Kids & Materialism: What Thing Were You Obsessed With in 7th Grade?

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

In the Atlantic article Why Kids Want Things, Dr. Marsha Richins is interviewed about her research on materialism and children. She explores why kids tend to place the most importance on owning and having things during middle school:

I think of seventh grade as being the worst age of a person’s life. It’s really a fraught time, and there’s all this insecurity that kids have about, “Who am I? Do people like me? What kind of person am I?” So, how do we navigate that? Well, our appearance is one of the things we navigate with. So, what does a kid see when they see another kid? They see the expression on their face, they see the body language, the posture, and the clothes they’re wearing. And so a kid who’s not very self-confident in navigating this is going to maybe feel a little more self-confident if they’re wearing the right kind of clothes rather than the wrong kind of clothes. Here we’re learning, right off the bat, that having things can help us define who we are.

Looking back, middle school was indeed the first time that I really started to want certain clothes. My most vivid memory might be somewhat localized and dated, but the trendy thing to wear in my middle school was a Browning Down Jacket:

This $100 jacket basically signaled that you were rich and cool (and cozily warm). Like SUVs or North Face, it also suggests you do rugged activities on the weekends. I never got one as they were too expensive, but I do remember one of my friends successfully begging his parents to buy him one and then him becoming a “cool kid”. My parents did eventually get me (one) Bart Simpson t-Shirt. Nike Air shoes were another item that did not fit in my parent’s budget until I found a pair on clearance in late high school.

My wife says that her 7th grade obsession was Z. Cavaricci pants. (She never got a pair either. Coincidence?)

Until we had this conversation, she had never heard of Browning jackets and that critical buck logo with antlers. I had never heard of Z. Cavaracci pants and the little label on the zipper. It seems like other places had NFL Starter jackets as the hottest item.

As a parent, I’ll have to brace myself against this materialistic tide when the time comes. Is it me, or do the trendy things seem to be more expensive now (iPhones! Apple Watch! Hydroflask that you lose within a week!). I’ll have to try and be a good role model in the meantime:

But one of the most consistent findings is the association between the person’s current level of materialism and how they perceived their parents using things when they were growing up. […] The helpful thing for parents here—and also the harmful—is yes, peers are really important, but our kids are watching us. Our kids are learning from us. A lot of what kids take to be normal comes from what they see us doing. Kids are going to learn what their relationship with products should be by looking at our relationship with products.

See also: We Are All Accumulating Mountains of Things

What thing do you remember coveting in 7th grade?

The Greatest Fear of Newt Scamander

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Harry Potter fans will remember boggarts, shape-shifters that take on the form of the viewer’s greatest fear. This will be different for everyone – perhaps snakes or public speaking. If you’re reading this site, you might relate to Newt Scamander’s greatest fear as revealed in the latest trailer from the movie Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Now, there’s nothing universally wrong with working in an office. Some people work well in an office environment, while others can’t stand it. I don’t have hard statistics on this, but my hunch is that those that really hate the office environment are more likely to seek early financial independence. You have to motivated to think outside the figurative box (to get out of the literal cubicle).

From Retired Couple Next Door to Lottery-Hacking Millionaires

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

scratchoffBack in 2011, a Boston Globe article came out about how a few folks repeatedly won tens of thousands of dollars on a Massachusetts lottery ticket game due to how the jackpot rolled over if it went unclaimed long enough. Essentially, at certain times the odds showed a expected positive return for everyone, but you’d have to buy a lot of tickets to even out the chances of bad luck. (This is why folks can win in the short-term in Las Vegas casinos, but the house always wins over a large number of bets.)

Mark Kon, a professor of math and statistics at Boston University, calculated that a bettor buying even $10,000 worth of tickets would run a significant risk of losing more than they won during the July rolldown week. But someone who invested $100,000 in Cash WinFall tickets had a 72 percent chance of winning. Bettors like the Selbees, who spent at least $500,000 on the game, had almost no risk of losing money, Kon said.

The Globe article basically made the bettors out to be villains, the “rich” against the “poor”. This Felix Salmon article argues that the game was fine, as technically everyone had the same odds (rich or poor) and the game actually generated a lot of money for the state. Buying that many tickets also took a lot of work:

As a result, while some people did indeed essentially treat Cash WinFall as a full-time job, it wasn’t necessarily a particularly lucrative or easy job for any given individual: it would take one couple ten hours a day, for ten days, to sort through their tickets to find the winners, the proceeds from which would then be shared among 32 consortium members. On top of that, every member of every consortium could reasonably expect to be audited by the state Department of Revenue every year. Which isn’t exactly fun.

A new HuffPost longform article takes a deeper, more personal look at the retired “couple next door” who discovered the edge and eventually made millions off of it. All that it required was “6th grade math”, according to Jerry and Marge Selbee:

The brochure listed the odds of various correct guesses. Jerry saw that you had a 1-in-54 chance to pick three out of the six numbers in a drawing, winning $5, and a 1-in-1,500 chance to pick four numbers, winning $100. What he now realized, doing some mental arithmetic, was that a player who waited until the roll-down stood to win more than he lost, on average, as long as no player that week picked all six numbers. With the jackpot spilling over, each winning three-number combination would put $50 in the player’s pocket instead of $5, and the four-number winners would pay out $1,000 in prize money instead of $100, and all of a sudden, the odds were in your favor. If no one won the jackpot, Jerry realized, a $1 lottery ticket was worth more than $1 on a roll-down week—statistically speaking.

“I just multiplied it out,” Jerry recalled, “and then I said, ‘Hell, you got a positive return here.’”

How much did they win?

By 2009 they had grossed more than $20 million in winning tickets—a net profit of $5 million after expenses and taxes—but their lifestyle didn’t change. Jerry and Marge remained in the same house, hosting a family gathering each Christmas as they always had. Though she could have chartered a private jet and taken everyone to Ibiza, Marge still ran the kitchen, made her famous toffee candy and washed dishes by hand. It didn’t occur to her to buy a dishwasher.

Would you have done the same thing if you knew about this edge? In my opinion, this is what makes the story fascinating. First, you have to find the inefficiency. Then you have to trust your findings enough to bet on them. You must risk your time and money upfront, throw in some ingenuity, and profit only if you are right. Then you have to bet big enough to make your winnings significant before the edge disappears (and they all eventually do). Putting all those things together is quite difficult. I’d be willing to bet some other people discovered the positive expected return, but still didn’t take the risk.

With Cash WinFall, if you had a knack for math, you could get an edge. If you were willing to spend the money, you could get an edge. If you put in the hours, you could get an edge. And was that so terrible? How was it Jerry’s fault to solve a puzzle that was right there in front of him? How was it Marge’s fault that she was willing to break her back standing at a lottery terminal, printing tickets?

Buy It Nice or Buy It Twice: Kitchen Tools and Cookware (Extended Edition)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

rubber200 (Added some items.) When buying kitchen items, I am firmly in the “pay for quality” camp. Reader Chris sent in the following question (edited for clarity):

I read in your website about cast iron pans and KitchenAid mixers. I want to buy a small home and have nothing. What are some must-have kitchen items that will last a long time and be used most often? So they are an “investment”.

For me, it all started when filling out our wedding registry (now 13 years ago, ack!). Getting married meant I had to stop buying Hungry Man frozen dinners and really learn to cook at home. This led me to develop an appreciation for well-made kitchen items. When you “go cheap” on certain things, you not only have to replace it down the road, but you also feel a bit of annoyance and regret every time you use the inferior tool. In the words of Marie Kondo, owning high-quality tools “bring me joy”.

Here’s (an extended) list of high-quality items that are used weekly if not daily in my kitchen. I am not a professional chef, just someone who cooks at home often enough to suffer from cheap stuff. Some cost a few bucks. Some cost hundreds.

rubberpremier

Rubbermaid Premier Food Storage Containers
Cooking at home means lots of leftovers. One of the best decisions we made was to throw away the mishmash of cheap containers and lids to start fresh with these Rubbermaid Premier storage containers (not the other Rubbermaid types). They are thicker, sturdier, and have leakproof lids. They don’t stain or retain odors. They are a good example of designing something to be high-quality and reusable instead of cheap and disposable. They changed up the lid design recently but the grey lids are backward compatible with the original red lids. Warning: You might start out with a 30-piece set but it will include a lot of smaller containers. Add more of the larger ones specifically.

mmbcastiron0

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
With over 8,000 reviews (!) and a 4.5 out of 5 star average rating, I know I’m not the only fan of these heavy-duty beasts. Great for searing and pan-frying, oven-safe, no worrying about scratches or dings. They will outlive you. Got a rusty one? They are easy to resurrect; here’s a quick video on how to season your cast iron.

lecreusetblue

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
I cook multiple times a week with our Staub and Le Creuset enameled cast-iron dutch ovens. Cast iron isn’t a lot of maintenance, but you do have to keep it dry after each use to prevent rusting (and seasoning it again takes time). With enameling, you can just wash and leave it wet. The dutch oven shape also makes it perfect for braises, stews, and soups. (They also look nicer at dinner parties.) They do run $200-$300 but spread out over 30+ years of use it’s not that bad. But I’ll be honest, I don’t know how much better they are than this Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven which regularly runs under $80.

kitchenaid

KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer
We’ve used this machine regularly without any issues for over 10 years across multiple apartments, studios, and houses. We use it to beat eggs and knead dough for pizza, pasta, cookies, and bread. I don’t know what kind of motor is inside, but it is durable. The bowl has some small dings and there is a little rust on the exterior but nothing that prevents good operation. I notice a ton of different versions now, but I think the Artisan is the classic version. Pick a color you like because you’ll be stuck with it for a while…

allcladsaute

All-Clad Stainless Steel Fry or Saute Pan
I first heard about this brand when they kept winning comparisons by America’s Test Kitchen. However, they are quite expensive. Now, you don’t need All-Clad everything, but do I think a large stainless steel fry pan or saute pan from All-Clad is an important kitchen addition that will pretty much last you forever. (I’d skip the non-stick All-Clad and go with T-Fal for best non-stick value.) My advice is to keep your eyes open because they do rotate on sale. Right now the saute pan is on sale for $99, but at other times you can get the fry pans on sale.

nordicpan

Nordic Ware Aluminum Commercial Sheet Pan
It’s big, thick, and aluminum so it won’t rust. I must have roasted vegetables hundreds of times on this thing. Only about $10 and much better than whatever cheap, thin stuff is at sold at the grocery store. Buy 2 now so they stack and save space.

microplane

Microplane 40020 Classic Zester/Grater
The classic Microplane. I remember thinking it was expensive when I bought it over a decade ago, but I’ve never had to replace it since. Considering how many little thin holes this thing has, I have no idea how it hasn’t rusted away in over 10 years. This thing still works great to shave fine curls of parmesan and zest lemons and limes.

peelersingle

Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler
These may not last forever, but they have lasted a lot longer than my previous peelers and I’m still on my first one. (I also have a serrated version that I don’t use as often.) I bought these after seeing them recommended by America’s Test Kitchen and they peel much more easily and comfortably. Note: I see some Amazon reviews that say “I love my old Kuhn Rikon peeler but this one I just bought from Amazon is horrible.” My thought? Counterfeits. I would only buy these “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com”, even if it costs a few cents more. You’re still getting the best peeler out there for under 5 bucks.

wusthofclassic

Wusthof Classic Knifes
I remember wondering if Wusthof and Henckels were worth the price as I zapped them onto our wedding registry. Then someone actually bought us a set of Wusthof Classic knives and we proceeded to use them nearly every day for over a decade. They have been professionally sharpened a couple of times (less often than recommended), but they still work perfectly with no chips or rust spots. I bought a $40 Asian cleaver from a shop in Chinatown a couple years ago, and it only lasted a few months before large rust spots appeared. My mom told me I didn’t treat it right. Probably. I told her I’d rather spend $80 on a knife and have it last decades even after not treating it right. So I bought this one.

henckelssteak

J.A. Henckels Steak Knife Set
We also got a set of Henckels steak knives as a wedding gift. They’ve also lasted over a decade as our family’s only set of steak knives. They still cut great. Yes, they cost about double the price of the AmazonBasics steak knives set, but I wonder if I’ll ever have to buy steak knives again.

zyliss

ZYLISS Lock N’ Lift Can Opener
I’ve probably gone through 5 different can openers in the last 5 years. I guess I open a lot of cans? I’ve bought the cheap and popular one, but it rusted quite quickly. I’ve bought the battery-powered ones, but they got wet and stopped working. I liked the smooth edge opener, but two of them became dull and unusable after under 6 months. If I could go back, I would just buy this ZYLISS Lock N’ Lift Can Opener. Most of it is plastic, so it hasn’t shown rust yet. It’s got a good grip and is easy to use.

zeroll

Zeroll 1020 Original Ice Cream Scoop
Didn’t see this coming, huh? This is the best ice cream scoop, period. Once you try it, you will wonder why all the other ice cream scoops in the world are so bad in comparison. If you walk into an ice cream shop, this is probably the brand that they use. It has conductive fluid that makes it easier to get through rock-hard ice cream. It creates the perfect ball shape for placing on cones. The 2-ounce size makes a small/medium-sized ball, but other sizes are available. Why not own the best ice cream scoop in the world for about $15?

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. There are also many other items I on my wish list that I haven’t bought yet. What high-quality kitchen items would you consider a good “investment”?

XKCD on Credit Card Reward Optimization

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

XKCD has some clever observations about the pursuit of credit card rewards:

xkcdccrewards

I definitely spend more time thinking about optimizing things than is… optimal? rational? That’s why I started a website, so I can justify it as a business pursuit! 🙂 Here’s another good one from XKCD:

efficiency

Don’t forget the time cost of “Arguing with strangers on internet about A vs B”.

Final mention: XKCD Remix: The Secret Life of Personal Finance Bloggers.

Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman on Mental Accounting

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

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

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

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

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

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

How To Make Your Life Completely Miserable

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

miserable

If you are a fan of Charlie Munger and his principle of inversion, you will enjoy this video by CGP Grey* about the 7 Ways to Maximize Misery. Sometimes the best solution to a problem comes by approaching it backwards. Found via Abnormal Returns. Briefly, here are the 7 ways:

  • Stay still.
  • Screw with your sleep.
  • Maximize your screen time.
  • Use your screen to stoke your negative emotions.
  • Set V.A.P.I.D. goals – Vague, Amorphous, Pie in the Sky, Irrelevant, and Delayed.
  • Pursue happiness directly.
  • Follow your instincts.

Charlie Munger himself might add two more things:

  • Be unreliable.
  • Be lazy.

This is according to his 2007 USC Law School Commencement speech:

Let me use a little inversion now. What will really fail in life? What do you want to avoid? Such an easy answer: sloth and unreliability. If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are. Doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.

It can be surprisingly instructive to know that we can become happier by simply avoiding these common behaviors. There are even more – the video is based on the book How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use by Randy J. Paterson. Added to my long to-read list.

* I referenced another CGP Grey video in my post Why Didn’t Technology Create a 4-Hour Workday? and why the solution is to accumulate assets towards financial freedom.

Money, Sex, and Happiness: What is Worth $50,000 of Happiness Per Year?

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

rothheartMid-Feburary is the time of year when writers everywhere tie their subject matter to Valentine’s Day. Here’s how mine came about. I was reading 23 Science-Backed Ways to Feel Happier at Mental Floss. #8 was “Twist the Sheets” which included the claim:

One study even suggests that having sex once a week may make you feel as stoked as scoring an additional $50,000 in income.

Really? The link provided was rather vague, but the study referenced is Money, Sex, and Happiness: An Empirical Study by Blanchflower and Oswald (and hosted at the National Bureau of Economic Research, thank you very much).

Working from there, I found this NY Times article that covered the study in more depth (emphasis mine):

In their study, Mr. Oswald and Mr. Blanchflower analyzed the self-reported sexual activity and levels of happiness of more than 16,000 American adults who participated in a number of social surveys since the early 1990’s. (Happiness is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale.) By factoring out the measurable effects of other life events, the study revealed, to no one’s surprise, that, ”The more sex, the happier the person.”

Furthermore, the economists compared the levels of happiness produced by a vigorous sex life with other activities whose economic values had been calculated in prior research, allowing them to impute, in dollars, how much happiness sex was worth. They also estimated that increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse from once a month to at least once a week provided as much happiness as putting $50,000 in the bank.

A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000 worth of happiness a year — that is, on average, a single person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as happy as a married person with the same education, job status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year, though there may be a short-term economic gain from the immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.

As they say, correlation is not causation. The study doesn’t suggest whether more sex leads to more happiness, or happiness leads to more sex. Same with marriage.

In addition, a different set of studies analyzed in the academic journal Social Psychological and Personality Science supports the idea that once-a-week sex is the optimal frequency for maximizing feelings of “well-being” (i.e. happiness?). Taken from the abstract (emphasis mine):

In Study 1, the association between sexual frequency and well-being is only significant for people in relationships. In Studies 2 and 3, which included only people in relationships, sexual frequency had a curvilinear association with relationship satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction mediated the association between sexual frequency and well-being. For people in relationships, sexual frequency is no longer significantly associated with well-being at a frequency greater than once a week.

Or, as Men’s Health magazine puts it: The Happiest Couples Have Sex Once a Week (And No More). Via NPR:

The take-home message, Muise says, is that it’s “important to maintain a sexual connection with a romantic partner, but it is also important to have realistic expectations for one’s sex life (given that many couples are busy with work and family responsibilities.)”

The first study also found that making more money does not mean more sex. Others have found that making more money (past a certain point) does not mean more happiness. Tricky stuff, this happiness thing. In any case, I wish you all a happy long weekend!

Dilbert’s Financial Advice on an Index Card

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Scott Adams continues to convert wise observations about the workplace into clever and funny comics. Occasionally, he tackles investing and personal finance, like in this recent Dilbert comic:

scottadams_ret

This older comic is more subtle but reflective of why market timing is so alluring:

scottadams_mt

Recently, Ron Lieber of the New York Times profiled a new book about financial advice that fits on an index card. Included was a link to Dilbert’s One-Page Guide to Personal Finance. Looking back on it, I would have to say that Adams’ list stands up to the test of time. I might put #7 about emergency funds a little bit higher on the list, but that’s just nitpicking. For the vast majority of people, sticking to such simple advice would be more than adequate. Certainly much better than Wally’s “above-average” plan!

The Economics of Reality Court TV Shows (Behind-The-Scenes)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

gavelforsaleHave you ever wondered how the participants get paid in court TV shows like Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, or The People’s Court? Over the weekend, I got this tweet from a casting director for a new court TV show where a celebrity gets to be the judge:

I’m guessing this is due to a previous guest post on Winning Our Case in Small Claims Court. Here’s the recruitment flyer:

CV9uhmWUkAABz5p.jpg-large

Of course, me being me, I found the payment details the most interesting:

  • If you win the case, you are guaranteed to collect because the show pays the judgment directly to the winner.
  • If you lose the case, you don’t have to pay anything, again because the show pays the judgment for you.
  • No matter what, both parties will receive an appearance fee.

I found some related details from the Wikipedia page of the Judge Judy show:

  • The award limit on these types of shows is usually $5,000, the same as “real” small claims court.
  • The appearance fees varies, but is in the neighborhood of a few hundred dollars plus $35 a day if it takes multiple days. They pay may also pay for your airfare and hotel if you are not from the area.
  • Most of the audience extras are comprised of (low) paid (aspiring) actors.

For an honest disagreement, this seems to be a pretty fair arrangement. Both parties will still want to win the case, but both will stand to benefit financially. The show gets cheap material (court shows are much cheaper to make than sitcoms), and the audience gets entertained.

However, in the style of Freakonomics, this incentive structure can create unexpected consequences. Namely, fabricated lawsuits. If you think about it, dishonest conspirators can get a paid vacation to Los Angeles, an appearance fee, seen on TV, and they can split up to a $5,000 judgment. An example per Wikipedia:

In April 2013, former litigants from a 2010 airing of the show revealed they conspired together in fabricating a lawsuit in which the logical outcome would be to grant payment to the plaintiff. The operation, derived by musicians Kate Levitt and Jonathan Coward, was successful: Sheindlin awarded the plaintiff (Levitt) $1,250. The litigants involved also walked away with an appearance fee of $250 each and an all expense paid vacation to Hollywood, California. In reality, all the litigants in question—plaintiffs and defendants alike—were friends who split the earnings up among each other. It was also reported that the show’s producers were in on the sham and knew of the contrivance all along but went along with it. The lawsuit was over the fictitious death of a cat as a result of a television crushing it.

The judge does have somewhat of an “out” with the option of dismissal without prejudice, which means that there is no decision and the lawsuit may be refiled and retried in another forum.

[Judge Judy] Sheindlin has dismissed cases without prejudice when she has suspected both the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) of conspiring together just to gain monetary rewards from the program.

If you have a case, please contact Mr. Simnowitz, and don’t forget to tell me about it if you get on TV!

PSA: Beware When Shredding Your Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

csp_shred0Every credit card is getting a smart chip these days, which means a lot of expired cards. My shredder is rated for 12 sheets of paper at a time, and up until recently handled every credit card, CD, and DVD sent its way. But not the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. I knew it had a little extra heft due to some sort of metal (aluminum?) sandwiched between layers of plastic, but that fact somehow didn’t register in my shredding fervor… until I heard an awful crunching noise:

csp_shred2

csp_shred1

The results: The numbers on the back of the card are still visible, and the magnetic strip may still be readable. My shredder still works, although it has been making some funny noises. Not sure what to do with it now, perhaps industrial-grade shredder could finish the job? Now you know why Chase has started sending folks a prepaid mailer to send back your card when they replace it. 🙂

Benjamin Franklin and Compound Interest: “Money makes money. And the money that money makes, makes money”

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

bencompWe’ve all heard of the power of compound interest. We’ve all heard of Benjamin Franklin. But have you heard of the story where Ben Franklin let his money compound quietly for 200 years? Here’s an excerpt from the book The Elements of Investing:

Benjamin Franklin provides us with an actual rather than a hypothetical case. When Franklin died in 1790, he left a gift of $5,000 to each of his two favorite cities, Boston and Philadelphia. He stipulated that the money was to be invested and could be paid out at two specific dates, the first 100 years and the second 200 years after the date of the gift. After 100 years, each city was allowed to withdraw $500,000 for public works projects. After 200 years, in 1991, they received the balance—which had compounded to approximately $20 million for each city. Franklin’s example teaches all of us, in a dramatic way, the power of compounding. As Franklin himself liked to describe the benefits of compounding, “Money makes money. And the money that money makes, makes money”

Very neat. A bit of digging suggests it all started out as basically a dare. From a Philadelphia Inquirer article:

Benjamin Franklin, God love him, may have been the first Philadelphian with an addytood. How’s this for an in-your-face response?

In 1785 a French mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Franklin’s Poor Richard called Fortunate Richard in which he mocked the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented by Franklin. The Frenchman wrote a piece about Fortunate Richard leaving a small sum of money in his will to be used only after it had collected interest for 500 years.

Fat chance someone would be dumb enough to try that. Ha. Ha.

Franklin, who was 79 years old at the time, wrote back to the Frenchman, thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided to leave a bequest to his native Boston and his adopted Philadelphia of 1,000 pounds to each on the condition that it be placed in a fund that would gather interest over a period of 200 years.

The trusts for Philadelphia ended up a lot smaller than the trust for Boston, which many people assume is a result of poor management, but perhaps the lower returns were an acceptable result of Philadelphia following Franklin’s original instructions for the money:

“Boston has always prided itself that it compounded the money wisely. Philadelphia has always had an inferiority complex because it didn’t,” said Bruce Yenawine, a Syracuse University Ph.D. candidate in history who has spent years researching the Franklin funds in both cities. “But Boston decided to minimize risks and maximize proceeds. Philadelphia, on the other hand, focused on the other side of Franklin’s instructions by loaning the money to individuals. I think that’s more in keeping with what Franklin wanted.”

Franklin stipulated that the 1,000 pounds (the equivalent of $4,444) be invested and used to provide low-interest loans to “married tradesmen under the age of 26” to get them started in business. Over the 200-year life of the trust, money from the Philadelphia fund was loaned to hundreds of individuals, mostly for home mortgages during the last 50 years. Boston, meanwhile, invested the bulk of the money in a trust fund that Yenawine describes as “a savings company for the rich.”

This NY Times article suggests that the initial funds came from Franklin donating his own government salary:

The 2,000 [pounds sterling] Franklin set aside came from the salary he earned as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788. ”It was one of Franklin’s favorite notions, one he tried to get written into the Constitution, that public servants in a democracy should not be paid,” Mr. Bell said.

Relating this back to personal finance, here is another Elements of Investing excerpt relating a Ben Franklin quote and compound interest:

Think in terms of opportunity cost. Think of every dollar you spend as the amount it could grow into by the time you retire. Ben Franklin famously advised, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” He was right but not entirely right. The Rule of 72 shows why. If you save money and invest it at, say, a 7 percent average annual return, $1 saved today becomes $2 in about 10 years, $4 in 20 years, and $8 in 30 years, and so on and on, inevitably growing. So the dollar a young person spends on some nonessential today would mean that $10 or more will be given up in retirement.