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Apex Money Posts

The difference between beginner and advanced advice.

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya! J.D. here, ready to start another week of Apex Money. I’ve been gatherin’ up those lovely money stories to share, don’t you know? Shall we see what I’ve found?

How do I help my friend in an abusive marriage? [Liberating Motherhood] — “Leaving a bad marriage when you have kids is one of the scariest things a person can do. It is very likely that the husband will get some custody, and it’s possible that he will weaponize the court system for years to come. If he is wealthy, there is a distant possibility that he could take her kids altogether. So while to outsiders, it might seem as simple as ‘just leave’, the story is always more complicated — specially once your friend recognizes that she is indeed being abused.” [The advice here is targeted to women, but applies to men in abusive marriages too.]

Should you be worried about the U.S. debt? [The Belle Curve] — “What does all of this mean for investors? If history is any guide, not much. Being a deficit hawk in the 1980s would not have served you well if you reduced your portfolio allocation to stocks. Same goes for the 90s, early aughts, and the 2010s. Does that mean the debt doesn’t matter? Not exactly.”

The crucial difference between beginner and advanced advice. [Forte Labs] — “Beginner advice tends to take the form of an extremely simple, impossible to misunderstand, black-and-white rule. Don’t do this. Always do that. This is what beginners need – a direct commandment they can follow blindly, trusting that the advice will lead them somewhere good even if they don’t understand how or why. But beginner advice is also inherently limited. It’s a deliberate oversimplification, hiding or ignoring a lot of the complexity of the real world…” Great article.

That last article really resonates with me. I was chatting with my ex-wife the other day (we’re on friendly terms), and I joked about how she is always right. (That was an ongoing theme of the marriage haha.)

“Not really,” she said, “but I always think I am at the time.”

“The older I get, the less sure I am of anything at all,” I replied. And it’s true. My younger self was confident, saw the world in black and white. My older self is doubtful and skeptical and sees everything in shades of grey. This is like applying that Forte Labs article to aging and life, in general. But the article is also spot-on with learning all sort of skills, including financial skills.

When I was getting my shit together in twenty years ago, I needed black-and-white advice that was easy to follow. Now, after reading and writing about money for two decades, I see that nothing is ever as clear as some folks would have you believe.

(I can see it’s also true with watercolor painting, for instance. I’m at the very early stages of learning how to paint, and much of what I’m reading is rules: paint lightest values first, limit your color palette, avoid white or black or grey paint, etc. But I’m already seeing that these rules aren’t written in stones; they’re just general guidelines or “best practices”.)

That’s all I have for you today. But I’ll be back tomorrow with more delightful links. Join me, won’t you?

Generative AI’s impact on white-collar work

Generative AI’s abilities are growing at an astronomical pace, if you aren’t aware of it (or better yet, using it), you’ll probably be left behind… especially if you do knowledge work.

Here’s what we know about generative AI’s impact on white-collar work [Financial Times] – “I understand the temptation to wave away these warnings as mere projections. Thousands of years of history have lulled many of us into the false sense of security that automation is something that happens to other people’s jobs, never our own.” The first chart is worth 10,000 words but keep reading the whole thing, especially the section on BCG.

Tim Ferriss had a chat with Morgan Housel that I found very enlightening. Housel has a new book out but they talk about a lot of different topics, some of which are more financial in nature than others. The whole thing was entertaining and educational to listen to.

One of the discussions they have is covered by this blog post I enjoyed:

A Few Laws of Getting Rich [Morgan Housel on Collabfund] – “There are 13 divorces among the 10 richest men in the world. Seven of the top ten have been divorced at least once. Correlation isn’t causation, and that sample size is tiny. But a statistic that is so much worse than the national average, on a topic so fundamental to happiness, among a group whose lives are envied by so many, is interesting, isn’t it?”

OK and as we enter the weekend I ask you this, where is a starfish’s head? 🤣

J.D. is back next week!

We Need to Talk About Your Retirement ‘Spending’

This first post was really good and resonated with me a lot.

Frugality is great but up to a point. At some point, it’s important to stop scrimping so much and enjoy the money you’ve saved. Success isn’t necessarily leaving a large inheritance, especially if it comes at cost of a big sacrifice elsewhere.

We Need to Talk About Your Retirement ‘Spending’ [Morningstar] – “It’s that the portfolio withdrawal that my parents made in 1994 to enlarge our down payment counted, technically, as retirement “spending” for them. But I would argue that it was legacy planning, pure and simple. That early gift from my parents meant much more to me and my husband than did the inheritance we received from them at the end of their lives, even though the latter was a significantly larger sum. And while I’m sure my parents weren’t thinking transactionally about the down payment gift—they only wanted to help and for us to be close by because we enjoyed spending time together—having us in close geographic proximity proved to be a godsend to them later. We helped them achieve their goal of aging in place.”

Aging at Different Speeds [Next Avenue] – “The difference in our tempos may be a bit extreme, but the fact of an unforeseen divergence in how our bodies are aging is not. More and more often, I hear from friends about a spouse’s illness, need for hip or knee replacement or general slowing down. More and more, I hear about the frustrations and strains that aging at different paces places on a relationship.” Food for thoughts.

I know people who buy stuff off Amazon, use it once, and then return it. They jokingly called it “Amazon Rentals” and it sounded pretty scammy to me. But this last story is waaaaay scammier. (please don’t buy and return stuff to Amazon and call it Amazon Rentals)

How a ‘Refund Fraud’ Gang Stole $700,000 From Amazon [404 Media] – “Court records and online research reveal how a highly professionalized industry uses malicious insiders at Walmart and fake shipping labels to get high-end items for practically free.”

Do you remember Choose Your Adventure books? This game, Arcane Intern, reminds me of it with a few tricks only available on the internet.

The Best Laid Plans

Today’s first article is one that I really enjoyed because of how “real” and “honest” it was.

So many times we hear retrospectives that tell a story that fits a nice clean timeline.

“I planned this, then it happened exactly as I mapped out decades earlier, and now here’s what I learned.” — BOO. Those are not only fake narratives but teach terrible lessons.

The one shared by Chris is real and something we should all read, regardless of what financial stage you’re in:

Reader Case Study: The Best Laid Plans… [Can I Retire Yet?] – “Today I bring you a case study of a reader that planned diligently for early retirement. Life played out much differently from those plans. Still the process of saving and planning combined with the ability and willingness to adapt put him in position to live a rewarding early retirement. Ken Lindsay retired 14 years ago at age 50. Today he generously shares lessons he’s learned in over a decade of early retirement and his plans as he enters traditional retirement years.”

A quick PSA for couples with different 401(k) plans… make sure you coordinate contributions!

Many Couples Do Not Coordinate 401(k) Matches [Center for Retirement Research at Boston College] – “Imagine a married couple. Both work, and their earnings are identical. But one spouse’s employer is matching every dollar of her 401(k) contributions up to a cap. The other spouse’s 401(k) match is only 50 percent. They could increase how much they are saving for retirement by contributing first to the 401(k) with the full match in this simple version of the myriad situations married couples face. But, according to a new study, one in four couples do not prioritize the more generous employer’s 401(k) matching funds.”

I never thought about this (in part because I’m a U.S. citizens) but how do you leave the British House of Lords?

How to Leave the House of Lords [History Today] – “Members of the House of Lords are traditionally prohibited from giving up their seats. What if a move to the Commons becomes a political necessity?”

Average is not the same as median

Happy Monday! I’m (Jim) back!

This first article opened my eyes to the folly of picking individual stocks. Most of my portfolio is in boring index funds (and boring is exactly how I like my investments) but I do have a small portfolio where I picked dividend stocks (I haven’t done that since I set it up, many many years ago).

It’s done well enough but I was surprised to learn the discoveries of our first article.

Average is not the same as median… [Klement on Investing] – “Antti Petajisto analysed the return distribution of all US stocks in the CRSP database going back to 1926. Below is the distribution of returns for different investment horizons. Note that the distribution gets more and more skewed to the left as investment horizons increase and that the left-hand side of the distribution is not zero, but a total loss of investment (-100% return).” In layman’s terms, “If you randomly pick stocks in any given sector, your most likely outcome is that you will have lost money after 10 years.” Wow.

I haven’t been following the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, but it turns out the verdict has been rendered:

Sam Bankman-Fried Guilty on All 7 Counts in FTX Fraud Trial [CoinDesk] – “Sam Bankman-Fried defrauded his customers and lenders, a New York jury found after a five-week trial for the FTX founder and former chief executive. A tentative sentencing date was set for March 28, 2024. Bankman-Fried could spend decades in prison (and theoretically up to 115 years).”

OK this video about the son of the founder of Oriental Trading Company is insane.

The Man Who Lost $204 Million On A Trip To Vegas – it’s technically more than one trip but does that really matter???

The boy and the heron.

It’s a freaky Friday, friends, and that means it’s time for us to share some fun stories here at Apex Money! Let’s see what I’ve gathered to take you into the weekend…

The perks of part-time work. [One Frugal Girl] — “My work ethic helped me move up the corporate ladder and padded my bank accounts, but I needed to move my body more throughout the day. I allowed my focus on coding to distract me from many other essential aspects of my life, like eating and exercising…This part-time job is perfect for me. I don’t have to think about work before or after I arrive. I complete my tasks and then go home, but the structure of going to work forces me to plan my day.”

Is gold a good investment? [Monevator] — My answer to this question? No. Monevator’s answer? “I’m still ambivalent about whether gold is a good investment.” There are so many other things that offer better track records that I’m not sure why anyone still pursues gold. It’s just crazy.

There’s always another way to make money. [Becoming Minimalist] — “If you genuinely resonate with a desire to seek more meaningful work, don’t be paralyzed by the potential monetary implications. Remember, there’s more than one way to earn. You can find new work—something more fulfilling.”

Lastly, here’s something I’ve been awaiting a long time: the trailer to Hayao Miyazaki’s (supposedly) final film, The Boy and the Heron.

I’m a huge fan of Studio Ghibli. Even when their films aren’t perfect, they are. (Does that make sense?) I’m okay with the dull parts in Spirited Away or the overlong running time of Princess Mononoke. It’s all so beautiful and magical and necessary.

Anyhow, The Boy and the Heron comes to the U.S. on December 8. And although it’s officially the last film from Hayao Miyazaki, he’s already announced that he’s un-retired to tackle another project.

(True story: As my first independent watercolor project, I tried to reproduce one of Miyazaki’s design drawings for Kiki’s Delivery Service. although much of what I did looks great, some of it looks crappy so I’m going to redo it. If I get it right, I’ll share it at my personal site.)

p.s. Look at that gorgeous kerning on the “oy” in “boy” for the title! And the eye in the “o” of “heron” (and the kerning of the “ro”). Love it.

The super simple way to make time to read again.

Today is Thursday, my friends, although it seems like Tuesday because it’s only the second day I’ve collected links for Apex this week. 😉

Actually, that’s not true. It very much feels like Thursday. I might not have been reading much about money this week, but I’ve certainly been busy. Doing what? Well, mostly I’ve been painting. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it at Apex, but I’m taking a watercolor class — and I love it. It’s so fun! It’s been a long time since I’ve got lost in flow like I get lost with this class. (Seven hours painting yesterday. Wow.)

Okay, okay. Enough jibber jabber. You’re here for money stories, not for pondering about painting.

How I read 40 books and extinguished the world on fire. [Emily Gorcenski] — “Reading took a back seat in my life and it stayed there for almost two decades. It pained me to think about this loss: reading brought me so much joy throughout my life. I used to live at our local library. Why couldn’t I get it back. This year I found that answer. Put away the fucking phone.” Preach!

The soaring cost of streaming services. [The Verge] — “This year alone, all of the major names in streaming — Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, Max, Apple TV Plus, Paramount Plus, and Peacock — have raised their prices. Netflix’s most expensive plan has officially crossed the $20 threshold, and other services are steadily headed in that direction. The price of streaming is at an all-time high.” [Five years ago, I was paying $50/month for streaming services that now cost me $85/month. No wonder I’m pruning back!]

How much is a 3% mortgage worth? [A Wealth of Common Sense] — “Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair how the winners and losers are determined in this crazy world of ours. However, I’m not sure we’ve ever experienced a wider gap between the winners and losers in something as big and important as the housing market. This is going to have a lasting impact for years to come and I don’t think we’ve thought through the potential ramifications yet.” [Kim and I bought our house with a 2.63% interest rate in August 2021. I can’t imagine we will ever sell it. (But I could be wrong.)]

Say “hello” to Pathfinders. [JL Collins] — I generally try not to promote my friends’ work here, but I’ll make an exception this time. In 2016 JL Collins published The Simple Path to Wealth, which has become one of the most-highly recommended books in the world of personal finance (and financial independence). It really is all you need to know about money. Well, this week Collins published the follow-up, Pathfinders, which collects stories from folks who have put his ideas into action. Want to know more? This link features 24 intriguing quotes from the new book.

That’s it for today, folks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to head out to watercolor class. I’ll be back tomorrow to take you into the weekend.

The five-minute to-do list.

Hello, my friends. It’s J.D. here with another day of Apex Money. As you might have noticed, I missed Monday and Tuesday this week. I was feeling guilty about that, but then I remembered what Jim always says about this site: “It’s a lark!” We don’t make any money here, and we’re just doing it for fun. If I miss a couple of days once in a while, I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. 😉

One of the things I’ve been dealing with is my frickin’ tinnitus. In April, I began taking Wellbutrin to treat my depression. It does a good job! But it comes with one lousy, lousy side effect: a constant ringing in my ears. Some days are worse than others. The past fews days have been pretty bad. Makes things tough to concentrate.

Enough grousing! Let’s get to the real reason you’re here: some interesting links to stories that may (or may not) have something to do with money.

To lead a meaningful life, become your own hero. [Scientific American] — “Some stories are better than others—some evoke awe and excitement, while others make people yawn. We wondered whether the hero’s journey provides a template for telling a more compelling version of one’s own life story. After all, the hero’s journey lies at the heart of the most culturally significant stories around the world.”

17 lessons from 17 years of The Marginalian. [The Marginalian] — “14. Choose joy. Choose it like a child chooses the shoe to put on the right foot, the crayon to paint a sky. Choose it at first consciously, effortfully, pressing against the weight of a world heavy with reasons for sorrow, restless with need for action. Feel the sorrow, take the action, but keep pressing the weight of joy against it all…”

What are the quiet luxury brands that only the super rich know about? [/r/AskReddit] — This is just a long list of replies (7600 of them!) detailing what the super wealthy do with their money. Sample: “I had a rich friend once tell me that Gucci is what poor people think rich people wear. Since then I noticed that all of her clothes fit perfect, but she never has logos on anything.” Warning: This thread is a time suck!

The five-minute to-do list. [The Art of Non-Conformity] — “A quick idea for you today: keep an alternate to-do list that consists entirely of things that can be done in 5 minutes or less. This list should live on your desk for small pockets of time or transition moments between bigger projects. That’s the short version! But of course, more details in the post…” [Great idea!]

Lastly, you may have already seen this, but if not it’s worth a watch. Here’s an eight-minute video of the mad scientists at Boston Dynamics programming their robots to be walking/talking tour guides via A.I. Kind of a wild mesh of technologies here.

We’re living in the future!

Speaking of the future, I’ll be back tomorrow with more fun stuff. See you then.

The Sharp End

Our first article on the last day of the week is a great one I discovered a short time ago. It talks about the various chains in a failure and our title, The Sharp End, refers to the last failure.

At hospitals, and in the case of overdoses, the sharp end is the last touch point. The person who administered the drug that led to an overdose. The sharp end is a convenient scapegoat but the failure is the result of a chain of events. A lot of failures have to occur for the tragic one to occur. It’s an important mental model and our first post by Jesse discusses its relevance with our money:

5 Common Failures in Personal Finance [Best Interest] – “In my amateur study of fire safety, the “chain of events” is clear. There’s never a solitary reason explaining a fire death. There is always a chain of events. If any of the links on that chain were different, tragedy would have been avoided.” (these failures can apply to all areas of our life too)

With Halloween around the corner, here are some good tips for saving money:

10 Easy Ways To Save Money On Halloween [Well Kept Wallet] – “According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending is expected to exceed $12 billion this year. But did you know that there are easy ways to save money on Halloween? Whether you’re shopping for costumes, candy or party decor, there are things you can do to lessen the holiday’s blow to your budget.”

Never Look Down the Road Not Taken [Of Dollars And Data] – “I “knew” I should’ve bought more, but I didn’t. You probably have a story of “the investment that got away” as well. However, I’m here to tell you that this kind of thinking is a mirage. It’s pure fantasy. Because the way you think things would’ve turned out is not the way they actually would’ve turned out. How you imagine an experience is a theoretical exercise. It’s a mental simulation of your past. But, how you live through that experience in real-time tends to produce very different results.” Never ever!

Did you know that in a rainbow, some parts of it are missing? Here’s why they’re not there (in just 12 minutes and it’s really really fascinating!):

Benefits of a long walk

I enjoy walking.

Our kids’ bus stop is a solid half mile away from our home and I try to walk them out whenever the weather cooperates (when it’s not raining). It’s not a long walk but we have to do it twice in the morning and it’s a nice little boost of mileage for me, who works from home.

Short walks are nice but long walks are where it’s at.

It’s Amazing What Being Alone With Your Thoughts on a Walk Can Do for You [Route to Retire] – “Today I decided I was going to take a little walk just because the weather was nice and those days are a rarity in Ohio as fall continues rolling on through. Well, it turned out to be more than a quick stroll. It somehow became a 7.17-mile hike (plus the walk to the trail and back). That’s not too shabby for being alone and not knowing the area at all. It became a great reminder for me of how important it is to get outside and to pay attention to nature. Not only is it good for you physically, but it’s great for your mind as well.”

What Economists Got Wrong About the Great Recession [Tyler Cowen on Bloomberg] – “Economists do not, in general, know when business downturns will arrive. If there were reliable signals of a coming downturn, it would arrive immediately, as market actors would contract their plans accordingly, in the expectation of bad times to come. In that sense, there is not much of a predictive window to experience.”

Seven Habits that Seem Lazy (but Actually Let You Get More Done) [Scott H. Young] – “Consider the person who stays late at the office every night, to show everyone what a “team player” he is. Except, this causes him to sleep less which makes him sluggish. He misses time spent with colleagues, who would have recommended him for projects and promotions. He never has time to think, and thus fails to think of brilliant ideas that would propel him forward. Despite his drudgery, his lack of progress only convinces him that he has failed to work hard enough.”

These habits don’t seem that lazy… 😀