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Apex Money Posts

Happy New Year!

Hello, 2021!

I have a fantastic track record when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions – I can’t remember the last time I’ve broken one.

Before you get too impressed, it’s because I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. 🙂

That’s not meant to be cheeky, I don’t think a resolution would work for me and so I’ve never done them. For some, they’re great and work well. It’s the start of new habits (or at least the exploration of a new habit), new behaviors, and new starts.

For others, perhaps like me, they’re less helpful. So do what works for you, that’s probably one of the keys in life!

I do, however, enjoy fresh starts and flipping the calendar over to 2021 represents a big fresh start.

The Magic of a Fresh Start [zen habits] – “When we miss a few days of meditation, or eat junk for a week because of various celebrations, or fall off from writing our book … instead of making that to mean that this whole thing is a waste of time or that we somehow suck … we can look at it as a Fresh Start.”

This next one is an interview with Financial Imagineer, who plans goals in five-year spans:

New Year Goals: From a Swiss Multi-Million Banker [2021] [The Millennial Money Woman] – “My wife and I started imagineering our lives in 5-year steps starting in 2006. The year 2021 marks the end of our third planning cycle. So far, we have had a 100% success rate.”

And this last one can help put a lot of things into perspective:

Michael J Fox: ‘Every step now is a frigging math problem, so I take it slow’ [The Guardian] – “Parkinson’s, he said, had made him quit drinking, which in turn had probably saved his marriage. Being diagnosed at the heartbreakingly young age of 29 had also knocked the ego out of his career ambitions, so he could do smaller things he was proud of – Stuart Little, the TV sitcom Spin City – as opposed to the big 90s comedies, such as Doc Hollywood, that were too often a waste of his talents.”

My favorite find from 2020.

Well, friends, we made it. It’s the last day of a very, very strange year. Thank god.

To celebrate, here’s my absolute favorite find from 2020 — and it’s something I only discovered two days ago. Here’s the video for Melody Gardot’s song, “From Paris with Love”.

Turn up the volume, make it full screen, then listen and watch again and again and again, as I have over the past 48 hours.

This song (and video) so perfectly encapsulates my personal philosophy. It’s joyful. I love it.

And with that, let’s close our eighteenth month here at Apex Money — and draw the shades on 2020. Jim and I will be back next year with more great stories from the world of personal finance. We look forward to having you along for the ride.

The commas that cost companies millions.

Wednesday is hump day — even when it comes at the end of the year. And “hump day”, of course, only exists because of our need to work work work. Today, let’s look at some stories about the world of employment…

The commas that cost companies millions. [BBC Worklife] — “How much can a misplaced comma cost you? If you’re texting a loved one or dashing off an email to a colleague, the cost of misplacing a piece of punctuation will be – at worst – a red face and a minor mix-up. But for some, contentious commas can be a path to the poor house. A dairy company in the US city of Portland, Maine settled a court case for $5m earlier this year because of a missing comma.”

Slack is the right tool for the wrong way to work. [The New Yorker] — “For teams straining under e-mail’s shortcomings, Slack arrived like a digital analgesic, curing multiple pain points all at once. This palliative effect propelled Slack toward its astronomical valuation just six years later. The problem with this trajectory is that no one stopped to ask if it made sense to optimize this style of work in the first place.”

The data-driven case for vacation. [Harvard Business Review] — “Over the past three years, we have partnered with the U.S. Travel Association to more clearly understand the relationship between well-being and taking time off from work. Our hypothesis has been that without recovery periods, our ability to continue performing at high levels diminishes significantly. This is in direct conflict with the common misconception that the longer you persevere at work, the more successful you will become.”

Sorry. No video today. I didn’t find anything worth sharing. That’s pretty rare! Maybe you all should send me something cool that you’ve watched recently.

How to spend your money for maximum happiness.

Today is Tuesday, my friends, and this is Apex Money, your source for the best personal-finance articles from around the web. Here’s what we have for you today.

Your lifestyle has already been designed. [Raptitude] — “All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be ‘healthy’, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.”

Reflecting on financial mistakes. [One Frugal Girl] — “I’ve never made a significant financial mistake, but the little ones still bother me immensely. I can spend days feeling bad because I forgot to use a coupon, left money on the counter, or didn’t buy an item when it was on sale. I’m over forty now and tired of feeling this way. My scarcity mindset has kept me trapped in this negative spiral for way too long. It’s time to make a change.”

How to spend your money for maximum happiness. [Popular Science] — “What most experts can agree on is this: there are ways to spend our money that are more likely to elicit joy. So next time a commercial has you itching to pull out your wallet, hit pause and consider these three tips on where to invest your cash.”

Today’s video is from Sarah, the Budget Girl. In this 26-minute clip, she talks about how mental health affects your finances.

As some of you know, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I have no doubt that these issues affect my finances in ways both obvious and subtle. Over the past two years, they’ve had huge effects in my life.

Okay, that’s plenty for Tuesday. I’ll see you tomorrow with more fun stories from the world of personal finance!

Supercharging your financial bullshit detector.

Good morning, my money nerds! We’re nearing the end of 2020, for which I think it’s safe to assume we’re all celebrating. To get you started this week, here are some of our favorite recent money articles. (Two of these are from The New York Times today. Because that may be behind a paywall for some of you, I’ve included an “extra” story today.)

An oral history of the world’s biggest coupon. [The New York Times] — “The 20 percent off coupon from Bed Bath & Beyond — a homely and oversize mailer known as Big Blue — is omnipresent, unmistakable and a joy to deploy in the chain’s endless aisles. It’s also an oddball marketing achievement where the promotion became a stand-in for the brand itself.”

“How do I make money when I inherently hate the system?” [/r/financialindependence on Reddit] — “’m Black and from the hood. Me and everyone I know has been stuck in perpetual poverty our whole lives. I articulate myself, and I suppose I’m fairly clever. But as far as knowledge on how to make money work for me, healthy work patterns, wealth building habits, and financial literacy I have none.”

Giving billions fast, MacKenzie Scott upends philanthropy. [The New York Times] — “All told, Ms. Scott — whose fortune comes from shares of Amazon that she got after her divorce last year from Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder — had given more than $4 billion to 384 groups, including 59 other Y.W.C.A. chapters.”

Supercharging your financial bullshit detector. [Incognito Money Scribe] — “As a creative endeavor, financial success depends on knowing what to include as well as what to exclude; being able to separate good advice from bad advice; telling the truth from the bullshit. A good bullshit detector can go a long way in making better financial decisions.”

To conclude, here’s something that has nothing to do with money, but which I think is important nonetheless.

I know a lot of people who behave as if the news reflects reality. It doesn’t. Whether your news comes from the mainstream media, social media, or alternate sources, it provides a distorted version of the real world. It provides bits of the truth, but it is not the Truth.

Last year, Our World in Data published a small article that reflects one small way in which the news presents us with a distorted view of reality. They asked: Does the news reflect what we die from? The answer, of course, is “hell no”.

Causes of death in the U.S.

Again, this is one small example but it’s representative of the problem, as a whole. Fundamentally, the news is entertainment. It’s a product. News producers want viewers. So, they’re going to present stories that draw viewers, even if that means those stories create a distorted lens through which to view the world.

Okay, that’s it for the first day of the last week of this year. I’ll be back tomorrow with more good stuff. See you then!

hey it’s December 24th

This will be the last Apex Money of this week and the last one I’ll be putting together for 2020 (J.D. helms the ship in the final week of 2020) – a year that offered up some uniquely difficult challenges and taught us how to overcome them.

That’s how I’m looking at 2020. It was hard. It’s now over. 2021 is next and offers up a little sunrise in what has been a dark 2020.

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading these emails. J.D. thought it would be fun to put together something each day and he was right. Sharing what we find, the little gems across the internet, has been a lot of fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

Today’s post will be all fun stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else, has little to do with money, and I just wanted to share it. 🙂

The Enduring Enigma of Costco’s $1.50 Hot Dog and Soda Combo [Mental Floss] – “When Costco president W. Craig Jelinek once complained to Costco co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal that their monolithic warehouse business was losing money on their famously cheap $1.50 hot dog and soda package, Sinegal listened, nodded, and then did his best to make his take on the situation perfectly clear.

‘If you raise [the price of] the effing hot dog, I will kill you,’ Sinegal said. ‘Figure it out.'”

I haven’t had a Costco hot dog in years (I don’t like that the bun isn’t toasted, but I get it), but I used to get them all the time as a kid.

My $200,000 Sushi Dinner [The New York Times] – “In 2013, this reporter spent 10 Bitcoin, worth $1,000 at the time, on a dinner for dozens of strangers in San Francisco. The owner of the restaurant wisely held onto it.” I remember this story when it first happened – the reporter, Kashmir Hill, was trying to live entirely on bitcoin and was having trouble finding places to spend it. Wild!

And lastly, enjoy this history of the entire world:

JD will be sending out gems on Monday, I’ll see you next year!

What can we do post-vaccine

Short answer? Probably what we’re doing now, just with lowered risk.

Long answer? It’s complicated but this is a good breakdown.

What You Can Do Post-Vaccine, and When [The Upshot at The New York Times] – “When people are fully vaccinated (a week or two after the second dose), but most others aren’t yet, their lives probably shouldn’t change very much, experts say. It will most likely be safer for them to do things like visit the grocery store or the post office. People who work in places that leave them highly exposed will significantly decrease their risk — which is why frontline workers are among the first to be eligible for the vaccine. But vaccinated people should still wear masks and avoid large groups and indoor gatherings when possible.”

Why I Joined, Then Left, The FIRE Movement [The Financial Diet] – “If you’ve read anything about the FIRE movement, you’ve probably seen that it’s a pretty committed group of people, many of whom believe that early retirement is possible for everyone and the answer to just about everything, and if you don’t agree then you’re just being a “complainypants” — an actual term used by some people in the FIRE community to describe anyone who doubts that FIRE is possible for them. I’ll admit, I used to think those things, too. But over the past eight years, I’ve found myself more and more uncomfortable with the ideology behind FIRE.”

Top 10 Ways to Lower Your Taxes [Physician on FIRE] – A good list of ways you can lower your taxes. A lot of them are your typical ideas (max out tax-deferred retirement contributions) but there are a few new ones in here you may have missed (opportunity zone investments).

The Essex Boys: How Nine Traders Hit a Gusher With Negative Oil [Bloomberg Businessweek] – “Among the many previously unthinkable moments of 2020, one of the strangest occurred on April 20, when the price of crude oil fell below zero. West Texas Intermediate futures, the most popular instrument used to trade the commodity, had started the day at $18 a barrel. That was already low, but prices kept tumbling until, at 2:08 p.m. New York time, they went negative. […] U.S. authorities and investigators from Nymex trawled through trading data for insights into who exactly was driving the action on April 20. According to people familiar with their thinking, they were shocked to discover that the firm that appeared to have had the biggest impact on prices that afternoon wasn’t a Wall Street bank or a big oil company, but a tiny outfit called Vega Capital London Ltd. A group of nine independent traders affiliated with Vega and operating out of their homes in Essex, the county just northeast of London, had made $660 million among them in just a few hours.”

INCREDIBLE.

See you tomorrow!

Tsundoku: the art of buying books and never reading them

I have a lot of books on my reading list. Actually, more accurately, I have a lot of books sitting on my desk that the optimistic version of me says he will read. 🙂

Well that’s apparently a thing.

Tsundoku: The art of buying books and never reading them [BBC] – “Do you have a habit of picking up books that you never quite get around to reading? If this sounds like you, you might be unwittingly engaging in tsundoku – a Japanese term used to describe a person who owns a lot of unread literature.” Of course there is a Japanese term for this and of course it describes me.

I bet you didn’t think I could find a book heist! You are wrong! A heist of books!

Tome raiders: solving the great book heist [The Guardian] – “According to Ellis, book theft has undergone an evolution over the past 10 to 15 years. “Prior to that, the theft of manuscripts and rare books was unusual, and quite often committed by people who had access,” he says, such as librarians and academics. But every new high-profile heist raises awareness of the fact that rare books are valuable enough to be worth stealing. At some point, “People realised that these were a comparatively soft target,” Ellis says. And it was only a matter of time before organised criminals spotted an opportunity.”

The cost of retiring early: a lost career of wages [His Her Money Guide] – “Everyone always talks about the positives of early retirement. Extra time and freedom of choice with what to do with it are usually the big headline items. I know that’s why we’re fundamentally on board with the concept of early retirement! But I had a bit of a funny thought about early retirement recently: by retiring early, how much money are we missing out on?”

Bad investing advice

You may have heard that Tesla joined the S&P 500 this week – you’ve probably also heard that Tesla’s stock price has been on a great run this year.

Depending on who you talk to, they may have suggested you buy some yourself… is that good or bad advice? 🙂

Here’s a good list of well-intentioned advice that you should take with a hefty grain of salt:

Bad Investing Advice: What to ignore [and why] [Women Who Money] – “No matter the recommendation or where it comes from, it’s wise to do your homework. Then you can determine the right investment approach for you.”

This next interview with Marc Andreessen is good on a number of levels (including the part about process and “resulting”):

Marc Andreessen On Productivity, Scheduling, Reading Habits, Work, and More [Andreessen Horowitz] – “What I’ve discovered is the number of people who can write something in the middle zone — when they’re trying to explain something that happened last week, month, a year or even a decade — and who I trust to actually give me an objective read on the situation is just a really, really short list. There’s a handful but there aren’t very many.We have one situation currently — what’s literally happening right now [with COVID-19]. Coronavirus is one where everyday I’m looking at all the science and all the economics because these are critical issues. And I’m trying to avoid all the commentary and all of the interpretation. And then the other, as you said, there’s just a very large amount of timeless stuff that really has been proven right over time. You could spend your entire life only reading timeless works which is what smart people used to do.”

The Power of a Part Time Job Even If You Don’t Need Extra Cash [MoneyNing] – “My friend needed quite a few articles before he is launching his site, so it’s so far been a “write as many as you want” type of arrangement. In other words, it’s “eat what you kill and the whole forest is open to you and you only”. This also means that I can directly put a dollar amount to the work I’m putting in for my friend. I honestly haven’t felt this excited about writing an article in a long time. Feeling greedy? Just go write an article. Feeling nervous about the market ups and downs? Write another one. See someone on the street and you felt really bad for him? Go give him some cash and some love, and then go back home to write one more piece.”

A call for help

This first one isn’t about money directly but has huge implications on our economy and our lives:

A Call For Help [No Mercy/No Malice] – “For almost a year now, we have been retreating. The enemy has exposed our institutions as weak and ineffective, and preyed on a deadly comorbidity: the notion that individual liberty trumps collective sacrifice. The virus has driven us not to a beach, but into our own homes and, more dangerously, into separate spheres of differing truths. The daily death toll has crossed 3,000, hospitals are reaching capacity, and more than one million people contract the virus every week. By late January 2021, the virus will have killed more Americans than died fighting in World War II.”

Larry David and the Game Theory of Anonymous Donations [Nautilus] – “In a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode from 2007, Larry David and his wife Cheryl and their friends attend a ceremony to celebrate his public donation to the National Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy group. Little does he know that the actor Ted Danson, his arch-frenemy, also donated money, but anonymously. “Now it looks like I just did mine for the credit as opposed to Mr. Wonderful Anonymous,” David tells Cheryl. David feels upstaged, as if his public donation has been transformed from a generous gesture to an egotistical one.”

MacKenzie Scott, the Amazon billionaire, is giving away $1 billion a month to charity [Vox] – “One of the wealthiest people in the world, MacKenzie Scott, has spent the end of 2020 giving away about $1 billion a month, a staggering amount that sets a high mark for tech billionaires in terms of speed.”