Stop filling your mind with random stuff. It’s time to go on a high-quality, low information diet.

knowledge Tree

By Brad Beckstrom

I thought I had this all figured out. A few years ago, I decided to get on a high quality low information diet. I would avoid traditional news sites and only follow a small group of highly trusted writers, using a RSS feed reader. I would update and pare back this list regularly and categorize the writers I followed by interest. The feed reader I use is called Feedly and allows me to group my favorite writers into categories like business, family, personal development, photography, comedy, sports etc. The feed reader is very effective at stripping out distractions, especially all of that click bait, and fake news, you see at the bottom of many websites, even on many major news and network websites. My plan worked well. Each evening my feed reader presented me with a personally curated news stream from a group of writers I trust with very little distraction. No clickbait, no banner ads, no fake news.

Then two things happened. Apple launched an app called “News” that I started playing with after a recent iPhone upgrade. Then the election cycle began. This news app is comes set up like a feed reader for the big news sites. I found myself following multiple networks, major newspapers. Any spare moment I had, standing in line, having some lunch, I started filling up with this news app. Then I felt I needed to share things on Facebook or Twitter which led me to click on more stories shared by friends. There was so much garbage out there about both candidates, I’d quickly spiraled into a news consumption addiction. I’d gone from high quality, low information to just information and way too much of it. Not only did my other feed reader start to fill up with unread articles, I also found myself thinking less about what I wanted to create.  I was too busy absorbing all of the news to think about much else. As a dieter might say, I fell off the wagon.

It’s Over

The election is now over, so it should be easy for me to walk away from all those network news sites, walk away from all of the name-calling and breaking stories and move on. Unfortunately it will be hard, and I think many people won’t walk away at all. They will want to be up-to-date on the latest political shit show playing out in Washington DC. Others will want to follow all of this news as they feel some responsibility, sense of urgency, to know what is going on as it may impact their jobs, family, their daily life. What’s the harm anyway?  You’re just filling up some dead time by looking at your phone.

I believe there is harm. You have to look at what you’re missing by spending so much time keeping up with so-called “news”. You’re filling your brain with a lot of fleeting stuff ( I could insert 100 examples here from Twitter alone) that you have absolutely no control over, and has very little impact on what’s important to your daily life.

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Change the way you consume information

For me this doesn’t mean shutting out traditional news entirely. It means immediately changing the way I’ve been consuming news and going back to what works. So, what do I mean by a high quality low information diet?  Everyone’s different so what may be high quality to me may be garbage to someone else. The good news here is that we can use the same technology that’s been bombarding us with click bait, fake news, sensationalism to filter those exact things. Here are six high-tech ways I’m doing that and two very low-tech ways.

  1. Use a good quality RSS feed reader. Basically, the way a feed reader works allows you to follow trusted blogs, specific topics, and writers that are credible. Instead of typing “CNN” or clicking on FoxNews in your browser, you can take a few minutes to follow feeds from sources that you know are legit and won’t fill up your screen with clickbait and banners next to every article. I use Feedly. My feed updates on my phone in a browser or on iPad. All of them stay in sync and I don’t miss a thing from my favorite writers like Seth Godin or James Altucher.
  2. If you’re more visual, and like a magazine style presentation on your tablet, I recommend flipboard.  You can follow the same feeds as on other apps. It syncs across devices and is especially great on tablets.
  3. Once you setup your feed, don’t follow the major news sites. This will simply just fill up your screen with all of the random latest news stories that you want to cut back on.
  4. Update your feed readers regularly, cleaning out blogs, topics, and writers you used to follow that no longer interest you.  If you’re on your iPhone a lot and still want to use Apple News or Google News just simply delete the major sites that come preloaded and add your favorite writers, bloggers, or reporters. Just like on Feedly.
  5. Turn off any breaking news notifications on your mobile device. These all lead to the “hot stories” and are a big part of the news addiction distraction. Just because Google adds newsfeeds to your smartphone home screen doesn’t mean you can’t turn it off.
  6. Stop listening to network, commercial talk radio and start streaming or downloading podcasts.
  7. Cash in some left over frequent flyer points for a few good magazines. Believe it or not high-quality magazines like Fortune, Wired, and Fast Company still use fact checkers. A well-written article that’s going to press gets more eyes in front of it than something that is rushed out online as a “breaking story”.
  8. Rediscover the Sunday paper and a hot cup of coffee. If I added up all the time I spent checking CNN and other sites during the election cycle, I could probably free up four hours a week. Use a fraction of that time to learn about what’s going on in your local area as well as get a summary of world events that have at least been vetted by an editorial staff. If there’s a writer you really like, you can follow them in your feed instead of following the whole newspaper, as many people are tempted to do with major news sites.

The most important thing here is to change how you consume “news”. End your need to have the latest information. Wait for quality. Try going on a major news diet, just start following a few writers that look interesting in your feed readers search results, then grow from there.  If anything big happens, trust me, the Internet will make sure you hear about it. The rest of it can wait while you get on with your life.

The Frug

 

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Is that purchase worth it? Consider the cost per use, a simple strategy to help you decide.

 

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Technology can be a pain in the ass. Smartphones, Game Consoles, DVRs, digital thermostats, talking cars, and home appliances. A lot of this technology is designed to improve our lives, give us more free time, maybe even help us save a little money.  Most of it falls short. In fact, when multiple technologies are combined, they can often have a negative impact on our time and quality of life. Multiply this by a family of four or more, and all this stuff can make you its bitch. Constantly beeping, demanding upgrades, presenting you with unrepairable failures, offering multiple support options, mostly paid ones, none of which actually solve your problem, and all of which require your time.

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Planned obsolescence has become a science, hurling consumers into a constant cycle of upgrades and repairs on items that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago, taking time and attention away from more important matters. It in an affluent society we often just throw money at the problem, replacing the defective item with the new shiny model, while the old one often ends up in a landfill.

It’s possible to step off this treadmill, embrace simplicity or minimalism. I believe these are viable approaches that can change people’s lives. The problem most people have is that they been on this hedonic treadmill so long they are afraid to step off.  It’s the transition from having your life managed by stuff to a simpler path. That is the challenge for most people. I’ve been working to simplify my life for over three years: writing about it, working on it, giving stuff away, but still have a long way to go. Some progress is forward progress, and that’s what I’m focused on.

Something I found that has worked is evaluating any purchase, item you want to replace, or something you’re having trouble parting with, on a cost per use basis. Here’s how it works. Cost Per Use is the price of something divided by the approximate number of times you use it over the life of that item. So something you use many times per day may be a better investment than something inexpensive you use infrequently. Based on this formula, my iPhone is one of the least expensive things I own, and after I finish with it, I’ll give it to a family member, lowering the cost of use even further. As an added benefit, my iPhone replaced about 20 other items helping me lighten the load getting rid of everything from music CDs to handheld GPS units.

Some other cost per use examples

frug classic car

It’s best to start with the big stuff, so let’s start with automobiles. If you buy or lease a new SUV every three years you’re absorbing all of the depreciation and increasing your cost per use of that vehicle substantially. That vehicle loses most of its value in the first three years. If you buy a larger vehicle your cost per use is also higher based on gas and operating expenses.  To lower the cost per use, it would make sense to buy your next car like it’s your last. Purchase one high quality, fuel-efficient vehicle and keep it for at least 10 years. You can lower your cost per use even further if you know exactly the vehicle you’re looking for and can purchase a low mileage version just coming off lease, and keep that vehicle. Once those car payments end, you’ll find the maintenance costs required to keep the car in excellent running condition are a lot easier to swallow. I’ve also found that keeping a car in excellent condition, including the occasional carwash or detailing, makes me less apt to even think about replacing it.

Clothing can be phenomenally expensive when evaluated with cost per use.  It’s best to look at clothing as a wardrobe rather than trying to think about cost per use of individual items. Simple and classic items that go with everything and are very well made can really bring your CPU down. Steve Jobs was famously known for wearing the same thing every day, a black shirt and blue jeans. You can bet his cost per use on those turtlenecks was pretty low. The real savings here is time. If you limit your wardrobe extensively to a few types of high quality items think of all the time you save each day deciding what to wear. One of the things I’ve tried to focus on in redoing my wardrobe is not replacing things I get rid of, and working on wearing stuff out. At least as long as my wife Kelly will allow me to be seen in it!  The best way to do this is when you do purchase a new item, think about something of such high quality that it would last at least 10 years, stay in style, and replace at least five other items. When you compare it to running out to a big box store to buy crap, you’ll find that your overall cost per use goes way down, especially on items like shoes and jackets.

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When it comes to clothes, you often hear people say, “Well, I need a wardrobe for work.” With casual work environments and more people working from home  it’s easier to assemble a minimalist wardrobe than ever before. Courtney Carver assembled an entire wardrobe out of 33 items.  I think men have it even easier, less pieces, parts and accessories. Unfortunately, we tend to have expanding waistlines so there’s some additional benefits to staying in good enough shape to keep the same pair of Levi’s for a decade.

If you apply the cost per use formula to lots of things you’ll find you don’t have to give up much. I have a desk loaded with technology but both of my computers are now over 7 years old.  Using cloud-based software, faster Wi-Fi connections, and a few memory, and hard drive upgrades have kept them running like new.  I use them every day.

Next time you’re evaluating a new purchase, whether it’s a hoodie, a power tool, or even a new car, here are a few tips to maximize your cost per use.

  1. Avoid bells and whistles. This really applies to everything from small appliances to automobiles. Think of it this way, you can buy a product loaded with add-ons and high-tech features, sometimes for less than a simpler high-quality item. The more technology that’s loaded into any automobile or talking appliance with digital touchscreens, the more potential it has for failure. Evaluate the product on its ability to do what it was designed to do like wash clothing, vacuum the carpet, efficiently get you to your destination.
  2. Buy quality. It helps to look at online reviews on sites like Amazon. I always look at the average then remove one star, as people (including me) often overrate products they purchase to make themselves look smart!  Consider five-star reviews to be four-star reviews etc. Make sure there are enough reviews for a representative sample and average. On Amazon that’s like 100+ reviews.
  3. Do your research and wait at least one additional day before you make any big purchase. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about purchasing something, going through the motions but then just skipped it, as I realized I didn’t really need it. Researching something helps me delay purchases.  For instance, I might research the new hot camera but realize my current camera is just fine.
  4. Are you replacing something that’s needed or just buying something because it’s on sale. I always ask my wife Kelly to go shopping in our closet first. There’s a very good chance there’s going to be a very nice pair of black shoes in there.  
  5. Wear stuff out. Make sure whenever you’re buying something you’re replacing something that you’ve worn out. 20 years from now when you look back on all the great steaks you cooked on that grill you’ll know it’s done its job. It can be pretty tempting to go out and buy a shiny new one but if you get it right the first time you won’t even have to think about it.

The Frug

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Make Banks Work for You.

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How I locked in a historically low mortgage rate without getting lost in research, voicemails, and paperwork.

By Brad Beckstrom

I’ve been putting it off. Mortgage rates are at historic lows and, on paper, it made a lot of sense to refinance my current mortgage to a 10 year mortgage available at a lower fixed rate. It’s just that even thinking about my past experiences with refinancing both my home and some rental properties gave me gas. I knew I needed to get it done, especially since I’m always telling people to cut their largest expenses first. Our mortgage is our largest expense.

I’d made some mistakes in the past, like listening to some TV ad and then going to a website like Lendingtree. They say they’re going to find you the lowest rate but in fact they are getting all of your information and giving it to banks, selling your name as a lead. Immediately your phone starts to ring off the hook from banks you’ve never heard of. Luckily I gave them a Google voice number that sends all these folks directly to a digital voicemail graveyard. The messages are transcribed for me in a Gmail account and I quickly delete them in bulk. But, the calls kept coming for months. So, the lesson here is don’t give your loan or refinance information to any consolidator site, claiming to “find the best rate” or “do the work for you.” In fact, take this one step further: don’t share any of your personal information, email, phone number, address, income etc. with any mortgage site, including companies like Quicken Loans. Or any other big banks that bombard you with national TV ads. There’s a reason they can afford to advertise on the Super Bowl.

When it comes to finding a great mortgage rate, you’ll actually save time by doing it yourself, and you won’t have to share any personal information. Here’s a few steps I recently used to lock in a fixed 2.37% rate on a 10 year mortgage. With rates this low there’s really no benefit in getting an adjustable rate loan. Read more…

The Secret to Running The Business of You.

haveasmallnut

By Brad Beckstrom

“Have a small nut; that’s the key to life.”

Graham Parker.

What’s an aging rock ‘n roller to do, the once big recording contracts, the limos, seven-figure tour revenue all start to trickle away? Graham Parker, a British punk rock pioneer, knows exactly what to do: enjoy life, have a great time, and keep making music. Graham’s quote “Have a small nut; that’s the key to life” sums up one of the core principles of financial independence. The small nut he’s referring to is not assets, but monthly expenses. Rock stars, athletes, entrepreneurs, everyday folks all hit the same wall. We hear these stories all the time, from the extreme, like Mike Tyson blowing through $400 million and ending up homeless, to the highflying salesperson that overextended themselves, justifying their current expenses on future income fantasies, only to be chop blocked at the knees by a corporate reorg or downsizing.

Professional athletes know this story all too well. The average career in the NFL is about four years. In major league baseball, it’s a little over five years. Knowing this, it seems crazy when you see young athletes, blowing their entire signing bonus, borrowing against it before they even get a check. The secret is to do the opposite, save the entire bonus along with any windfalls, and keep your monthly expenses to a minimum. Read more…

A Short Guide to Lean Investing.

taking-the-simple-path-to-wealth

By Brad Beckstrom

Have things gotten too complex?

Today we have more savings and investment options than ever before. Online tools and investment options that give us access to over 10,000 mutual funds and exchange traded funds, with another 40,000+ publicly traded stocks worldwide. Most of these investments are accessible without setting foot in a brokerage firm or bank. Online banking, trading, and mutual fund supermarkets give us access to sophisticated investment tools available only to professionals just a decade ago.

Yet, despite so many options, the US personal savings rate is hovering between 5% and 6% and has been in steady decline since the 50s. The retirement savings picture is even worse, one in three American adults has zero saved for retirement and 62% have less than $1000 saved. Many Americans like to blame the government for this predicament but in fact many countries with significantly higher taxes have savings rates that are 2 to 3 times ours.  On top of our tax advantages, we have a wide selection of pre-tax and post-tax savings options many other countries don’t have, including 401(k)s, IRAs, SEPs, Roth IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, 529 college savings plans, and about 10 more with various combinations of numbers and acronyms in the name. All of them are underutilized by any standard of measurement.

Part of the problem is complexity. We’ve made it easier to go out and get a loan for a new SUV or a 5,000 square foot house than to start saving or put that money away for retirement.  We’ve been incentivizing people to take out student loan debt instead of starting college savings accounts.

To solve the complexity problem we need to make it easier to save and invest. We need to create a simpler path to wealth through regular and efficient investing. I like to call this Lean Investing. Read more…