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Apex Money Posts

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? Quite 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.

Every girl’s crazy about a sharp-dressed man.

Are you ready to RUUUUUUMMMMMBLLLLLLE, money nerds?!?!? If so, you’ve come to the wrong place. We don’t rumble around here. All we do is share the best money stories from across the web. Today, let’s talk about clothing!

How to buy clothes that are built to last. [New York Times, so possible paywall] — “The concept of ‘slow fashion’ has emerged over the past decade as a kind of counterbalance to fast fashion. The idea: slow down the rapid pace of clothing consumption and instead buy fewer more durable items…In a culture accustomed to the ephemeral, how can shoppers select clothes that are built to last? Here’s what to consider.

The benefits of buying used: A guide to shopping at thrift stores. [Frugalwoods] — “I’m a known thrifter…Since becoming Mrs. Frugalwoods, I’ve tried to buy everything second-hand. This doesn’t always work out and sometimes I choose to buy things new (such as my mattress), but on the whole, my household is awash in used goods.”

The minimalist’s guide to dressing for work. [The Luxe Strategist] — “Over the years, I realized I never needed to buy a separate set of outfits to feel good in business casual environments. Instead, I could buy a few key pieces and mix them with my regular clothes. And mixing the two meant that I could not only infuse my personal style at work, but also still feel comfortable and confident.” [See also: How to find hidden gems at thrift stores.]

Men who used to not care about fashion: Is dressing well worth the time and effort? [/r/malefashionadvice/ on Reddit] — “The way I see it, fashion is a want, not a need. and because I live by this ‘buy needs, not wants’, I have this pessimistic view towards fashion. So I would like to hear from those who were in my position and their experiences with changing fashion into a priority.” [Related: An interview with a guy who wears the same everything every day.]

Me? I used to buy all of my clothes at Costco. Cheap is good, right? After my divorce, though, I started to care more about dressing well. Turns out, I liked looking good. (It’s no joke that every girl’s crazy about a sharp-dressed man.) The current problem is that my nice clothes don’t fit! That’s okay, though. I’m on the weight-loss train and I should be able to fit into my fashionable duds by spring…

A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends.

Hello again, money nerds. It is I, J.D., and I’m back from my nineteen-day road trip. I’m excited to resume curation duties here at Apex Money, to share some of the best money stories from around the web.

Let’s get things started!

You can’t really manage money (or anything else) until you learn to manage yourself. [Brave Saver] — “Sometimes the problem isn’t our money — it’s us. And we need to work on managing our ourselves, our behaviors, and our mental health before our finances can improve. I had mismanaged myself into a deep, dark mental hole and it was time to dig my way out.”

How getting sober changed my life — and my money. [Recovering Women Wealth on Budgets Are Sexy] — “I’m looking at the graph of the pivotal money moments in my life, and it’s clear to me the life-changing events that occurred at each stage. The story told by my money also tells of my recovery from drug addiction/alcoholism. Since getting sober, it’s not surprising my net worth has gone up. For this girl, sobriety is sexy.

Spouses report earnings differently when wives earn more. [U.S. Census Bureau] — “When wives earn more than their husbands do, a puzzling thing can happen: Husbands say they earn more than they are and wives underreport their income. New Census Bureau research shows that the incomes couples report on Census Bureau surveys do not always match their IRS filings.”

My family has lived in the same house for 72 years. [Curbed] — “The idyllic location isn’t the only reason why generation after generation has chosen to live in the upstairs or downstairs of that house. Or why we almost always gather there, for every visit, holiday, and random Tuesday. The real reason is simpler. Comfort.”

Last (but not least), here’s a maddening little…toy? game? piece of hell?…that challenges you to do one thing: Draw a perfect circle.

Perfect Circle

Can you do it? I can’t. After dozens of attempts, the best I’ve been able to do is create a circle that’s 94.9% perfect. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go try again…

Online, no one knows you’re poor

Last call!

Actually, just last call for me. Today’s my (Jim’s) last day of curation before J.D. jumps back on the wheel. I had a blast, as always, and hope you did too.

Can you do me a favor and let me know how I did? What did you enjoy? What was just “meh?” Reply and let me know, please please please!

Today’s is a grab bag of a bunch of stuff I found interesting and/or useful… no rhyme or reason. Just top-notch.

Online, no one knows you’re poor [The Guardian] – “Shauna Ahern used to make her living by writing a food blog. But when times got tough, she realised keeping up appearances can make you lose sight of life’s meaning.” Social media + Keeping up with the influencer Joneses = disaster.

The simple words that save lives – “In 1984, Dallas, Texas, a call to the emergency services went catastrophically wrong. An elderly woman had stopped breathing, or was struggling to breathe, in her home. Her son, clearly distressed, called 911. The conversation between the caller and the dispatcher quickly spiraled out of control. Both parties appeared to argue for several minutes over the condition of the woman. The caller, increasingly exasperated, refuses to give straight answers to many of the dispatcher’s questions. The dispatcher, equally frustrated, eventually hung up with a curt “’kay, b’bye”. Thirteen minutes later paramedics were sent to the home where the woman in question was pronounced dead.” Some very good tips on how to communicate during a crisis.

How Much Should You Have in a 529 Plan by Age [The College Investor] – As a 529 plan devotee, this post by Robert sets good age-related “checkpoints” for your plan. It’s based on reasonable assumptions (paying 50% of the projected costs of in-state tuition of $10,200 per year for four years).

This one is a question I bet you’ve always asked whenever you feed the meter…

How Much Money Do Parking Lots Actually Make? [Mel Magazine] – “Paid parking lots: Those slabs of asphalt in the middle of cities with narrow spaces and often extortionate rates are pretty much a necessary evil if you own a car and spend any time in the city. But what’s their side of it like? Why even run a parking lot on a piece of urban land instead of building, like, an actual building? Are they goldmines, or what? What are their costs like?” It’s light on numbers but it does a good job explaining the strategy behind them.

Just when you thought you heard of everything… read this:

The Dangerously Cheesy Collectible Cheetos Market [The Outline] – “Dozens of “rare Cheetos,” shaped like everything from Donald Trump to a squirrel, are up for sale on eBay. But who’s buying?” I never buy Cheetos because I love Cheetos. If I had a bag in the house, it’d be gone in milliseconds. But I had no idea there was a secondary market for Cheetos shaped like things. Now I wonder how much of that sweet sweet eBay money I’ve inadvertently eaten!

Catch you on the flip side!

Financial success is hard to define

How do you define financial success?

A seven-figure bank balance?

Sipping a colorful drink with a tiny umbrella while your feet are touching warm white sand?

Working for yourself?

The Definition of Financial Success is Not So Obvious [Retire Before Dad] – “Financial success is the same. You and I have different goals and ways of defining financial success. But if I don’t achieve the same level of wealth or income as you, that doesn’t make me a failure. […] We tend to compare ourselves to others when it comes to career achievement and money, even though we have limited information about the financials of our peers. Comparing ourselves to others a useless exercise rooted in envy.” I’d also add that not only are our definitions different, they’re also hard to see. Personally, I’m not impressed by a large bank balance as much as I would be by what it represents – complete control of your time.

3 Lies to Keep to Yourself During a Job Interview [Paychecks & Balances] – “Millennials are twice as likely as other generations to lie on their resumes. This post is not about lying on your resume. Apparently you’ve already mastered that skill. Honesty is always the best policy; except for when it isn’t. This post is about all the other things you might as well lie about during the interview process. Protect yourself at all times!” If you’re interviewing for jobs, remember this list! (and if you’re not, still remember this list!)

The IRS Admits It Doesn’t Audit the Rich Because It’s Too Hard [GQ] – “The Internal Revenue Service is in a bind. The agency’s job is to collect the taxes that fund everything else in the government, from Social Security to the Post Office to Medicaid to the military’s endless conflicts across the globe. But the IRS is struggling: According to Vox, Americans owe a cumulative $131 billion in unpaid taxes, enough to completely fund the Department of Education for two years. The bulk of that money is owed by the wealthiest people in the country, yet the IRS isn’t attempting to collect it from them. Instead, as IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig confirmed in a letter to Congress recently, the agency literally can’t afford to audit the rich, so it’s pursuing the poor instead.” Oh nice.

Remember when the US Mint sold dollar coins for a dollar?

It was a boon for credit card churners looking to manufacture spend:

I still have a few!

Rules of thumb are trash

Go look up the purported origins of the phrase “rule of thumb” – and you will know why I look upon that rule and others with such contempt.

Julien & Kiersten agree:

Why financial rules of thumb are trash [Rich and Regular] – “After the last few years of blogging regularly, entrenching ourselves in books, videos, documentaries, podcasts and all things money, if I hear another financial jargon laced rule of thumb based on averages or medians, while disregarding the personal side of personal finance, I might morph into Uncle Sam. Our Uncle Sam… not the meth-addicted Santa looking dude ya’ll made up.”

The rise of the financial machines [The Economist] – “Funds run by computers that follow rules set by humans account for 35% of America’s stockmarket, 60% of institutional equity assets and 60% of trading activity. New artificial-intelligence programs are also writing their own investing rules, in ways their human masters only partly understand.” If you thought Skynet would show up with guns, you will be mistaken.

She Won Athletes’ Hearts. And Robbed Them Blind [Sports Illustrated] – “The same people who years ago entrusted her with millions—from Ricky Williams to Dennis Rodman to Travis Best—wince today at the mention of her name. They’ll tell you how she left them broke. How she’s a “chameleon ghost witch.” How she’s a forgery of the American Dream. And every athlete’s worst nightmare.” Just WOW. This isn’t a “bad business deal” type of scam, this was straight-up robbery.

And check out this piece to leave you with a smile on your face!

I want to be as pleased with myself as that guy!