The Best Time To Plant A Tree Is Now

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Have you heard of the “happiness curve”? According to multiple studies of life satisfaction, I am entering the unhappiest period of my life at age 40 (WaPo):

My theory is that this is simply the inverted curve of “number of humans that I am responsible for”. When you are in your 40s and early 50s, that is when you have both children and your aging parents to worry about. Younger than that, you have no kids and your parents are still healthy. Older than that and your kids are grown and you are back to being only responsible for yourself again.

In any case, I definitely feel that right now is the hardest time for me to stop and enjoy the moment. There’s always another fire to put out. Either a kid or a parent has a health issue. At the same time, I will never be younger than today.

Brendan Leonard has a great graphic is his Outside article Remember When We Were Young?:

I am reminded of the old quote (Chinese proverb?):

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

The best time to improve your financial situation is now. The best time to gather the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expected of you, is now.

I think this extends to life as well. The best time to work at building an happy and fulfilling life is now. The best time to enjoy time with my young kids is now. The best time to enjoy time with my parents is now. One day, I will look back on this period and realize it was one of the best times of my life… I just need constant reminders!!!

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Blue Zones: Financial Lessons From the World’s Oldest People

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While learning about Okinawan centenarians, I also came across the idea of Blue Zones – places where a high concentration of people live past 90 without chronic illnesses. While the eating habits of Blue Zone residents have been mentioned a lot, Richard Eisenberg of NextAvenue wrote a three-part series focusing on the financial aspects of their longevity. Here is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Rather than focusing on the residents’ diets, he reports on how the oldest people in the Blue Zones make their money last and what Americans and America can learn from this.

Here are my notes:

The Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica

  • Close-knit family structure. Rely on immediate and extended family members. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are rare.
  • Government-run public health care system with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Small government-run pension systems.
  • Low cost-of-living. Lower spending due to low consumerism. Rarely travel.
  • Rare to find elderly that own stocks or mutual funds.

Okinawa, Japan

  • They form a “moai”, which is a group of about 20 close-knit older friends who look out for each other both financially and emotionally. This acts as a replacement for assistance from blood relatives.
  • Government-run public health care system with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Low cost-of-living. Low consumerism. Low debt.

Sardinia, Italy

  • Close-knit family structure. Rely on immediate and extended family members. There are no long-term care facilities in Sardinia.
  • Government-run public health care system with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Low cost-of-living. Low spending due to self-reliant farming culture.

Ikaria, Greece

  • Close-knit family structure. Rely on immediate and extended family members. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are rare.
  • Government-run public health care system, but no long-term care program.
  • Low cost-of-living. Low consumerism. Low spending due to self-reliant farming culture.

Loma Linda, California, USA

  • Technically, the Blue Zone consists of the members of the Seventh Day Adventist religious community.
  • Close-knit religious group that helps each other out.
  • Has a culture of self-discipline, planning, and preparation.
  • Tend to be wealthier with significant investments.
  • Tend to have frugal spending habits.

Commentary. One common thing that I notice about this list is that many are small, isolated communities, either by geography (islands), ethnicity, or religion. I feel that smaller groups more acutely appreciate the advantages of helping each other out. You can have long-term trust that you will raise your kids when they are young, and they will in turn watch over you when they are adults. When you get into larger cities, people seem to separate and start worrying mostly about themselves.

Of course, a bigger version of this is government-run health care, where everyone pitches in and agrees that nobody will become destitute due to a hospital bill. The American healthcare system is so complex and ingrained with powerful inertia that the idea of efficient, transparent, high-quality healthcare remains a huge puzzle waiting be (even partially) solved.

(I’m not saying we need the same system as Japan or Greece. But even billionaire capitalists Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon realize that our bloated healthcare system is hurting our economy. Their new combined venture Haven has a goal of “simplified, high-quality and transparent health care at a reasonable cost.”)

On the smaller front, many familiar concepts still apply. Start saving early and plan ahead. Practice self-discipline in spending and lower your consumeristic appetites. If possible, move to a place where there is a lower cost-of-living. It’s so much easier to spend less when everyone around you spends a lot less! Get yourself involved in a close-knit community, whether based on blood, ethnicity, neighborhood, or religion.

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How Often Should You Cook at Home on Weeknights?

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I subscribe to a NY Times e-mail newsletter called Five Weeknight Dishes, which sends – you guessed it – five weekly “fresh dinner ideas for busy people who want something great to eat”. However, one of the recent newsletters was titled How Often Should You Cook? and you might be surprised at the answer:

One question I’ve gotten a lot since I started writing this newsletter is how many nights I cook dinner during the workweek. The answer is not five.

I typically cook a meal from scratch on two weeknights, maybe three. You don’t need to do more than that! Pick at least one recipe that makes good leftovers, doubling or stretching them with eggs, vegetables, toast or grains if necessary. Or supplement with something else in the fridge or cabinet. Dinner can be a fun, crazy mishmash; photographers will not be showing up to document the meal.

As for the other nights: My partner cooks, or occasionally we order chicken parm or go out (luxuries of urban and suburban life), or eat our preferred brand of freezer pizza with a nice big salad.

There is no single “right” answer to this question, but I still found it reassuring. I used to try to cook close to 4-5 nights per week, but now it is also closer to 2-3 nights per week. Sometimes it feels good to eat something green (or otherwise colorful), fresh, and healthy. It always feels good to share a meal with family and friends. I get the same good, wholesome feeling when I eat something where I know exactly what went into my food. It feels like hitting the reset button, and I always find that it helps keep my weight down. Saving money is secondary, but still a welcome result.

Food delivery apps are making things so convenient now, but it’s usually not very good for my bank account nor my health.

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The Lifestyle Secrets of Okinawan Centenarians

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CNN has a new series called “Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta”, and its first episode examines the lifestyles of the impressive centenarians of Okinawa, Japan.

Nearly two-thirds of the residents of Okinawa are still functioning independently at age 97. That meant they were in their own homes, cooking their own meals and living their lives fully — at nearly 100 years old!

Here are three factors noted in the show:

Ikigai. This means having a sense of purpose in life. Gupta says that one way to figure this out is to first imagine that you no longer needed to do anything for money. In that case, what would you regret not doing with your life? What do you love, and what does the world need?

ikigai

Here is a previous post on Ikigai – Finding Your “Reason For Being”. I have noticed that many people who seek out financial independence feel something “wrong” about their current trade-your-life-for-money environment. They are not living a life aligned with their “ikigai”.

Moai. This means having a social group within the community that has common interests and can provide both financial and emotional support. Family is important, but this appears to be an additional support system. This social component of longevity is critical and should not be overlooked.

Hara hachi bu. This means that you should stop eating when you are 80% full (and thus still a little bit hungry). People in Okinawa eat fewer calories in general, and the calories that they do eat tend to come from sweet potatoes, soybeans (legumes), a variety of vegetables, and only a little meat.

Okinawans centarians have also been examined in the book Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (which I have not yet read). Here is another Venn diagram from the Wikipedia entry that shows the common characteristics between Okinawa and two other Blue Zones (Loma Linda, USA and Sardinia, Italy).

Bottom line. It’s not just living for a long time, but it’s living an active, engaged, happy life for a long time. You won’t get this by taking the right pills from orange bottles. You need to spend your time doing something that you feel matters to the world. You need love and support from other humans. You need to eat natural foods, but not too much.

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US Household Spending Breakdown: Top 20% vs. Bottom 20%

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Engaging Data has another neat visualization tool up, How do Americans Spend Money? US Household Spending Breakdown by Income Group, using household spending data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Below is a screenshot of this interesting visualization technique (the full version is more interactive). The biggest contrast is seen when comparing the spending breakdown of the top 20% of income earners with the bottom 20%. (Click to enlarge.)

There are a lot of complex interactions going on inside this data visualization. Here are just a few things that I noticed:

  • The average household in the bottom 20% of income only has 1.6 people and 0.5 income earners. The average household in the top 20% of income only has 3.1 people and 2.1 income earners. Is there any causation to this correlation? Does having a high income make you more likely to have a bigger household? Or do bigger households tend to make more money since there are more earners?
  • The bottom 20% by income earns about $25,500 annually while saving absolutely nothing (and either spending down savings and/or going deeper into debt). The top 20% earns $188,000 and saves $50,000 of that annually. For the top 20%, that’s a savings rate of over 25%. Instead of a generic goal like saving 10% of your income, perhaps it is more appropriate to judge yourself by income group. Should a household earning around $200,000 a year expect to save $50,000 a year or be considered an “under-saver”? Or do the ultra-high income earners skew this savings number?
  • The bottom 20% by income has the biggest chunk of their income from “Borrowing and Savings”. The top 20% has the vast majority of their income from salary and/or self-employment income. What is “Borrowing and Savings”? The tool says it could be students living off loans while in school, folks spending down cash savings during unemployment, or retirees drawing down savings. How much of this is people going into debt?
  • If you only looked at the “average” of all households, you wouldn’t see this big difference. You would see a total income of $73,500 a year (mostly from a salary) and a relatively solid savings rate of about 13%.

Bottom line. You see a lot of statistics that use average or median numbers. However, I think that hides the fact that most people aren’t average. The top 20% and bottom 20% of households by income are leading very different lives, at least according to their spending patterns.

You can also view household spending breakdowns by age.

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The Most Common Sacrifices Investors Make to Reach Their Financial Goals

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According to a Wells Fargo/Gallup survey of U.S. investors, 78% say they are at least fairly disciplined in reaching their financial goals. About 50% of investors say they will have to sacrifice a “fair amount” or “a lot” to reach their financial goals, while the other half only expects to sacrifice “only a little” or “nothing”. Investors are defined as adults with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds, either within or outside of a retirement savings account.

In what areas do they expect to sacrifice? Here is a chart showing the most popular ways in which the polled investors say they have and/or expect to sacrifice to reach their personal financial goals:

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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.”

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Generation Wealth Documentary: What Are You Chasing? (Free on Amazon Prime)

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If you have Amazon Prime, I noticed that the documentary film Generation Wealth is now included as of February 1st, 2019. Here’s a short blurb and the trailer:

Lauren Greenfield examines materialism, celebrity culture, and social status and reflects on the desire to be wealthy at any cost. This visual history of the growing obsession with wealth uses first-person interviews in Los Angeles, Moscow, Dubai, China and around the world to bear witness to the global boom-and-bust economy, and to document its complicated consequences.

I haven’t finished it, but my biggest takeaway is that you shouldn’t be obsessed with certain things because even if you get what you think you want, you still won’t be happy or content!

  • If all you care about is money, you’ll never have enough money. The millionaire wants more. The billionaire also wants more. Someone else will always have a nicer house and a bigger yacht.
  • If all you care about is your looks, you’ll never be pretty enough. Your body can never be too skinny, your lips can never be too full. If someone gave you a $1 million of plastic surgery, you would probably end up just as unhappy as today.
  • If all you care about is social status, you will be striving forever. Why spend your life trying to impress people who don’t matter? The celebrities you want to be like? They aren’t all that happy either.

Obviously I think money is important, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But money is a tool, not the goal. Can you use your energy in a useful and meaningful manner? Can you cover the basics – safe housing, clean food, and quality healthcare? Do you have loved ones with whom to share your time? None of the answers to these questions require a brand name. None require looking up to anyone on Facebook or Instagram. I try to remind myself of this regularly, whenever I feel the urge to “upgrade” something.

Watching this film made me feel exhausted more than anything else. These people are wasting so much of their life energy chasing something they’ll never reach.

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Happy Holidays from My Money Blog!

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I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for reading My Money Blog. I am grateful for your time and attention and hope that I provided something of value in exchange. I hope that your year has been bountiful and that you have enjoyed both success in your finances and the other critical components of wellness – healthy mind, healthy body, and healthy relationships. I hope that you find time this holiday period to appreciate all the hard work you and your family put forth this year. I forgot to budget for a fancy Christmas card graphic, so here are some artfully-decorated cookies from my kids:

(I might have eaten a jelly bean. Shhh.)

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The Best Baby Gear Guide: This Stuff Survived 3 Kids in 6 Years

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Some close friends of ours are having their first baby at the same time that our third (and last!) kid is turning 2. That means we’ll be passing along a bunch of stuff and also recommendations. Sometimes I read these buying guides and wonder if the author actually tried it past a 5-minute trial run. We got a lot of items that sounded cool but ended up collecting dust. Other stuff we didn’t think would be useful but quickly became daily essentials through 3 babies over 6 years.

I am not a UL-listed lab and nobody sends me free stuff. These are the real things that we bought or got from our own baby registry that I would buy them again if I had to do it all over again. (I’ve even thrown in some Amazon screenshots which show our actual purchase dates.)

If you create an Amazon Baby Registry, they will offer you an extended 90-day return period as well as a 15% Completion Discount on eligible items for Prime members (Otherwise 10%). It’s a one-time coupon worth up to $300 (15% of $2,000) and valid up to 60 days after your expected arrival date, so use it wisely.

Out & About

Carriers – Beco Gemini Baby Carrier

We picked this carrier out after trying on several different types. We liked that it was convertible with snaps to accommodate both front and back facing positions. If this thing could talk, it would say “I’ve seen some stuff, man…” Poop, vomit, food, the floor of our minivan, and probably a hundred washing machine cycles. It has survived it all with a thick, beefy construction.

Strollers – ZOE XL1 (Single) and XL2 (Double) Lightweight Strollers

We’ve gone through a lot of strollers. New strollers, hand-me-down strollers, consignment store strollers. Once we started traveling with two kids, we did a ton of research trying to find something light yet useful. My pet peeve is “lightweight” single strollers that weigh 20+ pounds! The XL1 weighs 11 pounds. The XL2 is a double stroller that still weighs only 17 pounds. Not only that, but it retains important features that you won’t find on a barebones umbrella stroller – quick-fold, extended shade canopies, 135 degree recline, lower basket, and snack/cup holders. Add some saddle side bags and a handlebar organizer and you’ve got tons of on-demand storage.

If you click on the Amazon link, you can buy direct from ZOE as a third-party seller. The shipping breakdown is expensive, but it works out the about the same price as buying direct from their website. You might also find some open box returned items on their website.

Playards – Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard

The “Pack N Play” has reached the status of Kleenex and Band-Aid where the brand names are used instead of the official term. Once you figure these things out, they are both sturdy and able to be setup/taken down in seconds. They just work, and can be found in hotels everywhere. If you add a custom-sized mattress, you could realistically use this as a permanent crib replacement (or at the grandparents house, etc). We just bought the most basic best-selling version, but there are tons of add-ons.

Car Seats – Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

The Chicco Keyfit 30 has housed all three children in comfort and safety. It has been rated #1 by Consumer Reports for who knows how many years. It’s lightweight, ergonomic, durable, and the cover washes easily. It’s been in airplanes, taxis, Ubers, rental cars. Our “Kee-koh” has finally earned a retirement full of leisure, while we have handed down the convenient car seat bases to someone else. We definitely maxed out the value on this one.

Travel Systems – Chicco KeyFit Caddy Frame Stroller

We don’t like all-in-one “travel systems”. They tend to be too bulky and heavy, I’ve seen some weigh over 40 pounds! Why push around parts that you’ll only need a year later? If your child is still small enough for the car seat, buy a bare frame and use that as your stroller. It’s lighter and you can still make easy transitions between car and stroller (especially if napping). When your child is older, just buy an independent lightweight stroller (see above).

Nursery

Cribs – Delta Children Emery 4-in-1 Convertible Baby Crib

We bought this crib because it has no moving parts (safe) and it had pictures of it being used as both a toddler bed and eventually a headboard. However, we keep having kids so it’s always been just a crib. It is simple, sturdy, and has lasted through all three kids (and is being slept in as I type this).

Gliders – Dutailier Sleigh Glider and Ottoman Combo

We didn’t buy a Dutalier for the first baby because we thought it was too expensive. However, those all-nighters with a colicky baby means you’re spending a lot of hours sitting on something. If that something makes both you more comfortable and the baby more likely to go back to bed, well… take my money!! When we found out we were having a second child, one of the first things we bought was this glider. We did not regret it. The good news is that it is high quality and still glides quietly and smoothly after 4 years of constant use. The bad news is that they are still pricey. *Cough* Put it on the baby registry and hope someone really likes you *Cough*

Mattresses – Colgate Classica III Crib Mattress

We picked this mattress because it had dual firmness and did not have any funny plastics or smells (supposedly certified by so and so, etc). Infants are supposed to have very firm mattresses for safety, and then you can switch it over to the softer side when they are older. It is of quality construction and well-sealed so that you can wipe off… whatever needs to be wiped off when the time comes.

Here is our favorite mattress sheet. No fancy design but it is super-soft cotton even after lots of washes.

Bathtime

Bath Tubs – PRIMO EuroBath

It’s simple, durable, and made of thick plastic. Would probably last for 100 babies. I didn’t want anything cloth or stretchy. You can just wash or even bleach this thing as needed. I hung it up to dry each night over the tub (use 3M bathtub hook or two).

Diapering

Diaper Bags – We got multiple diaper bags as gifts, but we never used them. Too heavy. We just used whatever bag felt right, often a smaller purse/messenger bag thing for her and a backpack for me. Once they are old enough, I use a reusable grocery bag. Mainly you need to remember snacks and the…

Changing Mats – Skip Hop Baby Pronto Portable Changing Station

Diapers, butt cream, wipes, poop bags. Check. Mat for really gross places. Check. Okay, I usually leave the mat at home now (it zips off). Have I mentioned I don’t like carrying extra weight?

Diapers – I know I should use cloth diapers, but we got a million diapers as gifts with the first kid and… that was that. We were so overwhelmed with everything else that the idea of dealing with cloth diapers was too much. Sorry. Although for some reason, kid #3 goes through about 1/3rd of the diapers that kid #1 did…

We like Huggies. and Pampers. and Luvs. I only look at the cost per diaper. If you wait for a sale + Amazon Family 20% off, you can get close to or at 10 cents a diaper.

Diaper Pails – We received and have used a Diaper Genie for all three kids, and it has worked for the most part, although I’m always appalled at how much the refills cost. I’ve tried the generics and also just using a trash bag, but somehow the smell gets out. Our main attempt at economizing is that we only put #2s in the diaper genie and the #1s go in the normal trash. This is more so we don’t have to keep emptying the darn thing than the cost. Otherwise we just buy the name brand refills.

Bottles – We used Medela bottles, primarily because we got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. They worked fine and were of good quality in my opinion. The bottles lasted for multiple kids.

Bottle Sterilizers – We don’t use any bottle sterilizer gadgets. We just follow the CDC directions and use warm soap and water, clean hands, and the dishwasher.

Breast Pumps – We got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. It kept working despite some pretty heavy usage. The battery life does start to go after a year or so.

Feeding Pillows – Mrs. MMB was not a fan of the Boppy. It moved around too much and was uncomfortable. She much preferred the questionably-named My Brest Friend, which is ergonomically better and has a strap for security. We even bought the inflatable travel version which also worked well. The cover is easy to remove, wash, and put back on.

One Last Random Thing – Little Martin’s Baby Nail Trimmer

I know, you’re worried about what the baby is going to eat, how it’s going to sleep, and keeping it safe in the car. But one of the more stressful things for me was trimming the nails. If you don’t trim, their little claws can scratch their own face and even eyes. But using a traditional nail clipper is tough on a tiny wriggly hand, and I have drawn blood before. One of my favorite purchases was this little Dremel-like nail trimmer. No more blood, no more fighting, and I can still use it on my older kids.

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Five Wishes: A Living Will That Goes Beyond Just Prolong / Do Not Prolong Life

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People don’t like talking about money. That’s why I started this site. You know what people like talking about even less? Death.

My wife and I have already filled out a generic advanced health directive, but I recently ran across something that seems better. Five Wishes helps you document how exactly you wish to be treated if you get seriously ill in an approachable, holistic manner. In addition to choosing a healthcare proxy and filling out an advanced healthcare directive, it also guides you beyond that. Do you want people to pray for you? Do you want people to talk to you, even if you are unconscious? Do you want to die at home if possible? How do you envision your funeral?

  • Wish 1: The Person I Want to Make Care Decisions for Me When I Can’t.
  • Wish 2: The Kind of Medical Treatment I Want or Don’t Want.
  • Wish 3: How Comfortable I Want to Be.
  • Wish 4: How I Want People to Treat Me.
  • Wish 5: What I Want My Loved Ones to Know.

You can easily find “free” advanced healthcare directives online, but a lot of them pretty much come down to a checkbox of “prolong life no matter what” or “do not prolong life”. The best way to understand how Five Wishes is different is to read through this sample document [PDF].

In 42 states, Five Wishes meets the legal requirements for an advance directive. In the remaining 8 states (Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Utah), you will need to fill out some specific additional forms or mandatory notices to make it legal. Often it’s just an official form you have to attach.

There is a nominal fee of $5 for both the paper and online versions. Five Wishes was created by someone who worked in a hospice and realized that there are a lot of common questions to which your loved ones must often guess the answer. Why not answer them now? It is an enormous gift to both yourself and to them.

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Motivation: Take Advantage Of Being 29, 39, 49, or 59 Years Old

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40greatI’m turning 40 years old this summer. This number has always been a psychological marker for me. I’ve always wanted to be financially secure and have started a family by age 40. According to this Atlantic article by Daniel Pink*, I’m far from the only one. Consider marathons:

Four people in four different professions living in four different parts of the world, all united by the common quest to run 26.2 miles. But something else links these runners and legions of other first-time marathoners. Red Hong Yi ran her first marathon when she was 29 years old. Jeremy Medding ran his when he was 39. Cindy Bishop ran her first marathon at age 49, Andy Morozovsky at age 59.

All four of them were what the social psychologists Adam Alter and Hal Hershfield call “nine-enders,” people in the last year of a life decade. They each pushed themselves to do something at ages 29, 39, 49, and 59 that they didn’t do, didn’t even consider, at ages 28, 38, 48, and 58—and didn’t do again when they turned 30, 40, 50, or 60.

The article contains several other insights that definitely applied to me. According to Alter and Hershfield:

“People are more apt to evaluate their lives as a chronological decade ends than they are at other times,” Alter and Hershfield explain. “Nine-enders are particularly preoccupied with aging and meaningfulness, which is linked to a rise in behaviors that suggest a search for or crisis of meaning.”

According to psychologist Clark Hull:

At the beginning of a pursuit, we’re generally more motivated by how far we’ve progressed; at the end, we’re generally more energized by trying to close the small gap that remains.

You could tell yourself that being 29 is no different than being 28 or 30, or you can just use this behavioral quirk to reach your goals. I’ve been working on “closing the gap” in terms of getting all my financial affairs in order. Here are all the things that I’ve been working on as a 39-year-old:

  • Created a system to simulate a monthly “paycheck” so that things run smoothly and the bill gets paid even if I am not around to micromanage things (like I usually do). Dividends and interest flow to the emergency fund/cash buffer (savings account), which then automatically transfers a set amount each month to our day-to-day checking account.
  • Beefed up our cash buffer. As part of the above-mentioned system, I increased our cash hoard to two years of expenses in FDIC-insured savings accounts and CDs. The idea is that this buffer “bucket” feeds the checking account, but also gets replenished by income and interest from our portfolio. As larger upfront expenses like a home repair or used car purchase comes up, the buffer can take a hit. The dividends come in quarterly spurts. The buffer allows us to handle shocks without disruption.
  • Re-examined term life insurance. We are currently 10 years into a 30-year term policy with a level premium. We technically don’t need to replace any lost income anymore, so we considered canceling this policy. However, we decided that if something were to happen to one of us, we would still need to pay someone to replace childcare duties for three children. I don’t know how other single parents do it, but I know that I’d need help!
  • Moved some missing assets into revocable living trusts for estate planning purposes. When we created this trust, we were mostly concerned about having a plan in place to take care of the children in case something happened to both of us. After you create a trust, you must manually move/retitle all your various brokerage accounts into it, and the paperwork can be a pain.
  • Consolidated accounts. I still have a penchant for collecting new financial accounts, but I’ve also closed a bunch this year. Our grandparents used to hide money in jars around the house. I like to buy shares of Berkshire (BRK) and put them in brokerage accounts (often involving a bonus, and BRK gives off no dividends to worry about at tax time). I started over a decade ago with Sharebuilder (now Capital One Investing) and most recently got $5 worth from Stash.
  • Bought a used 2015 Toyota minivan so that we have a reliable family vehicle for the next 10 years. I love sliding doors. I hate the inconvenience of a car breakdown.
  • Started and put some money into a 529 plan for each kid. The amount isn’t enough to cover four years of college, we’ll just have to see how much it can grow as compared to tuition. I read somewhere that you should plan to save 1/3rd, fund 1/3rd from annual income, and leave the last 1/3rd for scholarships, grants, or student loans.

Everything on this list was being putting off because it was unpleasant. Most either dealt with the prospect of early death/severe disability, or annoying paperwork. The prospect of turning 40 got me over the hump. Next decade: Marathon at age 49?

* The article is actually an excerpt from his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

“My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of selected credit card products. My Money Blog and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and the content 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 supporting this independent site.”