Skip to content

Category: General

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.

100 Simple Pleasures In Life

As we gracefully glide into the weekend, I want to start with something soothing… how about some simple pleasures?

100 Simple Pleasures In Life [Mind Body Dad] – “Just as we are a collection of cells working together to create a human experience, life is a collection of little moments that add up to create our experience of the world. And if we pay attention to those moments, we become happier. The man who moves through life focused on anything but the now is a man who just moves through life. Find joy in the simple pleasures to be happy and truly enjoy life.” Read it while you sip on your morning cup of coffee.

The couple that paid $90,000 for a private street in San Francisco and were forced to return it by the rich neighbors said they still haven’t been reimbursed [Business Insider] – “In 2017, Michael Cheng and Tina Lam shook up the gated community at Presidio Terrace when residents found out the couple had purchased the street, its sidewalks, and its shrubs for nearly six figures in an online auction. The city had put Presidio Terrace up for sale in 2015 after the homeowners’ association failed to pay property taxes on the street for more than a decade.” It’s clever to buy a street via a tax lien sale but I’m not sure what they planned to do with it? This story is old and there hasn’t been an update on it (that I’ve seen).

Wow. 👇

Tantalising sign of possible life on faraway world [BBC] – “Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope may have discovered tentative evidence of a sign of life on a faraway planet. It may have detected a molecule called dimethyl sulphide (DMS). On Earth, at least, this is only produced by life.” Tentative and not robust… but it’s something!

Enjoy the weekend!

Strong opinions, loosely held

Jeff Bezos has several famous concepts that I love. Regret minimization is my favorite and one that I filter my decisions through.

The other one, which is the theme for today, is the title of this post – “Strong opinions, loosely held”

It’s the idea that you can have strong opinions but you are able to accept new information and change that opinion. You believe something until the data tells you otherwise.

It’s also the theme of our first post, which is about five ideas that Jonathan Clements has changed his mind about:

On Second Thought [Jonathan Clements on Humble Dollar] – “3. Money buys limited happiness. Most of us don’t know precisely how many friends and acquaintances we have, or exactly how much better we feel after taking an afternoon stroll and feeling the sun upon our face. But most of us have a very good idea of how many dollars we have—and that numerical precision can hurt our happiness.” Many gems in that one.

17 Questions That Changed My Life [Tim Ferriss] – These are questions that Tim asks himself and they’re good questions everyone should be asking themselves.

Can you be successful (while being lazy)? [Rad Reads] – “Being a beginner surfer, really sucks. Not because of the low wave count. Not because I had to awkwardly carry around one of those gigantic “Costco Boards.” And definitely not because I looked more like a doggy-paddling toddler than a shredding (and shredded) Kelly Slater. Nope. The worst part was the lactic acid. The non-stop paddling to catch a wave. Then some more paddling to get back out. Then even more paddling to fight a current or rip tide. For an entire year, my rotator cuffs would be on fire from this non-stop paddling. Then one day, I learned about the Cork Effect. This took me another year to grok. But when once I figured it out, it was an absolute game-changer.”

Oddly satisfying

For some, collecting is oddly satisfying.

For others, decluttering is oddly satisfying.

Today, we have articles for both types of people. 🙂

Oddly satisfying: what’s behind our drive to collect useless items? [The Guardian] – “Mariana Conti Schwartz has one daughter, two dogs and 103 stainless steel drinking tumblers. The 40-year-old from North Carolina works from home running her family business, Big Al’s Pub & Grubberia, and likes to match her outfits to her reusable cups. Pink, purple, blue, green and grey “Stanley Quenchers” are lined up like soldiers on clear acrylic shelves across her kitchen; Conti Schwartz estimates she’s spent $5,000 (£3,900) on the lot. Yet perhaps the most exceptional thing about her exceptional collection is that it is not exceptional at all.”

90/90 Minimalism Rule [The Minimalists] – “Whenever we attempt to simplify our lives, we often get stuck before we get started. When faced with a hoard of possessions—some useful, others not—it is difficult to determine what adds value and what we’re holding on to just in case, which makes letting go nearly impossible without some sort of rules to move us in the right direction.”

For those in neither camp, here’s an interesting concept – Habit Fields by Jack Cheng for A List Apart. “Consider the desk in your office. Maybe it reminds you of when you opened the box and put the pieces together. Or maybe it recalls your first day at work, when your colleague showed you where you would sit. The desk, the computer on top of it, the chair you sit in, and the space they comprise are all repositories for memory. But these things don’t just store our memories; they store our behaviors too. The sum of these stored behaviors is an object’s habit field, and merely being around it compels our bodies and minds to act in certain ways. By understanding these invisible forces and employing strategies to shape them, we can enjoy more frequent, sustained periods of flow.”

Americans say these 3 things define wealth

Money is a funny thing.

You can feel wealthy while not having much money and you can feel poor despite having so much of it. After a certain amount, it’s less about the dollar amount in your bank account but how your are living your life. These insights can help you find happiness, rather than trying to chase after more money.

Our first article shares the result of a survey that reminded me of some important lessons I’d heard before, hopefully it acts as a nice refresher for you as well.

Americans say these 3 things define wealth—none of them require making a lot of money [CNBC] – “Certain displays of wealth like lavish weddings on Instagram or luxury buildings in your city can make you feel envious or competitive about money. But 70% of Americans say having enough to ease any money stress in their life is more meaningful than having more money than their peers.”

Americans’ Credit Card Debt is Now $1 Trillion. Here are 10 Things We Should Stop Spending Money On [Simple Money] – “Last month, for the first time ever, Americans’ credit card debt hit a staggering $1 trillion! While each of us, certainly, find ourselves with a different level of credit card debt, this statistic should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. It’s time, I think, for all us to reevaluate our spending habits and financial priorities.”

Finding Awe Amid Everyday Splendor [Noema] – “For the last two decades, Keltner, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, has been a leading light of a scientific movement to examine our least-understood emotional state in all its gauzy complexity. His latest book, “Awe,” describes two decades of research and arrives at a radical conclusion. Far from being an undefinable caprice, awe, to Keltner, is a panacea, an evolutionary tool that holds the key to humanity’s capacity to flourish in groups.”

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.