All posts in Live Lean

It’s An Emergency.

For investors, the time is now to put together an emergency fund that’s more than just cash.

Preppers be Prepping

Just before I left the country with the family on vacation I reflected on how fortunate we’ve been, saving and investing during a bull market. Index funds including; S&P 500, International, emerging markets, real estate investment trusts, and bond indexes; have all grown during the second longest bull market in history. 2009-2018

This growth over the past 9 years can make investors complacent. 401K millionaires feel like geniuses, what they’re really experiencing is the power of compound interest during a sustained period of growth. I also realize the market could enter bear territory at any time (a correction of 20% or more), which many believe it’s overdue for. The fact is, no one can predict when these market downturns occur. This always seems to be the case. Past summer holidays have included front row seats for Brexit and the EU debt crisis. It turns out these were both distant, false alarms and the bull just kept on running.

The sky was not falling. Would I be ready if it did? 

Through all this I stayed heavily invested in low fee total stock market index funds, letting it ride, reinvesting dividends. Even though I’m financially independent and working less than full-time, I hold only about 20% of my total investment portfolio in bonds and cash. Which is considered aggressive by many common allocation models. I keep a 30% allocation in low fee bond index funds, in my retirement accounts where dividends can be reinvested and compound tax free. 

It seems odd that I’d take an aggressive stance at my age (56!) especially since I I’ve lived through several large market declines and recessions including 2001 and 2008. During those periods I stayed fully invested in the market as well, and have benefited. This includes the period some called “the lost decade” in investing 2000 through 2009 when the S&P 500 recorded its worst ever 10 year performance. However, that poor performance only hurt you if you were pulling money out of the market during that period.

For those that stayed fully invested and purchased stocks and bond funds in the market during these years, they’ve done well, but could say they have some battle scars. Read more…

Prestige Syndrome and the Startling Difference between Vertical and Horizontal Wealth.

By Brad Beckstrom

If you read enough, eventually you come across some big concepts. Whenever I see one, I like to jot a quick note or clip entire articles in Evernote. Sometimes these ideas just sit there and I later come across them accidentally when searching for something else. One of the things I’ve been thinking about for a while is prestige or, more specifically, Prestige Syndrome. Syndrome is defined as “a group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms”.  So, just for kicks, let’s take a look at something I like to call “Prestige Syndrome”.

Prestige Syndrome

Prestige Syndrome can be caused by earning more money and then feeling the need to spend that money to exude prestige, to do what rich people do. Continually upgrading your home, transportation, entertainment, and clothing choices to be aligned with that certain level of prestige that comes with your new higher-paying job.  Sometimes this lifestyle creep can be very subtle, spending away our discretionary income on luxuries that suddenly seem more affordable to us.

An even larger problem, especially in our country, is spending money you don’t have to exude prestige. This is also more commonly known as “ Keeping up with the Joneses”.  

We don’t have to look far to see examples of Prestige Syndrome. McMansions with three extra bedrooms and four extra bathrooms “just in case”.  Massively oversized SUVs primarily used to run to the grocery store and sit in traffic. Prestige Syndrome can occur at all income levels.

The interesting thing about Prestige Syndrome is that there is no top. If your friends and business associates own Gulfstream jets than Prestige Syndrome tells you you should own one. You’ve earned it, and you believe people do things differently at this income level. The spending levels simply increase with the career ladder. The McMansions, vacation homes, yachts, limo services, security, valets, and private jets are all just steps on this ladder.

Vertical Wealth

This ladder is what we call vertical wealth. Spending goes up as your income increases, often surpassing your income. This is how debt-fueled spending is created. Read more…

All the stuff we didn’t buy.

How to save a ton on Amazon without falling into the online consumption spiral.

By Brad Beckstrom

Is Amazon getting too good? We’ve been happy with Amazon Prime, especially the perks of membership like two day delivery, unlimited movies and music, even unlimited photo storage. If you’re going to pay for Amazon Prime membership, make sure you take advantage of all the included services.

Unfortunately, over time we’ve started to see Amazon creep up as a higher percentage of our spending, showing up more frequently on our credit card bills. Usually just as a single line without much information about what we purchased or which Amazon service we purchased it from.

Example
3/20 Amazon.com AMZN.COM/BILL WA 44.27

We use Amazon to price check most purchases, especially any household staples that we have dropped off at our doorstep using Amazon Prime. I usually compare against Costco prices I’ve saved in Evernote or on Google Shopper so we’re not only getting better price on many items, I get to stay out of stores that give me hives. Staying out of stores is a good way to avoid impulse purchases. This was always a problem for my wife at Target, or myself at the hardware store. We’ve dialed back on impulse purchases over the years.

The issue now with Amazon is that they’re making things too easy. They just started offering same-day delivery in our area on many items. They’ve gotten good at making recommendations based on our purchase history. I find myself jumping on the site to do a quick price check, or reordering a case of paper towels etc., and seeing something I remembered we could use.

Stop

There are a lot of these lately. At first Amazon was great, we could quickly reorder household items and simultaneously check the price, online. Amazon would also save all of our purchases so we could go back and remember what kind of furnace filters we used. For example, furnace filters should be replaced every three months. Years ago I remember actually running to the Home Depot and buying three overpriced furnace filters whenever I needed to. By doing some research and ordering a case of these filters on Amazon, I save about 30 to 40% and can switch brands depending on what’s the best deal. I also saved myself a trip to Home Depot. How much is an hour of time worth? Think about that on your way to and from a store for a single item, make sure you include, time to park, gas wasted, time searching for the item, and standing in line to purchase it.

It’s better on Amazon or is it? Read more…

Beat Last Year.

How hacking away at the unessential reveals the path to financial independence.

By Brad Beckstrom

I thought I’d always been good with money, but in 2008, things were starting to hit the shitter. Stock market declines were on their way to a 40% drop. Real estate was headed in the same direction. I was running a small business and weaving my way through the craziness.

Just like I learned in 2000, there’s not much you can do about paper losses. In fact, the more investment moves you make during a correction or bear market, the more damage you can do. It’s far better to be prepared and have a strategy, before a bear market, helping you avoid bad decisions.

Why am I talking about 2000 and 2008 in 2018? Well, we know that recessions and bear markets come along with some regularity. Now is the best time to make sure you’re prepared for the next market decline. The good news is there are only a few very important steps in this process.

  1. Track every dollar that comes into and goes out of your life.
  2. Give yourself a pay cut and invest the difference every month.
  3. Build up a 1 year emergency fund that allows you to ride out the storm, and avoid selling off investments. 

I was fortunate enough to stumble across the book Your Money or Your Life around 1993. After reading it a couple times, I had a deep understanding of the importance of tracking my expenses and investments with the end goal of financial independence. A few years later, I upgraded my computer and received a demo copy of Quicken. The difference between Quicken and some other home budgeting applications at the time was the availability of downloads from both my bank and my brokerage. This was a game changer for me. I’d been far too lazy to enter transactions in the past and absolutely hated reconciling my checking account. Read more…

Life in Spendy Town: Can Living in an Expensive City Sabotage your Dreams of Financial Independence?

By Brad Beckstrom

Who knew?  That’s what I keep telling myself. When I was in my 20s, I drew a circle around the Washington DC Metro area including Northern Virginia, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, and surrounding areas. I said, “This is where I will live. This will be my zone of influence.” (I actually said that. Not sure why, maybe it was business related, or I was reading some Dale Carnegie books at the time). Little did I know that red circle I drew encompassed 4 of the 5 richest counties in the United States and 6 of the top 10.  Literally, all within a one hour radius of Washington, DC. This area really does make San Francisco and Silicon Valley look like chump change.  LA, New York, Honolulu, forget about it. Washington, DC is where (a lot) of the money is. Not convinced? Just take a look at the U.S. Congress and the money machine that supports it.  

There are some advantages to living in a wealthy part of the country:  jobs, great schools, museums, sports franchises, bays, lakes, rivers, beaches, mountains all nearby. So, it’s a great area to live right? Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that way. So, not only are we beating LA and New York in spendyness, we also regularly beat them with some of the worst traffic in the country. Real estate is equally ridiculous, along with property taxes. High-paying jobs and expensive real estate spillover into everything. Most restaurants are fancier and more expensive. Real dive bars and affordable local spots are getting harder to find, often being priced out of their locations even in the close in suburbs. Everybody, grocery stores, retailers, parking garages, jacks up their prices because they can (or need to.) Good deals become harder to find.

When I start comparing Arlington, Virginia to cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, Tampa, Florida or Boulder, Colorado using online calculators (links below), I start to see a trend. Housing is really driving the majority of cost-of-living differences on these these calculators. I’ve tried to use other online comparison calculators (see list) but once they add housing, it throws everything off. For instance, it might say something like a $100,000 salary in DC is worth $170,000 in Raleigh, but this has very little to do with the price of milk or taxes and everything to do with the fact that house in the DC area will cost you 3X.  

Arlington, VA. vs. Raleigh NC. From CNN Money, Cost-of-living calculator.

Real Estate Read more…

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