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Apex Money Posts

The upgrade effect.

Hello there, my friend, and welcome to another day of Apex Money, another day of exploring the best money stories from around the web. Here’s what I’ve gathered for you today.

The upgrade effect. [Accidental Fire] — “This study highlights the fact that in today’s environment of unlimited everything and better versions every week, achieving financial independence demands an awareness of the behavioral tripwires that cross our paths everyday.”

A breakdown of Americans’ monthly credit card spending. [Visual Capitalist] — “Credit card spending is based on anonymized data from Personal Capital users, who tend to have a higher-than-average net worth…Therefore, the credit card spending amounts may be higher than those of the general U.S. population. It’s also worth noting that the data reflects credit card spending only. It does not include expenses such as mortgage or rental payments, which are typically paid through other methods.”

How the FBI discovered a real-life Indiana Jones in, of all places, rural Indiana. [Vanity Fair] — “One evening […] in October 2013, Carpenter — an FBI agent — heard his phone ringing at his home in Indianapolis. His supervisor was calling to tell him of an anonymous tip about a man in rural Indiana named Don Miller. The tipster said Miller was an amateur archaeologist who’d amassed a vast collection of artifacts, especially Native American items. Inside his home, the person claimed, were skulls, bones, and entire skeletons.”

Beneath the bird feeder. [Carla Rhodes] — “‘Beneath The Bird Feeder’ is a photographic project starring many feathered (and furred) visitors. Subjects were photographed daily via a DSLR camera trap positioned underneath my bird feeder during the winter months of 2020-2021. This project reveals insights into species behavior while showing the viewer a new perspective on a common pastime.”

Today’s video features is sort of related to money, for once. It’s a 20-minute piece from Benn Jordan that explains how a well-respected New York Times reporter is, essentially, bilking hundreds of musicians out of royalties on their music. It’s a long, complicated cautionary tale about the importance of reading contracts. (And about how there’s no such thing as a free lunch.)

And that’s all I have. I’ll be back tomorrow to take you into the weekend. Until then, stay healthy and grow wealthy!

Cognitive distortions that make you miserable.

Welcome to Wednesday, money nerds. I’ve got some great stories for you today. Enjoy!

The 11 cognitive distortions that make you miserable. [The Art of Manliness] — “We highlight the eleven cognitive distortions that people engage in on the regular, and which may be making you feel miserable. With each, we’ve included the definition Burns gives of the distortion in his newest book, Feeling Great, along with a thumbnail sketch of it that can help you recognize that distortion in your own life.”

Popular family safety app Life360 is selling precise location data on its tens of millions of users. [The Markup] — “Marketed as a safety app, Life360 is popular among parents who want to track and supervise their kids from afar…But Life360’s location-based features are also sources of data points for a growing, multibillion-dollar industry that trades in location data gathered from mobile phones. Advertisers, government agencies, and investors are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for location data and the insights that can be derived from them.”

Has the 4% “safe” withdrawal “rule” changed? [Advisor Perspectives] — Here’s a new article from William Bengen, the man who “invented” the 4% rule! He writes: “Recently a highly respected financial publisher issued a research paper claiming that the ‘safe’ withdrawal rate from tax-advantaged retirement portfolios could be as low as 3.3%, due to the high valuations of financial investments. As you may know, as an outcome of ongoing research, I recently increased my estimate of the ‘worst-case’ withdrawal rate to 4.7% (for a 30-year time horizon). How do we make sense of these two widely disparate results?”

The insane resurgence of vinyl records. [The Hustle] — “In recent years, though, something odd has happened: Vinyl has made a small but mighty comeback…Last year, for the first time since 1986, vinyl records outranked CDs in annual sales. This year, they’re on pace to more than double CD revenue.”

As a guy who has a small but growing collection of vinyl, I’m unsurprised. Of all the physical ways to own and listen to music, vinyl gives the most satisfaction. I love it.

Today’s non-financial video comes from Xiran Jay Zhao on YouTube. In this 18-minute clip, she explains why American Chinese food deserves respect (and why the MSG fear is a hoax).

I’ll confess: I love American Chinese food. It’s yummy! And while a lot of my friends try to yuck my yum, I don’t care. They don’t have to eat General Tso’s chicken. That leaves more for me.

In fact, I’m out of here to go get some Chinese food for lunch. I’ll see you again tomorrow with more great money stories.

Explaining the gender wage gap.

Hey hey, money bosses. Come on in and gather around the fire. Today, I have several new money articles to share with you.

The escalating costs of being single in America. [Vox] — “Think about your household’s monthly expenses…Now imagine paying for all those things completely on your own. If you live by yourself — or as a single parent or caregiver — you don’t have to imagine. This is your life. All the expenses of existing in society, on one set of shoulders. For the more than 40 million people who live in this kind of single-income household, it’s also become increasingly untenable.” [I’ll be honest. I find this article (and this similar piece from 2013) to be an example of what I call “niche whining”. But maybe you think the author has some good points? If so, let me know!]

Ten years with a one-fund investment portfolio. [Oblivious Investor] — “I’m really not that optimistic about the value to be gained from various modest changes to asset allocation. For any given investor, there’s an unlimited number of asset allocations that would be ‘good enough’…An all-in-one fund is about as boring as it gets, which is what I want. And it also checks the boxes of being diversified and reasonably low-cost. For us, that’s (still) a good fit.”

How ‘greedy work’ explains the persistent wage gap better than bias. [Behavioral Scientist] — “In her new book, Career and Family, [Claudia Goldin] argues the wage gap is the symptom of a far greater problem, one that has largely been invisible. Her exploration began with a mystery about the causes of the gap. A significant part of the wage gap is explained by factors like age, education, and experience…As she looked for patterns, progress, and regression to better understand the causes and consequences of the gap, she also discovered something significant: that labor market discrimination — biased managers, for instance — likely play a far less central role in the perpetuation of the wage gap than does a structural issue, which she calls greedy work.”

Why you should delete your social media accounts (if only temporarily). [Zapier] — “Lots of people talk about deleting their social media accounts. I actually did it…I’d been considering the idea for months, and I’m not honestly not sure what pushed me to do it. I only intended to trial it for a week to see how things went. But here we are, three weeks later, and I still haven’t re-installed either app—and don’t plan to. Here’s why.”

Lastly, here’s a super fun 23-minute video from Vanity Fair in which a casino-cheating expert reviews card counting and casino scams from movies.

I’m not a casino guy. Gambling seems foolish to me. But it’s fun to watch how things work behind the scenes — and how people try to game the system.

Okay, that’s it for Tuesday. I’ll be back in the morning with more stuff for you. See you then!

Happy birthday, Taylor Swift!

It’s Monday, my friends, and this is Apex Money. I’m here to share some of the best personal-finance stories from around the interwebs. Stories like these…

How this all happened. [Morgan Housel at Collaborative Fund] — “This is a short story about what happened to the U.S. economy since the end of World War II. That’s a lot to unpack in 5,000 words, but the short story of what happened over the last 73 years is simple: Things were very uncertain, then they were very good, then pretty bad, then really good, then really bad, and now here we are. And there is, I think, a narrative that links all those events together. Not a detailed account. But a story of how the details fit together.”

Your wealth is mostly due to luck. Be thankful. [Financial Samurai] — “I firmly believe that it was mostly luck (~70%) that helped me a basic level of financial independence at age 34. Of course, effort is also required to get ahead, but it’s not the main reason. There are plenty of people who work much harder than you or I, yet will not achieve what we have. The more we can recognize our luck and not take our luck for granted, the more prosperous we’ll become.”

If you don’t decide how to spend your money, someone else will. [The Belle Curve] — “Money is a funny thing. It is a human construct and a very helpful mechanism created to move goods and services around efficiently. We need enough of it to survive, a little more to be comfortable, and maybe a little extra to chase our dreams. But somewhere along the path to earning, saving, investing, and growing wealth, most of us lose sight of the bigger picture. The saving and investing part becomes addictive. Our good behaviors with money have been rewarded, and we watch our wealth grow. How could we ever get off this hedonic treadmill, and why would we want to?”

How the week became a measure of time. [Aeon] — “Weeks serve as powerful mnemonic anchors because they are fundamentally artificial. Unlike days, months and years, all of which track, approximate, mimic or at least allude to some natural process (with hours, minutes and seconds representing neat fractions of those larger units), the week finds its foundation entirely in history.” [Fascinating stuff!]

Today’s non-financial video is from — you guessed it! — Taylor Swift. It’s December 13th, and as every Swiftie knows, that means it’s Taylor’s birthday. Today she turns 32. To celebrate, here’s the official video for her holiday song, “Christmas Tree Farm”.

This video is a gift to her fans: lots of home video of a young Taylor. SO FUN! (Also fun is her re-recorded “old-timey” version of the song.)

That’s it for Monday. Come back tomorrow for more of the best from the world of personal finance!

p.s. Much to my delight, December 13th is also the birthday of my pal Grant Sabatier from Millennial Money. Happy birthday, Grant! Each year on his birthday, Grant gets a text message from me celebrating Taylor’s birthday. Because I’m a good friend like that. 😉

Streaming for money is hard

A few months ago, all of Twitch was leaked online. Everything.

Source code. Payouts. Everything.

The juicy part, as it always tends to be, is how much money some of the streamers were making:

via @KnowSomething

It’s pretty wild to learn that some streamers were making five and six figures every single month. The reality is that it’s no different than many other industries, especially entertainment. This isn’t much different than sports or musicians. You have those at the very top making great money but the vast majority of them don’t.

Up all night with a Twitch millionaire: The loneliness and rage of the Internet’s new rock stars [Wall Street Journal] – “Ten hours a day, streamers are broadcasting lives of obsession and wealth for an unforgiving crowd. How long can any of them last?” And this guy is one of the high earners! (15th!)

Comfort Zones Are Where Dreams Go To Die [1500 Days to Freedom] – “While I was installing solar panels and demolishing/rebuilding my kitchen, I was also preparing for one of the biggest (and most terrifying!) challenges of my life, speaking in front of 400+ fellow humans at EconoMe. Today, I’ll tell you how I got the speaker gig, why I did it, what I got out of it, and why you should attempt similarly scary things.”

Finally, I enjoyed this piece about The Rock:

Dwayne Johnson Lets Down His Guard [Vanity Fair]

What’s the CRSP U.S. Total Market Index?

My stock market investments include some dividend growth stocks and mostly Vanguard mutual funds, including the subject of our first post – VTSAX.

Bogleheads, or big fans of Vanguard and their founder Jack Bogle, absolutely LOVE VTSAX (and the ETF cousin VTI). What’s not to love?

Invest in the total market for just 0.04% each year. That’s four bucks on ten grand!

It’s based on an index created at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business – learn all about it:

The Mutual Fund That Ate Wall Street—Based on an Index Few People Know About [The Wall Street Journal] – “That fund is the $1.3 trillion (yes, trillion, including all share classes) Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX) and its exchange-traded-fund shares. The fund, from Vanguard Group, now accounts for 10% of all assets in U.S. stock mutual funds and ETFs in the market, according to Morningstar Inc. No other mutual fund or ETF comes close to it in asset size. The next largest is an $821 billion Vanguard S&P 500 index fund. The paradox is that this biggest beast among funds is tied to the most unassuming of stock indexes—the CRSP U.S. Total Market Index, developed at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.”

Ex-Car Salesman Tells All: How To Beat The Auto Dealerships At Their Own Game [Money Under 30] – “When you want to beat car dealerships at their own game, you need to be prepared, understand the true value of what you’re buying, and skip all the extras they try to get you to buy.”

Finally, a useful little plugin to find out if a brand on Amazon is actually Amazon itself – courtesy of our very own J.D. Roth (not that he made it, but that he found it) – Amazon Brand Detector.

This one has nothing to do with money but carries lessons everyone should use in their life about learning lessons in private, pride, and how if you don’t then you might have to pay a terrible cost in public:

We Only Ever Talk About the Third Attack on Pearl Harbor [But What For?] – “As he had hoped for when his small force set sail, 24 hours off of Oahu thick weather greeted him with conditions that made it unlikely a defending fleet could detect him before it was too late. As darkness fell the night before, his fleet began its approach, charging full speed towards the unaware island, running with lights off and in radio silence amongst rain squalls, low clouds, and strong wind. Pitching in the heavy seas, the admiral held his planes until just before dawn when they were 60 miles offshore. Then, while still in complete darkness, 152 planes took off. Just as the new day’s sunlight was finally hitting the island, the planes emerged from the clouds to find the world’s greatest naval base helplessly asleep beneath them.”

Cruising during a pandemic

We just got back from a vacation overseas and it was our first vacation, first flight, and first of a lot of different things during the pandemic.

We were Covid tested 4 days before we left the United States for the Bahamas (requirement for entry into the Bahamas and to stay at the Cove at Atlantis) and Covid tested within one day on our return (which was Monday, when the rules changed due to Omicron). Practically everyone wore masks correctly (a few tourists didn’t cover their noses but every employee was right), the airports felt safe to me, flights were busy but not full (Southwest), and it was a fun time without much travel anxiety.

We didn’t, however, get on a cruise. I knew my friend Leif at Physician on FIRE did since we chatted about it beforehand, and I was eager to read about this experience (I am similar to him in my appreciation for cruises, like but don’t absolutely love but his epic 30 day itinerary, that never happened, looks pretty crazy):

Taking a Cruise During the Pandemic [Physician on FIRE] – “In November of 2021, my family of four, which included 3 fully vaccinated people over the age of 12, and one partially vaccinated child under 12, took our chances on a 5-day Royal Caribbean cruise from Tampa to Cozumel, Mexico, with a stop at the cruiseline’s private island, Coco Cay. I’ll detail how things went, what safety precautions were in place, and what limitations we experienced traveling as a family that could not yet be fully vaccinated.”

Selling Everything We Owned Has Been Truly Liberating [Route to Retire] – “Selling everything and just taking off and leaving is a dream a lot of folks have… even if it’s just a fleeting thought. To actually do it though sounds crazy. Who would do something like that?! Yeah, we were those people. We got rid of just about everything we owned and headed to Panama in the summer of 2019. […] What we didn’t realize at the time though was just how liberating selling everything we owned would be.”

Ten 5-Minute Money Actions to Help Your Finances [Becoming Minimalist] – “You’re not going to change your entire financial situation in one afternoon. Making changes in how you spend, save, earn, and give takes time and discipline. But you can make small positive changes in just a few minutes. And those small changes pile up—especially when we do them repeatedly. Your first step in the right direction doesn’t need to be a big one.”

There’s no rush

Why Rich People Avoid Consumerism [Darius Foroux] – “In the inflationary world of 2021, some new cars are sold ten to thirty percent over their asking price. This is the primary example most media outlets use when they cover inflation. It’s so telling of the time we’re living in. People would rather pay more for a new car than drive their existing one for another year. Consumerism at its height.” The opening story doesn’t quite match the title but the main point of the article is good – “there’s no rush.”

The $5 billion hoard of metal the world wants but can’t have [] – “On an industrial park about an hour’s drive toward the South China Sea coast from Ho Chi Minh City sit giant mounds of raw metal shrouded in black tarpaulin. Stretching a kilometer in length, the much-coveted hoard could be worth about $5 billion at current prices.” A fascinating little story about an aluminum stockpile.

Let’s Talk about Ghastly Dishwashers [American Institute for Economic Research] – “Dishwashers used to wash all the dishes in under one hour. Now they take two hours, three hours, and four hours, and still don’t get the dishes clean. So much for saving on energy. Less water, sure, but more electricity — and what does it mean to save resources when the thing doesn’t work?” Ours works fine but it does take flipping forever. Even the hilariously named “Speed 60” setting takes 70 minutes.

The Greatest Unsolved Heist in Irish History

This is Jim!

Due to the power of the internet, I actually crafted this email on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving because I knew I was going to be busy the week before that (we went on vacation) and I’m 99% sure I’ll have Internet… but I’m not 100% sure. 🙂

So, if J.D. chose these already (or if this says that J.D. wrote it because I didn’t get a chance to switch it over), my apologies. 🙂

Today’s gems are good if you like heists:

The Greatest Unsolved Heist in Irish History [Atlas Obscura] – “Four days before the king was due to arrive in Dublin, the jewels went missing. The story of this theft would eventually involve a sex scandal, conspiracies that pointed the finger at both sides of the political spectrum, the occult, drunken pranks, bankrupt celebrities, sham trials, and an incredibly effective hush campaign from the top rung of the political ladder. The jewels have never been recovered.” Emphasis mine. 🙂

The Wildest Insurance Fraud Scheme Texas Has Ever Seen [Texas Monthly] – “When federal agent Jim Reed drove in to a small airport in the East Texas city of Athens mid-morning on September 15, 2014, he was expecting to find a straightforward case of arson—an easy case for the new guy. He introduced himself to the Athens Jet Center’s co-owners, two brothers in their seventies named Wayne and Gaylon Addkison, who led Reed to a small jet, a 1971 Cessna 500 Citation I, that looked like it had been barbecued on a rotisserie. “It was burned in half,” Wayne Addkison recalled. “The nose tipped on the ground and the back half was on the ground too.””

Finally, not a heist but a good article all the same:

9 Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires: What You Need to Know [After School Finance] – “You, too, can set a clear vision for the things you want in your life. As it relates to money, that vision is usually about what you want money to provide. For example, you may want to experience grand vacations, or you may want to quit working for money earlier in life. These are the visions. Once you understand what you’re aiming for, you can put plans in place to get there.”

See you in the future!

“What I learned in 2021.”

Let’s end our week with something fun! Every year, Tom Whitwell shares a year-end list of “52 things I learned in 20xx”. On Wednesday, he released his 52 things I learned in 2021 list.

You should definitely go check that list out when you have time, because there’s some interesting stuff there. But for the time-crunched among you, I’ve collected a few of my favorite pieces to share in today’s installment of Apex Money.

China’s ‘lipstick brother’ livestream has record $2 billion day. [BNN Bloomberg] — “China’s Li Jiaqi, a top livestream salesman widely known as the ‘lipstick brother’, sold $1.9 billion in goods on the first day of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s annual shopping festival, as the country’s consumers splash out despite an economic slowdown.”

South African students are selling school wi-fi passwords for lunch money. [Rest of World] — “In theory, Wi-Fi at schools across South Africa, like at Thabo’s, is meant for students and their teachers. But many from the poor households dotted around schools feel the free Wi-Fi offered to students should be opened up for households too. While household poverty in South Africa’s townships encourages students like Thabo to leak Wi-Fi passwords for cash, on the other end of the transaction is a desperate need for cheap internet access.”

Daughters, managerial decisions, and gender inequality. [Maddalena Ronchi] — “We find that women’s relative earnings and employment increase by 4.4% and 2.9% respectively following the birth of the manager’s first daughter. These effects are driven by an increase in managers’ propensity to replace male workers by hiring women with comparable education, hours worked, and earnings. In line with managers’ ability to substitute men with comparable women, we do not detect any significant effect on firm performance.”

The differential impact of major life events on cognitive and affective wellbeing. [SSM – Population Health] — “We evaluated the individual and conditional impact of eighteen major life-events, and compared their effects on affective and cognitive wellbeing…Several commonly cited events had little, if any, independent effect on wellbeing (promotion, being fired, friends passing), whilst others had profound impacts regardless of co-occurring events (e.g., financial loss, death of partner, childbirth). No life events had overall positive effects on both types of wellbeing, but separation, injury/illnesses and monetary losses caused negative impacts on both, which did not display hedonic adaptation.”

And to close things out for the week? Well, here’s a fun McDonald’s training video from 1970. I love it.

I worked at McDonald’s during my junior year of high school. People think I’m joking when I say this but I’m not: That McDonald’s gig was probably my favorite job I ever had. We were a good crew, and we had a good manager. We were good, and we knew it. We took pride in doing well, and our store was the top McDonald’s in the state. Ah, good memories.

Okay, that’s it for now. Jim will be back next week — assuming he’s home from his Bahamas vacation. I’ll have more fun stuff for you in ten days. Take care!