A Short Guide to Lean Investing.

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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…

Making Sleep Awesome Again.

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Nine Ways I’m Improving My Sleep and Fighting Fatigue .

By Brad Beckstrom

I shouldn’t complain, after all, I’ve spent a half a century on this planet without a major illness.  I’m not sure my second half-century will go as well, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.  In return for my overall good health, I’ve gotten to battle my share of ongoing “nagging conditions.”  I think “conditions” is a good word for these because they are a state, a circumstance in which I operate, they are ongoing and generally unyielding to my efforts. I have learned to live with these conditions and manage them on a day-to-day basis so that they’re generally unnoticeable to others and, on a good day, unnoticeable even to myself.

What is my condition?  Boogers. That’s it. That’s what I’ve called it since I was a kid “Boogers”. The official medical term is Sinusitis, Basically your nose overreacts to everything and fills up with some sort of snot that dries up in the night and turns into boogers.  It’s sort of like having a mild cold all the time. Immediately people think “oh, you must have allergies.” Nope, I’m allergic to nothing. I’ve been tested probably 5 times, even once at the National Institutes of Health. After sprays and meds didn’t work, top docs told me, “oh, the problem is your deviated septum. Surgery can fix that.” I got a second opinion, “yep surgery will fix that.”  I got the surgery, it didn’t fix it.  It’s my condition. It’s not going anywhere.

I was told that these sinus problems need to be addressed or they can lead to sleep apnea  which can lead to stroke, cancer or DEATH.  So, now these boogers could kill me if I didn’t get rid of them. Or more likely, my wife will kill me for my loud snoring, Read more…

11 Big Life Things I’m Sharing With My Son Before He Leaves For College.

Followed by a 11 things I really wish I knew my freshman year. 

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By Brad Beckstrom

I came of age and entered the working world in the 80s and 90s when self-help books, CDs, and personal improvement seminars were all the rage. Classics like The 7 Habits, What Color is your Parachute? And many others from authors like Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins that are still popular today. They were full of exercises and to do lists, charts and graphs, but what I really remember where the quotes, many of them decades or even centuries old. The ones that lasted. The knowledge these writers returned to again and again.

Self-help books are full of knowledge from a diverse group. Here  I’ve quoted Maya Angelou, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bruce Lee, Frank Zappa, Calvin Coolidge, Joe Strummer, St. Augustine, and Marcus Aurelius.

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It was the quotes, the short sentences with powerful meaning  that connect, that I would highlight or write down. When things got difficult, I could go back and look at some of these words that writers, artists or leaders I admire have said. I’ve tried to incorporate them into core principles and a life philosophy. Some of them are pieces and parts of other quotes that spoke to me, so I decided to share them with my sons. My oldest is leaving for college and the youngest is beginning high school. I believe I’ve tried to live these, but just in case. After all we live 3 miles from Washington, DC, a city full of self-serving politicians, spin doctors and general corporate obfuscation. Today, standing for basic set principles can help one rise above the fray.

11 Big Life Things Read more…

Are GPS apps rendering part of your brain inactive?

How to vastly improve your experience with maps and keep your head from getting lost in the map on your smartphone.

By Brad Beckstrom

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Cartography –  The study and practice of making maps.

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Remember paper maps? I’m talking about the big unfolding kind they used to give you at tourism offices, AAA or full-service gas stations. How about the slick plastic coated ones that you could access with one hand on the steering wheel trying to navigate in a city like Rome or Washington, DC? Or the jumbo 50 page city or county map books they used to sell at office supply and convenience stores for about 18 bucks, still popular with some realtors and salespeople who work in remote areas or haven’t jumped on the smartphone bandwagon yet. Or the mother of them all, The Rand McNally Road Atlas hundreds of pages just waiting to be explored. I always had a thing for maps. I was always up for exploring out-of-the-way places, and maps helped me get there.

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When my boys were younger, we used to play a game called “spin the globe”, wherever you land, you have to go there. I remember once my oldest son spun the globe and landed on Yakutsk, Russia generally considered to be the coldest inhabited city on earth with average temperatures of -58°F. He immediately added the city to the weather app on his phone and kept an eye on the place, occasionally sharing the sometimes ridiculous low temperatures. I don’t think I’ll ever see Yakutsk but I have a feeling he might.

Once GPS came along I knew I was hooked. (Finally an answer for my lack of direction in life.)   I played around with some of the earliest handheld GPS units, the kind where you had to load a CD onto your computer then somehow transfer maps to the GPS unit. These early units were popular with boaters because it’s very important to know where you’re going on the water. You also need to know about a third dimension, the depth of the water so you don’t end up on a sand barge, as I occasionally did.  At least I can blame the fricking GPS unit versus my lack of preparation with paper navigation charts. Read more…

If you’re traveling on a budget, plan a trip to a 4 star resort on a Greek Island.

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By Brad Beckstrom

Wait, The Frug hanging out at a four-star resort in the Greek Islands? That doesn’t sound very frugal. The fact is, it’s never been more frugal. This has a lot to do with the strength of the US dollar versus the Euro which is regularly hitting 10 year lows, but it has more to do with Greek  hospitality and choosing the right time and the right island to visit.

Location, Location, Location

While I was researching Greece, I was a bit disappointed to see pictures of summer crowds in places like Santorini and Mykonos. One website even included photos titled “perception” and “reality” showing a photo of beautiful whitewashed houses and windmills on Santorini next to a photo of the same spot, covered in tourists, with every alleyway bursting at the seams with dreaded shoppers and selfie stick wavers.

From the start, I wanted to avoid the crowds. That was going to be tough as our kids weren’t getting out of school til late June and, like many other families. we’d all be hitting the highways and airports about the same time. The strategy we came up with was to visit a few Greek islands that most Americans have never heard of, Paros and Antiparos.  We talked to some Greek insiders including a celebrity chef my 14-year-old son had been chatting up on Twitter and got the scoop on these two islands. They’re in the same Cyclades chain of islands with Santorini and Mykonos, but because Paros is a ferry hub, it’s often the first stop coming and going on the ferry from Athens. This would be our destination.

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Timing

The other key element in our plan was timing. Read more…