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).

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.

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.

Thank You, David Swensen, For These Important Investing and Life Lessons

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unconventional180I was saddened to hear the news of the passing of David Swensen, a well-known investor, endowment fund manager, and educator. From the NY Times obituary:

David Swensen, a money manager who gave up a lucrative Wall Street career to oversee Yale University’s endowment and proceeded to revolutionize endowment investing, in the process making Yale’s the best-performing fund in the country over a 20-year period, died on Wednesday in New Haven, Conn. He was 67.

In addition to “revolutionizing” endowment investing, he also wrote a book for the average individual investor called Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment which I read at a very formative period in my investing education. Even though he is best known for being an early adopter of alternative asset classes like hedge funds, private equity, and direct real estate ownership farmland and timber, he recommended something different for those without the time, skill, and existing money (access). From an interview with the Yale Alumni magazine:

That’s why the most sensible approach is to come up with specific asset allocation targets that you can implement with low-cost, passively managed index funds and rebalance regularly. You’ll end up beating the overwhelming majority of participants in the financial markets.

Here is a brief summary of the important lessons that I learned from his book:

Alignment of interests is key. There are many conflicts of interest in the financial world. Learning to spot them is an important skill. For example, in terms of asset classes, owning shares of businesses (equities) are good because your interests are aligned as a shareholder. However, in the case of high-yield bonds, your interests are not aligned. The borrower wants the lowest interest rate possible, so their job is to seem as safe as possible even if there are significant hidden risks. This is why Swensen recommends sticking only with FDIC-insured cash and Treasury bonds (nominal and TIPS). Take your risks as an owner.

Stick with these six core asset classes. Swensen identified core asset classes that you should invest in. These share three main characteristics:

  1. They rely on market-generated returns, not from active management skill (as it is a very rare attribute and hard to separate from luck).
  2. They add a valuable and differentiable characteristic to a portfolio.
  3. They come from broad, highly-liquid markets.

The six core asset classes he identified are:

  • US Equity
  • Foreign Developed Equity
  • Emerging Market Equity
  • Real Estate
  • U.S. Treasury Bonds
  • U.S. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)

Swensen shared this sample model portfolio asset allocation:

30% Domestic US Equity
15% Foreign Developed Equity
10% Emerging Markets
15% Real Estate
15% U.S. Treasury Bonds
15% Inflation-Protected Securities

This also meant he was recommending against investing in the following:

  • US Corporate Bonds
  • High-Yield “Junk” Corporate Bonds
  • Asset-Backed Securities (like mortgage-backed bonds)
  • Tax-Exempt Bonds
  • Foreign Bonds
  • Hedge Funds
  • Private Equity

Not that they are horribly bad, it’s just that you don’t need them. They either have increased risk that isn’t adequately compensated, added management fees and costs that aren’t adequately compensated, or aren’t different enough to add extra return. Don’t make things more complex without a good reason.

Tips on active management. If you still want to pay someone to pick stocks for you, he recommended looking for the following in a manager:

  • Hold a limited number of stocks. Bet boldly on fewer companies (high “active share”), as opposed to being a “closet index fund”.
  • High rate of internal investment. The managers should have a high percentage of their own net worth in the same funds that they ask you to invest in. They should “eat their own cooking.”
  • Limit assets under management. If there is more money flowing in than they can invest efficiently, they should close the fund to avoid asset bloat. This requires them to turn down more money!
  • Reasonable management fees. Active management hash higher internal costs than a passive strategy, but you can still charge less than average.

Money isn’t everything. Find a purpose. Finally, David Swensen walked the walk. He could have made billions by staying on Wall Street instead of moving to Yale. He could have made tons of money being a “money guru” on CNBC, etc. The guy didn’t even bother to publish a second edition or “revised” edition of his book, even though that would have also been easy money. He found a mission. More quotes from Swenson (same NYT article):

Mr. Swensen was particularly proud of how the growing endowment had helped the university contribute to financial aid.

“One of the things that I care most deeply about is that notion that anyone who qualifies for admission can afford to go to Yale, and financial aid is a huge part of what the endowment does,” he said in an interview for this obituary in 2014.

“People think working for something other than the most money you could get is an odd concept, but it seems a perfectly natural concept to me.”

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.

Berkshire Hathaway 2020 Annual Letter by Warren Buffett

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Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) released its 2020 Letter to Shareholders over the weekend. If you also found reading this letter and Charlie Munger’s Daily Journal transcript an enjoyable way to spend your weekend… you might be an investing geek! As usual, the letter is not long at 15 pages. Here are my personal highlights.

I found the overall theme to be “Here’s a reminder of the many ways that Berkshire Hathaway is different than other companies”. For example, Buffett and Munger both started out with partnerships, where they invested nearly all their own net worth alongside their partners. They treated the investments as carefully as if it was their own money, because it was! I want to take the same care in writing this blog. I want to write things that I would want to read myself, and make recommendations that I would want to see being made to my own family and friends.

A minor surprise was that Buffett’s biggest purchase was $25 billion of BRK’s own shares in 2020 – roughly 5% of all outstanding shares! In other words, they though BRK itself was one of the best investments available in 2020. I guess I should have bought more BRKB when it was lingering at $165 a share.

Last year we demonstrated our enthusiasm for Berkshire’s spread of properties by repurchasing the equivalent of 80,998 “A” shares, spending $24.7 billion in the process. That action increased your ownership in all of Berkshire’s businesses by 5.2% without requiring you to so much as touch your wallet.

He also bought shares of a few big companies like Chevron ($8.6 billion) and Verizon ($4.1 billion), but it would seem that he thinks that most public and all available privately-held businesses are overpriced right now.

While Buffett indirectly pointed out that his Apple shares have gained nearly $90 billion for shareholders ($120B current value minus $31B cost basis), he also admitted a mistake in the price he paid for Precision Castparts:

The final component in our GAAP figure – that ugly $11 billion write-down – is almost entirely the quantification of a mistake I made in 2016. That year, Berkshire purchased Precision Castparts (“PCC”), and I paid too much for the company.

High prices for a stock can be a temporary illusion:

Investing illusions can continue for a surprisingly long time. Wall Street loves the fees that deal-making generates, and the press loves the stories that colorful promoters provide. At a point, also, the soaring price of a promoted stock can itself become the “proof” that an illusion is reality.

But, we should still appreciate our ability to own shares of wonderful businesses by buying shares with just a few clicks:

It took me a while to wise up. But Charlie – and also my 20-year struggle with the textile operation I inherited at Berkshire – finally convinced me that owning a non-controlling portion of a wonderful business is more profitable, more enjoyable and far less work than struggling with 100% of a marginal enterprise.

Be realistic about your expectations for bonds:

And bonds are not the place to be these days. Can you believe that the income recently available from a 10-year U.S. Treasury bond – the yield was 0.93% at yearend – had fallen 94% from the 15.8% yield available in September 1981? In certain large and important countries, such as Germany and Japan, investors earn a negative return on trillions of dollars of sovereign debt. Fixed-income investors worldwide – whether pension funds, insurance companies or retirees – face a bleak future.

Don’t take on unknown risk to chase higher yields:

Some insurers, as well as other bond investors, may try to juice the pathetic returns now available by shifting their purchases to obligations backed by shaky borrowers. Risky loans, however, are not the answer to inadequate interest rates. Three decades ago, the once-mighty savings and loan industry destroyed itself, partly by ignoring that maxim.

Buffett shared some historical profiles of Berkshire-owned companies that started out only as an idea from a single person or couple with limited funds. Through many years of hard work, determination, and taking advantage of the opportunities available in America, these turned into huge businesses. You may recognize the names: GEICO, See’s Candies, Clayton Homes, and Pilot Travel Centers.

Our unwavering conclusion: Never bet against America.

On the creation of wealth (reminds me of this):

Productive assets such as farms, real estate and, yes, business ownership produce wealth – lots of it. Most owners of such properties will be rewarded. All that’s required is the passage of time, an inner calm, ample diversification and a minimization of transactions and fees. Still, investors must never forget that their expenses are Wall Street’s income.

Past shareholder letters.

  • 1977-2020 are free on the Berkshire Hathaway website (PDF). 1965-2019 are $2.99 at Amazon (Kindle). Three bucks seems pretty reasonable for a permanent copy with the ability to search text and maintain highlights.
  • 2018 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 virtual again this year, but at least it will include Charlie Munger! Yahoo Finance will livestream it on May 1st at 1pm EDT. I will probably wait to listen in the car via the Yahoo Finance podcast version.

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 2021 Full Video, Full Transcript, and Highlights

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It seems that every year, Charlie Munger and the Daily Journal Annual Shareholder Meeting gets more and more media attention. Which is great, as Munger is now 97 years old. Yahoo Finance livestreamed the event, and you can view the full two-hour recording on YouTube. It’s much faster to read the entire transcript, kindly provided at sites like Latticework Investing and Junto Investments. Munger covered a lot of ground, and it’s nice to see he hasn’t lost his edge. I’ve edited things down to my personal highlights below.

On the popularity of the short-term trading of stocks like Gamestop. It is nothing fancier than gambling.

…that’s the kind of thing that can happen when you get a whole lot of people who are using liquid stock markets to gamble the way they would in betting on racehorses. And that’s what we have going in the in the stock market. And the frenzy is fed by people who are getting commissions and other revenues out of this new bunch of gamblers.

A few shots at Robinhood.

I have a very simple idea on the subject. I think you should try and make your money in this world by selling other people things that are good for them. And if you’re selling them gambling services where you make profits off of the top, like many of these new brokers who specialize in luring the amateurs in, I think it’s a dirty way to make money. And I think that we’re crazy to allow it. […] Well, it’s most egregious in the momentum trading by novice investors lured in by new types of brokerage operations like Robinhood. I think all of this activity is regrettable. I think civilization would do better without it.

Nope, Robinhood is not free.

Robinhood trades are not free. When you pay for order flow, you’re probably charging your customers more and pretending to be free. It’s a very dishonorable low-grade way to talk. Nobody should believe that Robinhood’s trades are free.

On SPACs:

Well, I don’t participate at all. And I think the world would be better off without them. I think this kind of crazy speculation in enterprises not even found or picked out yet is a sign of an irritating bubble. It’s just that the investment banking profession will sell shit as long as shit can be sold.

On Treasury bonds, government stimulus, and low rates:

Well no, I don’t think we have a bubble in Treasury securities. I think they’re a bad investment when interest rates are this low. I never buy any and neither does Daily Journal. But, no, I don’t think Treasury securities are a big problem.

I do think that we don’t know what these artificially low interest rates are going to do or how the economy is going to work in the future as governments print all this extra money. The only opinion I have there is that I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen for sure. Larry Summers has recently been quoted as being worried that we’re having too much stimulus. And I don’t know whether he’s right or not.

On higher stock prices due to low rates:

I think everybody is willing to hold stocks at higher price-earnings multiples when interest rates are as low as they are now. And so I don’t think it’s necessarily crazy that good companies sell at way higher multiples than they used to.

On the other hand, as you say, I didn’t get rich by buying stocks at high price-earnings multiples in the midst of crazy speculative booms. I’m not going to change. I am more willing to hold stocks at high multiples than I would be if interest rates were a lot lower. Everybody is.

On why DJCO kept its Wells Fargo shares when Berkshire Hathaway sold them all off:

Well, I don’t think it’s required that we be exactly the same on everything. We have different tax considerations. […] So, you can understand why Warren got disenchanted with Wells Fargo. I think I’m a little more lenient. I expect less out of bankers than he does.

On Bitcoin:

So, I don’t think Bitcoin is going to end up as the medium of exchange for the world. It’s too volatile to serve well as a medium of exchange. It’s really kind of an artificial substitute for gold, and since I never buy any gold, I never buy any Bitcoin. I recommend that other people follow my practice.

On Costco. Munger has said in the past that 1/3rd of his net worth is in Costco.

Costco I do think has one thing that Amazon does not. People really trust Costco will be delivering enormous value. And that is why Costco presents some danger to Amazon. They’ve got a better reputation for providing value than practically anybody, including Amazon.

How do you know you really understand something? Avoid confirmation bias.

Well, I do have a tip. At times in my life, I have put myself to a standard that I think has helped me: I think I’m not really equipped to comment on this subject until I can state the arguments against my conclusion better than the people on the other side. If you do that all the time; if you’re looking for disconfirming evidence and putting yourself on a grill, that’s a good way to help remove ignorance.

Can anyone become a great investor? Bad news.

I think people have the theory that any intelligent hardworking person can get to be a great investor. I think any intelligent person can get to be pretty good as an investor and avoid certain obvious traps. But I don’t think everybody can be a great investor or a great chess player. […] I don’t think it’s easy for ordinary people to become great investors.

What does Munger advise his charitable institutions to hold as assets? Munger also has 1/3rd of his assets run by Li Lu, and the final 1/3rd is Berkshire Hathaway shares.

Well, the one charitable institution where I have had some influence for a very long time has a whole bunch of hotshot financiers in every branch of wealth management there is on the board. And that institution has two assets in its endowment account. One is a big interest in Li Lu’s China fund, which is a limited partnership, and the other is a Vanguard index fund. As a result of holding those two positions, we have a lower cost than anybody else and we make more money than practically everybody else. So you now know what I do in charitable institutions.

Most people have “happiness thermostats”:

I think most people who are assuming tolerable success in life are about as happy as they were ordained to be. They wouldn’t be a lot happier if they were richer or a lot less happy if they’d been poor. I think most people are born with a happystat. That happystat has more to do with their happiness and their outcomes in life.

More on happiness:

The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. That’s one you can easily arrange. If you have unrealistic expectations, you’re going to be miserable all your life. I was good at having low expectations and that helped me.

On choosing a spouse:

A little wisdom in spouse selection is very desirable. You can hardly think of a decision that matters more to human felicity than who you marry. […] Well, you know, I had a failed marriage, so I don’t think I’m in the perfect position to advise the young about marriage.

Here are last year’s 2020 Daily Journal meeting video, transcript, and notes. Here are links to past Daily Journal meeting transcripts and lots of additional Munger material.

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.

Scott Galloway’s Algebra of Wealth (or: How To Become Rich)

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Scott Galloway shares in The Algebra of Wealth his thoughts on how to achieve financial security (be rich). You should read the entire thing, but the ingredients in his formula are Focus, Stoicism, Time, and Diversification. I’m only including a few notes and personal interpretations here.

Focus. If you want to get rich, you have consciously take action to make it happen. It rarely happens by accident. Look for a good wave to ride when you are young. Look carefully for the right life partner.

Successful people often unwittingly head fake young people with the humblebrags of “follow your passion” and “don’t think about money.” This is (mostly) bullshit. Achieving economic security requires hard work, talent, and a tremendous amount of focus on . . . money. Yes, some people’s genius will be a tsunami that overwhelms a lack of focus and discipline. Assume you are not that person.

Stoicism. Develop some self-discipline and character. Be generous and helpful to others. This will help you spend less money.

Determine what you can and can’t control. You can control your reactions to temptation — a lack of discipline is the antichrist to economic security. Our society of superabundance makes this difficult. Billions of dollars are spent every year on schemes to manipulate our natural impulses into spending more money, consuming more fat, and believing everyone around us is more successful than we are. The upgrade from economy to premium to business to first class to private jet can seem like an investment in yourself — it’s not. The most powerful forward-looking indicator of your financial freedom is not how much you earn, but how much you save.

Time. Steady improvements over time can supercharge your results. Don’t focus only on the short-term. As the saying goes, “Time in the market is more important than timing the market.”

Compounding is not just a financial thing. The most important returns in life come from the compounded effects of our investments over time, whether in our finances, careers, hobbies, or relationships.

Diversification. Never expose yourself to a fully catastrophic loss. Make sure you can walk away to fight another day. If you do it right, you only need to get rich once.

Diversification is the kevlar that protects you — with it, bad decisions will still hurt, but they won’t prove fatal. Diversification, in other words, is your bulletproof vest. […] That doesn’t mean I don’t look for opportunities that offer asymmetric upside — I do. I just don’t ever take off my kevlar. You don’t need to be a hero to get to economic security.

There is no simple step-by-step plan to become financially independent, otherwise everyone would be rich. Luck matters too, but working on all of these factors helps maintain maximum exposure to good luck.

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.

Eat and Run: On Moving Forward and Taking True Risks

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Scott Jurek is a well-known ultramarathoner that I first learned about in the book Born to Run (my highlights) by Christopher McDougall. Jurek later wrote his own memoir, titled Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. I’ll probably never have the physical and mental endurance to run 100 miles in a day. But perhaps I could learn how to push myself farther outside of my comfort zone?

As the title suggests, Jurek attributes much of his racing success to his plant-based diet. Some folks still claim that it’s too hard to get excellent nutrition just from plants, but Jurek’s performance is the perfect counterpoint. However, he isn’t overly preachy on the subject, and I appreciated that he sprinkled his favorite vegan recipes throughout the book. The few that I tried tasted pretty good.

He shares about his challenges as a child and teenager, and how that really shaped him. His mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was very young, and he had to juggle the responsibilities of being head of his household by the time he was a teenager. In addition to schoolwork and sports, he had parenting and housework duties as well. Yet, he still managed to graduate as the valedictorian of his high school.

In my valedictory speech I said, “I would like to leave you with four messages to help you and others benefit from life.” (I still have the speech.) “First of all, I ask you to be different. “Second, find a way to help others rather than thinking solely of yourself. “Third, everyone is capable of achieving. Never let anyone discourage you when trying to pursue a goal or a dream. “And finally, do things while you’re young. Be sure to pursue your dreams and goals even if they seem impossible.”

He also learned that being physically able should not be taken for granted. He provides some simple, practical advice about taking up running as a beginner:

Running efficiently demands good technique, and running efficiently for 100 miles demands great technique. But the wonderful paradox of running is that getting started requires no technique. None at all. If you want to become a runner, get onto a trail, into the woods, or on a sidewalk or street and run. Go 50 yards if that’s all you can handle. Tomorrow, you can go farther. The activity itself will reconnect you with the joy and instinctual pleasure of moving. It will feel like child’s play, which it should be. Don’t worry about speed at first or even distance. In fact, go slow. That means 50 to 70 percent of your maximum effort. The best way to find that zone is to run with a friend and talk while you’re doing so. If you can’t talk, you’re running too fast and too hard.

On the importance of the journey:

We focus on something external to motivate us, but we need to remember that it’s the process of reaching for that prize—not the prize itself—that can bring us peace and joy. Life, as countless posters and bumper stickers rightly attest, is a journey, not a destination.

On finding your path over time:

It’s easy to get wrapped up in deadlines and debt, victory and loss. Friends squabble. Loved ones leave. People suffer. A 100-mile race—or a 5K, or a run around the block—won’t cure pain. A plate filled with guacamole and dinosaur kale will not deliver anyone from sorrow. But you can be transformed. Not overnight, but over time. Life is not a race. Neither is an ultramarathon, not really, even though it looks like one. There is no finish line. We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters is how we move toward that goal. What’s crucial is the step we’re taking now, the step you’re taking now. Everyone follows a different path. Eating well and running free helped me find mine. It can help you find yours. You never know where that path might take you.

My favorite highlight – On paying respect to the true risk-takers. Jurek is known for staying at the finish line after winning an ultramarathon and cheering on every other single runner until the last one has crossed. Every single one! For an ultramarathon, this could be another several hours or longer. Here is part of his reasoning:

Every single one of us possesses the strength to attempt something he isn’t sure he can accomplish. It can be running a mile, or a 10K race, or 100 miles. It can be changing a career, losing 5 pounds, or telling someone you love her (or him). I can guarantee that no one at the Western States knew they were going to finish, much less win (including me). A lot of people never do something great with their lives. A lot of people never attempt it. Everyone here had done both. Staying at the finish line and greeting those runners, I could pay tribute to the pain and doubt, fatigue and hopelessness, that I imagined they had pushed through.

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.