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The Top Idea in Your Mind

You made it to Friday!

A few quickies today for you that aren’t meant to teach as much as they are meant to make you think a little bit as we go into the weekend. I hope it ignites a few brain cells and helps create some insight. 🙂

The Top Idea in Your Mind [Paul Graham] – “I realized recently that what one thinks about in the shower in the morning is more important than I’d thought. I knew it was a good time to have ideas. Now I’d go further: now I’d say it’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.”

Thinking in Bets: How to Make Decisions Like a Poker Player [Frontera] – “Thinking in bets is a decision-making framework developed by former professional poker player Annie Duke. In this article, you’ll find two real-life examples of how people —mistakenly— evaluate decisions based on their outcomes. Then, you’ll see why it’s wrong and how to take luck into consideration by thinking like a poker player.” Make positive expected value decisions and you will win… over the long run. 🙂

Guy Fieri, Elder Statesman of Flavortown [New York Times] – “Guy Fieri looks as if he has prepared his whole life to be a middle-aged rock star. He has grays in the famous goatee now, a faint tan line beneath his chain necklace and a pair of hulking middle-finger rings that do not slow his incorrigible fist-bumping. He talks about the higher purpose of his “namaste” tattoo, and feigns outrage when no one recognizes his Dean Martin references. He revels, still, in conspicuous consumption, double-fisting naan and tandoori chicken during a recent television shoot here at a strip-mall Indian restaurant tucked between a nail salon and a wax center.” Might be behind a paywall for you but this article was fun to read – I only ever caught a few minutes of Diners, Drivethrus, and Dives but I love the career he’s made for himself.

J.D. is back next week! Have a great weekend!

Don’t Anchor Yourself To Your Portfolio High-Water Mark

In my (Jim’s) blogging “career,” I’ve experienced quite a few market bubbles, bull runs, bear runs, crashes, what have you. For the crashes and bear markets, in the moment, they’ve always been hard to manage emotionally. It’s why I’ve developed skills to help me cope, essentially, when it feels like there’s disaster around the corner (or disaster on top of me).

So I always look forward to reading how other people manage these times, especially when they are fellow bloggers who have been at it for nearly as long. I’ve never met Jonathan in person but he’s always felt like a kindred spirit in the blogging world.

Read his post on what he focuses on instead of his portfolio balance, especially now that it’s off its high:

Don’t Anchor Yourself To Your Portfolio High-Water Mark [My Money Blog] – “Inside various financial forums, I am seeing the “anyone else worried?” 😓 posts as most portfolios are down double-digits. For a retiree with a $1 million portfolio, seeing $100,000 or $200,000 of value evaporate is understandably stressful. However, much of this is because your portfolio’s all-time high, or high-water mark, is a relatively arbitrary number. Just because at one moment in time, there were a few willing buyers of your assets for a given price at a time where you weren’t looking to sell, doesn’t mean you should anchor yourself to that number.”

I love scambaiters too!!!!!!

Scambaiters: Meet the modern-day heroes who scam scammers [Get Rich Slowly] – “One of the things I’m passionate about is scammers. I hate them. Scammers are evil, evil people who prey on the most vulnerable members of society. They take advantage of social constructs in order to manipulate people into parting with their hard-earned money. No surprise then that one of my favorite sub-genres of YouTube videos is “scammers getting scammed”. Scambaiters are modern-day heroes. As much as I despise scammers, I think scambatiers deserve high praise.”

I find it astounding, but it also makes sense, that we ship honeybees.

A day in the life of a honeybee trucker [Freight Waves] – “Pollinating the seemingly endless fields of almond trees in California requires 85% to 90% of all honeybees available to pollinate in the U.S., Yaddaw said. Bees are trucked into California from across the country. Browning’s Honey operates over 30,000 hives. The company has its bees moved about six times in a year between states, including North Dakota, Idaho, California and Texas. In addition to almonds, Browning’s Honey bees help pollinate crops such as apples, seed canola and cherries.”

Don’t get a home warranty

We don’t have a home warranty and the only other friend who has had one had a good experience, but I recently read this blog post about Shu Chow’s experiencing taking his warranty company to arbitration. While I hope never to have to deal with something like this, it’s fascinating how casual it seemed.

So I Took a Huge Corporation to Arbitration. This is How it Went. [Shu Chow] – “Last Fall, my hot water heater started to leak. I called my home warranty company, (Hereafter, HWC. I KNOW, I KNOW, HOME WARRANTIES ARE NOT WORTH IT.) and due to a computer system failure that spanned multiple days, they were unable to send a contractor to fix my water heater. […] After about five calls of runarounds, I realized that customer service channels would not help me and I had use the legal system.”

3 Attainable Characteristics That Drastically Improved My Quality of Life [Route to Retire] – “Try new things / Adventurous spirit. By far, I think this is one of the best ways to increase your quality of life. “Stepping out of your comfort zone” is a phrase you hear tossed around quite a bit so it tends to get watered down somewhat. However, until you actually start doing it on a more regular basis, you might now realize just how powerful it really is.”

The astronomical price of diesel is making everything more expensive [NPR] – “You know the commercial that says America runs on a certain brand’s coffee and donuts? In truth, America runs on diesel. Just ask a trucker, a farmer or a factory owner. And right now, they are all hurting. That’s because the machines that power their businesses need diesel, which is commanding nosebleed level prices right now. At around $5.50 a gallon, diesel prices are up a whopping 75% more than last year and blew past all-time record recently.”

Don’t get too high on your highs and too low on your lows

Hello hello, Happy Tuesday! Jim here with this week’s Monday starter pack of money posts.

There’s been a lot of financial turmoil lately. The stock market is down 20%, inflation is up a lot (Series I bonds are offering a yield of nearly 10%), and crypto is doing crypto things.

One of the fascinating parts about crypto is how much attention it gets but how much wackiness is involved too. During the dot com boom, you had craziness too but since the tech stocks were publicly traded, you had some assurance that it wasn’t an outright scam. No such protections with crypto (it’s a feature not a bug!). So I’m gobbling up the Terra Luna stuff:

How the Anchor protocol helped sink Terra [The Verge] – “As of this writing, Luna is worth less than a cent, and its sister token Terra, which was meant to be pegged to a dollar as a stablecoin, is worth 6 cents. An investor, who told reporters from Yonhap News Agency he’d lost 2 to 3 billion won (about $2.3 million), was arrested for trespassing after he entered Kwon’s apartment complex, looking for the master of stablecoin. Kwon’s wife requested police protection after the incident.”

Set in Canada but applicable to the US too, as their two big credit bureaus (TransUnion and Equifax) and two of the big three in the US (they are missing Experian!). How Credit Scores Can Run—and Ruin—Our Lives [The Walrus] – “It was the summer of 2019, and her husband, Dave, had died two years earlier after a long battle with cancer. Somehow, TransUnion had mixed up husband and wife, marking Monaghan as dead. Luckily, she is nothing if not meticulous. She had kept careful records of everything that could establish her existence—purchases, appointments, calls. She set to work fixing the mistake. How hard could it be? she thought.” Turns out, *surprise*, very hard. Two flippin’ years.

From Corey Booker: Don’t get too high on your highs and too low on your lows – https://twitter.com/CoryBooker/status/1528151010685992962

Great little video and a good reminder, no matter your politics.

Memorial Day

Jim here, welcome to Monday.

We’re observing Memorial Day in the United States today and as a resident of Washington D.C., I’m friends and neighbors to many both active and retired military personnel. I want to take this time to recognize those who have made the greatest sacrifice so that we may enjoy our freedoms.

No stories today, be back tomorrow.

Why are airline ticket prices so high right now?

It’s Friday, my friends, and I’m here to take you into the holiday weekend with a handful of articles about personal finance (and related subjects). Take a gander at what I’ve gathered together fror you…

Why are airline ticket prices so high right now? [The Week] — “Domestic air travel won’t be cheap this summer — prices for tickets jumped 18.6 percent in April alone, due to everything from higher fuel costs to demand for seats. On top of that, schedules are being reduced as carriers work to address their staff shortages. Here’s everything you need to know.” Kim and I want to fly to Colorado to see her mother this summer. We keep balking at ticket prices…and prices just keep going higher.

The unstoppable bots behind the videogame console shortage. [The Verge] — “MoreMore than a year on, it’s still hard to buy a new PlayStation or Xbox without some help. Flippers have become notorious for snatching up the fresh restocks offered online with the help of ultra-fast buying bots, forcing everyone else to buy units off the secondary market for egregious, 100-dollar markups. But after delving into the console reselling underworld, I was shocked to learn that resellers aren’t the primary problem.”

The mind-blowing exploits of Australia’s craftiest conwoman. [Truly Adventurous] — “One Melbourne jewelry store owner, who felt a friendly connection with the businesswoman who’d dropped $600 at her shop, agreed to go for coffee at a Moonee Ponds milk bar. It turned out to be an expensive mistake, costing her $76,780 after Jody stole her ID and drained her bank account. ”

Lastly, here’s an essay from Penny Red at Substack: “All the Best Things About Europe with None of the Genocide.” It’s a detailed look at the Eurovision Song Contest and what makes it great.

As an American, I’m only vaguely aware of Eurovision. I don’t know how it works. I’ve never seen a performance. I don’t know who any of the past winners have been. All the same, I was entertained by this article, and it prompted me to watch several Eurovision videos, videos like these:

Donatan & Cleo (from Poland) — We Are Slavic (so hilarious)

Citi Zēni (from Latvia) — Eat Your Salad (so hilarious)

Lordi (from Finland) — Hard Rock Hallelujah (2006 winner — so hilarious)

Subwoolfer (from Norway) — Give That Wolf a Banana (so hilarious)

Jamala (from Ukraine) — 1944 (2016 winner — not hilarious)

Anyhow, now I’m wondering how an American like me can watch along with the Eurovision Song Contest. Maybe on one of the UK streaming platforms? I’ll have to find out. Looks entertaining.

“I lost $50,000 (and I feel fine).”

Good morning, sleepyheads. Welcome to another day of personal finance here at Apex Money. Let’s take a look at the stories I’ve gathered for you.

We’re going to start with a video featuring comments from Warren Buffett at the most recent Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. Here’s one of my financial heroes explaining why he won’t buy Bitcoin…ever: “If you offered me all of the bitcoin in the world for $25, I wouldn’t take it.”

(I found this video via the excellent Millennial Revolution blog, by the way.)

“I lost $50,000 on paper (and I’m doing just fine).” [We Want Guac] — “Having lost $50k on paper doesn’t affect my life; it shouldn’t affect the lives of my fellow 20-something investors, either. Whether the stock market goes gangbusters this year or continues into the red, I’ll be doing the same thing either way: sticking to the plan.”

Politics and personal financial planning. [Oblivious Investor] — “If you do or don’t like the person in the White House, and you begin to let that feeling make you think that you can predict what the stock market is going to do over the next month (or 48 months), you’re in for a rude awakening. No one person has that much control over the stock market.”

Reputation rankings for the 100 “most visible” companies in the United States. [Axios] — “The two-step process starts fresh each year by surveying the public’s top-of-mind awareness of companies that either excel or falter in society. These 100 ‘most visible companies’ are then ranked by a second group of Americans across the seven key dimensions of reputation to arrive at the ranking.” Interesting list. At the top is Trader Joe’s, a company I love. Two companies I am growing to hate — Amazon and Google — are higher on the list than I would have expected. (Note that my dislike of Amazon and Google isn’t based on politics; it’s based on the shitty quality of their products.)

And our final story today has nothing to do with money. All the same, it’s interesting and insightful.

Pop stars on life after the spotlight moves on. [The Guardian] — “Armed with a batch of potentially indelicate questions – because who likes to discuss failure? – I began to reach out to musicians from various genres and eras, those who hadn’t died young, but were still here, still working, to ask them what it was like in the margins.”

And that’s all he wrote. I’ll be back tomorrow to take you in to the long weekend…

Should you buy refurbished electronics?

Welcome to Wednesday, my friends. Here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, it has finally turned to what I call “pre-summer”. It’s nice.

As you probably know, the western half of Oregon (and Washington) gets a lot of rain. It’s not heavy rain like the southeastern U.S.; instead, it’s sort of a constant grey mist that sets in around October 15th and lasts until around May 15th. This year, the rain left precisely on schedule and now we have pleasant, sunny days. (The one difference this year? We didn’t really have a transitional spring period. April was the wettest on record, so we didn’t get any scattered sun breaks as we usually do.)

Anyhow, you’re not here for the meteorological conditions in my neck of the woods. You’re here for money news! Let’s get to it.

Should you buy refurbished electronics? [Consumer Reports] — “If you’re looking to save money, refurbished electronics can be a great option…The trick is making sure the product is genuinely refurbished, not simply cleaned up, repackaged, and repriced. And that requires asking some questions before you settle on a deal.” [I’ve purchased refurbished electronics with mixed success. Most of the time, I get a bargain. But a couple of times I’ve got burned — including on a major computer purchase directly from Apple. Still, I’ll do it again in the future.]

Should people get rid of their lawns? [BBC Future] — “The lawn’s long-standing, deep-seated cultural aesthetic is the product of the pastoral ideal of the British nobility in the 17th Century, which has since been exported worldwide. Since then, its influence has been compounded by rapid suburbanisation, which has allowed the middle classes to own a lawn too, as well as the power of advertising, which has reinforced the lawn as symbol of domestic contentment, and the interests of big business.”

Knowing when to stop. [American Scientist] — “Suppose you decide to marry, and to select your life partner you will interview at most 100 candidate spouses. The interviews are arranged in random order, and you have no information about candidates you haven’t yet spoken to. After each interview you must either marry that person or forever lose the chance to do so. If you have not married after interviewing candidate 99, you must marry candidate 100. Your objective, of course, is to marry the absolute best candidate of the lot. But how?” This article is longish and sometimes math-y, but it’s very very interesting.

Lastly, here’s a fun little four-minute skit from Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live. In this clip, Sandler plays travel guide Joe Romano, who wants customers to know: “If you’re sad now, you might still feel sad there…You’re still going to be you on vacation.”

“We can take you on a wine tour of Tuscany. We cannot change why you drink…If you don’t like how you look back home, it’s not going to get any better on a gondola.”

See you tomorrow!

The role of luck in personal finance.

Today is Tuesday, my friends, and this is another edition of Apex Money. Every weekday, Jim and I do our best to collect interesting and educational stories about personal finance (and more). Here are some recent faves…

How to do a bit better by doing a bit less. [The Science of Wellbeing] — “It’s not hard to find self-help books and business gurus telling you that in order to be happy and successful you need to be fully committed to your goals and give 100% every waking second of the day. But I’m more interested in the people who recommend a more moderate approach…even extolling the virtues of sometimes (shock! horror!) doing nothing.”

Why do we want problems to be somebody’s fault? [Raptitude] — “It’s not that there’s no such thing as fault, or that solutions never require holding a particular party to account. Only that there’s something about the human mind that wants a given problem to be someone’s fault, simply because it would be easier if it were.” Related (and also from Raptitude): Cynicism is boring.

The law of reversed effort: The harder you try, the harder you fail. [Big Think] — “There are many moments in life when trying harder makes things worse. When you have a mosquito bite, a broken bone, or a nosebleed, you leave it be. Picking, prodding, and probing only exacerbate the problem. So, too, with a lot of life’s major moments.”

Examining the role of luck in personal finance. [The Prudent Plastic Surgeon] — “We all hate luck. We don’t want to give it any credit. In fact, most of us will go out of our way to convince ourselves that we are not lucky. Instead we are deserving. In my mind, both are true. For some reason, and trust me this happens to me all the time, we feel that attributing any of our success to luck or randomness diminishes from our accomplishments or current reality. But does it? Not really.”

And that’s it for today. Time for me to take the dog for a walk. See you tomorrow, everyone!

Why save when you fear the future?

Hey hey, Apexians, welcome to Monday. We’re back with more great personal-finance stories from around the web. You ready for this?

Why this computer scientist says all cryptocurrency should ‘die in a fire’. [Current Affairs] — “So the stock market and the bond market are a positive-sum game. There are more winners than losers. Cryptocurrency starts with zero-sum. So it starts with a world where there can be no more winning than losing. We have systems like this. It’s called the horse track. It’s called the casino. Cryptocurrency investing is really provably gambling in an economic sense. And then there’s designs where those power bills have to get paid somewhere. So instead of zero-sum, it becomes deeply negative-sum.”

The world’s a mess, so these folks have stopped saving for tomorrow. [The New York Times, so possible paywall] — “In a tumultuous time, many adults under 35 have stopped playing it safe. Instead of banking as much of their pay as they used to, they’re saving less, spending more and pursuing passion projects or risky careers…A recent study by Fidelity Investments found that 45 percent of people aged 18 to 35 ‘don’t see a point in saving until things return to normal.'”

That NYT piece is largely sensationalist alarmism of the sort I dislike. But it’s interesting. I like my buddy Douglas’ response to it better…

“How can I save when I fear there might not be a future?” [Douglas Tsoi] — “I think personal finance, like deciding to have children, is about hope. It’s accepting the despair and embracing it with field of love. It’s about humility. It’s understanding that the future is unknowable, even while our brains/egos are wired for pessimism. As Mark Twain said: ‘I have had a lot of troubles in life, and some of them even happened.'”

Lastly, just for fun, here are the results of the 13th annual Trader Joe’s customer choice awards. Kim and I don’t shop at TJ’s regularly; we only head there for certain items. (I love their truffle potato chips and their salsa autentica.) Part of me wonders what would happen if I chose to make TJ’s my only grocery store for three months. Could I do it? Would I like it?

In any event, this is the company’s official list of their customers’ favorite products. Last weekend, on a lark, I went through my local store and bought as many of these as I could find. I’m going to work my way through them. So far, I’m scratching my head at bamba (what the hell is this stuff and why can’t I stop eating it?), and I’m not sure why people love the mini ice cream cones so much. Haven’t they tried the triple ginger snaps? They’re amazing!

And that’s all I have for you today. See you again tomorrow, friends…