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Beware conflating frugality with scarcity

As a kid, we rarely turned on the air conditioning and sparingly used the heating system.

My parents emigrated to the United States from Taiwan with very little and we always looked for ways to save money. Summers on Long Island (average highs in the 80s) were far milder than the summers in Taiwan (average highs in the 90s). Winters were harsher on Long Island but my parents would turn the temperatures down at night when we slept. I remember nights when it felt too hot but never felt it was too cold.

We were frugal but my parents never cut back on the things that were important. We flew back to Taiwan every few years, we had piano lessons, tutoring, SAT prep, etc. All the things you’d do to help your children succeed, even if they cost money. I learned a lot about cutting back on what isn’t important but being willing to spend on what is.

That’s the theme of today’s Apex:

7 Tips to Live on a Low Income (Without Feeling Deprived) [The Wallet Wise Guy] – “For the majority of our first seven years of marriage, Kendall and I mostly lived on my income alone. And, no, I wasn’t bringing down the big bucks as a doctor or a software engineer.

Instead, I was happily (even if not necessarily gainfully) employed as a pastor.”

The big takeaway is that you can live on a low income but you have to be quite intentional about it. Rather than just saying “spend less,” it’s a tactical look at how to do it so you aren’t just approaching everything with a “spend less” mentality.

Why a Scarcity Mindset Is Keeping You Poor [Debt Roundup] – “While it’s true that basic necessities like food and shelter cost more than ever, the real reason that most people aren’t achieving wealth goals has nothing to do with how much money is in the bank. It has to do with how they think about money.”

Grayson shares a good definition of the scarcity mindset and why it’s a very bad thing.

Fighting Scarcity Mentality Is About More Than Just Money — or Beliefs [Brave Saver] – “Why was it been so hard to get my stuff together, run those errands I’ve been putting off, mail that 401k rollover check that’s been sitting on my desk for weeks?

When I actually try to answer that question, it’s kind of obvious: I’m tired. With the holidays and end of the year approaching, it seems there are “bonus tasks” cropping up in pretty much every area of life, from home to work to parenting. It’s tiring to keep up with all of them.

In short, I’m running closer to empty, lacking the mental, physical, and emotional reserves that I need to be productive. And it’s landed me in a familiar place: a scarcity mindset.”

A great post that can help you identify when a scarcity mindset starts creeping into your default state and what you can do to combat it.

And now for something totally different:

How Baseball Cards Got Weird [The Atlantic] – “One night not long ago, with my 3-year-old son finally asleep and my wife wisely heading to bed, I settled onto the couch, beer in hand, to catch some baseball. Well, not really baseball. I opened my laptop, navigated to, and prepared to watch a pair of rubber-gloved hands in East Wenatchee, Washington, open an entire case of baseball cards—more than 4,000 cards in all.” If this sounds odd, it’s not. There is a kid on Youtube who makes millions unboxing toys and kids love watching it … this isn’t that much different except everyone involved is an adult. Well, and there are stakes.

If you thought it was strange for kids to watch other kids open up toys, there are adults watching other adults open up baseball cards!

Can you do us a favor and share this with someone you think will enjoy it?

(Also, we will not be publishing a curation for the 24th or 25th – we’ll be back on Thursday!)

May the force be with you!

Hey hey, money nerds. Good to see you again.

Although we’ve been “enjoying” meteorological winter for a few weeks now, astronomical (or calendar) winter for the northern hemisphere begins tomorrow evening at 20:19 Pacific, at which point the solstice will occur. But, as we all know, that’s not the big news. The big news is that today, after 42 years of waiting, the official main Star Wars storyline draws to a close.

The first film premiered on 25 May 1977. For kids of a certain age — my age — this movie changed our lives. It became an integral part of our childhoods. We watched the movies, collected the trading cards, read the books and comics, played with the “action figures” (which is a way to make dolls seem appealing to boys, I guess), and more. Now my friends and I are fifty (or older!) and we’re stoked for the release of this final film. Please don’t let it suck. (Please oh please oh please!)

Okay, enough normal nerdery. Let’s move on to today’s regularly-scheduled money nerdery!

Skagway, Alaska is selling ownership of its newspaper for $0. [The Guardian] — “Persily hopes to pass the reins to a committed journalist willing to live in Skagway, a town of 1,000. Ideally, it would be someone who has lived in Alaska and knows the state’s quirks. ‘It’s weird up here,’ he said. ‘It’s weirder than Sarah Palin is weird.'” [Having visited Skagway — twice! and I have a photo from Skagway hanging next to me in my office — I find this opportunity oddly tempting.]

The fantasy numbers that make you buy things online. [BBC] — “When online retailers use web design and verbal nudges to guide customers towards clicking something or making a particular decision, they are deploying what have become known as ‘dark patterns’. The term was coined by design consultant Harry Brignull about 10 years ago…While some dark patterns might be subtle – a pre-ticked checkbox on a form signing you up to a newsletter during registration, for example – others are ‘intended to gaslight the consumer’, says Brignull.”

Financial independence allowed me to walk away from harassment at work. [Financial Mechanic] — “You may love your job now. You may love your company now. But one bad hire can change that. You may be working towards your FI number, but aren’t there just yet. Having a solid emergency fund gives you the option to leave a bad situation if that is the case. FI gives you the choice to walk away from a bad situation, or stay and push for others. It gives you back your power when it would otherwise be stripped away.”

If you want to get ahead financially, don’t be a one-quarter person. [Freedom Is Groovy] — “You have a choice. You can be a one-quarter person and rail against the malevolent forces that you have no control over. Or you can be a three-quarter person and focus on the things you do have control over. For the first 20 years of my adult life, I was a one-quarter person. And it got me absolutely nowhere.”

How to divorce-proof your retirement. [Can I Retire Yet?] — “Understanding how divorce would affect your retirement is a very important topic that we’ve never directly addressed…The topic makes me uncomfortable. I suspect it will make readers uncomfortable as well. Divorces devastate many people’s finances. Yet because it is uncomfortable to discuss, we avoid the topic. Easier for me to write, and for you to read, another article about early retirement health care, safe withdrawal rates or tax planning. No risk there.”

To send you into the weekend — and into winter — here are a couple of non-Star Wars films I’m looking forward to in spring 2020: James Bond 25: No Time to Die (08 April 2020), Wonder Woman II: Wonder Woman 1984 (05 June 2020), and the latest from Christopher Nolan, Tenet (17 July 2020, which isn’t actually spring).

I’ve watched that Wonder Woman 1984 trailer over and over and over again. The film looks like so much fun. And Daniel Craig is easily my favorite Bond. Ever. This is reportedly Craig’s last time playing the superspy, so I’ll be sure to catch this one in theaters.

That’s it for this week. We’ll see you on Monday for more money and merriment. Have a safe weekend, money nerds!

Most accomplishments are invisible.

Good morning, money nerds. It’s good to see you again. Today, we have five great stories related to the psychology of money.

Five mindsets that get in the way of creating wealth. [Psychology Today] — “Undoubtedly, the reasons for people’s money worries are complex and issues like income inequality and racism play a role. However, mindset plays a role, too. Your thinking style can make it either more or less likely you’ll accumulate significant wealth. Let’s look at five cognitive factors that get in the way of creating wealth, even amongst people who earn a good salary at their jobs.”

Most accomplishments are invisible. [Raptitude] — “[My] achievements are completely unimpressive in any conventional sense. I achieved the ability to do certain everyday things most people do with ease. But they took an enormous amount of work, and I wouldn’t trade a single one for a million bucks. So if you feel inadequate whenever some form of the ‘achievement Olympics’ comes up, don’t. We live in a society that assesses people by what their lives produce, not what it takes to live them. Inner work is ignored unless it explains some outer work.”

How we think about forgiveness at different ages. [Greater Good Magazine] — “At its highest developmental level, forgiveness means to unconditionally offer mercy to someone who acted unfairly…The highest form of forgiving is to offer love and kindness for the good of others — and not for some self-serving reason, like hoping for compensation or approval by our peer group after we forgive.”

The soul-expanding value of difficulty. [Brain Pickings] — “If only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful…Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” [This is related, in a way, to the article Jim shared here last week exploring whether we’re happier when we’re uncomfortable.]

The evolution of human cooperation. [The Weekend University] — “How did we go from small insignificant primates on the savannas of Africa, to building large cooperative societies with hundreds of millions of members? It’s tempting to think technological innovations were the driving forces…However, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers an alternative explanation. In his book, The Righteous Mind, and various lectures available online, he argues that it was psychological innovations, rather than technological, that ultimately got us to where we are.” [Also available in video format!]

Got something you think is worthy of sharing with other Apex Money readers? Please send it to us! Your contributions help to make this site better.

The history of Christmas shopping.

Welcome to Wednesday, money nerds. There’s one week left until Christmas. You know what that means: If you celebrate the holiday (and exchange gifts), then you only have seven days left to shop! As for me, I haven’t even started yet. I’m not joking. I know, I know. I need to sort out my priorities…

Right now, my top priority is to share with you some top stories about money. Happy holidays!

How to spend money without worry. [Of Dollars and Data] — “Ultimately, your money should be used as a tool to create the life that you want. That’s the point. The suggestions in this article were merely meant to reduce your anxiety around money, not to tell you where to use it. The hard part, therefore, isn’t spending your money, but figuring out what you truly want out of life.”

Stop believing in the myth of free shipping. [The Atlantic] — “What got us to the present is Amazon Prime, the $119 annual program with more than 100 million American members, which promises unlimited two-day shipping to almost anywhere in the United States. The trick Amazon pulled off was to divorce shipping costs almost entirely from individual buying behavior by charging an annual shipping fee, then further camouflaging matters by making video-streaming services and the like part of the package. And now that we think nothing we order online should take more than two days to arrive, the company is in the process of shaving a day off that expectation. Buyers will receive their purchases the next day, as if delivered by the package fairy.”

How to avoid a transactional Christmas. [Handful of Thoughts] — “If you are feeling like the holiday has transformed into a transactional Christmas, gratitude may be an easy way you can change your outlook. By focusing on being grateful, it takes the focus away from the ‘transaction’…At the end of the day, for me, the holidays are about family, making memories and quality time.”

Finally, on a related note, here’s a ten-minute video looking at the history of Christmas shopping from public broadcasting’s Two Cents.

That’s it for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with more, of course. In the meantime, if you know of a story we should share with the money nerds who read this site, please drop us a line. Thanks!

Nobody knows what luxury is anymore.

Top o’ the mornin’ to you, my friend. It’s Tuesday and this is Apex Money, the site (and email list) where Jim and J.D. collect the best money stories from around the web. Here’s what we have for you today…

Nobody knows what luxury is anymore. [Quartz] — “Luxury ain’t what it used to be. Blame the internet, the rise of on-demand services, and the shift in consumer values as younger generations become more important buyers of high-end goods — all are challenging traditional notions of what luxury is. The classic symbols —the Hermès Birkin bag, a couture dress by Dior, a watch by Rolex — aren’t in any danger of losing status. But around its edges, the concept of luxury is getting blurry, making it less clear where it begins and ends.”

This is what racism sounds like in the banking industry. [The New York Times] — “What makes their cases extraordinary is not that the two men say they faced discrimination. It is that they recorded their interactions with bank employees, preserving a record of what white executives otherwise might have dismissed as figments of the aggrieved parties’ imaginations.”

The surprising breadth of harbingers of failure. [Journal of Marketing Research] — “Previous research has shown that there exist ‘harbinger customers’ who systematically purchase new products that fail (and are discontinued by retailers). This article extends this result in two ways. First, the findings document the existence of ‘harbinger zip codes’. If households in these zip codes adopt a new product, this is a signal that the new product will fail. Second, a series of comparisons reveal that households in harbinger zip codes make other decisions that differ from other households.”

How Wes Anderson became an accidental icon of interior design. [Inside Hook] — “To say that Wes Anderson has a style would perhaps be an understatement…Anderson’s movies are immediately recognizable because of what’s in them: Steve Zissou’s red beanie and Margot Tenenbaum’s oversize fur coat, Suzy’s trusty binoculars in Moonrise Kingdom, the pale pink Mendl’s bakery boxes that match the exterior of the Grand Budapest Hotel.” [Trivia: Wes Anderson’s Rushmore is one of my favoritest movies of all time. Love it!]

That’s it for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with more from the world of personal finance. Got something we should share? Send it to us!

Is the only “solution” in life to have a ton of money?

Brrr! Baby, it’s cold outside! I know I keep complaining about the cold, but that’s, well, because it’s cold. I’ll quit grousing once we hit March or April. Sound fair?

Cold or not, it’s Monday, and that means it’s time to share some of our favorite financial stories from around the web. Ready? Let’s go!

To start things off, here’s an interesting conversation from Reddit’s /r/financialindependence. One 24-year-old feels overwhelmed by the relentless hamster-wheel of society. “The only solution in life is to have a ton of money,” (s)he says. Then /u/BurrtoAburrido offers a long, insightful reply, which includes this passage:

Life isn’t some paint-by-numbers that a certain age means you know or don’t know anything, or that you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way.

I caught myself mid-judgement reading your post.

When I first read your post about being 24 and feeling stuck on a hamster wheel, burned out, and that life is a series of deadlines, my immediate reaction was to scoff.

My thought, “How could you know burnout and frustration at 24! You’re barely even beginning the rest of your life.”

Then I paused for a moment and thought back to age 24 for me. I had completely forgotten, but then recalled feeling exactly what you are describing.

Anyhow, I found the entire thread interesting and well-worth reading (which is unusual for /r/financialindependence lately).

Want to advance your career? Get a sponsor. [Keeping Up with the Bulls] — “Having a sponsor is critical if you want to advance your career. It’s not just about what you know but who you know. Many decisions will be made about your career when you aren’t in the room. It’s important to have people who are in that room that will advocate on your behalf.”

Twelve people talk honestly about how they paid off their debt. [BuzzFeed News] — “What you’ll find below is a collection of stories, culled from the hundreds of responses, with various motivations, strategies, and outcomes. The sacrifices people made to pay off their debt might not surprise you. But the reaction those same people had to finally paying off that debt likely will.”

To close things out, here’s a bit of fun: It’s a fifteen-minute YouTube collection of the best news bloopers from 2019. Enjoy!

Found something that Jim and I should share with other Apex Money readers? Send it to us! We’re here to spread the love…

Planes, trains, and automobiles: Isn’t travel the best?

I love to travel. I enjoy seeing and living in different places, usually as slowly as possible as to recreate a local’s living experience rather than a tourist whirlwind through sights… but I am not a fan of the actual travel to and from those places.

Airports are magnets for stress. Easy going, normal people are always stressed out 150% and TSA doesn’t help.

We have three kids so traveling is a chaotic juggling of children, luggage, and schedules. It’s not fun but it’s what we need to do to get to the fun. 🙂

Today’s Apex will be mostly travel-related, starting with a little behind the scenes at LAX:

Nine Secrets I Never Knew About Airports Until I Worked at LAX [Bloomberg] – “From dead bodies in the security line to a cobra in a Pringles can, you wouldn’t believe the crazy things that happen at America’s busiest airport of origin.”

The Girl’s Guide to Hiking Solo [Nomadic Matt, written by Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse] – “Like solo traveling, some people will argue that hiking alone is never safe, no matter what. As someone who does it all the time, I have a different take on it. I find it empowering, incredibly peaceful, and one of the best ways to get closer to myself. I get to push out all the noise and clutter and just be one with nature. That said, you have to take precautions to make yourself safer.”

Why Cruise Lines Keep Cutting Their Ships in Half [Bloomberg] – “With sparks flying, and shipyard workers and invited guests cheering him on, Delany made the final vertical cut to chop Star Breeze in half. But he was hardly destroying the small ship—he was doing just the opposite.

In a process called “stretching,” the Star Breeze is getting pulled apart to make room for a new, 84-foot, 1,250-ton prefab midsection addition. Think of it like unsnapping (or unwelding) two Legos and putting another block in between. But with a boat.”

This last one isn’t about travel but was too good for me to not share!

Expensive Cars are Masquerading Around as Signs of Wealth [Greenbacks Magnet] – “You ever drive by a neighborhood that ends in Estates or Hills and look in the driveway?

There are usually enough European cars around for these folks to start a dealership down the street and give Audi a run for their money.

You figure places like Beverly Hills, Miami Beach, and New York are places that can afford these types of cars, but what about places you would think those people may not make the type of money it requires to have those vehicles?”

Before you go, a fun little video about something you might’ve heard about. In 1981, American Airlines sold a $250,000 pass that allowed the holder to fly for free… until they clawed it back.

Watch this video to learn more about this program and what happened:

(if you are really into it, The Hustle did a long piece about AAirpass too)

That’s it for me – next week, J.D. returns with a heavy dose of Apex Worthy stuff for you to enjoy!

Tis the season to TAKE :)

Two days ago, the .

The theme of today’s Apex is all about TAKING.

Don’t get me wrong… taking something that isn’t yours is bad. Very bad.

And the posts today will show you exactly how bad it is to take what is not yours, especially after you get caught (and you will always get caught).

Where Husbands Hide Money During Divorce [Christine Luken] – “If things aren’t going well in your marriage, you might wonder where husbands hide money during divorce. Although no one really “wins” financially coming out of divorce, women are more negatively impacted than men. […] Since many of my clients are divorcing women, I’ve heard quite a few stories of financial deceit: husbands hiding assets, income, and even debt from their wives!”

The Big Bitcoin Heist [Vanity Fair] – “He was the lone guard at the Advania data center, housed in a former U.S. naval base not far from the Reykjavík airport in Iceland. His job was to keep watch over two hangar-like buildings that held rows of small, box-like computers, the size of two cartons of cigarettes, stacked in towers as far as the eye could see. It was a hot, constantly blinking trove of devices, lashed together with tangles of cables and wires, all dedicated to a single job: mining the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin.”

Jackpot [Medium] – “How two lottery-crazed bank clerks cooked up China’s biggest bank robbery of all time.” Like many bank robberies, it was not a good plan. And in China, the consequences are far more severe.

A Pickpocket’s Tale [The New Yorker] – “In magic circles, Robbins is regarded as a kind of legend. Psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and the military study his methods for what they reveal about the nature of human attention.” This article is dated 2012 and every so often it reappears in my life and I’m reminded how amazing Robbins is. If you want to learn more about him, you’ll find numerous videos on him and his work but definitely watch his TED talk on attention and misdirection. Solid gold and very useful.

Thanks for reading and please please please share this with someone who will enjoy it!

Hustle your face off

In America, we celebrate hard work. Burning the candle at both ends. Rise and grind. [insert your favorite “work hard, play hard” quote here]

But is it always the right thing?

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

And it’s especially hard to know when you’re working for yourself (or aspiring to) because there’s always more to do and the pressure to do it. But working harder doesn’t always mean you’re working smarter. In fact, the more you work, the less you’re able to differentiate between the good stuff and the bad stuff. It’s like cramming for a test… that last hour of studying is usually trash.

We start today’s Apex with a post on entrepreneurship and finish with a fun video series by the champion of hustle, Gary Vee:

Why Your Entrepreneurship Addiction is Making You Broke (and how-to fix this) [Studenomics] – “You’re proud of yourself because you suddenly feel like an entrepreneur. You’ve listened to a podcast, you’ve signed up for another seminar, and you shared an inspirational meme today. You did all of this before 6 in the morning since you’re up at 5 because that’s what you’ve been told to do by a guru.

I’m here to tell you why your self-help addiction is making you broke and what you can do to fix this right away…”

How to Manage Two Successful Business (And Why One Wasn’t Enough) [Afford Anything] – Julia Kelly shares why she started a second business after having a ‘successful’ first business. She’s a caricature artist making six figures that also co-started an accounting business with her neighbor. “Three years in to starting the biz, we have over 50 clients and five employees making up an awesome team of humans doing work that’s valuable, important, and (for me at least) fun!

I still run JK Expressions and do a decent number of the gigs myself. Turns out, I’m much happier when drawing caricatures is my side gig and it’s balanced out with more analytical type of work.”

Ever wonder where Amazon returns go? People buy them by the pallet and resell them!

Where Amazon Returns Go to Be Resold by Hustlers [The Atlantic] – “With a couple hundred dollars and a few minutes, you could go to a liquidation website right now and buy a pallet full of stuff that people have returned to Amazon. It will have, perhaps, been lightly sorted by product category—home decor, outdoor, apparel—but this is mostly aspirational. For example, in one pallet labeled “home decor,” available for sale on, you could find hiking crampons, shimmer fabric paint, a High Visibility Thermal Winter Trapper Hat, a Mr. Ellie Pooh Natural White Paper List Pad, a St. Patrick’s Pot O’ Gold Cupcake Decorating Kit, a Spoontiques Golf Thermometer, a Feliz Cumpleanos Candle Packaged Balloon, and five Caterpillar Hoodies for Pets.”


IF you enjoy that type of thing, I found a fun video series you’ll enjoy. Gary Vaynerchuk, of Wine Library TV and Gary Vee fame, goes around to garage sales for vintage toys, mugs, and other high-value goodies that he can flip on eBay (more accurately, his team flips it). It’s basically a version of Storage Wars but with stuff that all 80s kids will identify with. It’s quite fun to watch. Here’s the first video in the series:

Have a good day and send this to someone you think will enjoy reading this!

Tis the season to give

Ever wonder what it is like to run a foundation?

It sounds really exotic and fancy but it’s actually quite easy to start a foundation. My wife and I did it a few years by making a small contribution to a Fidelity donor advised fund. Now we are the proud advisers to a DAF that gives us the flexibility to separate our donations from our giving. A DAF lets us contribute in a way that maximizes our tax benefits while decoupling it from when we give from the fund. It’s a great system.

Want to learn more? Leif does a great job explaining how this works in his epic post on the subject:

The Donor Advised Fund : A Smarter Way to Give [Physician on Fire] – “A donor advised fund (DAF) is an excellent and tax-efficient way to give to charity. The vast majority of my charitable giving is to and from my DAF. There are several big advantages to using a DAF as opposed to giving cold, hard cash, or writing checks.”

As for the actual giving, I really enjoy how Andy and his family approach giving:

How to Make Charitable Giving a Family Tradition [Marriage Kids and Money] – “Charitable giving can feel difficult or even impossible when we’re in debt and barely scraping by. When we’ve lifted ourselves up to a position of financial strength and confidence, giving back feels like the right thing to do.” This post shares how Andy and his family have made giving a part of their family tradition – it’s a lovely post.

Using Your Real Hourly Wage to Make Smarter Financial Decisions [Life and My Finances] – “Your real hourly wage is the amount you are actually making per hour after all work expenses are accounted for. These expenses include things like the cost of your commute to work each day, work clothes, unpaid lunch breaks, etc.

Discovering how much you actually earn per hour can be a real eye opener. But once you know this number, you can use it to make smarter financial decisions.”

Lastly, our video for today comes from my good friend Bob Lotich of Seed Time – how many of these 17 things do you do?

Have a great week and consider sending this to a friend who might want to see it!