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Boo!

Boo! Did I startle you, money nerds? It’s Thursday. It’s also All Hallow’s Eve! Today at Apex Money, we’re celebrating the event by sharing spooky stories from the world of personal finance. Prepare for the scare!

“When you die, I’ll be there to take your stuff.” [Narratively] — “You learn a lot about a dead man rifling through his house – lifting his furniture, clearing his walls, going through his closets, finding out which psalms are dog-eared in his Bible – searching for anything that might be worth selling at auction. It feels like trespassing.”

A financial checklist for the death of a parent. [Fatherly] —”No one thinks dealing with the death of a parent will be pleasant. We expect a morass of unfamiliar and uncomfortable emotions. We anticipate unprecedented grief. But no one warns us about how much math and paperwork it entails. Sorting out a parent’s estate after their death is a slow, sometimes grueling process that starts while you’re grieving and then drags on for months. Even if your parents left behind a clear estate plan and instructions about their wishes, you still may be tasked with a daunting list of responsibilities.”

Suddenly single: Why women need to focus on financial planning. [CFA Institute] — “My calculation is that 90% of married women will end up needing to manage their own finances at some point due to divorce or widowhood.” This is an article written by a financial advisor for financial advisors, but its lessons are important to everyone — especially women.

My family wants to spend our retirement money to keep Mom alive just one more day. [/r/financialindependence on Reddit] — “My mother is very sick, dying in the hospital…Now it is her families responsibility to pay the bills. My sisters want to keep her alive another day (and anther day after that.) with very expensive medical procedures. I say let her go. They call me a killer.” This is a fascinating ethical and moral dilemma.

This last piece isn’t about money but it is about death, a perfect topic for Halloween, right?

Remembering Action Park, American’s most dangerous and daring water park. [Sports Illustrated] — “Six [people died] between 1978, when the park was born, and ’96, when it went out of business. And there is simply no way of calculating how many injuries, ranging from minor to major, were sustained at the sprawling 250-acre playground that came to be known, variously, as Class Action Park, Traction Park, Friction Park and Accident Park.”

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.

How to use Gmail more effectively.

Last week, as I do from time to time, I was moaning about email. After two months of travel, I was buried in the stuff, and whining about it on Facebook seemed to be the only logical move. My pal Charlotte Baker sent me a private message. “J.D.,” she said. “Hop on Zoom with me. I’ll show you how to get your email under control.”

Charlotte taught me an email management trick she recently learned, a trick based on today’s first top post, a six-year-old article from Andreas Klinger.

How to use Gmail more effectively. [Andreas Klinger] — “If you struggle with keeping on top of your emails in Gmail you want to maybe try my setup. It’s hard for me to lose track and trust me – I am easy to distract. This is how I use Gmail since 2010…I couldn’t even imagine using gmail any other way. No seriously. I see those messy priority inbox tab inbox systems and I am just scared.”

A handy gmail system

How much time should you spend on your finances? [A Wealth of Common Sense] — “The goal shouldn’t be to allocate more time to managing your finances. The goal should be to spend 100x the amount of time doing the things you actually enjoy doing. But to get to a place where finances don’t take up too much of your time and have your financial house in order, you have to set things up in advance so you’re not constantly worrying about it.”

Creating the habit of being Not Busy. [Zen Habits] — “One of the most common problems among people I work with and coach is the feeling of always being busy…Most of us have used this ‘too busy’ rationalization, because it feels very true. It feels absolutely true that we’re too busy. And there’s a corollary to this: if we want to be less busy, we have to get all our work done first (and be more busy in the meantime)…Is it true? Or can we develop a habit of not being busy, even with the same workload?

To wrap things up today, here’s a short video that’ll probably make you a little envious. It’s a four-minute tour of a $15.6 million penthouse in Miami. Let’s all chip in and buy it together!

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.

When work and meaning part ways.

Today is Tuesday, money nerds. And if you’re reading this, it means that Kim and I escaped cold and snow Denver without any complications. We braved the icy roads to make the 70-mile drive to the airport at 6 a.m…and escaped unscathed. Yesterday’s cliffhanger had a satisfying resolution.

Of course, if you’re not reading this, I cannot vouch for the outcome of the cliffhanger.

In any event, let’s dive into today’s top money stories from around the web.

What it’s like to work for the same company for more than 25 years. [Mel Magazine] — “If the data behind the ‘job-hopping generation’ is to be believed, for many millennials — especially those of us in the media — working at the same company for 30 years is both a pipe dream and a nightmare. Job security is great and all, but many millennials see hopping from company to company as the only way to advance their career…I sought out three guys who went to the same office every day [for decades] to find out [what it was like].

When work and meaning part ways. [The Hedgehog Review] — “Our work-centered culture hasn’t collapsed yet. We have time now to get off the rickety scaffolding and build a new culture before disaster hits. If we do that, then the fully automated age won’t be a disaster at all…We don’t need meaningful work. We just need meaning, wherever we might find it.

What it’s like to outsource your life to subscription services. [Bloomsberg Businessweek] — “I’d been hearing a lot of Generation Z-age founders boast that their algorithms know consumers better than they know themselves. Their direct-to-consumer websites, which sell online without involving a retailer, claim to be able to refill shampoo containers just before they run out or tailor outfits to an individual’s personal style. Could these algorithms actually change my life?…In July of 2019, in an attempt to see where mechanization is taking us, I tried to live life by subscription alone.

Employees are happier when they work for competent bosses. [Harvard Business Review] — “We found that employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business. This suggests that received wisdom about what makes a good boss may need some rethinking.”

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.

“Honey, I robbed a bank.”

Welcome to Monday, money nerds. Last week didn’t end with a cliff-hanger, but this week starts with one! My girlfriend and I are in Denver visiting friends. All great, right? Except that a snowstorm is forecast for Sunday. (It’s Saturday morning as I write this.) Will we manage to make it to the airport for our Monday morning flight?

Ooohhhh… the suspense is killing me.

Let’s leave this mystery for now and look at some of today’s top money stories. We’re going to start with crime.

“I would only rob banks for my family.” [Texas Monthly] — “By law enforcement standards, the Catts were as unlikely a set of bank robbers as one could imagine. They had no pressing financial issues and no obvious personal problems…Yet when it came to robbing banks, said Nehls, ‘they were very bold, very daring, and very risky. They’re lucky they didn’t get caught up in a shoot-out.'”

Bank robbers!

How much does it cost to be a stay-at-home parent? [Tawcan] — “I have always wondered what’s the actual financial cost of a stay-at-home parent. Therefore, I decided to reach out to Chrissy at Eat Sleep Breathe FI about writing a post and analyzing how much does a stay-at-home cost?…Rather than a generic article, I requested Chrissy to provide as many numbers as possible (I really pushed her comfort zone with this request hehe!). I wanted to make sure that we cover as many potential scenarios as possible…”

FICO scores are beginning to seem arbitrary. [/r/personalfinance/ on Reddit] — “I work in automotive lending for a major automotive lender. With increased technology, credit swipes, credit boosts, authorized user credit, and just straight fraud, FICOs are starting to become unreliable...I would not be surprised if in the coming years a FICO score becomes irrelevant. So instead of trying to inflate your score, just work on paying the important things on time every time.”

Finally, today, here’s a 13-minute rant from Chelsea Fagan at The Financial Diet. She’s sick of how “self-care” is portrayed in social media nowadays and she wants to set the record straight about what actually constitutes self-care.

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.

How many cats is too many cats?

It’s another freaky Friday, money nerds, and I’m flying out to Longmont, Colorado to celebrate the birthday of a certain mustachioed friend. Before I go, though, I’ve collected some more top money stories from this collection of tubes and wires that powers our modern life.

What is the creepiest thing you don’t talk about in your profession? [/r/AskReddit/] — In this 7300-comment thread, people share strange and creepy things that happen in their line of work. There’s some interesting stuff here — things you might not expect — but be warned: many of these are creepy and/or not safe for work.

Should you tithe or build your own wealth? [The Physician Philosopher] — “Even if you are not religious, I think that this concept is still important. Giving money comes in many different forms. It includes giving money to charitable causes outside the church. If you are religious and feel called to tithe, maybe this post will help you revisit the topic or start the conversation if you’ve never tithed regularly.”

How to not feel financially behind your friends. [Casual Money Talk] — “Human beings have this funny psychological tendency to normalize the status quo, and are thus never truly satisfied with the status quo. Comparing ourselves to others is an evolutionary gift that drives us to continually better ourselves and avoid complacency, but it does come with emotional costs and daily stresses we can do without.”

Our next story isn’t about money but it’s important. It’s all about how we use social media.

Social media is designed for emotion, not discourse. [Longreads] — This article is deliberately impossible to capture in a short quote. And that’s the point. The author argues that long, nuanced conversations are valuable. They educate us and, sometimes, change our minds. Social media is the opposite of long and nuanced. As a result, the conversations there aren’t conversations at all. They’re emotional outbursts and they do nothing to improve our society.

I’m not opposed to social media, but I don’t like how many people use it. I don’t think it’s a good tool for deep discussion. Deep discussion requires give and take. It involves subtlety. There’s no room for subtlety in 140 characters. I’m a big user of Facebook, but I don’t use it to dive deep into society’s ills. I use it to share cat videos.

Speaking of which: Our final piece today — which also has nothing to do with money — came to me from a friend on Facebook. Anna Akana has six cats.

Silly stuff, isn’t it? Yes, it is. But I like it. After all, the internet is made of cats.

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.

There’s a difference between rich poop and poor poop. (For real!)

Hey there, money nerds. It’s Thursday, and today we have a variety of top money stories from around the interwebs.

Academic study: There’s a difference between the sewage in wealthy areas and the sewage in poor areas. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] — “Our study shows that chemicals in wastewater reflect the social, demographic, and economic properties of the respective populations and highlights the potential value of wastewater in studying the sociodemographic determinants of population health.” Holy shit!

TurboTax’s 20-year fight to stop Americans from filing their taxes for free. [ProPublica] — “The success of TurboTax rests on a shaky foundation, one that could collapse overnight if the U.S. government did what most wealthy countries did long ago and made tax filing simple and free for most citizens. For more than 20 years, Intuit has waged a sophisticated, sometimes covert war to prevent the government from doing just that, according to internal company and IRS documents and interviews with insiders.”

U.S. median household income is at an all-time high. [Accidental Fire] — “Economists on both sides of the argument as to whether middle class incomes are stagnant have been accused of cherry picking their data. Fair enough. But what none of them seem to talk about is that the middle class is living better than ever in 2019.”

Are cash-back credit cards better than points cards? Quit possibly, yes. [The Lean House Effect] — “In this comparison, I want to show you that even though you’re getting lots of flights with your rewards, you would be able to buy all those flights and more with your cash back.” [This article is from a Canadian perspective, but the same principles apply to the U.S.]

Today’s final link has zero to do with personal finance. But I like it. It’s an interesting eight-minute video on the lost art of paste-up.

In the olden days — like thirty years ago — newspapers and magazines were assembled by cutting and pasting artwork and stories onto pages that could then be photographed for publication. Many of our modern computer metaphors (“cut”, “paste”, etc.) are derived from this process.

I have fond memories of many hours spent in high school (and church youth group) doing manual paste-up for newsletters, newspapers, and magazines. It was tedious work, but made better in the company of friends. By college in the late 1980s, though, digital layout had supplanted scissors and glue.

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.

How to eat for $10 a week.

Welcome to Wednesday, money nerds. As always, we’ve collected a few of our favorite money stories from around the web. Take a look!

“I’m a freelancer who was owed $5000 by late-paying companies. Here’s what happened when I tried to hold them accountable.” [Wudan Yan, Journalist] — “Paying contractors on time feels like the bare minimum that any publication can do if they value the work that their freelancers do for them. Watching editors who tout themselves as people who advocate for freelancers and not help them get paid on time really makes me wonder how much they actually care. But this lack of accountability also exists because freelancers typically don’t speak up about late fees.” [I’ve been working with a couple of big companies lately who are very, very shitty about honoring their contracts.]

The science of making positive habits stick. [Behavioral Scientist] — “Many people actually confuse habit and self-control. The majority of people in my surveys say that in order to start a new habit you have to exert self-control, and that’s just not true…People who score high on self-control don’t achieve successes in life by exerting control. They are not practicing self-denial by white-knuckling through life. Instead, they know how to form habits that meet their goals.”

The power of silence. [The Belle Curve] — “I’m going to attempt to – once again – limit my screen time and increase my ‘think time’. Moderation in everything is a personal mantra of mine. Finding that balance in all areas of life is a challenge. I’m here to fully experience life and all the things on Earth I can do, experience, and learn. Discipline is a vital component to making sure I don’t waste much of my precious time in this life. I hope to eliminate the noise and tap in to reality.” [I’m currently reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work. This article aligns nicely with that book.]

Lastly, here’s a twelve-minute video about how to eat for $10 a week.

I like this. You see, I spend a lot on food. I’ve written much in the past about my stuggle to keep food costs low. I don’t do a good job unless I’m traveling. (My food costs and habits are much better on the road, for some reason.) Stories like this make me think I could do a lot better at being frugal.

The rent is too damn high!

Today is Tuesday, money nerds, and this is Apex Money. Today we’re going to look at what it costs to live in the city.

Interesting research into the rise (and fall) of car ownership in the age of ridesharing. [CityLab] — “Despite ride-hailing’s promise, vehicle ownership (and traffic) is on the rise in America’s biggest, most transit-oriented cities. So how is mobility really changing?” Ridesharing services, which are supposed to decrease traffic, actually lead to more cars on the road (because people don’t use public transportation).

A comprehensive guide to frugal city living. [CityFrugal] — “Over the past year, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time discussing how to be frugal in a big city, and why a 40% (or greater) savings rate is attainable even in a high cost of living area like New York. I’ve done it for the past few years. While I’ve shared the building blocks, I haven’t yet put all of them together in one place. That’s what this post is designed to do.”

The cost to rent housing is approaching the cost to buy housing. [Political Calculations] — “In 2017, the average rent in the U.S. was ‘too damn high‘. In 2018, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, it was even higher. Remarkably, the rent rose even as the cost to own, as measured by the average annual combined cost of mortgage principal and interest payments, fell. From 2017 to 2018, the average household consumer unit expenditure for rent increased from $4,167 to $4,269, while the cost to own declined from $5,104 to $5,002.”

Where to live in early retirement. [The Frugal Engineers] — “Retiring early from full-time work brings up all kinds of options regarding how and where you can live. Relocating to a more affordable area can launch you towards financial independence. So how do we compare places and decide where to live in early retirement?” [I love that the authors chose to move to Wyoming, the last populated state in the U.S.]

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.

Why don’t rich people just stop working?

Yawn! Welcome to Monday, money nerds, and welcome to the latest edition of Apex Money. Today, let’s talk about retirement.

A visual guide of global attitudes toward retirement. [Visual Capitalist] — “Today’s infographic from Raconteur visualizes attitudes towards retirement around the world, comparing expectations and actualities for retirement income. Does reality meet their expectations?”

Don’t tell the Internet Retirement Police but consistently across the world, about half of all people plan to work for money during retirement. Gasp! The horror!

Working in retirement

The top five reasons to exceed 25 years of expenses before retiring. [Physician on Fire] — “A couple of studies in the 1990s showed us that a historically safe withdrawal rate for people wanting their money to last at least 30 years was not the 6% or 8% that many financial planners were quoting, but actually only 4% to have an excellent chance of your portfolio surviving some of the worst periods of investment returns in modern history. Is [this] enough for you? There are more than a few reasons you might want to exceed that number, as I did, before you leave your career behind.”

Why don’t rich people just stop working? [New York Times] — “The only thing we know in this casino-like economy — a casino that may, in fact, soon be shuttered — is that for those at the top, too much is never enough. Many normal, non-billionaire people wonder: why is that? Studies over the years have indicated that the rich, unlike the leisured gentry of old, tend to work longer hours and spend less time socializing.” [This has been linked everywhere but it’s intertesting. So, we’re linking it too.]

Half of retirees are afraid to use savings. [Center for Retirement Research] — “A 2018 study in the Journal of Personal Finance surveyed retirees to get a sense of the psychology behind their caution. However, the main takeaway is that this reluctance to spend is pervasive. Half of the survey respondents agreed with this statement: ‘The thought of my retirement portfolio balance going down over time brings me discomfort, even if the decline in value is a result of me spending money on my retirement goals.'”

Our last link of the day has nothing to do with money and everything to do with Taylor Swift. My favorite artist recently performed a “Tiny Desk concert” for National Public Radio. Of course, I have to share it!

Did you know that comedian Steve Carell is also a Taylor Swift fan? True story.

Personal finance and politics.

It’s Friday, money nerds, and that means…politics! Wait. Are those two really connected? Probably not. But they are today.

At my main site, I steer clear of mixing money and politics. I want to write for everyone regardless their political persuasion. That said, I recognize that sometimes politics and personal finance are hopelessly intertwined. Today’s featured articles here at Apex Money prove that point.

First up, here’s a long, thoughtful article that doesn’t mince words. The author believes people like me are naive and creating false dichotomies:

Personal finance and politics. [Optimize Your Life] — “A conversation about money without discussing politics is only developing part of the picture. If we, as personal finance writers, really want to help our readers, we should be giving them the full picture and the full suite of tools to take control of their money and their lives.”

America’s growing political divide: 1994-2017. [Visual Capitalist] — “Politics can be a hot button topic in America. With rising tensions on both sides of the political spectrum, some claim that bipartisanship is dead. Recent research shows that may well be true. Today’s charts come from a report by the independent think tank Pew Research on the partisan divide between the two major U.S. political parties, Democrats and Republicans.”

The U.S. political divide

What I learned growing up in rural America. [The Guardian] — “In college, I began to understand the depth of the rift that is economic inequality. Roughly speaking, on one side of the rift was the place I was from – laborers, workers, people filled with distrust for the systems that had been ignoring and even spurning them for a couple decades. On the other side were the people who run those systems – basically, people with college funds who end up living in cities or moving to one of the expensive coasts.”

Shopping has become a political act. Here’s how it happened. [Vox] — “Where and how we spend our money does matter. But how much it matters depends on what else we do with our money and what governments and corporations do with their (considerably larger) pots.”

Found something you think your fellow nerds might like? You should send it in! Help spread the top money stories on the web here at Apex Money.