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.

2022 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting Video, Transcript, and Notes

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Here are my notes on the 2022 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting. This year, CNBC has the rights to record and host the full video and transcripts (morning session, afternoon session) and they did a nice job with syncing the text and sound. I enjoyed listening to it like a podcast first and then reading through the text a second time around. There are many financial media articles with highlights, but here are my personal takeaways and notes.

Berkshire Hathaway is their life’s work and legacy. It’s fascinating to see how they have tried their best to build it to last forever. I recently listened to an outdoor podcast called Dirtbag Diaries where a 78-year-old man suffering from late-stage Parkinson’s disease still completed a 10-day whitewater rafting trip in the Canadian wilderness. Some folks just have more life energy than life time left, and wring out every last bit. Inspiring.

Warren Buffett is 91 and Charlie Munger is 98. These guys could be relaxing. They know the end is near, but they still have energy and are doing what they love. They built Berkshire bit by bit and the shareholders that they will leave behind are close family and friends that trust them. BRK is their legacy, and they have carefully crafted it to keep growing for those shareholders long past their lifetimes.

But most — a great many of them just say, you know, “We’ve saved this money. And we trust you and Charlie.” And that’s a great motivator, this trust.

“And, you know, take care of it and I’m not going to learn accounting and try to read all those statements or anything of the sort.”

You know, if I went broke, it wouldn’t really make any difference. It’d keep doing what I do. I’d figure out a way to read a paper and watch a little TV (Laughter) and think about things and talk to Charlie.

But the idea of losing, permanently, other people’s money — people who trust us — really, really — that’s just a future I don’t want to have.

So, the one thing I can tell you about Berkshire — although I can’t predict what our earnings will be, and I can’t predict what the stock will do, and I can’t — we don’t know. We don’t know what the economy will do and all of that sort of thing.

But we do know that we wake up every morning and we want to be safer, in terms of your eventual investment.

Now, whether you make the most money or anything, we do not want you to get a terrible result because you’ve decided to become our partner. And that’s a pledge you can live by.

They aren’t done yet, either. As long as they are able, they will keep adding pieces. They spent $40 billion is just three weeks, and are probably still buying stuff as I type this. The media usually only focuses their attention on certain purchases, but you can track their 13F filings to see exactly they bought and sold. Sites like Dataroma parse them for you, but if you plan on copycat investing be warned that the data is delayed and also Buffett is not always buy and hold forever. He’s not always right, and when Buffett realizes this, he can also sell quickly. Being late after he buys and late after he sells can be a very bad combo.

Berkshire Hathaway share repurchase timing gives some hints. They also bought back a few more BRK shares in January to March 2022 ($3 billion), but none in April 2022 once the price rose. This should give you a hint as to what Buffett thinks is a “good deal” on BRK shares. He wouldn’t buy back shares unless they were safely below his estimate of intrinsic value. You may see those 2021 and early 2022 prices again…

Cash is like oxygen. We should all keep adequate cash reserves in 100% liquid and safe places. Home equity lines of credit can (and have been) frozen quickly. Credit card limits can be reduced. We should know by now that crazy stuff happens quickly.

When 2008 and 2009 — the national panic came along — we didn’t own anybody’s commercial paper. You know, we didn’t have money market funds. We have Treasury bills. And, as I may get into it a little later, I’ll explain to you why.

We would — we believe in having cash.

And there have been a few times in history, and there will be more times in history, where if you don’t have it, you know, you don’t get to play the next day. I mean, it’s just —

It’s like oxygen, you know? It’s there all the time. But if it disappears for a few minutes, it’s all over.

Gambling and investing are getting mixed up yet again. Sports gambling is growing. Short-dated options trading is growing. Crypto has many shady pockets. Remember that casino owners make reliable profits while feeding the gamblers with hope. Which side do you want to be on? Buffett noticed this as a 21-year-old newlywed visitor to Las Vegas:

They’d gone to great lengths to come out to do something that was mathematically unintelligent, and they knew it was unintelligent.

And, I mean, they couldn’t do it fast enough, in terms of rolling the dice, you know, and trying to determine whether they were hot or whatever they may be.

And I looked around at that group. And everybody there knew that they were doing something that was mathematically dumb, and they’d come thousands of miles to do it, and they were —

And I said to my wife, I said, you know, I’m going to get rich.

How to beat inflation? Invest in your own human capital.

But the best thing you can do is to be exceptionally good at something. If you’re the best doctor in town, if you’re the best lawyer in town, if you’re the best whatever it may be, no matter whether people are paying you with a zillion dollars or paying with — they’re going to give you some of what they produce in exchange for what you deliver.

And if you’re the one they pick out to do any particular activity, sing, or play baseball, or be their lawyer, whatever it may be, whatever abilities you have can’t be taken away from you, they can’t actually be inflated away from you.

Somebody else will give you some of the wheat they produce, or the cotton, or whatever it may be, and they will trade you for the skill you have.

So, the best investment by far is anything that develops yourself. And, again, it’s not taxed. (Applause) So that’s what I would do.

Find the intersection of something that interests you, something you have a talent for, and something that pays the bills.

CHARLIE MUNGER: Well — if you stop to think about it, there are two things that neither one of us has ever succeeded at: One, we’ve never succeeded at anything that didn’t interest us, right?

WARREN BUFFETT: Right.

CHARLIE MUNGER: And we’ve never succeeded at anything that was really hard where we didn’t have much aptitude for it.

WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah. And we’ve been doing whatever we pleased for 60 years.

CHARLIE MUNGER: Yeah, we did.

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103 Bits of “Advice I Wish I Had Known” by Kevin Kelly

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via GIPHY

Kevin Kelly of Cool Tools and many other endeavors is now 70 years old and has 103 more bits of “Advice I Wish I Had Known” for 2022. Very high density of insightful wisdom per sentence, so I like to read a little bit each day and hopefully let it sink in. Here’s a small selection:

– Don’t ever work for someone you don’t want to become.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is “I don’t need to write this down because I will remember it.”

– Your growth as a conscious being is measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.

– Habit is far more dependable than inspiration. Make progress by making habits. Don’t focus on getting into shape. Focus on becoming the kind of person who never misses a workout.

I missed last year’s version, so here are some from the 2021 version:

– That thing that made you weird as a kid could make you great as an adult — if you don’t lose it.

– If someone is trying to convince you it’s not a pyramid scheme, it’s a pyramid scheme.

– Most overnight successes — in fact any significant successes — take at least 5 years. Budget your life accordingly.

– To be wealthy, accumulate all those things that money can’t buy.

– Children totally accept — and crave — family rules. “In our family we have a rule for X” is the only excuse a parent needs for setting a family policy. In fact, “I have a rule for X” is the only excuse you need for your own personal policies.

Too often, advice like this just goes over my head until I’ve already had to learn it the hard way first. Still, worth a try to gain some wisdom the easy way.

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.

Notes on Berkshire Hathaway 2021 Annual Letter to Shareholders by Warren Buffett

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Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) released its 2021 Letter to Shareholders over the weekend, which is how Warren Buffett updates his fellow shareholders annually on the status of the business. Direct ownership of Berkshire Hathaway shares (above my passive index fund allotment) was one of my first “explore” investments where I set aside a percentage of my portfolio to buy something that wasn’t an index fund for both educational and profit purposes. The education has been very valuable, possibly worth more than the investment gains. This year’s letter is only 10 pages long. Here are my personal highlights.

Investing is not always about pure optimization. It is better to have a reasonable plan that you understand and can keep the faith in times of stress. I think about my index fund portfolio and BRK shares the same way: The price may fluctuate in the short-term, but earnings power will continue to increase in the long-term and there will be as close to 0% chance of permanent loss as possible.

To a truly unusual degree, however, Berkshire has as owners a very large corps of individuals and families that have elected to join us with an intent approaching “til death do us part.” Often, they have trusted us with a large – some might say excessive – portion of their savings.

Berkshire, these shareholders would sometimes acknowledge, might be far from the best selection they could have made. But they would add that Berkshire would rank high among those with which they would be most comfortable. And people who are comfortable with their investments will, on average, achieve better results than those who are motivated by ever-changing headlines, chatter and promises.

Owning quality businesses, either wholly or partially. BRK seeks to own only quality businesses. They find the needles in the haystack. Index funds own the whole haystack.

Whatever our form of ownership, our goal is to have meaningful investments in businesses with both durable economic advantages and a first-class CEO. Please note particularly that we own stocks based upon our expectations about their long-term business performance and not because we view them as vehicles for timely market moves. That point is crucial: Charlie and I are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers.

Easier to find mis-pricing amongst common stocks.

One advantage of our common-stock segment is that – on occasion – it becomes easy to buy pieces of wonderful businesses at wonderful prices. That shooting-fish-in-a-barrel experience is very rare in negotiated transactions and never occurs en masse. It is also far easier to exit from a mistake when it has been made in the marketable arena.

Personal asset allocation varies between 80% and 100% stocks. Here was an interesting peek about his personal stock allocation over the last 80 years. Buffett has never been shy about owning stocks where he believes that there is a good margin of safety because he paid a a price below intrinsic value.

Nor have Charlie and I lost our overwhelming preference for business ownership. Indeed, I first manifested my enthusiasm for that 80 years ago, on March 11, 1942, when I purchased three shares of Cities Services preferred stock. Their cost was $114.75 and required all of my savings. (The Dow Jones Industrial Average that day closed at 99, a fact that should scream to you: Never bet against America.)

After my initial plunge, I always kept at least 80% of my net worth in equities. My favored status throughout that period was 100% – and still is. Berkshire’s current 80%-or-so position in businesses is a consequence of my failure to find entire companies or small portions thereof (that is, marketable stocks) which meet our criteria for long- term holding.

Most stocks are too expensive right now. That will eventually change.

Charlie and I have endured similar cash-heavy positions from time to time in the past. These periods are never pleasant; they are also never permanent. And, fortunately, we have had a mildly attractive alternative during 2020 and 2021 for deploying capital. Read on.

The only thing attractive was Berkshire stock itself. So they bought that. Existing shareholders own ~10% more of Berkshire than they did a couple years ago. Side note: You know when I buy some more BRK shares? When WEB does.

Periodically, as alternative paths become unattractive, repurchases make good sense for Berkshire’s owners. During the past two years, we therefore repurchased 9% of the shares that were outstanding at yearend 2019 for a total cost of $51.7 billion. That expenditure left our continuing shareholders owning about 10% more of all Berkshire businesses, whether these are wholly-owned (such as BNSF and GEICO) or partly-owned (such as Coca-Cola and Moody’s).

The orangutan effect. I found this quote very true, as writing on this blog helps me develop and clarify my thoughts. But did I just get called an orangutan?

Teaching, like writing, has helped me develop and clarify my own thoughts. Charlie calls this phenomenon the orangutan effect: If you sit down with an orangutan and carefully explain to it one of your cherished ideas, you may leave behind a puzzled primate, but will yourself exit thinking more clearly.

Past shareholder letters.

  • 1977-2021 are free on the Berkshire Hathaway website (PDF). 1965-2020 are $2.99 at Amazon (Kindle). Three bucks seems pretty reasonable for a permanent digital copy with the ability to search text and maintain highlights.
  • 2020 Letter notes
  • 2019 Letter discussed why BRK will continue to do fine without Warren Buffett around.
  • 2018 Letter discussed using debt very sparingly and the importance of holding productive assets over a long time.
  • 2017 Letter discussed patience, risk, and why they have so much cash.
  • 2016 Letter touched on the rarity of skilled-stock pickers and some insight on his own stock-picking practices.
  • 2015 Letter discussed his optimism in America and his “Big 4” stock holdings.
  • 2014 Letter discussed the power of owning shares of productive businesses (and not just bonds).
  • 2013 Letter included Buffett’s Simple Investment Advice to Wife After His Death.

The annual shareholder meeting will be in-person this year. Unfortunately, this will not be the year I finally get to go. CNBC will livestream it on Saturday, April 30th. I’ll try to watch it while eating some See’s peanut brittle and bridge mix.

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

Charlie Munger Daily Journal Annual Meeting 2022 Full Video, Full Transcript, and Highlights

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Charlie Munger is now 98 years old and still answering questions at the 2022 Daily Journal Annual Shareholder Meeting. Yahoo Finance livestreamed the event again, and you can view the full two-hour recording on YouTube (embedded below, starts at 24:47). You’ll miss out on his snarky tone, but you may prefer to read the entire transcript, kindly provided in PDF form via @DividendGrowth and via Junto Investments.

You don’t have to agree with everything he says, but some of it is just refreshing in that it’s not the same stuff you hear elsewhere. He has a clear opinion. I’ve included a few of my personal highlights below.

One philosophy that I appreciate (but don’t necessarily follow) is to simply stay completely clear of bad things that can destroy either your financial stability or your general happiness. If you don’t own crypto, you can still live a rich and happy life.

  • Avoid treating the stock market like a casino.
  • Avoid speculating in cryptocurrencies.
  • Avoid doing something because you see someone else get rich doing it.
  • Avoid anything so addictive to you that you give up everything else. For some, it could be alcohol. Others, it could be video games.
  • Avoid “pretentious expenditure”.

On the best way to invest:

Well, it may be that you have to choose the least bad of your options. That frequently happens in human decision making. The Mungers have Berkshire stock, Costco stock, Chinese stocks through Li Lu, a little bit of Daily Journal stock, and a bunch of apartment houses. Do I think that’s perfect? No. Do I think it’s okay? Yes. I think the great lesson from the Mungers is that you don’t need all this damn diversification. You’re lucky if you got four good assets. If you’re trying to do better than average, you’re lucky if you have four things to buy. To ask for 20 is really asking for egg in your beer. Very few people have enough brains to get 20 good investments.

On making macro-economic predictions and dealing with the boom and bust cycle:

I figure that I want to swim as well as I can against the tides. I’m not trying to predict the tides.

If you’re gonna invest in stocks for the long term, or real estate, of course there are going to be periods when there’s a lot of agony and other periods when there’s a boom. I think you just have to learn to live through them.

Should we go to cash and wait for better opportunities in the future?

In my whole adult life, I’ve never hoarded cash, waiting for better conditions. I’ve just invested in the best thing I could find. I don’t think I’m going to change now. The Daily Journal has used up its cash.

On living a happy life:

You want to have reasonable expectations and take life’s results good and bad as they happen with a certain amount of stoicism. There’ll never be any shortage of good people in the world. All you got to do is seek them out and get as many of them as possible into your life. Keep the rest the hell out.

Past years:

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Real-World Numbers: Investing $850 a Month Turned Into $200,000 Over 10 Years (2022 Edition)

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Instead of focusing on the current hot thing, how about stepping back and taking the longer view? How would a steady investor have done over the last decade? Most successful savers invest money each year over a long period of time.

Target date funds. The Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund is an all-in-one fund that is low-cost, globally-diversified, and available both inside many employer retirement plans and to anyone that funds an IRA. When you are young (up until age 40 for those retiring at 65), this fund holds 90% stocks and 10% bonds. It is a solid default choice in a world of mediocre, overpriced options. This is also a good benchmark for others that use low-cost index funds.

The power of consistent, tax-advantaged investing. For the last decade, the maximum allowable annual contribution to a Traditional or Roth IRA has been roughly $5,000 per person. The maximum allowable annual contribution for a 401k, 403b, or TSP plan has been over $10,000 per person. If you have a household income of $67,000, then $10,000 is right at the 15% savings rate mark. Therefore, I’m going to use $10,000 as a benchmark amount. This round number also makes it easy to multiply the results as needed to match your own situation. Save $5,000 a year? Halve the result. Save $20,000 a year? Double the numbers, and so on.

The real-world payoff from a decade of saving $833 a month. What would have happened if you put $10,000 a year into the Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund, every year, for the past 10 years? With the interactive tools at Morningstar and a Google spreadsheet, we get this:

Investing $10,000 every year ($833 a month, or $384 per bi-weekly paycheck) for the last decade would have resulted in a total balance of $196,000. Bump that up to $850 a month, and you’d be sitting on $200,000 right now, broken up into $102,000 in contribution and $98,000 in investment gains.

What would have happened if you extended that to the past 15 years instead? Investing $10,000 every year for the last decade and a half would have resulted in a total balance of $353,000. That breaks down to $150k in contributions + $203k investment growth. Your gains are now officially more than what you initially invested.

Real-world path to becoming a 401(k) millionaire. Not theoretical numbers from a calculator! Are you a dual-income household that can put away more? If you each invested $14,150 a year ($28,300 total for both) for the last 15 years, you would have a million dollars. That means starting at age 22 and ending at 37, or starting at 25 and ending at 40.

It gets even better if you started early. There is a popular example of the power of compound interest that shows how someone who started saving at age 25, saves and invests for 10 years but then stops and never saves a penny again still beats someone who starts saving at 35 and keeps on saving for 30 years. Acorns provides a nice illustration:

Once you have that initial momentum, it just keeps going.

Timing still matters, but not as much as you might think due to the dollar-cost averaging and longer time horizon. Yes, the last decade has been a great run for US stock markets. But Vanguard Target funds also own a lot of international stocks, which haven’t been nearly as hot and have maintained lower valuations. Diversification means you aren’t 100% in the hot thing, but your bases are covered if the hot things goes cold. Here are my previous “saving for a decade” posts:

Work on improving your career skills (or start your own business), save a big chunk of your income, and then invest it in productive assets. Keep calm and repeat. The only “secret” here is consistency and starting as early as you can. (The best time is always yesterday. The second best time is today.) We have maxed out both IRA and the 401k salary deferral limits nearly every year since 2004. We are fortunate in many ways, but we received no inheritance and no house downpayment assistance. We are not super-skilled stock pickers or Bitcoin early adopters. You can still build serious wealth with something as accessible and boring as the Vanguard Target Retirement fund (or a simple collection of low-cost index funds).

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FIRE Starters: Profiles of 12 Individuals and Families Pursuing Early Financial Freedom

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I enjoyed watching all 14 YouTube videos in the FIRE Starters interview series by Marketwatch. The videos were well-edited, in that they averaged only about 5-7 minutes each but still explained the individual and/or family’s unique path to financial independence. You can watch a single video during any small break, or you could watch them all in about an hour and a half. The profiles usually covered the initial spark, overall occupation and salary range, age timeframe, and a monthly budget breakdown. Some of the videos follow the same person(s) a couple of years apart (before and after the pandemic began).

Here a few embedded video examples (might not show up in e-mail):

A few observations:

  • Work. I saw a nurse, flight attendant, hourly IT consultant, lawyer, and energy trader. People who pursue Financial Independence are more likely to have an above-average income, sure, but are they also more likely to be paid on an hourly or shift basis? Maybe when there is a direct link between trading your time (life) for money, you quickly realize the power of dialing up and down your hours. Use the difference between income and spending to buy productive assets and create an supplemental income stream, and those are the primary variables of financial independence.
  • Possibilities. Seeing how other people have customized their lifestyles helps you visualize your own path. The more examples the better. Don’t blindly follow the perceived default of 40-50 hours a week times 40 years. You don’t have to spend like your friends. You don’t have to work the same hours as your friends. You might live in a tiny 500 sf urban condo. You might live on an off-grid 10-acre farm. You might not have kids. You might have 5 kids. You might invest in stocks. You might invest in real estate. You could work full-time, 50% time, or 8.562% time. There are so many ways to play the game.
  • FIRE is just a catchy but imperfect acronym. As someone who started on this journey before “FIRE” was a popular acronym, I’m not sure why “FIRE” is so catchy. I’d say 80% of successful FIRE folks end up saying “I really just focus on the Financial Independence part” and not the “Retire Early”. So why bother with the RE part? The word “retire” evokes a very specific idea, while “financial independence” doesn’t force itself to be black or white. “Grey” semi-retirement may offer a better path, allowing you to work less and live more while you are young and healthy.
  • The first $10,000 is the hardest. As I’ve said before… Only a small percentage of the population can save up $10,000. Even having that amount of money can change your life. If you can save up $10,000, you can save up $100,000. If you can save up $100,000 and add some time and productive investments, you can reach $1,000,000. The most important thing is to start. Let these videos inspire you.
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)

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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.

Turning Small Deals into a $100,000 Nest Egg

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There is a story circulating about MIT students offered $100 in free Bitcoin back in 2014. A few quickly spent it on dinner at a local sushi restaurant. Some kept it all, now worth about $14,000. Some agreed to help fellow students set up a crypto wallet to hold their Bitcoin, in exchange for some of it. 1 BTC was worth about about $300 back then, and about $45,000 now. Those sushi dinners ended up being quite expensive, but can you really blame them? How many of us went out and backed the truck up on Bitcoin in 2014?

However, that got me thinking about the various deals that I post on this blog. I don’t know what you do for work, but I trust that you work hard and balance your levels of passion, income, and ability. I can’t help you much with your career, but these deals are a way to find common ground, as they are available to the great majority of readers. You may think of them as “free sushi dinners”, but they can equally be a powerful source of retirement savings and income.

1. Consider a target of $500 monthly profit coming from whatever deals are currently available. It could be higher interest on savings accounts, bank sign-up bonuses, credit card cash back, credit card sign-up bonuses, brokerage bonuses, US Mint purchases, savings on your normal everyday purchases, solo-business promotions, and so on. This is a relatively aggressive target, but if you consider everything together and average it out, it can add up quickly. I’ve been doing similar deals since I was 21 years old making $20,000 a year with $30,000 in student loans.

2. $500 a month = $6,000 a year = Maxed-out Roth IRA contribution. The 2021 contribution limit for Roth IRAs in $6,000 a year, with an additional $1,000 for those aged 50+. I always find this a very handy target to help me focus my profit from the “deals and offers” game. If you have a partner, going for $12,000 combined is an even better target. I’ve made every effort to do the max for 20 years now.

3. Invest in simple, transparent, productive assets. Some people are great with real estate, others reinvest in their own private small businesses. We should appreciate that anyone with $1,000 can open a IRA at Vanguard with minimal fees and invest in the all-in-one Vanguard Target Retirement Fund, which is a low-cost, diversified mix of global stocks and bonds. You don’t need to gamble on options at Robinhood, put too much in Bitcoin lottery tickets, or get insider access to a trendy “alternative/long/short/volatility-managed” hedge fund. Put it in, turn on automatic reinvestment of dividends, and walk away. Inside a Roth IRA, you don’t have to worry about taxes on dividends or capital gains distributions.

4. Repeat for 10 years. If you did this from 2011-2020, you’d have over $100,000. Every January, I show how regular, steady investments over time can end up with excellent results. Here is a table from What If You Invested $10,000 Every Year For the Last 10 Years? 2021 Edition:

Global stock markets are up even further in 2021 (VTIVX is up another 12% YTD as of this writing), but we can simply stick with these numbers. The chart assumes a $10,000 annual investment ($833 a month), but we can easily scale it down to our $6,000 annual investment.

If you invested $6,000 a year into the Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund, every year for the past 10 years (2011-2020), you would have ended up with a total balance of $110,822. (If two people did this, they would have over $220,000!) These are real-world numbers based on $500 a month, not a theoretical result from a calculator. You can argue the details, but even with only $250 a month, you’d have ended up with over $50,000. (You would have done even better going all-in with an S&P 500 index fund as well, but this is an easy, set-and-forget choice including global stocks and bonds.)

I admit, I like to play the game of “winning” easy/free money. I find it much more enjoyable than any video game. I also try to only pick and choose those that offer a good payout/effort ratio, usually over the equivalent of $100 an hour. Now, these small deals will never replace a successful career, which can supercharge your savings into the realm of financial independence. However, this is yet another reminder that small amounts, however attained, can add up to a surprisingly big number over time when invested productively and left alone. I have the Vanguard IRA statements to prove it. 😀

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.

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.

Buffett & Munger Wealth of Wisdom on CNBC: Full Video and Transcript

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Update: Apparently there was a lot of the interview that wasn’t shown in the CNBC video below, but is being released in a four part series on their podcast, Squawk Pod. Let me know if you find a transcript.

Original post:

For the Buffett and Munger fans out there, Becky Quick had another CNBC special interview with the pair about their longtime friendship and partnership, called Buffett & Munger: A Wealth of Wisdom on June 29th, 2021. Thankfully, you can watch the full video online and/or read the full text transcript.

All in all, this interview didn’t offer a lot of new insights if you already listened to the 2021 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting and 2021 Daily Journal shareholder meeting (Robinhood still promotes gambling and Bitcoin is still a delusion), but it did provide a little more background into their personal histories.

Here is my single favorite quote from the interview (emphasis mine):

BUFFETT: And we’re still doing it, yeah. We made a lot of money. But what we really wanted was independence. And we have had the ability since pretty much a little after we met financially we could associate with people who we wanted to associate with. And if we had, if we associated with jerks, that was our problem. But we didn’t have to. We’ve had that luxury now for, you know, 60 years or close to it. And, and that beats 25-room houses and, you know, six cars or that stuff is, what really is great is if you can do what you want to do in life and associate with the people you want to associate with in life. And, now, it, it’s and, and we both had that, that spirit all the way through.

These two friends may be famous because they are rich, but they are happy because they are able to spend their time with people that they enjoy.

Buffett and Munger explicitly wanted to get rich, so they could be independent. True freedom is the ability to control how you spend your time. But that usually takes a certain amount of money, so we have the term “financial freedom”.

I think it’s okay to say “I want accumulate a lot of money for the next X months or years”, especially if you’re in debt. As Munger has also stated, the first $100,000 is the hardest. If you really want independence quickly, then you need to embrace some pain and sacrifice to earn your freedom. This is why I try not to criticize anyone taking “extreme” measures to improve their savings rate. Some people are willing to endure a very spartan lifestyle for independence sooner, while others aren’t, or they may have a higher income and not need to give up much.

At the same time, after reaching a certain level of financial stability, we then need to figure how what game we really want to play with our limited time on this planet, beyond simply buying more luxurious stuff. Buffett enjoyed the game of capital allocation and accumulating more dollars; that was his idea of fun. He even had a partner to play the game with him. For most people, I think continuing to make more money involves more stress and hard work.

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.