Sapiens: Are We Happier And Better Off Than Our Ancient Ancestors?

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Financial independence means freedom with your time, as you no longer need to spend it working for money. But the ultimate goal is really satisfaction and happiness in our lives. What do we need to get there? Are humans happier now than when we were foragers or subsistence farmers? The bestselling book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari weaves together various facts but also adds his own interpretations, resulting in an interesting story of how the human species has evolved from 100,000 years ago until today. There are three major events: the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, and the Scientific Revolutions. Here are my notes.

The power of cooperation. As Scott Galloway says often, the superpower of the human species is cooperation. We are different from other animals because we are able to work together across a large number of individuals, families, and groups. Bees cooperate, but only between other bees from the same hive. Being able to maintain mutual trust between complete strangers is special. Without it, we wouldn’t have trade, art, science, medicine, corporations, and so on.

Population growth. This cooperation also helped humans take control over their environment through their immense population growth. When we were all foraging for food in small tight-knit groups, we needed a ton of space and our population size was self-limiting. We had to make some big changes in order to create this level of population density. An important observation is that we had to change how we lived in order to support our current population. We can’t go back to foraging, and we can’t go back to all farming all of our own food.

But are we actually any happier? A human forager probably worked less hours per day on average than the modern US citizen. On the other hand, infant mortality was incredibly high and what we consider a minor injury today could quickly lead to death. If a medieval worker couldn’t pay back their debts, they or their children would be sold into servitude. Today, we have low infant mortality and no debtor’s prisons, but we still find ourselves “busy” as ever and filled with anxiety about the future.

The book contains many insights into the psychology of happiness that have been pointed out elsewhere, but it is interesting to view it from the perspective of a nomadic forager (30,000 years ago), a peasant farmer, or early factory worker.

Hedonic treadmill. This quote hits close to home for many seeking financial independence:

It happens to us today. How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? […] But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad.

We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

Money and happiness. More money does makes you happier, but only up to a certain point where you are safely out of poverty (roughly $75k a year in the US).

One interesting conclusion is that money does indeed bring happiness. […] But only up to a point, and beyond that point it has little significance.

Health and happiness. We actually get used to most physical disabilities.

Another interesting finding is that illness decreases happiness in the short term, but is a source of long-term distress only if a person’s condition is constantly deteriorating or if the disease involves on-going and debilitating pain. […] People who are diagnosed with chronic illness such as diabetes are usually depressed for a while, but if the illness does not get worse they adjust to their new condition and rate their happiness as highly as healthy people do.

Relationships and happiness. Good interpersonal relationships make you happier.

Family and community seem to have more impact on our happiness than money and health. […] An impecunious invalid surrounded by a loving spouse, a devoted family and a warm community may well feel better than an alienated billionaire, provided that the invalid’s poverty is not too severe and that his illness is not degenerative or painful.

Pleasure vs. meaning. Meaning makes you happier.

Another [option] is that the findings demonstrate that happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. […]

A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.

Happiness = Reality – Expectations. Keeping your expectations modest makes you happier. A peasant farmer rarely bathed, but that was their expectation and it is unlikely they dreamt of hot showers and fruit-scented shampoo.

Prophets, poets and philosophers realised thousands of years ago that being satisfied with what you already have is far more important than getting more of what you want. […] Still, it’s nice when modern research – bolstered by lots of numbers and charts – reaches the same conclusions the ancients did.

Mass media raises your expectations, and thus lowers your happiness. Consuming less advertising and unrealistic social media makes you happier.

If happiness is determined by expectations, then two pillars of our society – mass media and the advertising industry – may unwittingly be depleting the globe’s reservoirs of contentment.

Nature vs. nurture. How much of happiness is genetic (as opposed to environmental)? Accept that at least part of it is genetic, but not all of it. We each seem to have a “thermostat set point” for happiness that can change, but we tend to go back our set point.

Unfortunately for all hopes of creating heaven on earth, our internal biochemical system seems to be programmed to keep happiness levels relatively constant.

Evolution does not seem to have optimized humans for happiness. Perhaps we need to be a bit dissatisfied to keep reproducing. However, by understanding our natural tendencies, we can work with and/or around them to create a more content life. We need to find “enough” in terms of consumption, focus on participating in meaningful activities, and maintain good personal relationships. Financial independence isn’t necessary for any of these items, but it can allow you more to time to develop it. Finally, the book warns that given our burgeoning ability to tinker with genetics, the near future may be much different.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Online Shopping: Are You Being Tricked By These 15 Dark Patterns?

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During these stressful times, many of us are doing a lot more shopping online (unfortunately for local retailers). The competition to get you to spend as much as possible has evolved to take full advantage of all of our psychological weaknesses. This Wired article discusses The Subtle Tricks Shopping Sites Use to Make You Spend More, including the deceptive tactics called “dark patterns”. They linked to an academic study Dark Patterns at Scale: Findings from a Crawl of 11K Shopping Websites, which carefully broke things down into the following 15 dark patterns which usually target at least one cognitive bias.

If you’ve bought anything online recently, you should recognize many of these tricks, but there were a few that were new to me. I was intrigued and tested out many of the sites myself. I no longer plan to shop at certain retailers like Proflowers and CellularOutfitter due to their use of certain shady tactics.

“No, I don’t want become smarter and wealthier”

  • Confirmshaming: Using language to steer your choices
  • Cognitive bias: Framing effect

“YES! vs. no

  • Visual interference: Steering users using visual design.
  • Cognitive bias: Anchoring, Framing effect

“Uncheck the box if you prefer not to receive lots of spam”

  • Trick questions: Steering users using confusing language
  • Cognitive bias: Default, Framing effect

“Do you really want to cheap out on the flower bouquet for your mom?”

  • Pressured selling: Most expensive option is the default.
  • Cognitive bias: Anchoring, Default Effect, Scarcity Bias

“Free shipping with (trial) membership!”

  • Hidden subscription: Charging a recurring fee which isn’t clearly disclosed.

“⏲ Sale ends in 00:15:36 ⏲”

  • Countdown timer: Suggests that deal or discount will expire soon using countdown timer
  • Cognitive bias: Scarcity bias

“Only 3 left in stock. Order soon!”

  • Low-stock message: Suggests that limited quantities are available
  • Cognitive bias: Scarcity bias

“🔥 Selling Fast! 🔥”

  • High-demand message
  • Cognitive bias: Scarcity bias

“‼ Sale ends soon! ‼”

  • Limited-time message
  • Cognitive bias: Scarcity bias

“43 other people are viewing this item” or “Joseph in Maryland just bought these masks!”

  • Activity message: Informs that someone else did an activity or purchase
  • Cognitive bias: Bandwagon effect

“These yoga pants are the most comfortable ever! – Jane from IA”

  • Testimonial
  • Cognitive bias: Bandwagon effect

“Care & Handling Fee: $2.99” (Looking at you, Proflowers!)

  • Hidden cost: Adding new fees or charges at the last page of checkout, after you have submitted address and payment details.
  • Cognitive bias: Sunk cost fallacy

“You must create an account to continue.”

  • Forced enrollment: Must create account or share information to complete task
  • Cognitive bias: Sunk cost fallacy

“Oops, how did that item end up in your shopping cart?”

  • Sneak into basket: Additional products placed in shopping carts without consent, like accessories (CellularOutfitter) or warranty/insurance.
  • Cognitive bias: Default effect

“Please call 1-800-NOT-OPEN between 1:34 and 1:36 AM to cancel.”

  • Hard to cancel: Easy to sign-up, hard to cancel.
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Healthywage Review: Bet on Yourself, Get Paid To Lose Weight ($100 Prize Bonus)

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(Click this special link for $50 Healthywage Prize Boost for a limited-time. Look for the banner on top.)

hw_logoAfter reading academic studies which found that financial incentives were effective in helping people lose weight, I joined HealthyWage.com. You tell them how much weight you want to lose, your current body details, how much time you want, and and they’ll calculate what prize to offer you based on how much you want to bet on yourself. Since I eventually lost 50 pounds with the help of HealthyWage and other weight-loss betting sites (and have kept it off since), and I wanted to share my experiences including both positive and negative aspects. Importantly, you can do everything from home!

My overall HealthyWage bet was to lose 10% of my body weight over 9 months (22 pounds in my case). My offered bet was to put up $50 per month for 9 months for a potential win of $50. You may like the sound of “winning $500”, but know that a lot of it will be your own money:

healthywage500

Honestly, risking $450 to win $50 didn’t feel like a very good risk/reward ratio, but I wanted the extra motivation. Perhaps my goal was too easy and that was why the payout wasn’t as high. You can put up your own numbers and calculate your own HealthyWage offer. Your payout may be much better than mine. The quote is free, you just need to provide any e-mail address.

If I joined during a limited-time offer prize boost, I could have earned a lot more money:

Initial weigh-in verification. There are four ways to verify your weight:

  1. Smartphone app. There is a HealthyWage app for iOS and Android. You take a clip using the app and your personal scale. Importantly, everything can be done from home!
  2. Video Verification. Upload a video to their website using your personal scale.
  3. Verification by a Fitness or Health Professional – Bring a form to your “local gym, pharmacies, corporate wellness clinics, walk-in clinics, HR reps, nurses, your personal doctor, your personal trainer or your chiropractor.”
  4. Verification at a Weight Watchers Meeting.

I followed their directions carefully, uploaded my video, and both my initial and final videos were accepted with no issues or additional requests.

Every month, I would see a $50 charge on my credit card bill from Healthwage. However, that was about it. There were no encouraging e-mails. No fun tokens or prize giveaways.

Upon initial sign-up, I was given my 2-week window for final weigh-in. HealthyWage’s two-week window is definitely more generous than DietBet’s 48-hour window, with the important difference that I was never sent any reminders by HealthyWage when the time actually came. In comparison, Dietbet sent me multiple reminders beforehand. Now, I had the date marked on my digital calendar with several alerts, so I completed my weigh-in by the second day of the window. It is quite possible that if I waited until closer to the final deadline, I would have gotten a reminder. But I wouldn’t rely on it. Remember, if you forget, they keep your money!

I also did a DietBet at the same time, which is similar but different in that it collects participants into groups and then takes a cut from the pooled bets. See my separate DietBet Review.

Extra final verification hoops. Upon final weight verification, you’ll have to submit the verification video again (see above). But that’s not all. I also had to locate and upload a “before photo” and an “after photo”, which could be any photo from “around the time” of the start and end of the challenge. I also had to upload a scan of my driver’s license. Here’s a screenshot of their page asking for additional information.

Finally, I successfully referred a few people to Healthwage and received extra money added my “pot”. This referral program is nice feature to get some social support, but remember that you get the referral money only if you win your own bet.

Final payout options. There are two options to receive your winnings. A mailed check takes 3-4 weeks to process, with no fee. The other “fast” option is PayPal, which charges a 3% fee. I picked the PayPal option because I didn’t want to wait around for a check. However, they later clarified that it would still take 3-5 business days for Paypal transfer. The 3% fee is taken out by PayPal, so HealthyWage actually sends the full amount (they just choose not to subsidize the fee). In retrospect, maybe I should have just waited for the check. Here’s a screenshot:

hw_finalpay

Bottom line. I committed to a Healthywage bet to lose 10% of my initial weight over 9 months. I lost the weight, completed my verifications without hassle, won the bet, and was paid my winnings. Although I found the process a bit impersonal, they are a legit company. Calculate your own HealthyWage offer here. No obligation to get a quote. However, the fact that HealthyWage motivated me to finally lose over 50 pounds was worth more to me than the cash winnings.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Reminder: Nobody Can Predict Future Interest Rates (Especially the Experts)

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The financial prediction industry is simply mind-boggling to me. There is zero long-term memory or accountability. You can make all the predictions you want about the stock market, gold prices, and interest rates, and nobody remembers your bad calls. You get a contrarian call right, and all of a sudden you’re on all the TV interviews and news articles.

Allow me to remind you of what the Wall Street Journal’s panel of economists predicted in January 2019 as to what interest rates would look like the rest of the year (WSJ source). I have updated the chart with the current rates (click to enlarge). This was less than 10 months ago!

Apologies for the sloppy graphics, but you can see that 10-year rates dropped down to 2% in July, down even further to 1.5% at the beginning of September, with a slight bounce up to around 1.75% today. Not a single prediction was even close to reality.

When I was stocking up on 4% APY 5-year CDs last year, I was reading comments like “Why lock in such a low rate? You’re going to see much higher rates soon!”. Now, all of the comments are “You better lock in that 3% CD before rates drop further!”

Predicting interest rates even only as far as the next 12 months, is incredibly hard. You can’t do it reliably. Nobody can do it reliably. You might get it right, but that is called luck and not skill.

Individual investors don’t have an advantage in predicting future rates, but they do have their own set of special advantages. As an individual investor, you can purchase certificates from any FDIC-insured bank or NCUA-insured credit union if the interest rate is better than the comparable US Treasury. Over the last couple of years, I was able to buy multiple 5-year CDs at 4% APY when the 5-year Treasury was well below 3%. You have to act decisively, but any individual can do it. Pension funds and other institutional investors can’t.

I have a ladder of 5-year CDs. Each year, I buy a 5-year CD when a compelling interest rate arises. I don’t care about the rate direction, as long as I get about 1% above US Treasuries. After 5 years of doing this, you will have a ladder of CDs such that each year one CD is maturing and you can simply reinvest the funds each year. If I managed to put one year of expenses into each rung of this ladder, I now have 5 years of expenses in the bank, fully-insured and ready to go in case of financial emergency. An extra 1% on each $100,000 is $1,000 a year. That’s real money.

If this sounds like too much trouble to open accounts at multiple banks, you can always still with a Total US Bond fund (like AGG or BND). You’re essentially buying an ladder of bonds. BND has an average effective maturity of 8 years and average duration of 6 years. You might also buy it automatically inside a Vanguard Target Retirement Fund. Just keep buying it and ignore any talk about “The Fed”. Keep the chart above in your mind.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Charlie Munger 2019 Wall Street Journal Interview Transcript

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The best thing I read today was definitely Charlie Munger, Unplugged, the full transcript of a 6-hour interview with Charlie Munger about his philosophies on business, investing and life, as conducted by Jason Zweig and Nicole Friedman of the Wall Street Journal. (I’ve tried to share a link via my paid WSJ subscription, but there may still be a paywall. Articles like this definitely help make me feel that my subscription is worth the money.)

I enjoy Munger’s direct and open take on many things. Honestly, I think reading his advice helps make me a better person, not investor. Also, he’s a 95-year-old billionaire – can you imagine anyone more incentivized to do exactly what they want with their remaining time? The article is rather long, so while I recommend reading the entire thing for yourself, here are some selected highlights.

How do you spend your day?

Well, I have always sought, since I quit law practice [in 1965], to have a lot of time in every day to read and think. And talk to a few friends about this or that. And I don’t do that because it will make me more money, I do it because it’s my nature. And I had to use that nature because I needed a living for a big family. But it’s just my nature.

Warren’s the same way. We both hate too many appointments in one day. We both have long segments [of free time]. The lives we live would look to anybody else like academics.

Will Berkshire Hathaway beat the S&P 500 in the future?

I think it we’ll beat it a little. But that’s not bad with a market cap of over $600 billion. That’s difficult! Most people won’t do as well as we will. I talked to Warren today. We’re buying one little company…as we sit here. And we haven’t bought anything big for a long, long time. It’s really getting hard for us. These other people will pay a lot more.

Q: If there were one company other than Berkshire you would recommend for the next decade or two, what would it be?

In America it would be Costco. Other than in America, buy the strongest companies in China.

Q: A lot of young Americans seem to be turning against capitalism, on the grounds that income inequality is out of control. What can be done about that?

The world as I know it, from personal experience and from reading, has always concentrated power.

Without the inequality, you don’t get modern private-ownership capitalism, which is what produces the plenty. And so even your kids, if they tried to make an equal civilization, and farm the land that way, would end up with not enough to eat. You’ve got to have individual ownership of a lot of things, with somebody getting and gaining for himself, because otherwise you don’t get the plenty. And the only option you have is to make the social safety net big or small, and you can make it stupid or [you can make it] wise[r], the richer you are.

In other words, the better your inequality-producing civilization that produces the plenty is, the more you’ve got to put into the social safety net. Now if you get a place like Denmark or Sweden or something, a lot of these modern students would like it better, free education, free medical care and so forth. And if you have to bet, the United States will be way more like Canada pretty soon, in terms of more free education at the university level and more Medicare and some kind of medicine for all. And that we can afford without ruining the productivity of the civilization.

…. We can afford [a higher minimum wage]. If you make it too high it will be counterproductive but yes, a prosperous civilization can have a higher minimum wage the way it can have a social safety net. Don’t make it too great and you can afford it.

I have more Democratic children than I have Republican children. I’ve got both.

On Jack Bogle.

You’ve got to remember, Bogle happened to be right about something important. But that [was] his only advantage. He was a monomaniac. And so that’s an odd characteristic. I would not pick Bogle to have the run of the place. He just was very right on one very important subject [the importance of minimizing investment costs], and therefore he’s been very useful.

On payday lenders, the lottery, and legalized gambling.

These goddamn payday lenders, they’re the scum of the earth. Everybody’s working on it but not hard enough. That’s a group that ought to be forced out of existence.

And the way we abuse the poor with the lottery! Think of how contrary it is to the interests of the poor to play the lottery. It’s like a tax on ignorance. They’re vulnerable. I don’t think we should be doing that, but of course everything like it I’m voting against. I always vote against legalized gambling. I just lose all the time. I feel like I’m pushing on a straw and somebody is just pushing back harder every time.

On selfishness and the value of a good reputation.

Another thing that really helps is people, a lot of people think that real selfishness, very extreme, is what works. But it doesn’t.

If you have a reputation for being decent to work with and unselfish, you make more money, not less. And at Berkshire, I can’t tell you the things that we have bought where the people wanted a good home for something that they love and they trusted us to take care of their loved one. That sounds ridiculous to talk about, in that language about businesses. But why wouldn’t you love something you spent your life building up? It’s very natural to love it – it’s your own creation. Of course you want it in good hands.

On his ability to delay gratification (aka “frugal cred”).

The first 13 years I practiced law, my income [from practicing law] was $300,000 total. At the end of that 13 years, what did I have? A house. Two cars. And $300,000 of liquid assets. Everyone else’d have spent that slender income, not invested it shrewdly, and so forth.

I just think it was, to me, it was as natural as breathing, and of course I knew how compound interest worked! I knew when I saved $10 I was really saving $100 or $1,000 [because of the future growth of the $10], and it just took a little wait. And when I quit law practice it was because I wanted to work for myself instead of my clients, because I knew I could do better than they did.

On opportunities.

You only get a few opportunities, and you have to grab them aggressively when they come because even in the most favored life, they’re really rare. My mother listened to all this stuff, and it meant nothing to her. She was never interested in money or worldly success, but she just appropriated the stories to me because they’d amused her.

I always feel that the opportunities are rare. I only get a few and then I have to seize them aggressively.

This last quote is definitely something that I strongly associate with Munger. Even in this interview, you notice he says it twice. It’s something to keep in the back of your mind, whether is applies to an investing opportunity, a career opportunity, or even finding a life partner. Work hard, do your analysis, but in the end you’ll have to take action to get the big results.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

A Sense of Urgency: Money Can’t Buy You More Time

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Over the weekend, I read the NYT Magazine article America’s Professional Elite: Wealthy, Successful and Miserable about the rich and unhappy, which included a man who earned $1.2 million a year in Manhattan and hated his job:

“I feel like I’m wasting my life,” he told me. “When I die, is anyone going to care that I earned an extra percentage point of return? My work feels totally meaningless.” He recognized the incredible privilege of his pay and status, but his anguish seemed genuine. “If you spend 12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it doesn’t matter what your paycheck says,” he told me. There’s no magic salary at which a bad job becomes good. He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.

Based on a short conversation in a class reunion, it’s easy to extrapolate endless stressful hours at work, a huge mortgage, fancy private school tuition, expensive vacations, and a high-maintenance spouse. Such a picture makes all of us not earning $1.2 million a year feel better about ourselves. But is he really that miserable?

I suspect it is more like the same situation a lot of people are in. They aren’t happy, but things aren’t bad enough to keep them from still doing the same thing. It’s easy to just say OMY (One More Year) because change is scary. I’d certainly rather be in that position while earning a million bucks a year, rather than earning $40k. He has a lot more optionality than most.

Ever since my post on Retirement Nest Egg Calculators: Running Out of Money vs. Running Out of Time, this following statistic has been stuck in my mind:

If you’re 40, you have a 10% chance of dying before even reaching 65.

What is your likelihood of dying within the next 20 years? Here are mortality tables based on Social Security actuarial data for US citizens, sorted by age and gender. Below are the rough numbers, along with an edited screenshot of the source at the very bottom.

  • A male, age 30 has a 1 in 20 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 50).
  • A male, age 40 has a 1 in 10 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 60).
  • A male, age 50 has a 1 in 5 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 70).
  • A female, age 30 has a 1 in 35 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 50).
  • A female, age 40 has a 1 in 15 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 60).
  • A female, age 50 has a 1 in 7 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 70).

I try to use these numbers to motivate myself and create a sense of urgency. I’m 40 years old now. There is a 1 in 10 chance that I won’t be old enough to see my daughters even finish college. The person profiled in this article is also probably around 40 years old (15-year reunion of business school). I’m sure there are plenty of 60-year-olds who say “60 isn’t old!” and it isn’t, but that is literally survivorship bias. We all know people who didn’t make it to 60, and these are the overall odds.

Time is your most precious resource. It doesn’t matter what your income is, you only have so much time. Therefore, you should spend it in a way that aligns with your values. Look for ways to get closer to that. If you can’t quit, do the same job with a better employer. Keep working, but switch to a different job within that field/skillset with more personal meaning. Saving more can mean you can get by working fewer hours. If you think you can retire but just can’t seem to pull the trigger, you need to directly confront those last few worries.

Are you unhappy with your situation and still in the same spot as a year ago? Try to find something psychological that will create a sense of urgency. I tell myself “Why am still wasting my time with [insert task]? 1 in 10.”

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

DietBet Review: Using Money To Motivate You To Lose Weight

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

dietbet180It’s that time of year, and since I eventually lost 50 pounds with the help of this and other weight-loss betting sites (and have kept it off since), and I wanted to share my experiences including both positive and negative aspects.

DietBet.com runs weight-loss challenges where I bet my own hard-earned cash that I could lose 10% of my body weight within 6 months. More specifically, a group of folks (strangers or friends) agreed on a weight loss goal, put money into a community pot, and the winners split the pot. Here’s a look back at how the process worked along with some helpful tips and detailed numbers.

Game basics. You pick from a list of available “games” that are starting soon. All of them have a goal of either losing 4% of your body weight in 4 weeks (Kickstarter), or 10% in 6 months (Transformer). I chose the 10% goal and picked the group with the most participants because Dietbet uses the poker rake model where the winners take money from the losers. This is smart because Dietbet doesn’t risk any of its own money (also doesn’t have any incentive for you to lose).

dietbetfinal0

Weigh-in rules and tips. Your weight is verified each round by uploading two pictures: one with your feet on a digital scale, and another of your entire (lightly-clothed) body on the same scale. You are given a special keyword to ensure that the weigh-in is done during a 48-hour window. Here are my tips:

  1. Use the smartphone app. Having the smartphone app made it so much easier to snap the pictures and upload with a few taps. iOS and Android only.
  2. Check the dates with your work schedule. During one of my weigh-ins, I was on the road. Dietbet says digital scales are “preferred” but the only thing at my hotel’s gym was a non-digital balance scale. My submission was still accepted. If my hotel gym didn’t have a scale at all, I would have had to search for a Wal-Mart or something.
  3. Know the rules and give yourself time for rejections. One of my submissions was initially rejected because I was wearing running shoes (in that same hotel gym) and I forgot that shoes aren’t allowed in the pictures. You only get a 12-hour grace period after a rejection to re-submit a qualifying weigh-in.

Overall, I felt that Dietbet was fair and quick when judging my weigh-in pictures. You may also be “audited” and be required to submit a video verification. I did not get audited.

Money details. The bet amounts can vary by game, but mine was for $25 a month times 6 months. I was offered one month free ($25 discount) if I paid $125 upfront, but since this is all about the behavioral component for me, I wanted the monthly charge to show up on my credit card bill. Players who have chosen to place their bets on a monthly basis may drop out at any time and avoid being charged for future, unplayed rounds.

There is one round per month; Rounds 1 to 6. Half of the total money bet is put towards Round 1 through 5. That is $25 x 6 / 2 = $75, split across 5 rounds is $15 per round. The other half is put toward the final weigh-in round. So $75 is bet on Round 6. Here’s a screenshot that shows my actual winnings from each round:

dietbetfinal2

  • Round 1 Breakdown: $16.09 (7% ROI on $15 bet)
  • Round 2 Breakdown: $26.94 (80% ROI)
  • Round 3 Breakdown: $31.36 (109% ROI)
  • Round 4 Breakdown: $31.50 (110% ROI)
  • Round 5 Breakdown: $30.42 (103% ROI)
  • Round 6 Breakdown: $152.87 (104% ROI)

I ended up winning $289.19, for a net win of $139.18. That’s a solid 93% return on my $150 initial bet! According to their documentation, the average “win” is 50% to 100% of your contribution. I would venture to guess that the 6-month games have a higher overall payout due to a higher difficulty level.

As noted above, Dietbet makes their money by taking a cut of the gross pot before distribution, between 10% to 25%. In a previous post, I erroneously assumed that the numbers being reported above were before fees were taken out. The numbers are actually net of fees. (You are always guaranteed never to lose money if you win, which otherwise technically could happen if enough people win.)

Your winnings can be withdrawn either via PayPal or paper check, but you have to pay a $5 fee and make special request for a paper check. When withdrawing via PayPal, you won’t pay any fees, and I was sent my money within a hour. Here’s screenshot proof of my winnings payout showing no fees.

Warnings. When signing up for a challenge, Dietbet will automatically add $20 of “Official Weigh-in Tokens” to your cart. These are not mandatory. I think using the word “Official” is misleading. They should use “Optional” or “Additional” instead. You should treat them as extra raffle tickets for prizes like Fitbits and such. If you want that, fine, but otherwise be sure to remove them otherwise it’s just wasted money.

Bottom line. I committed to a Dietbet Challenge to lose 10% of my initial weight over 6 months. You can see upcoming Dietbet games here. I lost the weight, completed my verifications without hassle, won the bet, and was paid my winnings. There were a lot of factors that helped me lose weight and change my eating habits:

  • Loss aversion is quite a strange thing. Even though 25 bucks a month isn’t all that much money, the prospect of losing it was a powerful motivator.
  • The Dietbet community board for my challenge was quite positive in supporting other people towards their weight-loss goals.
  • I created extra motivation by telling people about the challenge as I didn’t want to admit publicly to failure.

While Dietbet was not there to cook my healthy meals, exercise for me, or keep me away from the late-night Doritos, it was the missing catalyst that I needed to get my health back on track. For other people this might be a heart attack or other medical issue. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait for something like that. Even if I “lost” the challenge but also lost 5% of my body weight, I might have still seen it as an overall positive experience.

See my separate Healthwage Review, a similar service. You can do both at the same time.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman on Mental Accounting

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Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize for Economics this year for his pioneering work in Behavioral Economics. Of course, he promptly said he would spend the prize money “as irrationally as possible”. Here’s a light-hearted Q&A from the NY Times. Linked was a funny example of mental accounting, told by Gene Hackman about Dustin Hoffman. (Warning: There is a single f-bomb.)

Well, Hackman says when they were both young actors he was over at Dustin Hoffman’s house and Hoffman asks him for a loan.

Hackman goes into the kitchen and sees all these Mason jars with labels — “entertainment” and “books” and “rent” — and they all have money in them. Except for one, the one that says “food.” So he says to Hoffman: “You have plenty of money, why do you need money?” And Hoffman says, ‘There’s no money in the food jar. I can’t touch the other money. ”

They laugh, they go on, it’s funny but you know, it’s serious. Because we all do that.

If you can’t see the embedded video, here is the YouTube link.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry, Gratitude, and Relationship Advice

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freakradio

Freakonomics Radio has a podcast called Why Is My Life So Hard? where they talked with Tom Gilovich of Cornell and Shai Davidai of the New School for Social Research about the concept of headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry:

Most of us feel we face more headwinds and obstacles than everyone else — which breeds resentment. We also undervalue the tailwinds that help us — which leaves us ungrateful and unhappy. How can we avoid this trap?

Here’s a more specific example:

GILOVICH: The idea should be familiar to anyone who cycles or runs for exercise. Sometimes you’re running or cycling into the wind, and it’s not pleasant. You’re aware of it the whole time. It’s retarding your progress and you can’t wait until the course changes so that you get the wind at your back. And when that happens you’re grateful for about a minute. And very quickly, you no longer notice the wind at your back that’s helping push you along. And what’s true when it comes to running or cycling is true of life generally.

This psychological bias relates to all kinds of things in life, including why you think your parents were easier on your siblings than you or why everyone thinks their sports team is always treated unfairly.

Personally, this reminded me of some relationship advice that I was given years ago. Here’s are the basic observations:

  • You are accurately aware of every single good thing you do for your spouse or partner.
  • You are not going to notice every single good thing your spouse/partner does for you.

Simple logic leaves you with the following conclusion:

Your goal should be to feel like you are giving more than you receive. Even if in reality both of you are doing equal numbers of good things for each other, you should still feel like you are doing a bit more because you missed things. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like you are giving at least a bit more than you are receiving, then you probably aren’t doing enough. This concept could also be applied somewhat to professional work relationships.

A similar idea is that when you visit a or national park or campground, try to leave it cleaner than you arrived. You might have left some bit of garbage that you didn’t even notice.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

If someone promises to pay you back, they probably won’t pay you back.

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everylies

Back in the stone age of P2P lending (aka 2006), I used to read through Prosper loan listings one-by-one. Borrowers would outline their monthly budgets showing how they could afford their loan payments, along with explanations of why they needed the money (credit card debt, home improvement, etc.) and why they would pay you back (steady job, good credit history, etc). I’m not sure if this is even an option anymore, but in any case, I wasn’t very good at it.

The New York Magazine article How to Predict If a Borrower Will Pay You Back (excerpted from the new book Everybody Lies) discusses an academic paper that actually analyzed keywords within past Prosper listings against their default history. Consider the following 10 phrases:

  • God
  • promise
  • debt-free
  • minimum payment
  • lower interest rate
  • will pay
  • graduate
  • thank you
  • after-tax
  • hospital

Half of them are used by people most likely to pay back the loan. The other half are used by people who are least likely to pay back the loan. Care to venture a guess which are which?

Generally, if someone tells you he will pay you back, he will not pay you back. The more assertive the promise, the more likely he will break it. If someone writes “I promise I will pay back, so help me God,” he is among the least likely to pay you back. Appealing to your mercy—explaining that he needs the money because he has a relative in the “hospital”—also means he is unlikely to pay you back. In fact, mentioning any family member—a husband, wife, son, daughter, mother or father—is a sign someone will not be paying back. Another word that indicates default is “explain,” meaning if people are trying to explain why they are going to be able to pay back a loan, they likely won’t.

The phrases used by folks who are most likely NOT to pay back their loans are God, promise, will pay, thank you, and hospital. If someone promises that they will pay you back, they probably won’t pay you back. The more emotions are involved, the less likely they are to pay you back.

This is an interesting wrinkle as lending is such a huge part of the investing world – mortgages, bonds, insurance, and so on.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

New Year’s Resolutions: Nudge Yourself Towards Success

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newyears

It’s now late January. According to “the internet”, over 30% of people have already failed at their New Year’s Resolution. Well, I say let’s have a do-over since I haven’t even got around to making mine yet. Jonathan Clements has an excellent post called Committed where he outlines some strategies to help improve our chances of success. I’ve re-worked them below according to my own tastes. In my view, all of them involve making failure painful and/or inconvenient (really the same thing, just different levels and frequencies of pain).

  • Tell everyone. Announce your resolution on Facebook, Instagram, or other widespread manner. Somebody (frenemy?) will likely follow-up. You’ll want to avoid the mild shame from lots of people you know sorta well.
  • Tell just one important person. Share your resolution and deadline with a person whose opinion you care about. You’ll want to avoid that acute shame from a close friend or relative.
  • Tell nobody, but bet money on it. You could set up a bet with a friend, or use a website like DietBet. You’ll want to avoid the financial pain from losing money.
  • Put hurdles between you and bad habits. Want to spend less? Use cash for everything. Institute a cooling-off period of 1 week for every $100 of cost. Cut up or freeze your credit cards in ice. Cancel any “bad” subscriptions, and make yourself pay for it manually each month. (Try Trim if you need some help canceling things.) Remove junk food from the house, so you’ll have to go out and buy it. Make it a hassle.
  • Make it automatic. Make “good” subscriptions. Set up (or increase) an automatic paycheck withdrawal for 401(k) and/or IRA retirement accounts. Set up an automatic transfer to your savings account. Sign up for a service like Digit. After the initial setup, the lazy thing is now the good thing.

You might use one, or you might use all of them, depending on your specific goal.

Photo credit: Angus and Phil comic by Annie Taylor-Lebel.

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Your Employer Took Your Money, Invested For Retirement, and You Liked It

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Below is a chart taken from this WSJ article about employer-run 401(k) retirement plans and how the default settings have changed over the last decade:

wsj_vg_savings_full

The trend: Employers are making you save more initially by default, making you save a little more every year by default, and putting it in a pre-mixed target-date fund of stocks and bonds. Employees can opt out of any of these things at any time. But they aren’t.

Credit Suisse braced for complaints last year when it upped its initial automatic savings rate for new employees to 9% from 6%. It did so after years of experiencing lackluster interest from the firm’s roughly 8,500 employees—specifically younger workers—in the U.S. when meeting to discuss increasing retirement savings, said Joseph Huber, chairman of the bank’s pension-investment committee.

But Mr. Huber said the bank heard concerns from only two people, who weren’t previously putting any money into their 401(k) plans. Credit Suisse also decided to automatically increase the default rate by 1% a year until an employee reaches 15%. It doesn’t match contributions up to the highest rate, although it contributes $3,000 to $10,000 for each employee annually.

“It’s companies’ biggest fear and it was radio silence,” he said.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t be pointing this out because the current inaction may be a good thing. The only problem is that nearly half of US workers don’t have an company-sponsored retirement plan. The bigger your company, the more likely you have one as an option.

wsj_vg_bw

The takeaway? Try using this behavioral psychology trick on yourself. Commit to saving more through automatic, recurring transfers. Use a savings account or an IRA if you don’t have a 401(k) match. Set the amount such that it hurts a bit. You can always change it back later (but hopefully you won’t need to).

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.