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Category: General

The importance of your own projects

It’s always important for a person to have a project they’re working on that’s outside of their work, school, or other “obligations.”

When you spend too much time on your “job,” you often integrate it too closely with your sense of self. This runs into problems whenever people retire (or otherwise leave their job). If your sense of identity and worth come from your job, not having one can be very challenging.

A Project of One’s Own [Paul Graham] – “A few days ago, on the way home from school, my nine year old son told me he couldn’t wait to get home to write more of the story he was working on. This made me as happy as anything I’ve heard him say — not just because he was excited about his story, but because he’d discovered this way of working. Working on a project of your own is as different from ordinary work as skating is from walking. It’s more fun, but also much more productive.”

It pairs nicely with this video by Elizabeth Gilbert on Distinguishing Between Hobbies, Jobs, Careers, & Vocation:

Now for something fun – here’s a story about how the government set up a fake bank to catch drug traffickers:

Episode 418: How The Government Set Up A Fake Bank To Launder Drug Money [Planet Money / NPR] – “One day in the early 1990s, a man walked into the U.S. embassy in Ecuador. He said he had information somebody would want to hear — information on how to go after some of the most powerful drug traffickers in the world. The man worked as a money changer. He said he was getting a lot of requests from traffickers who had a problem: They had so much cash that they didn’t know what to do with it. They couldn’t figure out how to launder their money. What they needed was an offshore bank to help them. On today’s show, we hear how two U.S. agents — one IRS, one DEA — created a fake offshore bank to catch drug traffickers.”

How I Made $2,500+ Last Month by Charging Scooters

I love a good side hustle and Joe always delivers.

This time, he revisits his side hustle charging scooters wherein he also makes it very clear that he does not recommend it. He does it because he’s old and retired. 🙂

How I Made $2,500+ Last Month by Charging Scooters [Retire by 40] – “Last month, I made $2,510 by charging scooters. It was our best month ever! The side hustle income can almost cover our entire living expenses in May ($2,769). I shared this in our monthly report and received few requests for more details. So today, I’ll share how the whole scooter charging side hustle works. I started doing this side gig two years ago.” A fun little recap of how my blogging friend Joe made $2500 charging scooters. I enjoyed his post a few years ago on the same subject and this one shows the reality of this little side hustle.

The Fresno Drop [99% Invisible] – “In September 1958, Bank of America began an experiment—one that would have far reaching effects on our lives and on the economy. After careful consideration, they decided to conduct this experiment in Fresno, California. The presumption was that no one was paying much attention to Fresno, so if the plan failed, it wouldn’t get a lot of media attention.”

Today We’re Eating the Winners of the 1948 Chicken of Tomorrow Contest [Modern Farmer] – “In the 1950s, a broiler chicken lived a full 16 weeks. The faster and heavier method that won the contest was amplified by confinement, and while the chickens come out of those cages fatter, they tend to get sicker, too. They have insatiable appetites, which leaves them stressed, as evidenced in their poor reproduction capabilities, cardiovascular failure and skeletal problems. They’ve been pumped with so many antibiotics, they’ve developed resistances. The chickens’ weak legs and overworked hearts strain every week their lives are extended. We’re still eating the Chicken of Tomorrow today – but maybe it’s time to hold another contest.”

The best-kept secret in investing.

Our first piece today blew my mind. Seriously, it taught me something new.

I often get questions about where people should park there money to “get a good return safely in the short term”. I’ve always said that it can’t be done. Turns out, I’m wrong.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal (so, probable paywall unless you know how to bypass such a thing), Jason Zweig shares the safe, high-return trade hiding in plain sight.

The bottom line: The Series I Savings Bond is currently yielding an inflation-protected 3.54% per year. You can purchase a maximum of $10,000 per year. You must hold the bond for at least a year, and if you cash it in before five years then you pay a penalty equal to three months of interest. Even with that penalty, this is far and away the best short-term investment I’ve seen in recent years.

[Hat tip to Michael Kitces for sharing this info.]

Speaking of inflation, our next article explores current worries about rising prices…

Prices are rising. Should we be worried about inflation? [Physician on Fire] — “Inflation is an intrinsic part of our current economic system. That’s both good and bad. It can steal our dollars’ value, but it’s a sign of widespread economic growth—and that benefits us all. And when concerns arise, we can usually protect ourselves from inflation’s grasp using tested investment methods.”

And we’ll close things out today with a piece that debunks one of my most-loathed pieces of “common knowledge”: that Millennials are somehow economic victims, another lost generation.

No, Millennials aren’t poorer than previous generations. [Of Dollars and Data] — “Millennials seem to be accumulating financial assets at the same rate that GenX and Baby Boomers did. Of course, financial assets aren’t the only metric that matters, so let’s look at total net worth (assets – liabilities) as well.”

And that’s it for today. No video, I’m afraid, but that’s because these three pieces are just too good. You should read them instead of laughing at funny animals. 😉

We’ll be back next week with more of the best from the world of personal finance. See you then.

How to build influence at work (no matter your job title).

Hello, friends, and welcome to Apex Money.

It’s one of those days where I’m going to lead with our video because I like it so much. Today is the 75th anniversary of the first mobile phone call. From the Periscope Film channel on YouTube, here’s a ten-minute short demonstrating mobile phone technology from the late 1940s.

So fun! When I was in grade school (in the late 1970s), my father had a similar contraption for one job. It was a big clunky telephone that sat on the dash and cost a fortune to use.

Okay, enough fun. Let’s get down to business. Here are some recent money stories I’ve liked.

Four ways to build influence at work, no matter your job title. [Fast Company] — “Influence starts with the areas within your control, says Melissa Drake, founder of Collaborative AF, a consultancy that helps companies unlock potential through collaboration. First off, focus simply on being good at your job.”

How to practice stealth frugality. [Early Retirement Now] — “Stealth frugality does not preclude stealth wealth. Quite the opposite, we are still stealth-wealthy. We merely just picked our battles: cut the most frivolous and inefficient spending but we left some token luxury items for people to notice so they didn’t think we were weirdos.”

I’ve saved the best for last. Our final link today is a long, detailed report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University: The State of the Nation’s Housing 2021. This 36-page PDF dives into all aspects of housing and homeownership. I haven’t read the entire thing yet, but what I have read is intersting. [TL;DR: Fast Company‘s summary of the report highlights.]

And that’s it for Thursday! I’ll be back tomorrow with one last installment of Apex Money before we head into the weekend. See you then.

How to negotiate a remote work agreement.

Good morning, my friends, and welcome to another installment of Apex Money. As always, we’ve got some great money stories from around the web. Let’s dive in.

How to negotiate a remote work agreement. [Modest Millionaires] — “The very first thing you will want to focus on prior to negotiating a remote work agreement is identifying the data that can play in your favor and demonstrate to your employer that agreeing to this will be beneficial for them.”

Geo-arbitrage tools and resources. [Accidental Fire] — I’m a long-time fan of Dave’s blog at Accidental Fire, but I learned only today that he maintains an excellent page filled with tools and resources for those looking to choose where to live based on maximizing the value of their money. Because Kim and I are looking to do exactly this, I’m going to spend some time exploring this page.

Federal Reserve explores “once in a century” bid to remake U.S. dollar. [Politico] — “The Federal Reserve is taking what may be the first significant step toward launching its own virtual currency, a move that could shake up banks, give millions of low-income Americans access to the financial system and fortify the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.”

Everything we know about sleep and how it affects your health and brain. [BBC Science Focus] — “Insufficient sleep is fast becoming one of the most significant lifestyle factors that may influence whether you go on to develop the form of dementia we call Alzheimer’s disease. It is an area of research my team and I have been fortunate to do a lot of work in.” This article is long, interesting, and comprehensive.

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

The value of work.

Welcome to Tuesday, Apexians. Yesterday, Kim and I officially toured our first home. After selling our house a few weeks ago, we’ve been browsing Zillow and Redfin to find places we might like to live. We liked the idea of the house we toured today but the reality was something else. Lousy town. Lousy neighborhood. Lousy everything overall.

But hey! You can’t find a prince without kissing a few frogs, right?

Okay, let’s dive into today’s money stories, shall we? And let’s start with housing.

Has there ever been a worse time to be a homebuyer? [A Wealth of Common Sense] — “I think you could make the argument the current market is the worst ever when it comes to being a homebuyer. There has never been a better seller’s market but buyers are in a world of hurt right now…Let’s count the ways.”

The value of work. [Surviving and Thriving] — “No, you won’t get the same props (or paycheck) for vacuuming an apartment building as you would for performing open-heart surgery. But that doesn’t mean a janitorial job is demeaning. It just means we don’t have the sense to appreciate it.”

Financial metrics to help you design your life today. [The Fioneers] — “Knowing your FI number doesn’t mean that you need to try to reach it as soon as possible. It simply allows you to know what your baseline needs are. With this baseline, you can run calculations and scenarios to understand your options.”

How I became the Honest Broker. [The Honest Broker] — “Honest Brokers play a hidden but vital role in communities without a history of legal protections and stable institutions. Their influence and power is built solely on a reputation for straight talk and trustworthy dealings.”

To close out today, here’s a video that combines a lot of things that fascinate me. It’s Paolo from Tokyo in an eight-minute video asking (and answering) the question, “Are Japanese really honest?”

Maybe Kim and I should be looking for places to live in Japan?!? 😉

Okay, that’s it for today. Back tomorrow with more. See you then.

What inflation means for stocks.

Hello, my friends, and welcome to another week.

After three months dedicated to selling our house, it’s now time to turn my attention to the next step of the process: buying a new place! To that end, I’m spending countless hours browsing Zillow. And I’m nearly ready to start visiting potential “next homes”. Yay! I can only hope this crazy market subsides a little.

Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite money stories from around the web lately.

The top 9 bad arguments against Bitcoin. [J.L. Collins] — “Today I want to look at the most common arguments against Bitcoin that you are likely hearing every day…I want to help you dispense with these shallow headline hot-takes and level up your understanding so next time we can debate some of the genuine issues facing crypto adoption.”

Five financial issues on which people can reasonably disagree. [Humble Dollar] — “When it comes to financial questions, there are two common reasons people disagree. Sometimes, they disagree about the facts—whether, say, interest rates are headed higher. But sometimes, people disagree for another reason: They see the world through different lenses.”

What inflation means for stocks. [Nerdwallet] — “If you can build a portfolio that’s low-cost, tax-advantaged and highly diversified, that’s how you protect your returns from inflation, and how you keep the majority of your money over time — no matter what’s happening in the markets or broader economy.”

The tyranny of time. [Noema] — “During an era in which social constructs like race, gender and sexuality are being challenged and dismantled, the true nature of clock time has somehow escaped the attention of wider society. Much like has happened with money, the clock has come to be seen as the thing it was only supposed to represent: The clock has become time itself.” This is a l-o-n-g but fascinating piece. Highly recommended.

Kim sat me down last week and made me watch the new P!nk documentary on Amazon Prime Video. To be fair, I made her watch an anime film first. Also to be fair, I was blown away by P!nk…everything about her. She’s incredible. Here she is in a very un-P!nk-like performance in her “secret’ folk duo.

Not bad, he?

Okay, folks. That’s it for Monday. I’ll be back tomorrow with more great stuff. See you then!

Speculation is a game you can’t win

A few years ago, I was at dinner with Chris Peach of Money Peach when he told me he never orders his own meal at dinner. He asks the server to pick for him (“pick something you’d order for your friend”) and I thought he was crazy. He told me he’s never been steered wrong and I believe him.

I have my own mildly quirky meal ordering rules too – the key of which is to never order your favorite dish at another restaurant (especially one you’ll never go back to). So if I have a favorite burger place, I don’t order a burger anywhere else. You can only lose.

If the burger is better, then the old burger won’t live up to it. If the burger is worse, well, you’ve just ordered a worse meal. Good job buddy. 🙂

It’s a little like our first article about speculation and why you can’t win.

Speculation: A Game You Can’t Win [More to That] – “Here’s the thing about speculation: Realized gains feel like penalties when they’re interpreted as missed opportunities. Walking away with a great 10x return will make you feel terrible if that came at the expense of a future 100x return. If the top turned out to be much further out than you thought, then you can’t help but to be unhappy with the gains you actually did realize (no matter how good they were).”

What You Need To Know Before You Invest In Anything [Thomas Kopelman] – “I also want to note that chasing investment returns as a millennial is not where your energy is best spent. Your energy is best spent continually investing, increasing your income, increasing your investment percentage, investing in the right accounts based on taxes, etc.” A bunch of good questions to ask yourself before you invest in anything.

Declassified Cold War code-breaking manual has lessons for solving ‘impossible’ puzzles [Phys.org] – “The United States National Security Agency—the country’s premier signals intelligence organization—recently declassified a Cold War-era document about code-breaking. The 1977 book, written by cryptologist Lambros Callimahos, is the last in a trilogy called Military Cryptanalytics. It’s significant in the history of cryptography, as it explains how to break all types of codes, including military codes, or puzzles—which are created solely for the purpose of a challenge.”

The side hustle trap

The internet has a way of hyper-evolving every idea into near absurdity and the idea of side hustles hasn’t escaped this pattern.

The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles [Repeller] – “We live in the era of the hustle. Of following our dreams until the end, and then pushing ourselves more. And every time we feel beholden to capitalize on the rare places where our skills and our joy intersect, we underline the idea that financial gain is the ultimate pursuit. If we’re good at it, we should sell it. If we’re good at it and we love it, we should definitely sell it.”

Get busy living or get busy dying…

How our jobs are killing us [The Darwinian Doctor] – “Collectively, our jobs contribute to our country’s weight problems, high stress levels, and sleep deprivation. These factors contribute to higher rates of everything from heart attacks to cancer and death.” Lots of data, lots of stats, and this is from a surgeon who, despite explaining he does spend a lot of time sitting at a computer, probably moves a lot more than most white collar workers.

One of my good friends is an estate lawyer and he’s shared a few horror stories of how it’s a headache, and a long drawn out process, when someone passes without a legal will and things have to go through probate. This article is from Canada but it doesn’t sound that different from the United States.

My Uncle Died Without a Will – And It Was a Nightmare [Young & Thrifty] – “What happens when a family member dies and doesn’t leave a will? It’s not pleasant, as one woman recounts. It’s a frustrating exercise that underscores why everyone should have a legal will.”

How the wealthiest avoid income taxes

The headline of the only article today is really tempting… but it’s not nearly as sexy as I initially thought. It conflates income with wealth (we are taxed annually on income, wealth is only taxed when we die in estate taxes) and creates a “True Tax Rate” that feels misleading, to be honest.

I’m highlighting it not for the content within (it’s thin) but to point out why I think articles like this are not helpful. They reel you in with a great headline but there’s really no meat.

The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax [ProPublica] – “ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings and even the results of audits.”

I wanted to learn some juicy tax loophole but I didn’t see any. “.. it turns out billionaires don’t have to evade taxes exotically and illicitly — they can avoid them routinely and legally.” Bezos didn’t pay taxes because he didn’t realize any gains and his income was offset by investment losses.

They play with a “True Tax Rate” which is based on estimated wealth growth, not income. If we are taxed on capital gains we have yet to realize, I think a lot of non-billionaires would get upset (and rightfully so). Your shares of the S&P 500 index have gone up, you now owe taxes on it now, where are you going to get that money if you don’t sell? Good luck.

“One of the billionaires mentioned in this article objected, arguing that publishing personal tax information is a violation of privacy. We have concluded that the public interest in knowing this information at this pivotal moment outweighs that legitimate concern.” – I’m not so sure I agree with the public interest argument. Show us the strategies you found and if they’re outrageous, the names won’t matter.

It sounds more like putting Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos is a lot more exciting than “so and so billionaire had investment losses.”

In the end, there were no strategies in this article. No tactics. Just outrage that billionaires don’t pay more.

Maybe there will be future articles with more specifics on what people did, rather than just comparisons to lower income Americans, but we’ll have to see.