Saturday Linkage:

3/13/2021

  1. When you can afford to retire but are afraid to quit your job (CostRica Fire); The eternal struggle of all FIRE folks!
  2. The Simplicity of the 50/30/20 Budget rule (dividend power); A simple form of setting your budget – great to start with!
  3. Frugal vs. Cheap (Bellawanana); Which are you?
  4. Ten Biggest Money Mistakes (Dollars and Data): the blog post that launched a reddit avalanche!
  5. Fifty Reflections on Life after FIRE upon turning 50 (retire by 45): Some obvious, some not so obvious
  6. Make Fewer things in life matter (the finance buff); Excellent advice on how to reduce your stress level and concerns by taking steps to make the minutia matter less. Plays into my Stoic attitude.
  7. How much money is enough? (Rinky doo Finance): Good analysis and questions on how to get a handle on “the number”
  8. Money can buy happiness after all (visual capitalist); Apparently it doesn’t plateau at $75K – it does continue to increase as you make more.
  9. Why FIRE people can sometimes be short sighted (save, spend, splurge); There are all sorts of levels of FI, and all sorts of variables that may impact you as you travel along your post-FI journey.
  10. Why retirees go broke (the retirement café); No surprises, but not items which most FIRE folks haven’t considered.
  11. Being Rich – What would change in life? (Route to Retire): Hopefully nothing in your “core” would change.

Should you plan for inflation in 2021?

There have been talks for the last several years about the potential for inflation, and the effects it would have on individuals spending, investments and lifestyle. The inflation rate has jumped around significantly throughout the 20th century, and it wasn’t until Reagan and Volker (in the 1980s) took the steps to “slay the inflation dragon” and get it to a more controlled level, without the wild swings in the past (it went from 4.7% in 1976 to 13.3% in 1979!).

Since the 1991, the inflation rate has stayed under 4% every year, and average around 2% for the last two decades. Whole generations have grown up without the threat of watching their purchasing power melt away over a short period of time. Some argue that the CPI (Consumer Price Index) is not measuring accurately, and that the key items for living (shelter, food, transportation, etc.) have been going up at a much higher rate than the CPI index shows. This is similar to the Monevator’s article on personal inflation rate I noted earlier in the year.

Now with the huge amount of government spending over the last year (added to the large amount of government spending since the 2008-2009 crash) has led to renewed articles on the potential for inflation in 2021 and its effects. Stocks continue to rise well above all levels of base P/E ratios, and more people are talking about a bubbles. So what can you do?

I’ve written before about having a SHTF plan and what you can do to prepare. The key is to look at the items that will increase in value, and do things to ward off the effects of rising prices.

  • Invest in stocks vs. Bonds. Bond rates typically don’t keep up with inflation rates, so you can lose buying power, while the stock price of companies tend to go up at a better rate
  • Invest in hard assets to hedge (gold, oil, etc.). As the purchasing power of a dollar goes down, these items will increase in value.
  • Real Estate: Inflation typically makes real estate values shoot up (see house prices in the 70s). They’re already on the rise now – which lends to the belief that we are already experiencing inflation

The last bit of advice I have in regards to this is the opposite of what you typically should do in times of high inflation. The base suggestion would be to take out loans (especially low interest loans) with today’s dollars, and then when the dollar inflates, you can pay the debt off with lower value dollars. My suggestion in times of high inflation is to pay off your debt – not take on more. High inflation times are uncertain times, and job losses and economic disruptions happen. Having little or no debt will help you to weather through these tough times.

My hope is that we don’t see anything major happen in the next decade or so. However, I am very concerned at the out of control spending at the federal level. It just isn’t sustainable.

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Mr. 39 Months

Saturday Linkage:

3/6/2021

  1. Ditch your Scarcity Mindset to create an abundant life (our life on fire); Diagnosis and tips on how to improve your mindset
  2. How owning assets is better than a job (frugal expat); one of the eternal lessons from rich dad, poor dad.
  3. Strangers took in a delivery driver for 5 days after she was stranded in the Texas storm (CNN): feel good story.
  4. The Market Value of My Father (wealth simple); Father’s are very undervalued in today’s culture.
  5. A false sense of purchasing power (becoming minimalist); One of the roots of our personal (and countrywide) debt crisis is the ease of borrowing money
  6. The Secret Essential Geography of the office (Wired); While the article says office work isn’t dead, I still wouldn’t want to own office real estate right now.
  7. Positive Feedback Loops (Zen habits); A great way to move towards your objectives.
  8. Why are we panicking again? (Dollars and Data); The author asks why the market is down 4.2% from its highs? I think its overvalued.
  9. Financial Compatibility: Balancing Money And Love (one frugal girl); the most important financial decision you will ever make is your choice of spouse.
  10. How To Increase Your Net Worth: 4 Steps To Follow And Repeat (reverse the crush); Its not rocket science.
  11. Is Your Side Hustle Worth the Time? (vital dollar); Something I ask myself a lot since starting it.

Investment Update Jan 2021 – they did it again!

If you remember, at the end of last month, I noted that the market appeared to take a small dive right at the end of the month. In January, the market dropped about $40K in the last week, leaving me from a +3.0% to a -0.5% return for the month.

In February, I checked the market on Thursday, Feb 25th in the morning, less than 36 hours before then end of the month, and I was ups over 5% for the month. Yeah, baby! By Saturday morning, however, when I went to check it, the market had dropped close to 3% again, and I was only up 2.8% for the month. Still up over $41K, but not the $70K plus that it was on Thursday. They did it again!

In talking with some folks in the community, we all agreed that it was madness to be checking the market continuously. It is s also to be noted that all these gains/losses are just paper gains/losses. Until you sell the stock/mutual funds/ETFs, its all on paper, so it doesn’t do you any good to cry over a loss or crow over a gain. Just track it and see how it does over time.

So how did I do for the month of January? Overall, pretty good.

My allocation remains pretty much the same as when I set it back in July 2020:

  • 20% Bond Index Fund
  • 20% S&P500 Index Fund
  • 20% International Index Fund
  • 20% Small Cap Index Fund
  • 20% REIT Index Fund

My 401K doesn’t have REIT option, so it’s just 25% for each.

  • Bonds were down about -1.8%
  • S&P was up 2.8%
  • International was ups 2.3%
  • Small Cap up 6.1%
  • REIT Index up 3.4%

I also have a Vanguard value fund (VVIAX) where I put in my after-tax investment money. That was up 5.0% for the month. Maybe 2021 will finally be the year value investing starts beating the growth stocks? Who knows.

My dividend account new allocation (as of Jan 2020) was:

  • 50% Dividend Stocks
  • 50% REITs

The dividend paying stocks were up an average of 1.5%, and the REITS were up an average of 3%. These specific REITs really starting paying off in February, after a couple of months of almost nothing. It will be interesting seeing them in the months ahead.

Again, wow. The dividend account has been down all year and hasn’t recovered anywhere near what the 401K/IRA accounts have. Now its come roaring back. Hopefully it will end the year in the black.

Again, my intention is not to alter my asset allocation or “get out of stocks” but I am mentally preparing myself for a very bumpy 2021.  As I stated in January, I think the market is overvalued right now. We will see.

Hope everyone is healthy and your market returns for the rest of the year go up!

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Mr. 39 Months

Saturday Linkage:

2/27/2021

  1. Negative Taxes (FI Heroes); A great article on how a recent retiree is able to pay “)” taxes due to planning – actually, they get a refund of over $4K from the government. Definitely a must read!
  2. An ice-cold update (get rich slowly). JD Roth dealing with some of the weather related issues the US has been having.
  3. “Fake Famous” and the Tedium of Influencer Culture (New Yorker); I hate influencer culture.
  4. Change the Name; Change the Mindset (average money management); just changing the name f rom “credit cards” to “debt cards” will make you look at them differently.
  5. Facing Adversity In Early Retirement (Retire by 40); What to do when you start having some issues that impact your original plan.
  6. What to Look For in a Laptop — And How to Make It Last (Trip of a lifestyle); Excellent advice.
  7. How I Knew I Had Enough To Retire Early (Leisure Freak); Good conversation on the milestones, information and hurdles that make up reaching the decision point.
  8. Active vs. Passive Investing Debate (Banker on Fire); In the end, the key is to invest and stick with it.
  9. How North Face Athletes Compete for Expedition Funding (Outside); Interesting article
  10. The Math That Explains How to Get Rich with Websites (four pillar finance) Guess I’m falling down on the job here…
  11. Emergency Preparedness: Prepping For Spontaneous misadventures (budget life list); Mrs. 39 Months and I have been watching survival shows lately (Alone, I should be dead, etc.) Got the bug!

Do I double-down on TKD Woodworking?

I’m sure you all are aware that 2020 wasn’t that good of a year to start a new business.  Even a side-hustle has challenges, and TKD Woodworking is no exception.

I showed a lot of the steps that I went through in developing the company in my link to the right. It’s a fairly large set of postings on decisions on what to make, how much, and what to spend money on. I put a lot of thought into it, and work on the initial product line for selling.

Needless to say, the availability of craft shows and farmers markets in my local area were very small in 2020. I detailed how we did financially, and it was somewhat disappointing.

I’ve reached an interesting point in the business for year 2. I’ve put in roughly $4,100, and had $2400 in expenses for 2020, leaving me with roughly $1,700 remaining. In order to move forward in 2021, I still will have probably $1,000 in fixed expenses (insurance, webhosting, registration, etc.).

In addition, I’m interested in upgrading my website to make it more professional and be more receptive to e-Commerce. My webhosting company, BlueHost, is offering me a package deal of roughly $2,500 to upgrade my website (5 pages, up to 10 product pages, e-Commerce, Blog, etc.) and to do work on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to help publicize it.

I’m tempted to do this, as I think the website would look a lot better (I don’t like how it looks right now) and the potential for additional sales is tempting. Does anyone else have experience with folks helping to build their website?

Lots of fun, running a business.

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Mr. 39 Months

Saturday Linkage:

2/20/2021

  1. The life Plan (Darious Foroux); Good article on planning out your life, and then executing to that plan.
  2. Four Ways Financial Independence Changed our lives (financial mechanic); No surprises, but good to see it happening like many of us want it to for us
  3. The Diminishing Returns of Productivity (anne Helen); You can only go so far with productivity “hacks.”
  4. I tried to get rich of Dogecoin and all I got was this lousy blog post (government worker fi);
  5. Traditionally Publishing a book – the Pros and Cons (Financial Samurai); Ever wanted to write a book and get it published?
  6. Is it a  mistake to pay off your mortgage early? (budgets are sexy); we paid off ours and it lifted a huge weight. With the economy the way it is, being debt free is a major plus, in my opinion. /
  7. Most people can’t save money because of this common misconception (money side up); Always pay yourself first
  8. Five outdated money tips that everyone still believes (a lawyer and her money); I still follow #4 and #5
  9. When did ordinary become a bad word (money gremlin); With the advent of Facebook and other social media, everyone is chasing and showing these exceptional experiences – but most of life is very ordinary.
  10. How much does it cost to live the FIRE life (eat, sleep, breath FI); One person’s attempt to gather data from a variety of people for an ongoing series
  11. Building a small Apartment Workbench for Woodworking (Close Grain). Love this design, based on an older 19th century plan, and how it can be used for apartment folks.

Getting interviewed by my professional magazine on finance

Back in May of 2011, I wrote an article for my professional society (www.IISE.org) magazine, titled “Graduate Finances.” After the 2008-2009 recession, I wanted to share some basic financial ideas with future graduates, so they’d have an idea of what to do when they get their first job. The article covered basic budgeting, investing, benefits. Etc. In the years since, I  have had folks comment positively on the article.

Just recently, IISE has reached out to me for their new Podcast, and asked me to interview and discuss the article, and recent changes that might be made to the advice. The provided a list of questions they would be asking. I’ve included them below, and my answers to them.

Below are some starter questions to help prepare you for the interview, though I will surely ask additional questions based on the course of the conversation:

  1. This conversation surrounds an article you wrote for Industrial Engineer magazine (now ISE magazine) called “Graduate Finances,” and we’ll provide a link to the article on our show notes at the podcast website. You initially wrote it in early 2011, which was just a few years after the punishing fiscal bomb that was the Great Recession. What prompted you to give this advice to young engineers starting out?
    • I had become very interested in investing and saving for retirement around the year 2000 (dot.com bust). When 2008-2009 hit, I saw a lot of people jump out of the market (rather than just let it sit) and knew that was the wrong answer.
    • My professional IISE chapter often goes to our local colleges and presents/discusses issues with students, and I’ve spoken at regional and national conferences before. I found that most engineers didn’t have any financial knowledge from college or high school (almost no graduate does).
    • I often got questions about what to do with their first job, and I wanted to provide some guidance.
  1. You open the article with “Day 1,” which typically involves an introduction meeting with a company’s human resources representative. Obviously, we’ve each been through this more than once in our careers, but for our younger audience who may be entering the real world soon after listening to this, what should they expect to learn about in that initial HR meeting?
  2. I’m assuming we are talking about financial aspects of HR. There will be a host of policies and programs that are not financially related that HR will bring forward.
  3. Other benefits that will save you money (insurance, legal, education, medical)
  4. Medical benefits – look for high deductible plan and an H.S.A. (Health Savings Account). This is almost a super Roth-IRA. You can save it before taxes, invest it, and then use it to pay medical bills later on
  1. I faced a battle with cancer a few years into my career and after joining my third employer (which just happened to be IISE). Before that, I will admit that I didn’t pay that close of attention to medical benefits and insurance details. Between youthful ignorance and newspaper veterans telling me that the insurance covered “next to nothing,” I lost sight of its value. Having cancer changed that for me. What would you suggest engineers ask HR about on Day 1 regarding their medical coverage?
    • They need to understand the costs involved and relate that to their potential budget. Coverage is a key point. Most company’s benefits will cover catastrophic issues, but the key is the deductible. How much do you want to pay out of pocket before the medical gets picked up.
    • Often you can get a benefit/cost reduction for regular checkups, not smoking, etc. Look into this.
    • For the younger ones, most feel their invulnerable, so they don’t pay much attention to medical.  I would suggest they look into a medical plan with a high deductible with an HAS – a Health Savings Plan. This lets you save money before taxes, and you can invest it in the market and let it grow. It can be used to pay medical expenses now, or 10+ years from now.
    • I don’t recommend an FSA – you have to spend that in the calendar year, and it’s a tracking nightmare. 
  1. I started my career in newspapers (back when people still subscribed to their local paper en masse) and I remember feeling a lot of pride when I received my first paycheck. It said to be that I was an adult and a working journalist. Unfortunately, it was only around $750 after deductions for two weeks of work and I didn’t fully grasp the expenses that were about to be dumped on top of me, like student loans and living expenses (my folks weren’t all that cool with me living at home after graduation). What was your experience like as you were coming into adulthood and suddenly trying to learn your new job as well as set yourself up for a financial future? In what ways did you feel like you got it right early on and where did you make your biggest errors?
    • I was an anomaly getting out, because I went into the military, so the first 5 years I had government housing, medical, etc.
    • Once I got out, my wife and I had to learn a lot of this (housing, medical, etc) but we were a little more mature, and had our spending in line.
    • For someone starting out, I’d look for someone maybe 5 years older they could use to mentor them on this. There is also some good information on the internet. I’d look into the FIRE community for this.
  1. What insights should young people entering the American workforce understand about deductions removed from their pay? Where is that money going?
    • Taxes (Fed, State, local) – obvious. Should be considered when you are looking at jobs.
    • Social Security/Medicare – Tax to pay for benefits to older Americans
    • Unemployment – paid into by you and your company
    • Other – state dependent (my state has Family Leave, Disability, Workforce Development)
    • Your choice in benefits – Medical, Dental, Vision, 401K, Insurance, etc.
  1. The combination of career success, bad luck on the health front and poor decision-making, among other factors, led me to a lifestyle rooted around minimalism – not in the “live like a hermit” context that many people believe it to be, rather to develop an ability to determine what has the most value and what has no value. And it’s become evident to me over my adult life that budgets, even simple ones drawn on a napkin, can go a long way into showing me just where I stand when it comes to income and expenses. What budget methods would you recommend to graduating students, such as the “60 percent” rule or the “50/20/30” model?
    • I gave several versions in the article, but I am a real enthusiast for the “pay yourself first” model. Do your investments first (401K to at least the match, HAS, Roth IRA) maybe 10% – 20% of your paycheck.
    • Every year from that point bump it up at least 1% (i.e. if you get a 3% pay raise, one third of that goes to new investments like 401K or Roth IRA)
    • Then you have your 80% – 90% left to spend.
    • Budget for any debt (student loans, etc).
    • What is left over is what you have to live on (housing, food, transportation, etc)
    • Remember that, unless you have a real disaster, the first couple of years will be the tightest. Every year, every pay raise, every debt payoff, it will get  a little easier
  1. For anyone who has been out of college in the past 20 years, we’ve witnessed a lot of events that have made an impact on the national and/or global economy – the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; the housing market crash in 2008; and our current pandemic. These types of events have made investing a shaky proposition for me personally, but I’ve done more of it in the past few years albeit conservatively. I’m fairly certain you’re not one to recommend investing in Bitcoin or other risky ventures. Unless I’m wrong, what factors do you recommend young graduates consider when it comes to investing? Should they start investing in stocks and bonds right out of the gate or focus on their 401Ks and/or Roth IRAs, or anything deemed low risk?
    • The biggest issue, I think, for young engineers is the long term nature of investing. Most people at 22 can’t envision 10 years from now, let alone 40 years.
    • I’d have a “core” of investments in the basics (401K, Roth IRA, etc) and if you’re young, I’d invest almost 100% in stock index funds. The market has never been down over a 20+ year period, and young folks have that sort of timeline for their investments. As you get older, you can shift more to bonds or other fixed investments.
    • Index Funds/ETFs!
    • Maybe have 5% – 10% of your funds for “fun money” where you invest in Bitcoin, Tesla, etc. Just assume that you will be gambling.
    • Again, I’d do some reading on the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early). The concept there is that if you bust your butt to pay off debt and invest, you can get yourself into a situation where you are Financially Independent and don’t have to work. Then you can do the sort of work you really enjoy!
  1. In the original article, you listed about a dozen sources for further reading and education on money and personal finance, but it’s been a long decade since “Graduate Finances” first published. Do you have any new favorite digital resources like websites or podcasts that have a better reach on younger generations? Any books or authors that you would recommend as well?
  2. Take everything with a grain of salt. Everyone’s situation is different, and some folks like to take more risk than you may be comfortable with.
  1. As you wrote in your article, ISE students graduate with a strong foundation of functional knowledge applicable to their careers – the ability to research and investigate, to analyze data, etc. Should colleges and universities provide more opportunities or add emphasis on personal finance education? Are there opportunities for parallel teaching (think the Daniel/Mr. Miyagi relationship in “The Karate Kid”… “wax on, wax off; sand the floor; …”)?
    • I think there should be a personal finance course as an option, but that is just me.
    • If not, at least provide additional opportunities to study this
    • The issue is that most young folks just don’t think personal finance is an interesting topic. Often discussions of money are considered “dirty” in our culture. 

What would you add or change to these?

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Mr. 39 Months

Saturday Linkage:

2/13/2021

  1. Go Curry Cracker business review (Go Curry Cracker); An interesting walk through GCC’s numbers on his blog, how its profited, hours spent, social media activity, etc.
  2. Good news about credit card debt in the US (how much); It appears folks are taking the opportunity with Covid to reduce the credit card debt. Down nationally -14%!
  3. How to calculate your personal inflation rate (monevator); How much does your spending go up each year and what does it mean for your future spending?
  4. How to get through the boring middle part of the FI journey (strong money Australia).; we’re all struggling with this step in the journey.
  5. The Defining Trait of all bubbles – the willful suspension of disbelief (a wealth of common sense); Whether it’s the Tulip craze, the South Sea bubble, the dot.com bubble or some other craze, they all eventually “pop.”
  6. Terrible financial advice is going viral on TikTok (vox.com); some real whoppers are being told.
  7. Three Retirement Myths of the Social Media Era (incognito money scribe); Most folks I the FIRE community don’t fall for these.
  8. Crony Socialism (Freedom is Groovy); a plea to spend educational funding in a different way.
  9. Owning Rental Properties Is Smart, but I’m Out, Jack! (Route to Retire); I think we’re going to see a lot of the smaller rental property owners dropping out in the months ahead due the the Chinese Virus.
  10. Mania Stocks and a large portfolio (full time finance): The Larger the Portfolio, the Less Value in Taking a Speculative Bets
  11. Twenty ways to be happier in life (Retirement Manifesto); we all need upbeat articles now and then

Measure Twice, Cut Once

In woodworking, there is an often used phrase “Measure Twice, Cut Once.” The concept is that when you do your first measurement, you should check it a second time a little later, just to make sure you didn’t make a mistake, before you cut something. When you cut a piece of wood (or metal, cloth, etc.) you pretty much are committed at that point to wherever you have measured to – and the world is full of people who measured an inch (or centimeter) too short. The result – something gets tossed out because it isn’t useful.

I was reminded of this recently while doing some woodworking in the shop. I was building a couple of doors for the kitchen island I was making. The doors used a framing joinery style called “mortise and tenon” which is very old (1,000s of years) in which you create a tenon (sort of a wooden tab) which gets inserted into a mortise (a hole you’ve carved into the wood). It results in a square frame, sort of like a picture frame. You can then insert a flat panel into the middle, which “floats” between the four pieces. This is key, because wood has a tendency to contract and expand as it releases/takes in water throughout the year. If the center panel can’t move, things have a tendency to crack.

Well, in rushing things I took the measurement for the panel and cut them while I had some glue drying on something else. Guess what? The panels are too short, on both ends. Exactly one inch too short!

I had to go purchase new wood to go into these, and the other ones will go into my wood pile, where I hope to find  a new use for them.

For many of us in the days of Tesla and GameStop, there is the urge to shoot first, then aim. While this can pay off occasionally, I would still urge others to “measure twice, cut once” and double check your assumptions and decisions a second time before acting on them. A lot of trouble in this world can be bypassed if we just take a second look at things.

I hope everyone is healthy and happy!

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Mr. 39 Months