What I Know About Money

I’ve read and listened to many books about building wealth. The big lesson is — no matter what, take charge of your money! The mistake most people make is thinking:

“I’m not rich, so I just won’t deal with my money, I’ll figure it out later when I have more.”

No. Do it now. You’re not poor, but you are thinking poorly.

Time is an incredible resource when it comes to growing wealth. Every day you wait is counting against you. Taking a few days of your life to research, learn, and institute a plan will pay off 1000-fold down the line.

Ten years ago I forced myself to listen to The Millionaire Next Door. It was incredibly boring, but the “think like a millionaire” premise stuck with me. The book surveyed 100s of millionaires and discovered the average millionaire: has a median income of $131k, does not have a flashy / high-consumption lifestyle, and employs unsophisticated investment strategies based on consistent saving.

If you need help getting started with your day-to-day money management, I Will Teach You To Be Rich outlines the steps to automate your finances and start saving. The gist is that you take the time to set it up once and you don’t have to fuss with it ever again.

Someone summed up the book thoroughly. Print it, read it, do it.

Be free of debt — an old book says “the borrower is slave to the lender.” Put everything you can towards the smallest debt you have (while making minimum payments on the rest). Keep doing that until you’ve paid them all off. While this may not make mathematical sense with various interest rates factored and what not, psychologically you get a boost by paying them off.

(via get-out-of-debt expert Dave Ramsey & his debt snowball method)

Budgets — I don’t even attempt one! The monthly strategy is simple:

  1. Automatically deposit into your retirement savings
  2. Automatically deposit into a savings acct for any specific goals
  3. Automatically pay your expenses (rent, util, phone, credit cards)
  4. Spend the rest

This is referred to as “paying yourself first.”

Saving for Retirement — 401k & IRAs are retirement vehicles, or savings accounts with special tax benefits. You can put in regular old dollars — and you can put stocks and mutual funds in these accounts. The only hitch is you can’t withdraw money from them until you hit 59.5 yrs old. If you dip into it (like in case of some major emergency), you’ll be hit with a penalty.

401ks — are typically offered by your company and allow you to invest in a limited range of stocks and mutual funds. If your company offers a match on a 401k — do enough to get the match. Why? Free money. (I’ve never had a 401k.)

Roth IRA — open one with an online brokerage (Vanguard / TD Amertirade / etc… google “Roth IRA”). Roth IRAs are good. You pay your taxes on the money first then don’t have to worry about it when you take it out at retirement age. You can put $5,500 / year in a Roth IRA. You are not allowed to contribute to a Roth if you make over $129,000 / year ($191,000 jointly), but there are other IRAs you can look into.

Again, you put stocks or funds into your retirement savings:

Stocks — are shares in an individual company. They are the riskiest investment and it’s very hard pick winners that will outperform the market as a whole. According to A Random Walk Down Wall Street, the majority of finance experts that devote all their energy and time to beating the market average fail to do so. But it’s fun to try! I own them as a hobby / gamble. Buying stocks is as simple as entering a ticker symbol into your brokerage account.

I get my stock tips this way: my friend listens to his dad talk to his broker on the phone then tells me what he says. I invest some money that I could lose without crying or going hungry and watch it go up and down. I plan on leaving those alone for at least 5 years. My strategy is buy and hold.

My experience is that just about any established company (that’s not retail) goes up if you just let it sit there. I’ve never sold any of my stocks, and I’m generally pleased with their performance.

Stocks I Own:

  • ABB / ↑779% / something to do with supplying equipment to companies that drill for oil / on a tip from friend’s dad
  • AVAV / ↑60% / drones / bought about a yr ago
  • APP / ↓30% / american apparel / was a cheap stock and I figured what the hell
  • BAC / ↑189% / Bank of America / bought low when it was in the toilet thanks to a story about $5 atm charges and the occupy protests
  • CBI / ↑170% / builds big civic infrastructure things / friend’s dad
  • FB / ↑120% / facebook / because I missed out on apple and google bought during the two dips after the IPO
  • PHOT / ↑64% / they sell equipment and loan money to marijuana growers in Colorado / kind of a goof stock
  • RPC / ↑87% / another oil services company / friend’s dad

The ones with really high percentages — I’ve owned a long time (buy & hold).

Funds — are collections of stocks. Since there are lots of different company’s stocks bundled together, the risk is spread out and lower.
Often you have to buy into a fund with a minimum of $1,000. There are two major types of funds:

  1. Index Funds — are a collection of an equal number of stocks across the entire market (or defined pieces of the market). The idea is you are investing in the market as a whole, and if you stay in long enough will earn the historical stock market average of 12%. They are also referred to as “passively managed funds.” (VTSMX is an example of one)
  2. Mutual Funds — are also called “actively managed funds,” because, unlike index funds, a manager picks and chooses a group of stocks they believe will be winners. Since the general consensus is that it is impossible to beat the market, coupled with the fees taken by the manager, and the tax fees associated with the back and forth trading done inside the funds, they are not seen as the best option.
  • Watch Frontline’s The Retirement Gamble to learn more about managed funds and how much they can cost you over time (real info begins at 20m).
  • If you’re looking for one stop shopping, look at Vanguard’s targeted funds that automatically re-adjust based on your age.

Fund I Own:

  • VTSMX / ↑22% / vanguard total stock market index / a little bit of every stock out there

Over the long term (since 2005) I’ve had an excellent return on my investments … even though in 2008 all my gains were lost and I was in the negative. My money did the work for me!

If you want to skip all the research and just get started, do this:

  1. Open a Roth IRA with an online brokerage (use Vanguard for this example)
  2. Set up an automatic monthly contribution of $458 ($5,500 ÷ 12 mo)
  3. Once you have $1000 in your account, buy into the Vanguard Target Fund based on your age
  4. Make it so your monthly contribution automatically buys more of that fund
  5. Let it ride

… This way, it’ll buy when the market is high and low, which is called “cost-averaging.” If you do just this, and only this, for the next 30 years and the market averages 10% you will have $904,059. Behold the power of compound interest!

Spend a day, or a few hours a day, until you get your money in order. Even if you can’t afford $458 / mo right now (I can’t), get something invested.

And generally — remember, your income is your strongest wealth-building tool. Make it a priority to live on less than you make.

2014

Esha and pals threw a big NYE party upstate. The theme was #hallowthanksmaseve — all four holidays in two hours. We all survived.

I don’t have any new resolutions, just old ones that are carrying over into the next year.

Yesterday I noticed the theme for the FEAST site was borked, so I switched to WP’s 2014 theme. It was time to “shut it down” and make it clear we’re no longer hosting FEASTs.

;^)

It’s almost Christmas!

Favorite Apps
Moves
Google Now
I’m most delighted by Moves and Now — they’re passive and collect / present relevant information. I don’t have to push any buttons…a UX miracle.

Google Keep
Google Keep syncs my lists between computer and phone. I think of it for throwaway notes and info: grocery lists, daily to-do, thoughts, etc.

I’m currently on the search for a tagging / file system for links, text and pics. First it was delicious, then I migrated to gimmebar … which I like, but doesn’t always work like it should. I just don’t know. People swear by Evernote, it seems bloated and I don’t have the patience to figure it out. I just do not know.

Best Mobile Game
Badland $3.99
I was looking for something “atmospheric” and kind of weird. This was it, and I played the whole game. When I’d play for an hour before sleeping, I’d feel dizzy when I closed my eyes.

The game thing got started when I installed Candy Crush after seeing so many ppl playing it on the subway. I uninstalled because I couldn’t stop playing it. It was so dumb and frustrating.

After seeing kids dressed up in pixelated costumes at halloween, and overhearing more than a few kids (and geeky adults) talk about Minecraft, I checked out a documentary about it. The movie is about building a business, and kind of about the background of the game. They make a lot of money. Seems like they’ve merged SaaS and gaming? I installed the game and it made my computer run hot. Which worried me — is the game more powerful than all the fancy graphic software I run?

I’m not into gaming any more.

Television
Based on a recc from Bob Odenkirk I watched The Royle Family. I suspect it’s an acquired taste. Tasted good to me.

We’re watching The Wire again! It’s my third time, and Esha’s first.

Halloween

We gave out $60 worth of candy in two hours. One piece at a time.

“Say trick or treat” … “say thank you.” — said practically every parent that shuffled their kids to our doorstep. Parents: brief your kids before they go out. It makes no sense to go through this process over and over.

The costumes were lame, tossed-on, store-bought things. Most common were Disney princess (Ariel?) and some grey and red superhero. Very few kids w/ face paint. I didn’t see even one paper bag head. A lot of the parents had excellent costumes though.

I was more annoyed at parents collecting candy on behalf of infants than I was at uncostumed teens with shopping bags.

    Parent presents me w/ open bag, “trick or treat”
    Me: “Who’s that for?”
    Bag holder: “The baby.”
    Me: Looks at sleeping baby in stroller, “The baby has to ask for it.”

A funny thing (that I probably did as a kid) was the candy analysis while walking away. “Yes, Nerds!” or “sort of look at the generic lollipop and dump it back in the sack w/o comment.” A neighbor appeared to be giving out bags of Doritos.

Favorite Jokes:

  • Asking a dog if it was dressed up as a dog.
  • Calling kids a similar costume Hey Tiger (giraffe), Hey Spiderman (Superman), Hey Chewbacca (werewolf)…
  • Giving the Angry Bird kids Swedish Fish. Nerds for the geeky kids.

No Reward

I spent a few days helping Jenn get her Kickstarter campaign ready to launch. I pitched in with project management and light tasks —

  • Setting daily goals
  • Logistics for the launch party
  • Copywriting and building the page
  • Outreach strategies
  • Tracking tools
  • Writing targeted boilerplate emails

The campaign features lotsa rewards and styling on the page — we were very weary of losing our data. Occasionally I saved a PDF as a backup. Below is my wireframe sketch of what the backend / page builder could look like. I am sure much of this is already in the pipeline.

PDF

Week one has been a success. Early backers had backed other projects, so getting people to create an account is the first barrier. About half came on board for the campaign. I’m curious to learn more about the how and why people decide to give. I am also surprised / bummed out at the # of close friends who haven’t pledged. I’ve been reading up on links from the search “kickstarter psychology” and haven’t yet cracked the code. This Freakonomics podcast offers some good insight:

…what you tend to find is that people are more driven out of pure self-interest. And what I mean by that is that people give because it gives them a warm feeling …  if you want to induce people to give more money, you should really now be appealing to “hey here’s what this can do for you,” or “if you don’t give today this will actually be taken away and you will no longer be able to use it,” rather than appeal to, say “you know what, you can help this poor person over there.” I think fundraisers for years have gotten it wrong, that they need to appeal more to the actual donor rather than the recipient of those dollars.

SOMA (I backed them!) did a good post-mortem and shared a lot of their resources.

The problem I wished I’d been able to sort out earlier was estimating the cost of producing the rewards. My “pledge policy” is to choose a non-material reward or no reward. I would rather my money go towards the project than producing chotchkies. I started mocking up a rewards calculator, then found this one.

Weekend at Yogi’s

Last weekend the gang rented a big house upstate for a sort of FEAST reunion / send-off. The spot was a friend of a friend’s yoga retreat home we dubbed the hippie house.

I liked the spirit of the place — not fussy, cobbled together, shelves and storage and built out of what’s laying around. Someone said there’s lots of photo ops and that got me looking at all the weirdo stuff as “props” … a funny way to look at the things in your house.

We had a good time, laughed, ate, drank, bonfired, speculated on country life and so on.



Manage the World

Just home from Massive Attack V. Adam Curtis at the Park Ave Armory.

Impressive setup. I am weary of standing-in-one-place-for-too-long rock shows … but a film / rock show. I love it! Screens lined the room and the band was occasionally illuminated behind three screens in the front. You could look wherever you wanted and see the same images. Most people still faced forward (and one particular fellow near me took lots of photos for some reason. After the film was over his first comment was about the licensing of the music. I think he “lost the plot” as the British would say).

Tonight’s Themes:

    In lieu of dreaming of the future, we’re presented with a two-dimensional representations of reality.

    Feedback loop — we imagine the fears and fear the imaginary.

    Politicians, leaders, countries no longer want to change the world, the want to manage it, keep it balanced, and predict the future through algorithms analyzing data.

Quite a bit to absorb, including the usual sense of “ok, now what am I supposed to do?” when I watch a powerful film that raises a lot of questions.

Adam Curtis’s films are great. Century of the Self, Power of Nightmares, and All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace are posted on the various internets (some have 3 parts).

Hey Chief

Tonight I went to a design event called Designer’s Debate Club. The topic was: should designers lead companies, or do designers make good CEOs?


—image via DDC

Everyone wants to be a CEO now that people wearing hoodies and jeans have become billionaires. Remember when people wanted to be design ninjas and pirates and shit like that? While that was kinda silly, at least it’s not trying to emulate corporate structure. Thoughtful leadership is necessary, however the CEO title (and even Designer) are too loaded with preconceived notions. I’d rather be on a team focused on meaningful work versus worrying about who has a say and who doesn’t.

Besides, I remember someone once telling me that “chief” is Boston-speak for “asshole.”