Money Magic: 5 Levers To Boost Your Safe Retirement Income By $50k+ a Year

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In personal finance, I often think in terms of “levers” to push or pull. Here are five different levers to increase your portfolio safe withdrawal rate in retirement. Here are three levers used increase your final savings balance at retirement:

  • Asset allocation: How are you investing your money?
  • Savings rate: What percentage of your income do you save?
  • Time horizon: How long are you saving for?

Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better Life by Laurence Kotlikoff has another good example of pulling certain levers involving a couple that comes to him with their proposed retirement plan. By tweaking these five different levers, he is able to increase their allowable monthly spending (above housing) by over $6,000 a month for the rest of their lives (a net present value of over $1.5 million):

  • Delay taking Social Security. “First, they should wait to begin taking their Social Security benefits till age seventy, rather than immediately at sixty-two.”
  • Use your 401(k) to fund your retirement early years instead. “Next, they should start to withdraw from their 401(k) accounts now, rather than wait till seventy.”
  • Buy joint survivor single premium immediate annuities. “They also should take their 401(k) withdrawals in the form of joint survivor annuities.”
  • Downsize your house/condo. “Next, they should downsize their four-bedroom house by half.”
  • Move to a lower-tax state. “And finally, they should move to New Hampshire, which has no state income tax.”

The result:

This retirement makeover will make an amazing difference. In fact, it will more than double the Smith’s sustainable retirement spending! Under their original plan, the Smiths could afford to spend $5,337 per month in addition to covering their housing costs and taxes. Under the new plan, they can spend $11,819 per month in addition. That’s a ginormous increase and adds up to a $1,578,374 increase in lifetime spending measured in present value. In other words, the new plan amounts to handing the Smiths a bag filled with around $1.5 million in cash. This is money magic, pure and simple.

Now, I’m not sure I would use the term “magic”, but these are readily-available choices and the numbers come from the author’s MaxiFi retirement planning software. Living in a two-bedroom condo instead of a four-bedroom house is not the same experience, but at least you should explore it and weigh the costs and benefits. Using single premium immediate annuities to supplement Social Security is a way to guarantee income, and they are the simplest and most transparent form of annuities that are easy to comparison shop directly. I bet that significant percentage of retirees don’t even run a free, no-obligation quote.

I enjoying finding and thinking about the levers in my life. Even if not financially-optimal, it feels good to make a conscious choice and know that your actions matter. I know that I could have made more money by moving to a different state with better job opportunities, lower taxes, and/or lower cost of living. I know that I could have bought a bigger house, but also a much smaller house.

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.

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day: Published 100+ Years Ago, Still Practical Advice Today

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Either Jonathan Clements or Jason Zweig (both long-time, award-winning personal finance columnists) once wrote that personal finance writing was all about finding the 1,000th different way to discuss the same five basic concepts. Early in the book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett, first published in 1908, is the following mention of their professional ancestors:

Newspapers are full of articles explaining how to live on such-and-such a sum, and these articles provoke a correspondence whose violence proves the interest they excite. Recently, in a daily organ, a battle raged round the question whether a woman can exist nicely in the country on £85 a year.

100 years later, we have the exact same debates. 100 years later, financial freedom is still whether you control how you spend your time. Work is still trading your life energy (time) for money, and financial freedom means creating a different source of money so you can stop trading your life energy (time) away. We are all given 24 hours a day.

You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions.

For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive.

This may also sound familiar:

Which of us is not saying to himself—which of us has not been saying to himself all his life: “I shall alter that when I have a little more time”?

I assumed that this would be a philosophical book, but was pleasantly surprised at the amount of practical and actionable advice inside. Please read the book for the full and original message; I am crudely paraphrasing below.

Notice that you want more out of life. I call this the “itch”. The “itch” is what makes people seek out and devour information about financial freedom.

If we further analyse our vague, uneasy aspiration, we shall, I think, see that it springs from a fixed idea that we ought to do something in addition to those things which we are loyally and morally obliged to do. We are obliged, by various codes written and unwritten, to maintain ourselves and our families (if any) in health and comfort, to pay our debts, to save, to increase our prosperity by increasing our efficiency. A task sufficiently difficult! A task which very few of us achieve! A task often beyond our skill! Yet, if we succeed in it, as we sometimes do, we are not satisfied; the skeleton is still with us.

And such is, indeed, the fact. The wish to accomplish something outside their formal programme is common to all men who in the course of evolution have risen past a certain level.

Realize that even with a full-time job, you DO have control over part of your day. Most of us will spend at least a couple decades working 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week while building up those other income sources. However, even if you spend 10 hours a day working/commuting and 8 hours a day sleeping/eating/grooming, that still leaves 6 hours where you are free to do millions of different things. (Caregivers of young children and/or other family members: I know.) The point is, if you consciously spend even a fraction of that time on an invigorating activity, you can feel better about your entire life.

If my typical man wishes to live fully and completely he must, in his mind, arrange a day within a day. And this inner day, a Chinese box in a larger Chinese box, must begin at 6 p.m. and end at 10 a.m. It is a day of sixteen hours; and during all these sixteen hours he has nothing whatever to do but cultivate his body and his soul and his fellow men. During those sixteen hours he is free; he is not a wage-earner; he is not preoccupied with monetary cares; he is just as good as a man with a private income.

If a man makes two-thirds of his existence subservient to one-third, for which admittedly he has no absolutely feverish zest, how can he hope to live fully and completely? He cannot.

Spend 30 minutes each weekday morning doing meditation and/or mindfulness training. Either wake up a bit earlier, or use your commute. Training your mind is a worthwhile activity and strengthens it like a muscle. You will be more patient and focused with your co-workers, your kids, and yourself.

People say: “One can’t help one’s thoughts.” But one can. The control of the thinking machine is perfectly possible. And since nothing whatever happens to us outside our own brain; since nothing hurts us or gives us” pleasure except within the brain, the supreme importance of being able to control what goes on in that mysterious brain is patent. Hence, it seems to me, the first business of the day should be to put the mind through its paces […]

When you leave your house, concentrate your mind on a subject (no matter what, to begin with). You will not have gone ten yards before your mind has skipped away under your very eyes and is larking round the corner with another subject. Bring it back by the scruff of the neck. Ere you have reached the station you will have brought it back about forty times. Do not despair. Continue. Keep it up. You will succeed. […]

I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts. But still, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and concentrate on something useful. I suggest—it is only a suggestion—a little chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

Set aside 90 minutes per evening, three weeknights a week. During this time, you must find something that challenges your curiosity and makes you excited! If you pick the right activity, it will give you energy, not make you more tired. You might learn to rock climb, play tennis, rehearse for a community theater role, ballroom dance, read poetry, anything. You must consciously choose this activity and persevere with it for 3 months. It’s hard to break old habits, so that is why it is only for every other day.

But remember, at the start, those ninety nocturnal minutes thrice a week must be the most important minutes in the ten thousand and eighty. They must be sacred, quite as sacred as a dramatic rehearsal or a tennis match. Instead of saying, “Sorry I can’t see you, old chap, but I have to run off to the tennis club,” you must say, “…but I have to work.” This, I admit, is intensely difficult to say. Tennis is so much more urgent than the immortal soul.

On your commute home, spend some time reflecting. What are the principles that you chose to live by? Are your actions aligned with those principles? If not, how can we fix that?

What leads to the permanent sorrowfulness of burglars is that their principles are contrary to burglary. If they genuinely believed in the moral excellence of burglary, penal servitude would simply mean so many happy years for them; all martyrs are happy, because their conduct and their principles agree.

We do not reflect. I mean that we do not reflect upon genuinely important things; upon the problem of our happiness, upon the main direction in which we are going, upon what life is giving to us, upon the share which reason has (or has not) in determining our actions, and upon the relation between our principles and our conduct.

Bottom line. Give it some modern edits, a snazzy book cover, and a powerful media blitz, and the 1908 short book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett could be a modern bestseller. Don’t wait until retirement to scratch those itches. By carefully changing how you spend specifically selected hours a week and consciously choosing activities that excite, strengthen, and invigorate you, you can improve your entire life today. (The book doesn’t touch your weekends.) As the copyright has expired, you can read it for free via Project Gutenberg (or search on Libby). A final spicy quote:

If you are not prepared for discouragements and disillusions; if you will not be content with a small result for a big effort, then do not begin. Lie down again and resume the uneasy doze which you call your existence.

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.

Improving Your Everyday Negotiating Skills (Never Split The Difference Book Notes)

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Initially, I viewed Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss as a tactical financial book for specific situations: buying a car, negotiating a salary, buying a home, renegotiating rent, or any number of business transactions. After all, the author is the “FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator”!

Instead of a win/lose mentality, this book helps you find out what the other person really wants overall, what they will accept specifically within your own acceptable range, and to do it in a way that everyone feels respected. I found myself using the advice every day for all the little negotiations in life: getting the kids out the door in the morning, finding out why someone was mad at me, and so on. Admittedly, I had (and still have) a lot of room for improvement, but this book helped improve my communication and listening skills. I highly recommend reading the entire book, but here are a few selected highlights and excerpts.

What are the goals after learning these skills?

What were needed were simple psychological tactics and strategies that worked in the field to calm people down, establish rapport, gain trust, elicit the verbalization of needs, and persuade the other guy of our empathy. We needed something easy to teach, easy to learn, and easy to execute.

It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there. By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing.

Mirroring. Here’s a very simple tactic that you can try today (really! try it on your very next conversation) to help get more information, called “mirroring”:

It’s almost laughably simple: for the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. Of the entirety of the FBI’s hostage negotiation skill set, mirroring is the closest one gets to a Jedi mind trick. Simple, and yet uncannily effective.

It’s just four simple steps:  

1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice.
2. Start with “I’m sorry . . .”
3. Mirror.
4. Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart.

Here’s a short YouTube video with examples.

Labeling. We want to get on the same page. People want to be heard and understood. We can try to confirm a perception gently, show that we are listening, and validate their emotions with “It seems like…” phrases.

There are fill-in-the-blank labels that can be used in nearly every situation to extract information from your counterpart, or defuse an accusation: It seems like _________ is valuable to you. It seems like you don’t like _________. It seems like you value __________. It seems like _________ makes it easier. It seems like you’re reluctant to _________. As an example, if you’re trying to renegotiate an apartment lease to allow subletters and you know the landlord is opposed to them, your prepared labels would be on the lines of “It seems as though you’re not a fan of subletters” or “It seems like you want stability with your tenants.”

Here is an example from a grouchy relative at Thanksgiving:

“We don’t see each other all that often,” you could say. “It seems like you feel like we don’t pay any attention to you and you only see us once a year, so why should you make time for us?” Notice how that acknowledges the situation and labels his sadness? Here you can pause briefly, letting him recognize and appreciate your attempts to understand what he’s feeling, and then turn the situation around by offering a positive solution. “For us this is a real treat. We want to hear what you have to talk about. We want to value this time with you because we feel left out of your life.”

“How” and “What” questions are much more gentle and respectful ways to guide the conversation along. It frames it is as a collaborative effort and asking for help, not being accusatory or demanding was “Why”.

Here are some other great standbys that I use in almost every negotiation, depending on the situation:  

What about this is important to you?
How can I help to make this better for us?
How would you like me to proceed?
What is it that brought us into this situation?  
How can we solve this problem?  
How am I supposed to do that?

Instead of “No”:

The first step in the “No” series is the old standby: “How am I supposed to do that?” You have to deliver it in a deferential way, so it becomes a request for help. Properly delivered, it invites the other side to participate in your dilemma and solve it with a better offer. After that, some version of “Your offer is very generous, I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me” is an elegant second way to say “No.”

Used properly, these little things can really improve your everyday life. Learning about “negotiating” doesn’t mean you like fighting or painful conflict, it can actually mean less painful conflict:

If this book accomplishes only one thing, I hope it gets you over that fear of conflict and encourages you to navigate it with empathy. If you’re going to be great at anything—a great negotiator, a great manager, a great husband, a great wife—you’re going to have to do that. You’re going to have to ignore that little genie who’s telling you to give up, to just get along—as well as that other genie who’s telling you to lash out and yell.

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.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (Book Notes)

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Even though I spend a lot of time online reading through forums, blogs, e-mail newsletters, substacks, and so on, I don’t spend much time on Twitter or Facebook. Slowly reading a detailed review or educational article is one thing, but 100 different people making short, forceful, absolute statements within 5 minutes quickly overwhelms me. There is surely a lot of good discussion, but in a terribly noisy room.

I checked out How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell for a different perspective. This blurb was intriguing:

Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. And we must actively and continuously choose how we use it. We might not spend it on things that capitalism has deemed important … but once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.

While I didn’t agree with many of the arguments made in the book, as usual I just tried to find what was useful to me and leave the rest.

What is meant by the goal to “do nothing”?

The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.

From either a social or ecological perspective, the ultimate goal of “doing nothing” is to wrest our focus from the attention economy and replant it in the public, physical realm.

What are we trying to avoid?

But the villain here is not necessarily the Internet, or even the idea of social media; it is the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction.

Here’s what I want to escape. To me, one of the most troubling ways social media has been used in recent years is to foment waves of hysteria and fear, both by news media and by users themselves.

Meanwhile, media companies continue churning out deliberately incendiary takes, and we’re so quickly outraged by their headlines that we can’t even consider the option of not reading and sharing them.

People read a tweet or a headline, react, and click a button—thousands and millions of times over in a matter of days. I can’t help but liken the angry collective tweet storms to watching a flood erode a landscape with no ground-cover plants to slow it down. The natural processes of context and attention are lost. But from the point of view of Twitter’s financial model, the storm is nothing but a bounteous uptick in engagement.

An short bit about John Muir, “Father of the National Parks”:

Muir had already developed a love of botany, but it was being temporarily blinded by an eye accident that made him re-evaluate his priorities. The accident confined him to a darkened room for six weeks, during which he was unsure whether he would ever see again. The 1916 edition of The Writings of John Muir is divided into two parts, one before the accident and one after, each with its own introduction by William Frederic Badè. In the second introduction, Badè writes that this period of reflection convinced Muir that “life was too brief and uncertain, and time too precious, to waste upon belts and saws; that while he was pottering in a wagon factory, God was making a world; and he determined that, if his eyesight was spared, he would devote the remainder of his life to a study of the process.” Muir himself said, “This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields.”

On Epicurus, “epicurean”, and unhappiness:

More generally, Epicurus observed that people in modern society ran in circles, unaware of the source of their unhappiness:

“Everywhere you can find men who live for empty desires and have no interest in the good life. Stupid fools are those who are never satisfied with what they possess, but only lament what they cannot have.”

Quite contrary to the modern-day meaning of the word epicurean—often associated with decadent and plentiful food—what the school of Epicurus taught was that man actually needed very little to be happy, as long as he had recourse to reason and the ability to limit his desires.

On giving others (and ourselves) space to change our minds:

This is one of the things I find the most absurd about our current social media, since it’s completely normal and human to change our minds, even about big things. Think about it: Would you want to be friends with someone who never changed their mind about anything?

But because apologizing and changing our minds online is so often framed as a weakness, we either hold our tongues or risk ridicule.

Weird stuff happens when attention = money. Creating hate = attention = money. Creating dissatisfaction = attention = money. Creating distraction = attention = money.

There are many things going on in the book, but I support physically go outside and hang out with people in-person, and preferably both at the same time. I will put more effort towards these pursuits. (I would say it’s a cheap form of entertainment, but booking an AirBnb within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park was not cheap! 😁)

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.

The Four Core Types of Regrets + Thoughts on Financial Regrets

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According to the new book The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Dan Pink, only 1% of people say they never feel regret. Here are the most in-depth articles from the media tour: WaPo, BBC, Atlantic.

In 2020, the author Daniel Pink launched the World Regret Survey, the largest survey on the topic ever undertaken. With his research team, Pink asked more than 15,000 people in 105 countries, “How often do you look back on your life and wish you had done things differently?” Eighty-two percent said regret is at least an occasional part of their life; roughly 21 percent said they feel regret “all the time.” Only 1 percent said they never feel regret.

In the book, Pink identifies these four core types of regret:

  • Foundation regrets involves an irresponsible choice that changed the course of your life. This includes not saving enough money for retirement, not taking care of your health by eating well and exercising, or not putting in proper effort at school or work.
  • Boldness regrets come from being too cautious, and not taking certain risks. This includes staying in a “safe” job instead of going for a career changes more suited to you, or not asking out someone you liked on a date.
  • Moral regrets are when you don’t live up to your own values. You cheated, bullied, lost your temper, or didn’t stand up for something.
  • Connection regrets deal with lost relationships with family members, friends or colleagues. Too often, this happens due to neglect and passivity.

I used to think of regrets as equivalent to mistakes. In our household, we try to look at mistakes as a positive opportunity to “make your brain grow bigger”. This way, they are less afraid of trying something new or challenging. Regrets are simply mistakes, so we should just learn from them and move on, right?

However, now I see regrets as a special sort of mistake. They involve looking at the past and imagining different outcomes. Over time, you realize what kinds of choices are likely to lead to regrets, and what won’t. This can help guide you towards better future decisions. To me, the phrase “no regrets” doesn’t mean I don’t have any regrets. It means I know what will cause regret, and so I do things to avoid it. For example:

  • I won’t regret ditching a little bit of work for dedicated one-on-one time with a child. If you have kids, read The Family Board Meeting.
  • I won’t regret saving a few months of expenses to ride out life’s inevitable bumps.
  • I won’t regret waiting 24 hours to send that angry e-mail.
  • I won’t regret reaching out to a friend, whether it is because you need it or they need it.
  • I won’t regret taking the time to show or tell someone “I love you”.
  • I am much more likely to regret not taking a chance, than taking a risk and failing. In many cases, the downside isn’t so bad, while the upside could be limitless.

In terms of financially-related regrets, the two big ones are the foundational regret “I wish I saved more money when I was younger” and the boldness regret “I wish to took the risk to pursue a career better aligned to my personality and interests”.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27% of college graduates work in a field related to their major. Career paths are long and winding these days. I remembering choosing my college major when I was 17 years old, since some colleges make you pick on your application. Even though I questioned my choice after a few years in college, I felt the “sunk cost” bias and didn’t want to risk the additional time, effort, and tuition to try and change majors. I was also “good” at the major, and so I kept going. That is one of my personal regrets.

In my view, finding the right career path where you get the trifecta of “I am good at this”, “I like doing this”, and “I get paid well for doing this” is like having a jetpack on your pursuit of financial independence. Once you have a job where you wake up and actually look forward to go to work and there is a small but increasing gap between income and expenses, you are ready to blast off and start compounding. You could try and pursue financial independence with a job that is missing any one of those three factors, but the journey will feel like a slow grind instead.

Eventually, the fact that I was missing the “I like doing this” starting bugging me enough, and I was ready to quit and go back to school. But the first thing I had to do was save up a year of expenses (also helped by minimizing those expenses). That little money cushion gave me the courage to make the leap. The “ROI” on that “emergency fund” was more than any index fund or rental property. So that’s what I plan to tell my kids: When you’re young, live simply and always create a cash cushion so that you can keep searching for the jetpack trifecta. This will minimize your financial regrets.

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.

Anthony Bourdain: Not Too Late to Change Your Direction

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[Programming note: Posting will be light through the end of the year. Hope you have a restful and rejuvenating holiday season!]

The WSJ article Anthony Bourdain: Feast of Memory (link should bypass paywall as I am a WSJ subscriber) briefly highlights four different books that all explore his life and legacy from different perspectives:

So far, I’ve only finished the first one. This observation hit close to home:

At the news of his death, millions of people mourned—and not the way that we mourn a commodity celebrity, with a sharp breath of sorrow and a fleeting salute and a sad-face post on social media. Millions of people mourned Bourdain the way you mourn a friend: primal, personal, disbelieving, unreal, unhealed.

A good Bourdain quote:

“I used to think that basically, the whole world, that all humanity were basically bastards,” he tells John W. Little, in a 2014 interview for Blogs of War. “I’ve since found that most people seem to be pretty nice—basically good people doing the best they can.”

On being an enthusiast:

I’m passionate to the point of being evangelical about things that I love, that give me pleasure, and make me excited. And, um, you know I didn’t really travel until I was forty-two years old, I spent my whole life in kitchens. I’d seen nothing of the world. So, this is all still relatively new to me. People have been very kind to me. I feel very, very, very fortunate.

[…] I don’t feel like I’m an advocate, or a spokesperson for anything. I’m just, you know, I’m an enthusiastic son of a bitch.

Bourdain made a huge dent in the world after the age of 44. I took special notice that he didn’t publish his breakout book Kitchen Confidential until he was 44 years old. He wrote the book as memoir of sorts, by someone who felt at the end of his career. I am now 43 years old. I also feel at the end of some things, and smack in the middle of other things. Perhaps the trick is to also feel at the beginning of something new.

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.

Digital Minimalism Book Review: Parallels With Time and Money Management

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I initially stopped reading the NY Times bestseller Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport midway through because it seemed to target a problem that I did not have – I don’t spend much time on social media and deliberately avoid the front page news cycle. However, I’m glad that I went back as it contained many useful parallels with time management and financial independence.

Here is my favorite definition of digital minimalism:

A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.

Read that quote again but remove “of technology” and “online”, and isn’t that just a good philosophy for life in general?

This thought process also aligns with the book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals:

A truly practical approach to making the best use of time demands that we stop trying to deny the undeniable, acknowledging not merely that we might not get around to everything but that we definitely never will. That we’re guaranteed to have to abandon certain ambitions, disappoint certain people and drop certain balls in order to make time for doing a few things that count.

I also appreciated this description of the digital maximalist:

Notice, this minimalist philosophy contrasts starkly with the maximalist philosophy that most people deploy by default—a mind-set in which any potential for benefit is enough to start using a technology that catches your attention. A maximalist is very uncomfortable with the idea that anyone might miss out on something that’s the least bit interesting or valuable.

Put another way: minimalists don’t mind missing out on small things; what worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make a good life good.

This comparison of minimalism vs. maximalism was the most useful part of the book for me. You can apply it to everything – your monthly spending, your collection of clothes/gadgets/stuff, the food you consume, how you spend your time every day. Minimalism is about where to draw the line, and how that line is probably closer to “less” than you think.

Happily missing out. I am working to identify my maximalist tendencies, and I like the phrase “happily missing out” as the opposite of FOMO. Instead of trying to moderate your use on something that isn’t clearly awesome, it’s easier to simply cut it out completely. Delete the app from your phone. Cancel the subscription. Don’t let the junk food enter you home. End the toxic relationship. Get rid of the widget that didn’t work out (even if it was expensive). Sell the regrettable investment (even at a loss). After the initial shock, I usually end up saying “Why didn’t I do that earlier?”

If you are interested in changing your tech habits, here’s the basic actionable strategy of the book:

  • Perform a 30-day “Digital Declutter” where you completely stop using social media and other optional digital apps.
  • During this reset, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful. Socialize in-person, spend time alone without your phone, build something with your hands.
  • After 30 days, reintroduce the apps carefully into your life one-by-one. They should only return if they are the best way to help you achieve something you deeply value.

Even this could have parallels to personal finance:

  • Perform a 30-day “Expense Fast” where you stop every optional expense.
  • Experiment by replacing your expenses with alternatives. Think of ways to eat everything edible that is already in your house. Realize that you have 10 different subscriptions and you don’t need them all. Walk outside instead of the gym. Ask someone to walk with you. Talk with an old friend on the phone. Don’t buy a single piece of new clothing.
  • After 30 days, reintroduce each expense life one-by-one. Some things you may realize should be a high priority. That’s good. Some things you may realize are low priority. Happily spend your money on the high priority items, and happily miss out on the rest.
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.

Four Thousand Weeks: Productivity Trap, Gratitude, and Paying Yourself First (Book Highlights)

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Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman is a relatively short book filled with thought-provoking observations about the constant pressure that we feel, how there never seems to be enough time to accomplish the things that we really want. I can work from home while having almost anything delivered to my doorstep with a few taps, but somehow I still feel exhausted. Upon finishing, my Kindle showed 156 (!) highlighted passages, but I’ve whittled that down to a dozen of my favorites below. Don’t have time for even that? Here is the entire book condensed to a single sentence:

You have to choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.

Free yourself from the productivity trap.

The problem isn’t exactly that these techniques and products don’t work. It’s that they do work—in the sense that you’ll get more done, race to more meetings, ferry your kids to more after-school activities, generate more profit for your employer—and yet, paradoxically, you only feel busier, more anxious, and somehow emptier as a result.

…by any sane logic, in a world with dishwashers, microwaves, and jet engines, time ought to feel more expansive and abundant, thanks to all the hours freed up. But this is nobody’s actual experience. Instead, life accelerates, and everyone grows more impatient.

Convenience culture seduces us into imagining that we might find room for everything important by eliminating only life’s tedious tasks. But it’s a lie.

Fellow financial freedom enthusiasts should appreciate this quote:

As a result, they work harder and harder, and soon busyness becomes an emblem of prestige. Which is clearly completely absurd: for almost the whole of history, the entire point of being rich was not having to work so much.

Gratitude. Don’t start from a place of entitlement. Shift your perspective so that you start from a position of gratitude. Every day is a gift.

Why assume that an infinite supply of time is the default, and mortality the outrageous violation? Or to put it another way, why treat four thousand weeks as a very small number, because it’s so tiny compared with infinity, rather than treating it as a huge number, because it’s so many more weeks than if you had never been born?

…if it’s amazing to have been granted any being at all—if “your whole life is borrowed time,” as Cain realized, watching news reports of the Danforth Avenue shootings—then wouldn’t it make more sense to speak not of having to make such choices, but of getting to make them? From this viewpoint, the situation starts to seem much less regrettable: each moment of decision becomes an opportunity to select from an enticing menu of possibilities, when you might easily never have been presented with the menu to begin with. And it stops making sense to pity yourself for having been cheated of all the other options.

In this state of mind, you can embrace the fact that you’re forgoing certain pleasures, or neglecting certain obligations, because whatever you’ve decided to do instead—earn money to support your family, write your novel, bathe the toddler, pause on a hiking trail to watch a pale winter sun sink below the horizon at dusk—is how you’ve chosen to spend a portion of time that you never had any right to expect.

Personal finance parallels: Pay yourself first in both money and time.

If you take a portion of your paycheck the day you receive it and squirrel it away into savings or investments, or use it for paying off debts, you’ll probably never feel the absence of that cash; you’ll go about your business—buying your groceries, paying your bills—precisely as if you’d never had that portion of money to begin with. (There are limits, of course: this plan won’t work if you literally earn only enough to survive.) But if, like most people, you “pay yourself last” instead—buying what you need and hoping there’ll be some money remaining at the end to put into savings—you’ll usually find that there isn’t any.

The same logic, Abel points out, applies to time. If you try to find time for your most valued activities by first dealing with all the other important demands on your time, in the hope that there’ll be some left over at the end, you’ll be disappointed.

After years of trying and failing to make time for her illustration work, by taming her to-do list and shuffling her schedule, Abel saw that her only viable option was to claim time instead—to just start drawing, for an hour or two, every day, and to accept the consequences, even if those included neglecting other activities she sincerely valued. “If you don’t save a bit of your time for you, now, out of every week,” as she puts it, “there is no moment in the future when you’ll magically be done with everything and have loads of free time.”

Slow the rest down.

Just as there will be a final occasion on which I pick up my son—a thought that appalls me, but one that’s hard to deny, since I surely won’t be doing it when he’s thirty—there will be a last time that you visit your childhood home, or swim in the ocean, or make love, or have a deep conversation with a certain close friend. Yet usually there’ll be no way to know, in the moment itself, that you’re doing it for the last time. Harris’s point is that we should therefore try to treat every such experience with the reverence we’d show if it were the final instance of it. And indeed there’s a sense in which every moment of life is a “last time.”

I’ve probably watched too many time-altering movies, but I’ve started doing this weird thing where I imagine this is the last day of my life, except I’m not allowed to tell anyone. Somehow, it really does change my perspective and helps me enjoy the moment. It makes you take more pleasure in the mundane. I’m old enough that there has been the “last time” I’ve ever had dinner with multiple friends or relatives. I’ve now changed the last diaper on all three of my children, fed them their last bowl of mush, and so on. 😢

This quote is a good reminder:

“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up,” Herzen says. “But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment … Life’s bounty is in its flow. Later is too late.”

I’ve been implementing many of these various happiness/perspective tips and they do seem to help, at least for a while, but the long-term effectiveness is still unknown.

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.

Practical Time Management: The Won’t Do List vs. Must Do List

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80 years times 50 weeks a year is 4,000 weeks. If we’re lucky, that means we’ll have about 4,000 Mondays, 4,000 Saturdays, and that’s it. I’ve started reading Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman, which suggests that all those productivity hacks look at this number the wrong way. “If only you did X, you could fit in Y more stuff into your day and then you’ll be happy!” But the more likely result is that even if you do X, and fit in Y more stuff, you’ll remain just as stressed and unsatisfied.

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandkids would work just 15 hours a week due to increases in productivity. Well, the productivity per worker did increase, but we still work close to the same number of hours per week. We can have food delivered to our door with an few taps, but how many of us feel an abundance of free time? Even worse, we are “busy” but not because we are working on the things we want to be working on. We have an ever-growing “some day” list, so that we won’t have to face the truth that it is actually the “never” list.

So what’s the solution? This FT article Endless to-do list? Here’s how not to waste your life is an excerpt from the book. Here’s a good quote:

A truly practical approach to making the best use of time demands that we stop trying to deny the undeniable, acknowledging not merely that we might not get around to everything but that we definitely never will. That we’re guaranteed to have to abandon certain ambitions, disappoint certain people and drop certain balls in order to make time for doing a few things that count.

In the words of the creativity coach Jessica Abel, borrowing an insight from the world of personal finance, that means “paying yourself first” when it comes to time. What she means is doing at least a little of what you care about now, as opposed to banking on finding time for it in the future, once the decks are clear and life’s duties are out of the way. Life’s duties will never be out of the way. And so if you really mean it when you say you’d like to write a novel or spend more of your time with your ageing parents or fighting climate change, at some point you’re just going to have to start doing it.

We need to remind ourselves to drop the relatively unimportant things in order to elevate the truly important ones.

Turning this into something little more concrete, here is my proposal:

  • Won’t Do List. Identify 2-3 lesser things that “would be nice” to do, but will simply end up a distraction from the really important things. Give them up. Leave them off your To Do list forever.
  • Must Do List. Identify one thing that you really want to do but have been putting off for too long. Do it for an hour early in the day, even if it pushes other things out of the way. You must work on it, even a little. It’ll probably be hard, which is why you put it off earlier. You may even discover that you really don’t want to do it after all, but at least now you know and can move on. (This is similar to the Charlie Munger “work for yourself an hour each day” advice.)

On a daily basis, I try to cut out the following things to add some time to my day. I haven’t solved my huge pile of e-mail, but I have given up on “Inbox Zero”, check it less often, and am more at peace that I will miss some things the first time around. This isn’t right for everyone, but I also limit myself to an average of 15 minutes a day on Twitter, 5 minutes on Instagram, and zero minutes on Facebook and TikTok. Social media just reminds me of junk food that tastes great in the moment but has little nutrition and I’m hungry again in 20 minutes. I believe Twitter has the most useful information, but filtering can be time-consuming. (I need Instagram to know where my favorite food trucks are at.) I finally decided cut cable TV and gave up following most live sports in 2020. I will miss watching it, but it does free up a lot of time.

Bottom line. You can’t have it all. Don’t fit more in. Cut things out, and lift a few key things up. The finance/time analogy is that you can afford nearly any one thing, but you can’t afford everything. Trying to do everything will keep you “busy” until you run out of weeks:

(image credit: Financial Times)

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.

The Gift by Edith Eger: Combat Victimhood. Be Ready For Change. Forgive. Take The Risk.

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Edith Eger was only a teenager when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. She never saw her father and mother again. While she showed amazing mental strength to survive those horrors, it took her decades more before should could fully process and heal. I’ve seen her book The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life on multiple reading lists, and now I understand why. She provides a new lens to view your own traumatic experiences and useful insights on how you can escape the prison of your own mind:

Eger explains that the worst prison she experienced is not the prison that Nazis put her in but the one she created for herself, the prison within her own mind. She describes the twelve most pervasive imprisoning beliefs she has known—including fear, grief, anger, secrets, stress, guilt, shame, and avoidance—and the tools she has discovered to deal with these universal challenges.

I should warn you that this book describes some very graphic traumatic events that she and her patients have experienced. It will likely trigger some emotional memories of your own personal traumas, so be prepared and choose carefully when and where you read this book. (Not a light beach read in public!)

This is not a finance book. However, money is emotional. Fear, guilt, shame, avoidance. Right now, there is a millionaire that is too afraid to spend any money. Right now, someone is buying something they can’t afford to impress someone else and not seem “lesser”. How many bills are sitting on a counter unopened, with the debtor just hoping that ignoring it will make it go away?

We spend money on food and shelter, but we also spend money to satisfy our emotional needs of affection and attention. Buying a house is an emotional purchase. Your job ends up being more than money for a task. In this context, here are a few selected book highlights:

We do not change until we’re ready.

We do not change until we’re ready. Sometimes it’s a tough circumstance—perhaps a divorce, accident, illness, or death—that forces us to face up to what isn’t working and try something else. Sometimes our inner pain or unfulfilled longing gets so loud and insistent that we can’t ignore it another minute. But readiness doesn’t come from the outside, and it can’t be rushed or forced. You’re ready when you’re ready, when something inside shifts and you decide, Until now I did that. Now I’m going to do something else.

Always replace a dysfunctional habit with a healthy one.

Change is about interrupting the habits and patterns that no longer serve us. If you want to meaningfully alter your life, you don’t simply abandon a dysfunctional habit or belief; you replace it with a healthy one. You choose what you’re moving toward. You find an arrow and follow it. As you begin your journey, it’s important to reflect not only on what you’d like to be free from, but on what you want to be free to do or become.

Take the risk! Why not?

I’d been teaching psychology at a high school in El Paso for a few years—and had even been awarded teacher of the year—when I decided to return to school for a master’s in educational psychology. One day my clinical supervisor came to me and said, “Edie, you’ve got to get a doctorate.” I laughed. “By the time I get a doctorate I’ll be fifty,” I said. “You’ll be fifty anyway.” Those are the smartest four words anyone ever said to me.

Honey, you’re going to be fifty anyway—or thirty or sixty or ninety. So you might as well take a risk. Do something you’ve never done before. Change is synonymous with growth. To grow, you’ve got to evolve instead of revolve.

Freedom is about becoming your true self.

Finally, when you change your life, it isn’t to become the new you. It’s to become the real you—the one-of-a-kind diamond that will never exist again and can never be replaced. Everything that’s happened to you—all the choices you’ve made until now, all the ways you’ve tried to cope—it all matters; it’s all useful. You don’t have to throw everything out and start from scratch. Whatever you’ve done, it’s brought you this far, to this moment.

Much of our suffering stems from our misconception that we can’t be loved and genuine—that if we are to earn others’ acceptance and approval, we must deny or hide our true selves.

Survivors vs. victims.

In my experience, victims ask, “Why me?” Survivors ask, “What now?”

Suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional.

We’re going to be affected by environmental and genetic factors over which we have little or no control. But we each get to choose whether or not we stay a victim. We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond to our experience.

I’ve skipped many more highlights for dealing with more personal issues. This a great book on helping you deal with your own mind prisons. It was hard to ask myself all these questions, and I didn’t always like the answers, but it definitely taught me some things about myself and my framing of past issues.

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.

Richer, Wiser, Happier: Notes From 40+ Super Investors NOT Named Warren Buffett

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It was very telling that the first chapter of Richer, Wiser, Happier: How the World’s Greatest Investors Win in Markets and Life by William Green was a profile of Mohnish Pabrai. In other words, not Warren Buffett! If you aren’t a student of value investing, then you probably have never even heard of him before. He is best known for a being a “clone” investor.

“I’m a shameless copycat,” he says. “Everything in my life is cloned.… I have no original ideas.” Consciously, systematically, and with irrepressible delight, he has mined the minds of Buffett, Munger, and others not only for investment wisdom but for insights on how to manage his business, avoid mistakes, build his brand, give away money, approach relationships, structure his time, and construct a happy life.

That descriptor always seemed a bit derogatory, but after reading more about Pabrai in this book, I grew quite a lot of appreciation and respect for his approach. If you also like collecting outside wisdom (especially about investing) and incorporating into your life, you will likely enjoy this book as well. Green is an excellent writer and journalist that has managed to interview over 40 of the world’s greatest investors (many of which I’d never heard of until now), and this became the most heavily-highlighted book in my Kindle. Here are a fraction of them:

Mohnish Pabrai

Rule 1: Clone like crazy. Rule 2: Hang out with people who are better than you. Rule 3: Treat life as a game, not as a survival contest or a battle to the death. Rule 4: Be in alignment with who you are; don’t do what you don’t want to do or what’s not right for you. Rule 5: Live by an inner scorecard; don’t worry about what others think of you; don’t be defined by external validation.

Cloning Buffett, who once showed him the blank pages of his little black diary, Pabrai keeps his calendar virtually empty so he can spend most of his time reading and studying companies. On a typical day at the office, he schedules a grand total of zero meetings and zero phone calls. One of his favorite quotes is from the philosopher Blaise Pascal: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” […] He says it helps that his investment staff consists of a single person: him. “The moment you have people on your team, they’re going to want to act and do things, and then you’re hosed.”

John Templeton

To his credit, Templeton was especially demanding of himself. Take his attitude toward saving and spending. “After my education, I had absolutely no money and neither did my bride,” he told me. “So we deliberately saved fifty cents out of every dollar we earned.”

Distrustful of debt, he always paid cash for his cars and homes. He also claimed that his wartime bet was the only time he ever borrowed money to invest. During the Great Depression he’d seen how easy it was for overextended people to come undone, and he regarded fiscal discipline as a moral virtue.

Howard Marks

“Look, luck is not enough,” he says. “But equally, intelligence is not enough, hard work is not enough, and even perseverance is not necessarily enough. You need some combination of all four.

He plans to work indefinitely because he finds it intellectually rewarding, not because he has an “unquenchable” thirst for money or status. He recalls his Japanese studies professor explaining a Buddhist teaching that “you have to break the chain of getting and wanting”—an aimless cycle of craving that leads inevitably to suffering.

Irving Kahn

Kahn became Graham’s teaching assistant at Columbia in the 1920s, and they remained friends for decades. I wanted to know what he’d learned from Graham that had helped him to prosper during his eighty-six years in the financial markets. Kahn’s answer: “Investing is about preserving more than anything. That must be your first thought, not looking for large gains. If you achieve only reasonable returns and suffer minimal losses, you will become a wealthy man and will surpass any gambler friends you may have. This is also a good way to cure your sleeping problems.”

Just think for a moment about those basic ingredients that helped to make for a richly rewarding life. Family, health, challenging and useful work, which involved serving his clients well by compounding their savings conservatively over decades. And learning—particularly from Graham, an investment prophet who, Kahn said, “taught me how to study companies and succeed through research as opposed to luck or happenstance.”

Joel Greenblatt

This raises an obvious but crucial question: Do you know how to value a business? There’s nothing admirable or shameful about your response. But you and I need to answer this question honestly, since self-delusion is a costly habit in extreme sports such as skydiving and stock picking. “It’s a very small fraction of people that can value businesses—and if you can’t do that, I don’t think you should be investing on your own,” says Greenblatt. “How can you invest intelligently if you can’t figure out what something is worth?”

These experiences have led him to an important revelation: “For most individuals, the best strategy is not the one that’s going to get you the highest return.” Rather, the ideal is “a good strategy that you can stick with” even “in bad times.”

Charlie Munger

Munger often preaches about the importance of avoiding behavior with marginal upside and devastating downside. He once observed, “Three things ruin people: drugs, liquor, and leverage.”

Asked for career advice, he opines: “You have to play in a game where you’ve got some unusual talents. If you’re five foot one, you don’t want to play basketball against some guy who’s eight foot three. It’s just too hard. So you’ve got to figure out a game where you have an advantage, and it has to be something that you’re deeply interested in.”

Survivorship bias! I would say that one of the dangers of this book is that it may make you want to be a stock picker. All of the people profiled are probably have a net worth of over $50 million if not much more. Many made a few bold bets, and they paid off big. I want an oceanfront house in Newport Beach, my own private jet, and a vintage car to drive across Asia too!

The rewards for investing intelligently are so extravagant that the business attracts many brilliant minds.

Beating the market means being different. Can you make “unconventional bets that the crowd would consider foolish”? Are you a good fit for the “bizarrely lucrative discipline of sitting alone in a room and occasionally buying a mispriced stock”? Do you have enough humility to make a good judgment, mixed with the self-confidence to bet big when you think you have an edge?

Even if you think you do, survivorship bias reminds us that there are many, many highly-intelligent, hard-working people who tried their best to apply these concepts, but did not succeed. They are missing from the pages of this book, and you’ll never read their stories.

The true goal is independence. The good news is that you don’t need be a great stock picker. Even if you just invest in low-cost index funds and can stick with it, you can do quite well and still achieve the ability to be independent and become in control of your time on Earth.

Buffett said, “If you’re even a slightly above average investor who spends less than you earn, over a lifetime you cannot help but get very wealthy.”

Howard Marks: “Most people should index most of their money.”

The pattern is clear. In their own ways, Greenblatt, Buffett, Bogle, Danoff, and Miller have all been seekers of simplicity. The rest of us should follow suit. We each need a simple and consistent investment strategy that works well over time—one that we understand and believe in strongly enough that we’ll adhere to it faithfully through good times and bad.

“You build capital and then you can do whatever you want because you’re independent.” For many of the most successful investors I’ve interviewed, that freedom to construct a life that aligns authentically with their passions and peculiarities may be the single greatest luxury that money can buy.

p.s. Here is a list of the people profiled in this book; I can’t guarantee I got all of them but it’s definitely close. A good source for additional research.

  • Sir John Templeton
  • Irving Kahn
  • Bill Ruane
  • Marty Whitman
  • Jack Bogle
  • Charlie Munger
  • Ed Thorp
  • Howard Marks
  • Joel Greenblatt
  • Bill Miller
  • Mohnish Pabrai
  • Tom Gayner
  • Guy Spier
  • Fred Martin
  • Ken Shubin Stein
  • Matthew McLennan
  • Jeffrey Gundlach
  • Francis Chou
  • Thyra Zerhusen
  • Thomas Russo
  • Chuck Akre
  • Li Lu
  • Peter Lynch
  • Pat Dorsey
  • Michael Price
  • Mason Hawkins
  • Bill Ackman
  • Jeff Vinik
  • Mario Gabelli
  • Laura Geritz
  • Brian McMahon
  • Henry Ellenbogen
  • Donald Yacktman
  • Bill Nygren
  • Paul Lountzis
  • Jason Karp
  • Will Danoff
  • François Rochon
  • John Spears
  • Joel Tillinghast
  • Qais Zakaria
  • Nick Sleep
  • Paul Isaac
  • Mike Zapata
  • Paul Yablon
  • Whitney Tilson
  • François-Marie Wojcik
  • Sarah Ketterer
  • Christopher Davis
  • Raamdeo Agrawal
  • Arnold Van Den Berg
  • Mariko Gordon
  • Jean-Marie Eveillard
  • Guy Spier
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.

Greenlights: Why Matthew McConaughey Turned Down A $14.5 Million Paycheck

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Matthew McConaughey was productive during the pandemic, collecting his diaries and reflecting on his life so far to complete the NY Times bestselling memoir Greenlights. This was a highly-enjoyable book containing several great stories and providing a lot of colorful background to my limited view of this actor. I appreciated how he lived his life to avoid the thing that people regret most often on their deathbeds:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

He wasn’t one of those kids born into Hollywood, but instead a small town in West Texas. When he realized that he wanted to pursue acting, he received a great gift from his father, but it wasn’t money or connections. When McConaughey suddenly wanted to switch his college major from a pre-law to film, with the goal of pursuing acting as a career, his father replied:

“Well…Don’t half-ass it.” Of all the things my dad could have said, of all the reactions he could have had, Don’t half-ass it were the last words I expected to hear and the best words he could have ever said to me. With those words he not only gave me his blessing and consent, he gave me his approval and validation. It’s what he said and how he said it. He not only gave me privilege, he gave me honor, freedom, and responsibility. With some formidable rocket fuel in his delivery, we made a pact that day. Thanks, Pop.

Greenlight.

Interestingly, one of the defining moments of his life and professional career occurred after he became a rich, popular actor known mainly for his roles in romantic comedies – EdTV, The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch. He started to want different roles, but he couldn’t get them. He wasn’t seen as a serious actor. In order to change his position, he had to turn down multiple lucrative $$$ offers and risk being cast out of Hollywood.

…a year went by. Dozens of romantic comedy offers came my way. Only romantic comedy offers came my way. I read them out of respect but I stayed the course, stuck to the plan, and ultimately passed on them all. Just how puritanical was I about it? Well, I got a $5 million offer for two months’ work on one. I read it. I passed. Then they offered $8 million. Nope. They then offered $10 million. No, thank you. Then $12.5 million. Not this time, but…thanks. Then $14.5 million. Hmmmm…Let me reread it. And you know what? It was a better script. It was funnier, more dramatic, just an overall higher quality script than the first one I read with the $5 million offer. It was the same script, with the exact same words in it, but it was far superior to the previous ones. I declined the offer.

He was voluntarily unemployed for over a year. He passed up nearly $15 million before he finally saw a script that he felt would put him in the right direction. But once that happened, within another two years, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, the most prestigious award in his profession. I personally never noticed this gap before, but you can see it in his filmography taken from Wikipedia.

Here are some book quotes that support the notion that we all have an inner compass to follow:

I went to a voodoo shop south of New Orleans the other day . It had vials of “magic” potions stacked in columns with labels defining what they would give you: Fertility, Health, Family, Legal Help, Energy, Forgiveness, Money. Guess which column was sold out? Money. Yep, money is king currency today. Money is success. The more we have, the more successful we are, right? Even our cultural values have been financialized. Humility is not in vogue anymore, it’s too passive. We can get rich quick on an Internet scam, be an expert at nothing but everything if we say we are, get famous for our sex tape, and attain wealth, fame, rank, and power, even respect, without having a shred of competence for anything of value. It happens every day. We all want to succeed. The question we need to ask ourselves is, What is success to us? More money? Okay. A healthy family? A happy marriage? Helping others? To be famous? Spiritually sound? To express ourselves? To create art? To leave the world a better place than we found it? “What is success to me?” Continue to ask yourself that question. How are you prosperous? What is your relevance? Your answer may change over time and that’s fine, but do yourself this favor: Whatever your answer is, don’t choose anything that will jeopardize your soul. Prioritize who you are, who you want to be, and don’t spend time with anything that antagonizes your character. Don’t depend on drinking the Kool-Aid. It’s popular, tastes sweet today, but it will give you cavities tomorrow. Life is not a popularity contest. Be brave, take the hill, but first, answer the question, “What is my hill?”

An honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind, and when we lie down on ours at night, no matter who’s in our bed, we all sleep alone. The voluntary obligations are our personal Jiminy Crickets, and there are not enough cops in the entire world to police them — it’s on us.

Can we live in a way where we look forward to looking back?

Here are a few more “life lesson wisdom” quotes in his own voice:

…biology and giddyup DNA and work. Genetics and willpower. Life’s a combination. Some get the genes but never the work ethic or resilience. Others work their ass off but never had the innate ability. Others have both and never rely on the first.

You ever get in a rut? Stuck on the merry-go-round of a bad habit? I have. We are going to make mistakes — own them, make amends, and move on. Guilt and regret kill many a man before their time. Get off the ride. You are the author of the book of your life. Turn the page.

I don’t have the physical looks, charisma, or relentless energy that McConaughey exudes, but I do believe that each of us knows the path that feels right for us, that aligns with our soul, that is “true to ourselves”. Each of us has to drum up our own form of bravery to find and choose that path, even when it pays less money or gives us less power/respect/status from other people.

By the way, McConaughey’s pivot is a great example of the power of financial freedom! Before McConaughey started turning down million-dollar offers, he called up with his financial advisor and was told that he was financially solid (at least for a while). He had F- You Money. Without that, he may never have been able to win that Oscar.

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