status and mastery only to find that achieving them doesn’t really change our lives very much. In contrast, we often deliberately make ourselves miserable: we worry about things we cannot control, hold grudges against people we cannot influence, and spend time on activities we don’t truly value.”

How to increase your Luck Surface Area. [Codus Operandi] — “If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in recent years it’s this. The amount of serendipity that will occur in your life, your Luck Surface Area, is directly proportional to the degree to which you do something you’re passionate about combined with the total number of people to whom this is effectively communicated. It’s a simple concept, but an extremely powerful one because what it implies is that you can directly control the amount of luck you receive. In other words, you make your own luck.”

Here’s a two-hour live concert by Synthony, the EDM orchestra. That’s right: This is a mash-up between classical music and electronic dance music. It’s awesome! I found myself watching twenty minutes of it before I realized I had other stuff to do.

I’ll wager that many of you aren’t intrigued by that description. I encourage you to check this out anyhow. It’s fun.