Everyone Worries About Money, Even The Wealthy

Here’s a refreshingly blunt quote from Scott Galloway’s article Yay Capitalism via It Is Always About The Money via Abnormal Returns:

Wealthy people claim they don’t think much about money. That’s bullshit; they are obsessed with money. The notion that rich people don’t think about money is an attempt to dampen resentment (e.g., revolution) from the 3.5B people who have fewer assets than the wealthiest 12 individuals. What, like, rich people got there because they are just so benign and talented, it just happened (oops, I’m rich)? People who tell you to follow your passion are already rich. They have doggedly pursued a path and have been obsessed with success for a long time. They want to sound inspirational and give you a sound bite, because the truth that success requires 60–80-hr weeks for several decades doesn’t get applause in graduation speeches.

Every wealthy person I’ve known measures their net worth in frightening detail, and often. You have to stay nimble, or you stand to lose a lot. We live in a capitalist society, and the amount of money you have is a forward-looking indicator of the effectiveness your healthcare, the comfort of your home, the harmony of your marriage, and the quality of your children’s education.

Regarding that last sentence, I might agree up to a certain level of wealth, but after that I don’t think better healthcare or a more comfortable home is the reason that the wealthy still keep worrying about money.

I think it’s just another weird artifact of human psychology. If we can keep making money, it’s really hard to stop. Most wealthy people still work. They may say that they just like work (“passion” again), and that may be true, but another major reason is they want to keep making money. Earning money provides a measure of self-worth. Earning money provides a sense of security. Certain jobs may come with respect and power. (They might say they would it for free, but they wouldn’t for long. Every job has annoying parts that you accept because of the money.) If the hardest part of retirement is building up the pile, the second hardest might be saying no to adding more to the pile.

Mint Mobile SIM Activation and Number Port Transfer Review

My free year of Sprint Unlimited service ends this month, and I’m moving on before I get charged $100 a month + postpaid taxes for 2 lines. It was nice paying under $8 per month, but I was also stuck with slow data speeds (3G?!). Today, I switched to Mint Mobile (T-Mobile MVNO). Here’s my quick review and tips regarding the switching process.

Prices start at $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of LTE data (3 months prepaid). After the initial period, you will have to prepay for 12 months to keep the $15/month price. You can also upgrade to $20/month for 5 GB LTE data or $25/month for 10 GB LTE data. After your high speed data runs out, you still get “unlimited” data at 2G speeds (throttled to 128 kbps). All plans also include free international calls to Mexico and Canada.

1. Buy your SIM card and service online. You can bring your own unlocked GSM phone including both Android and Apple iPhones. You can check phone compatibility here. The $15/month 2 GB plan x 3 months worked out to an all-in price of $45 + $3.13 in taxes and fees in California. I got free shipping added automatically, but it might cost $5. See screenshot below.

2. While you wait for it to arrive, collect the following from your existing carrier: Account number, Account PIN/password, and zip code on bill. This will be required for an instant and smooth port-out of your existing phone number.

3. Install the new Mint Mobile SIM card in your phone and then visit mintmobile.com/activate. Don’t do this until you are ready to activate your service, because it will start immediately. I wanted to try out the 7-day guarantee, so I gave myself a little wiggle room. You’ll need the activation code on the back of the SIM “credit card” from which you punched out the SIM. After providing the carrier information from above, my old number was ported to Mint Mobile in a minute. Everything was done online, no calling in required.

4. Change your APN settings. You will need to change a few settings on your phone to get MMS messages. Here are the instructions for both iPhone and Android. Turn your phone off and on, and everything should work fine again. At this point, I’d spent under 10 minutes and my phone was back to full working condition.

Note: Their 7-Day Money Back Guarantee starts at activation, not order date or ship date. You can request a full refund (minus shipping if any) if you let them know within 7 days of activation. You won’t need to ship back your SIM card.

5. Cancel your old plan. But first, test out your voice, text, and data. After the 7-Day Money Back Guarantee is over, you can call your old carrier and officially cancel. They should see that you ported out your number already and not hassle you about it.

Thoughts on Mint Mobile (T-Mobile MVNO) network so far. In my neck of the woods, Verizon is tops and T-Mobile and AT&T are about tied for second. I ran the Speedtest app and got 5 Mbps down from Mint Mobile as opposed to 1 Mbps down from Sprint in the same spot. I don’t stream much video on my phone so it’s not a huge deal, but I do hope to get more LTE coverage in places where Sprint left me with 3G.

Bottom line. Mint Mobile is a T-Mobile MVNO with prices starting at $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of high-speed LTE data (unlimited slower 2G data above that) when you prepay for 3 months initially (12 months after that). $20/month for 5 GB LTE data. $25/month for 10 GB LTE data. 7-Day Money Back Guarantee. Following the directions above, I was able to swap SIM cards, port my old number, and activate everything in under 10 minutes.

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links above, I may be compensated.

Save Money on Pet Costs By Splitting Doses of Frontline Plus Flea Medication ($0.66 a Month w/ Generic!)

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Updated for 2018. The NY Times came out with a recent article The Secret Price of Pets. (Neuticles? Cosmetic surgery?) Meanwhile, the cost of flea medication has dropped for us from $10 a month to 67 cents a month over the last decade of dog ownership. That’s over $200 a year in savings for two dogs as compared to buying it retail. We have dogs so that is what I’m using for my numbers, but the same strategy would work for cats.

There are many options for flea prevention today, but Frontline Plus is still quite popular. It used to be that you would buy it from your vet and it would cost close to $15 per monthly dose. These days, I’m guessing most people use Amazon or Costco since you don’t need a prescription. In addition, the patent for the main active ingredient in Frontline (fipronil) has been expired since 2011. Generic brands now include Sentry FiproGuard Plus and PetArmor Plus.

Price comparisons. Here’s an example of the cost comparison for their “Orange box” meant for small dogs (22 lbs and under). Prices taken July 2018.

Store Cost (w/ shipping) Cost per 0.67 ml dose
Frontline Plus Orange at1800PetMeds.com $69.68 for 6-pack $11.61
Frontline Plus Orange at Amazon.com $64 for 6-pack $10.66
Frontline Plus Orange at eBay $48 for 6-pack $8
PetArmor Plus 22 lb at Amazon.com $34.46 for 6-pack $5.74

 

Buying a larger dose and splitting it yourself. I got this idea originally from eBay sellers that were selling the biggest size (Red box) made for dogs up to 132 lb. dogs with with glass vials and syringes for splitting. I’m not sure what happened, but I believe that the manufacturer Merial pressured eBay and/or their authorized sellers to stop the sale of such kits. I don’t see any such kits available for sale any longer. You can simply buy amber glass vials with droppers on Amazon yourself for under $10 upfront.

I still believe the DIY method can be efffective and safe if done properly. I’ve seen articles from licensed vets and also multiple reader comments saying their own vet approves this practice. Pet shelters and rescues also commonly do this to stretch their limited resources.

More accurate dosing for your pet. By default, Merial categorizes dogs into four broad categories: 0-22 lbs, 23-44 lbs, 45-88 lbs, and 89-132 lbs. This corresponds to vial sizes of 0.67 ml, 1.34 ml, 2.68 ml, and 4.02 ml respectively. I don’t know about you, but I see a pretty big gap between 45 and 88 pounds.

They have to make sure even the biggest dogs in the range are adequately dosed, so if you divide the vial size by the largest size for each category in pounds, you get 0.0305 ml per pound every time. So if you have a 25 lb. dog why give them double the dose of a 22 lb. dog? Just give them a bit more (0.76 ml) and you should be fine. Less meds, less waste, less money.

Example DIY savings. For simplicity, I’ll assume you have exactly a 22 lb. dog. Next, assume you buy the biggest size (Red box) made for 89 to 132 lb dogs and split it into the same 0.67 ml doses as the 22b size (Orange box) using a glass vial and plastic syringes. In other words each single 4.02 ml dose will be split into six 0.67 ml doses. Prices taken July 2018.

Store Cost (w/ shipping) Cost per 0.67 ml dose
Frontline Plus Red at1800PetMeds.com $69.68 for 6-pack $1.94
Frontline Plus Red at Amazon.com $68 for 6-pack $1.89
Frontline Plus Red at eBay $53 for 6-pack $1.47
PetArmor Plus 132 lb at Amazon.com $23.79 for 6-pack $0.66

 

Proper precautions. Here are some tips to make sure you split your doses safely and effectively.

  • Use protective gloves. You’d ideally want to do this with the official product anyway, so a box of nitrile gloves is a good investment.
  • Keep medication away from light and air. Either use a dark, glass vial or keep it an airtight syringe in airtight bag in a dark, cool space. When using a plastic syringe as the applicator, remove any needle! You’re just drizzling the stuff on your dog’s skin surface. You can buy 12 glass vials with droppers for $9 from Amazon. The 0.51 ounce bottles hold about 15 ml. The biggest dose packages are 4 ml. A drop is about 0.05 ml.
  • Do not mix and match dog and cat Frontline. The ingredients may differ slightly, or the concentrations may differ as well.
  • Dose carefully. As with all these flea medications, you can do some trial and error to see what brand and dosage level works for your dog. You might need more or less than indicated for your dog and environment. I would avoid going over the maximum manufacturer recommendation.

Bottom line. Monthly flea & tick medication is an ongoing cost of owning a dog or cat. You can save some money in this area by splitting up larger doses and buying in bulk. You can save even more by buying a generic version (see above) with the same active ingredient, just like Advil vs. ibuprofen. For a small dogs, you can get your cost down to under $1 per monthly dose.

Airbnb vs. Hotels Price Comparison Chart

airbnbMary Meeker is a partner at famous venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Many people follow her annual presentation about internet trends, and you can view the entire 294 slide deck here.

It’s a lot of information, but there are some interesting links that she makes that relate to personal finance. For example, you can start with the observation that housing costs are an increasing portion of household spending:

Next, you might notice that new houses are getting bigger while the number of people living in them are actually shrinking:

Finally, the success of Airbnb shows that there is a ready supply of people willing to rent out part of their property to help pay for the mortgage. The fact that it’s often cheaper than hotels helps the demand:

Airbnb can estimate your income as a host if renting out a private room, in-law unit, or entire house. You can share a spare room in your apartment or do a pseudo-“home swap” by renting out your whole home the next time you’re out of town. You can open your space for one day or all year.

I like how Airbnb helps connect people displaced by natural disaster and those with open rooms. Right now, they are helping to shelter people affected by the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii.

We stayed at Airbnb’s in Europe and it was great for a family with little kids. We could cook simple meals in the kitchen and eat around a real dining table. You felt more like a local family. If you’ve never stayed at an Airbnb, you can get $40 in travel credit towards your first rental with my referral link. I believe I will get $20 of credit after your first booking. Thanks if you use it.

Before booking, I would definitely read review and look for a “Superhost” if possible. Here is a NY Times article with Airbnb tips from a former Superhost.

Republic Wireless Review: New Phone + 3 Months Service $89 or Free SIM + Free 1st Month

rw2018freesimUpdated 2018. Republic Wireless is a T-Mobile MVNO that reduces costs by using WiFi for calls and texts whenever possible. They have settled into the simple pricing structure below, with no contracts.

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The best value plans allow a single user to pay $20/month for unlimited talk/text/1 GB LTE and $25/month for unlimited talk/text/2 GB LTE. The nice thing about these pay-for-what-you-use plans is that you save money on the months where you use very little data, as opposed to always buying the plan where you know you won’t pay for overages.

Buy new phone, get 3 free months of service (phones start at $89). Get 3 free months of service if you buy a new phone and activate a new line. This is with the Unlimited Talk/Text + 1 GB Data plan, so that’s $20 x 3 = $60 value for free. New phones start at only $89 for the Alcatel A30 Android phone. Moto E is $129.

Bring your own phone + Free SIM card + 1 free month of service. Right now, they are offering a Free SIM card + Free Shipping + Free 1st Month of Service. This is with the Unlimited Talk/Text + 1 GB Data plan ($20 value). If you use more data, you pay the difference. Taxes and telecom fees are not included. The idea is that you can swap out the SIM card in your phone and try them out with no obligation. You must activate by 6/30/18.

Phone options. You can either buy a phone from them or bring your GSM unlocked phone and use their SIM card. There are still no Apple phones on the list. Below is a partial list of eligible phones. The best thing to do is use their phone checker.

  • Google Pixel
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Google Pixel 2
  • Google Pixel 2 XL
  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy J7
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy S7
  • Samsung Galaxy J3
  • Samsung Galaxy S6
  • Nexus 6P by Huawei
  • Nexus 6 by Motorola
  • Nexus 5X by LG
  • Moto X Pure Edition
  • Moto X4
  • Moto G5S Plus
  • Moto G5 Plus
  • Moto E4
  • Moto E4 Plus
  • Moto G4
  • Moto G4 Plus
  • Moto G4 Play
  • Moto Z
  • Moto Z Play

Bottom line. Republic Wireless now allows you to bring your own unlocked GSM phone for use on WiFi and T-Mobile LTE networks. Right now, they are offering a free SIM + free month of service to try them out for free. Apple phones are not eligible. The cost is straightforward: $15 for unlimited talk/text and $5 per GB of data used, making it best for modest data users.

If you are willing to buy several months of service at once (or have an Apple phone), also check out Mint Mobile (formerly MintSIM).

Homeowner’s Insurance: How Much Can You Save By Comparison Shopping?

In an ideal world, you would always comparison shop every product or service. But in the real world, that takes time and effort. Is is worth the bother? To estimate the potential benefit of shopping around, Priceonomics analyzed homeowner’s insurance premiums across 12 states (for a similar level of coverage).

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They ranked each state by taking the difference between quotes in the 25th and 75th percentiles.

We found that the difference between the premiums was substantial, and shopping around can lead to dramatic changes in pricing. Of all the states we looked at, Texas had the biggest discrepancy in prices — there was a $2,182 range in insurance prices between a 25th and 75th percentile quote. Even at the low end, in New Hampshire the price ranges between quotes at these percentiles was $363 per year.

The article does a deeper analysis for California and Texas:

It’s night and day between California and Texas. Texas is one of the most expensive states to get home insurance in the country, owing partly to the frequency of catastrophic weather events and partly due to higher insurer expenses. Not only does zip code 78521 in Brownsville have a 25th percentile of premium greater than San Francisco’s 75th percentile, but it’s 75th percentile is more than double that!

Basically, you should shop around everywhere as you could save hundreds per year at a minimum. But you should really shop around in Texas. You know, unless you don’t want to save potentially $2,000 a year.

Frequent Flier Miles: Which Airlines Are Easiest To Redeem Economy Awards?

Cashing in your frequent flier miles for a free flight can be hit or miss, especially around a holiday. Which airlines are the most generous with making seats available? Each year, IdeaWorks tries to run a fair comparison of all the major airlines to keep them honest. This WSJ article discusses the results:

During March, IdeaWorks made more than 7,000 trip searches among 25 airlines, looking for two seats at the basic “saver” award level—25,000 miles for a domestic U.S. round-trip, for example—on 14 specific travel dates June through October. Each airline’s 10 busiest long routes and 10 busiest medium-length routes, both domestic and international, are queried to get the fullest picture of award availability.

frequentwsj2018

Most improved goes to American, which admitted that they significantly increased their overall seat availability, especially to Hawaii and Europe. Worst decline goes to Alaska, which says it didn’t change the amount of seats released, so perhaps there is simply more competition and usage of the program. Note that the survey focuses on economy tickets (not business or first class).

Southwest and JetBlue remain on top at close to 100% availability, but that is a bit misleading since both of their points are revenue-linked with no blackout dates. For example, 25,000 Southwest points will buy you basically any “Wanna Get Away” ticket that costs up to about $340. So the results are really just saying that Southwest’s busiest routes almost always have a flight that costs under ~$340. Southwest doesn’t fly to Europe at all, but they do have plans for Hawaii soon (which I look forward to, but will probably hurt their numbers).

Tipping Chart: Low vs. Average vs. High Tipper Survey

Tipping. Everyone’s got an opinion. The thing I hate most about tipping is the feeling of “I’m not doing this right”. To better understand it, I read a book about tipping by a veteran waiter. There are now several “tipping guides”, but I like Everything You Don’t Know About Tipping via Abnormal Returns because the author has a similar perspective. He’s not ranting about how tips should be abolished or how we should tip every person we meet 30%. He just wants to understand expectations and avoid the “dreaded Ambiguous Tipping Situation”. Am I under-tipping? Am I over-tipping? Should I tip at all? Here are the results:

tipwhat

I put on my Weird But Earnest Guy Doing a Survey About Something hat and hit the streets, interviewing 123 people working in New York jobs that involve tipping. My interviews included waiters, bartenders, baristas, manicurists, barbers, busboys, bellmen, valets, doormen, cab drivers, restaurant delivery people, and even some people who don’t get tipped but I’m not sure why, like acupuncturists and dental hygienists.

Later in the post, the author explores how being a low, average, or high tipper means for your budget in terms of dollars. Keep in mind that the numbers are for New York City.

tipwhat2

I’m probably in the “low spender” range, as my little-kid lifestyle doesn’t include frequent visits to establishments that involve tipping. On the other hand, I have discovered the joys of tipping a skycap at the airport and seeing 3 car seats and multiple suitcases disappear at the curb. For the most part, I think that tipping on the “expected” level shouldn’t break your budget. These are mostly optional services; It’s not like you have to tip the grocery store cashier, the gas pump, or your landlord.

For me, tipping goes in the bucket of “I would change if I was omnipotent, but in reality I’m going to waste my life energy on it.” I simply aim to keep everyone happy (or at least satisfied) and move on with my day. This guide may not be perfect (there’s always someone with a gripe) but it helps.

Georgia Tech Online Master’s Degree Update: Computer Science $7,000, Data Analytics $10,000

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Maybe I’m foolish, but I remain hopeful about the potential of software leading to more affordable, accessible education. In 2014, Georgia Tech launched an Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) with the goal of offering an accredited, top-tier education at a surprising price of $7,000. The program has been regularly ranked in the Top 10 by U.S. News & World Report, and the traditional residential program costs $28,000 two years of tuition (out-of-state, not including housing).

OMSCS offers the same lectures from the same professors, the same homework assignments, and the same exams. A few other top universities have online versions of their masters programs, but they charge the same tuition as in-person ($40,000+). The diploma is exactly the same as those of on-campus graduates, with no special “online” designation.

Would there be enough interest from qualified candidates? Would it remain financially viable? Would the online program cannibalize from the traditional on-campus program? Would employers discriminate if they found out that this was an online degree? Would the careers prospects be different due to the lack of in-person networking opportunities?

EducationNext recently published an article An Elite Grad-School Degree Goes Online addresses some of these questions. InsiderEd has a an article Online, Cheap — and Elite that summarizes the findings.

Analyzing the first six cohorts of the online program, from spring 2014 to fall 2016, the report found that the typical applicant to the online program was a 34-year-old midcareer American, while the typical applicant to the in-person degree was a 24-year-old recent graduate from India.

Of the 18,000 students who applied to the in-person and online degrees, less than 0.2 percent applied to both, the report said.

Students admitted to the online program typically had slightly lower academic credentials than those admitted to the in-person program, but they performed slightly better in their identical and blind-marked final assessments — a finding the study hailed as “the first rigorous evidence that we know of showing that an online degree program can increase educational attainment.”

Overall, the program has been a success in terms of expanding access to high-quality computer science education. Total enrollment is now over 6,000 students. The questions about career effects will be addressed in future studies.

In 2017, Georgia Tech announced a new Online Masters Degree in Analytics for under $10,000. This is also a nationally-ranked Top 10 program where the traditional in-person tuition ranges from $36,000 for in-state students to $49,000 for out of state. The data analytics program is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the College of Engineering, College of Computing and the Scheller College of Business.

Tip: Buying Amazon Gift Certificates with an American Express Prepaid Rewards Card

amexprepaidMany promotions will offer a “$50 cash card” sent to you in the mail. I recently received such a $50 American Express Prepaid Rewards card that looks exactly like the image shown in the top-right corner. I am horrible with gift cards and coupons (basically anything to do with shopping in general), so I prefer to consolidate them and buy Amazon gift certificate codes. We buy certain food items via Subscribe and Save, and that eats through the balance over time.

Usually, I can just take a $50 prepaid card and buy a $50 Amazon gift code with it, but this time the purchase was declined. I called up the American Express customer service number on the back of the card, and they told me that Amazon put a $1 hold on the card and that I could only charge $49 on it at Amazon. What about the $1 balance? The CSR told me to spend it at a local store. (If you do this, ask for a split tender transaction from the cashier.)

$1 balance hold solution. However, I figured that Amazon just puts a $1 temporary hold on any new credit card on file, not on every purchase, and I was right. I waited for the $1 hold to expire after a day or so, and then I was able to buy another $1 Amazon gift code with the same card, finally zeroing out the balance. (You can buy an Amazon gift card for any amount of at least $1 and you can reload your Amazon balance for any amount 50 cents and above. Look for the “Enter Amount” blank form.) Here’s a screenshot below.

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Anyhow, I’m sending this out into the search engine void in case it helps someone else out.

Spending More Money Is Easy. Finding “Enough” Is Hard

Starwood Hotels sent me an e-mail with the subject “Family Traditions at St. Regis with Nacho Figueras”. I had no idea who Mr. Figueras was, but you mention “family traditions” and I’m going to click on that like a sucker. It turned out to be a 2-minute YouTube video for a fancy hotel in Aspen, Colorado. Embedded below:

Don’t get me wrong. I have my chosen luxuries, and some of them probably seem stupid and overpriced to others. (I did recently downgrade from Charmin Ultra to Costco toilet paper though. Kids don’t appreciate the good stuff…)

My observation is that there is always a “nicer” version of everything. You can add a zero to the end of any price tag. A meal can cost $5 or $50 or $500. A purse can cost $30, $300, or $3,000. A car can cost $10,000, $100k, or $1 million. I looked it up and found that the St. Regis Aspen runs $1,500-$3,000 a night during the ski season! Likewise, I can have a ski day followed by a board game and s’mores for 1/10th of the cost.

This is why achieving financial freedom is not only about earning more money (although that is certainly important). There are lots of people with high incomes that will work forever as well. You are also challenged with finding a level of spending where you stop look for nicer things. You need to find balance, peace, enough. Otherwise, you will never take control of your time because you’ll stay on that treadmill, going for that something “better” that is just out of reach.

(In case you’re wondering, a standard room at the St. Regis Aspen can be had for 30,000 Starpoints per night.)

Dinnertime: Which Meals Offers The Most Nutrition Per Dollar?

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Here’s another interesting Priceonomics study, this time analyzing the cost and nutritional content of common American meals.

For each meal, we then derived a health score based on domain experts and the the nutrient-rich foods index (NRF9.3), which encapsulates a food’s nutritional density (i.e., the extent to which it provides a balance of essential nutrients like protein, fiber, and vitamins).

As you might expect, on average the more nutrition, the more it costs. A corn dog is cheap but unhealthy. A chicken salad costs more, but is also healthier. However, there were outliers in the nutrition per dollar metric, as shown in the chart above.

Meals above the line, like Falafel and Chinese Chicken Salad, are healthier than one would predict given their cost. Nutritionally speaking, they’re bargains: you get more nutrients per dollar when you choose these options. Conversely, meals below the line, like Cheeseburgers and Shrimp & Grits, have lower health scores than expected based on cost; they’re nutritional rip-offs.

This analysis was done for a new food prep company called Wellio. An important missing factor is the time and energy needed to prepare these meals. Even if a kale salad is a good nutritional value, I’m less likely to make it if it takes a lot of effort to prep and the ingredients will spoil within a couple days.

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