Archives for January 2013

TreeHugger CEO Apartment: 420 Square Feet, 8 Rooms

I’m surprised I missed this earlier since I love this type of thing, but below is a nicely edited video from Gizmodo showing the 420 square feet apartment of CEO Graham Hill. It’s cool how they fit in the claimed 8 rooms using moving walls, floor-to-ceiling storage, and clever furniture and appliances: living room, office, bedroom, guest bedroom, dining room, bathroom, kitchen, and I guess they’re counting the closet as a room? You really have to see it to understand.

I like this concept, especially when efficient use of space allows you to be able to afford to live in the heart of a good city where you can do much of your “living” outside in parks, cafes, bars, and restaurants. I’ve seen the moving wall before inside this Hong Kong apartment (only 344 sf), and much of the furniture is from Resource Furniture (eek, that fancified murphy bed costs $12,000). Installing solar panels (on the window shades?) with battery storage is a nice touch, and I’d consider the portable induction burners and combo microwave/induction oven for my own place.

More on this apartment: LifeEdited, New York Times

Related posts:

Index Fund vs. Top Hedge Funds: Buffett Bet Halfway Update

Halfway Update – 5 Years Later! Carol Loomis has posted the 5-year update in Fortune of the $1,000,000 index fund vs. hedge fund bet. Halfway through the 10-year bet (1/1/08 to 12/31/17), the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund backed by Buffett is up by 8.69%. The group of hedge funds hand-picked by Protégé Partners are up by 0.13%. Note that the index fund had been lagging just about ever year since this one, but that’s why we are looking at a longer period. Consider this halftime. 🙂

It will be very interesting to see how this turns out. Hedge funds charge fees of roughly 2% of assets annually + 20% of any gains. You may notice that five years of 2% fees would be 10% (ignoring the compounding effect for simplicity), and the hedge funds are lagging by about 9%. Costs matter!

You can read the terms of the bet and each side’s arguments at (also see original Fortune article below for backstory). This carefully-tracked bet was part of the inspiration for my transparent Beat the Market experiment. Too often, people are not honestly and accurately tracking the total performance of their portfolios. These ongoing updates help illustrate how hard it is to consistently beat a low-cost, diversified portfolio over the long run, and how it’s incorrect to declare yourself a winner even after several good years. Who knows, the hedge funds may still win.

Original blog post from 2008:
[Read more…]

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl was a respected doctor and therapist before he became a concentration camp prisoner during the Holocaust. After somehow surviving the unthinkable only to find that he had lost both his parents and his pregnant wife, he wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning.

I’ve visited the Dachau concentration camp, but reading this book was so much more vivid. You’re not just sent somewhere to die. You’re forced to relocate to a “labor camp”, and so you pack up your entire life into a few bags. Your bags are confiscated, so you hide some photos or jewelry in your clothes. You are stripped completely naked, and given a dead man’s rags to wear. You don’t even have a name anymore, you’re just a number (Frankl was 119104). And this is before the coming years of physical and mental torture.

With this background, Frankl introduces logotherapy, a form of existentialism that says that humans are driven not by the pursuit of pleasure (Freud) or the pursuit of power (Adler), but the pursuit of meaning. There are three ways to achieve meaning:

  1. Creating a work or doing a deed,
  2. Experiencing something or encountering someone (love),
  3. By taking a proper attitude when faced with unavoidable suffering

This last part is hard to explain unless you read the book, but the unavoidable part should be emphasized. We’re not talking about “pain is good”. In my mind, I think of it as maintaining honor and self-respect no matter what. Frankl writes:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

He also quotes Nietzsche, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”

How does this relate to personal finance and the pursuit of financial freedom? I think of it in two ways. First, in terms of yourself. We are all attracted to material things like houses, cars, clothes, and I’d include money. Imagine if all that was taken away. You’d still have your body, your mind, your unique meaning and purpose in the world. We should develop those things. The things you’ve learned, your memories, your experiences, your skills, all those can’t be taken away. All the good deeds that you have already accomplished, those also can never be taken away.

Second, it relates to motivation. Why do you want more money? Why do you want financial freedom? Is it enough to just want to avoid work? Maybe your goal is to spend time with your loved ones. Maybe you want to create beautiful art. Maybe you want to build an orphanage in Cambodia. Maybe you just want to try every ramen restaurant in Japan.

I have some meanings that I am pursuing, but I’m still searching for others.

My Money Blog Retirement Portfolio Update – January 2013

Here’s a belated 2012 year-end update of our investment portfolio, including employer 401(k) plans, self-employed retirement plans, Traditional and Roth IRAs, and taxable brokerage holdings. Cash reserves (emergency fund), college savings accounts, experimental portfolios, and day-to-day cash balances are excluded. This is the portfolio that we are depending on to create income and thus financial freedom.

Asset Allocation & Holdings

Here is my current actual asset allocation:

The overall target asset allocation remains the same:
[Read more…]

Book Review: Bossypants Memoir by Tina Fey

I have a goal this year to read and review more books, ideally a book per week on average. Recently, I’ve been into reading biographical books about interesting people pursuing their passions. Feel free to send me some suggestions.

Tina Fey’s Bossypants seemed like a funny auto-biography about someone who grew up in a “normal” working-class family and took a little while to become a respected writer, actor, producer, and comedian. Wealthy, too: Fey reportedly makes $500,000 per episode of 30 Rock and has an estimated net worth of $45 million. I should add that I have never seen a full episode of 30 Rock, although I have seen some SNL Weekend Updates, all the Sarah Palin skits, and a few of her movies.

The book was definitely Tiny-Fey-style funny and a quick read, but it wasn’t very revealing. I should have known, as the book is crosslisted under both “Humor & Entertainment” and “Biographies & Memoirs”. Indeed, I get the impression that she’s actually quite a private person and is reluctant to share anything truly intimate. She considered herself an ugly, unpopular nerd in high school. Well, that applies a lot of people. She worked a menial job at the YMCA while supporting her improv education. Eh, okay. Besides the funny bits, here are my highlighted quotes:

On being a leader:

It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.

On discrimination:

When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way.

On teamwork:
[Read more…]

Best Buy $50 off $100 Coupon, In-Store with Mastercard

(Short version: Best Buy makes attempt to alienate the last few customers that they have left, and succeeds.)

[Read more…]

Free Pizza: Super Bowl Giveaway at Papa John’s

Visit and if you guess the Super Bowl coin toss correctly, you’ll get a unique coupon code for a free large 1-topping pizza redeemable at The thing is, the terms and conditions clearly allow up to 4 four members (age 13+) in a single household to vote. I voted heads + Mrs. MMB voted tails = guaranteed free pizza dinner, retail value $11. If you have 4 people, that’s 2 free pizzas guaranteed.

You must vote by February 2nd; code will be e-mailed out February 4th and will be valid until March 10th. No account needed, no credit card needed, no newsletter sign-up needed. This offer actually worked last year even though I was skeptical… That’s a lot of pizzas to give away, even though it’s good advertising!

PlasticJungle Promotion: Sell $200 in Gift Cards, Get $20 in Credit

Have some unused or unwanted gift cards left over? Gift card exchange site is having a promotion where if you sell them $200 in gift cards by midnight Friday, you’ll get $20 credit towards a future gift card purchase. When you go to the Sell gift card section, you should see this message:

The offer text:

Sell us $200 and get $20 off your next Purchase!
Sell us $200 or more worth of Gift Cards in a single transaction this week and we will give you a $20 credit off of your next Gift Card Purchase from Plastic Jungle! This promotion will run from now until 12:00am PST Saturday morning (1/19/13).

Remember, you can sell multiple different cards, but it has to be in one single transaction. A 10% rebate may get you back close to face value, given that you generally lose about 5-20% when selling your gift cards to these types of places. You can get paid via gift card, check, or deposit into a PayPal account. Many cards can be sold electronically with their unique numbers, while some of them you have to mail in.

You shouldn’t have too much of a problem finding a gift card to buy with your $20 credit, assuming you shop at any chain store (Wal-mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, CVS, Walgreens). I’ve mentioned before that I often buy Home Depot gift cards from PlasticJungle, at times via smartphone while still standing in the store. I just buy the “eCode” electronic gift card, have the cashier type it in, and I save another 7% on top of my other coupons or discounts.

The Benefits of Tracking Your Net Worth

The free Personal Financial Planning course on Coursera has begun (there’s still time to join), and the first week’s topic is “Where are you? Where are you going”. One of the activities is calculating your personal net worth.

It may seem like a small thing, summing up your assets and subtracting your liabilities, but I am a living example that it does make a difference. I posted my first public net worth on December 9th, 2004:

Assets: *= pre-tax
Cash Savings: $54,983
Brokerage (non-retirement) $ 7,808
Roth IRA: $ 2,001
Traditional IRA*: $ 5,383
401k*: $11,000
529: $ 1,097
Total: $82,272

Credit Cards: $26,522

Net Worth: $55,750

(I had a lot of money tied up in no fee 0% balance transfers at the time, with the money safely earning 3-5% interest in bank accounts.)

Now, I no longer share our raw numbers on the internet down to the dollar, but I still track my net worth privately and update my progress towards financial freedom regularly. I definitely think it made a difference, seeing the benefits of a pay raise or debt payoff. A little over 8 years later, our net worth is many times larger and we plan on paying off our mortgage completely this year. Knowing how you stand won’t solve all your problems, but it may give you a reality check especially if you were like me and exiting college well with a 5-figure negative net worth.

As I’m sure someone wise/rich/famous has said – “If you don’t know where you are, then how do you know how to get where you’re going?”

Or the other classic – “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there” Contribute to 529 Plan with Credit Card

LivingSocial is currently offering a $50 Gradsave gift card for $24 (expired). The GradSave College Savings Gift Card can be redeemed for a $50 deposit into any national 529 college savings plan. So if you’re already meaning to contribute some money towards a 529 plan, it’s basically $26 in free money. I bought one and requested it to be transferred it to my daughter’s existing Ohio CollegeAdvantage 529 plan. Limit 1 voucher per customer, beneficiary, account, savings plan, or 529 plan.

(Reminder, you can save a little extra on your LivingSocial deals with cashback shopping portals like eBates ($10 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.)

Additionally, is currently waiving all credit card processing fees on their gift cards as another start-up promotion. So, if you wanted to contribute say $1,000 towards your 529 plan, now you could earn cashback, points, or miles on your credit card for that amount (with no fees) instead of via check or bank account transfer. Also potentially handy towards spending hurdles on $500+ credit card bonuses.

A day later, credit card fees are no longer waived. The fees are rather high as well, even for bank transfers.

529 contributions can be taken out without penalty. If you withdraw any earnings for unqualified expenses, then you will be subject to income taxes as well as a 10% penalty. Still, it may be a lot of paperwork and/or headache unless you keep your records very clean and simple.

The 10 Most Reliable Jobs, Lowest Unemployment Rates

If you’re a parent, student, or just someone looking to switch jobs, here’s a list of the professions where you’ll be least likely to become unemployed. Think of it as a career guide for the risk-averse or those who want the best odds.

The WSJ recently compiled a list of jobs and their 2011/2012 unemployment rates based on government labor data. In turn, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic used that data to screen for the jobs with the lowest, steady unemployment rates over that time period. The results:

Source: The Atlantic, WSJ, BLS

The professional-school medical positions – physicians, dentists, veterinarians, do well as expected. Engineers are also well-represented (yes!). Some would say this supports the idea that an STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skill set brings the best value. The medical positions also carefully manage how many graduates they produce each year (unlike law schools). But I’d also note that people should consider why septic tank repairers and animal breeders are also reliable professions (hard to be outsourced, can’t be replaced by machines, etc).

Free Personal Financial Planning Course on Coursera

Online “open” education site Coursera has a free personal financial planning course starting January 14th, 2013. It will run for 7 weeks, requiring 3-6 hours of work per week, and you get (likely worthless) certification of completion at the end. I haven’t seen anything similar at the other major MOOCs, Udacity or edX. Here’s the course description:

This course was created to help those who cannot afford extensive planning assistance better understand how to define and reach their financial goals. It provides basic understanding so informed decisions can be made. The course can also be seen as a reference for individual topics that are part of personal financial planning.

Financial planning, in the broadest sense, is an effort to manage all aspects of a person / family’s financial affairs. Classically, that begins with planning family spending and extends through risk management (insurance), taxes, wealth accumulation, investing, and wealth distribution (retirement and estate planning).

I signed up as I’m interested in online education in general, and my hope is that it will be more interactive and engaging than just reading a good personal finance book. It appears to be based on a UC Irvine OpenCourseware course, which has all the modules online here. Interestingly, the course originated from a grant from the owners of the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. However, if there aren’t good videos and/or assignments and it’s just a bunch of Powerpoint slides, then I’m going to be a MOOC drop-out.