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.

What If You Invested $10,000 Every Year For the Last 10 Years? 2021 Edition

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Instead of focusing only on what happened in 2020, how about stepping back and taking the longer view? How would a slow-and-steady investor have done over the last decade? Most successful savers invest money each year over a long period of time, these days often into a target-date fund (TDF). You may not find yourself buying Bugattis with Bitcoin, but we should not take for granted the ability for everyday folks to own a basket of successful businesses for tiny fees. Don’t pass up the opportunity right in front of you.

Target date funds. The Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund is an all-in-one fund that is low-cost, highly diversified, and available both inside many employer retirement plans and to anyone that funds an IRA. During the early accumulation phase, this fund holds 90% stocks (both US and international) and 10% bonds (investment-grade domestic and international). It is a solid default choice in a world of mediocre, overpriced options. These “simple” funds have made substantial wealth for millions of investors.

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? You’d have put in $100,000 over time, but in more manageable increments. With the interactive tools at Morningstar and a Google spreadsheet, we get this:

Investing $10,000 every year for the last decade would have resulted in a total balance of $184,000. That breaks down to $100k in contributions + $84k investment growth.

Extended edition: 15 years of real-world savings. What would have happened if you put $10,000 a year into the Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund, every year, for the past 15 years instead? (Now $150,000 total.) Here are the extended return numbers:

Investing $10,000 every year for the last decade and a half would have resulted in a total balance of $324,000. That breaks down to $150k in contributions + $175k 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 were a couple that both maxed out their 401k and IRAs at roughly $20k each or $40k total per year for 10 years, you would have a total balance of over $735,000. You would be 3/4 of the way to millionaire status after a decade. That breaks down to $400k in contributions + $335k investment growth.

If you did this for the last 15 years, you would be a 401(k) millionaire household. If you started when you were 30 years old, your account statement would show a balance just shy of $1,300,000 by the age of 45. (This doesn’t include the 401k company match, which is how many people reach millionaire status even faster.)

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. More importantly, you can’t control that part. You have much more control over how much you save. 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. We have maxed out both IRA and the 401k salary deferral limits nearly every year since 2004. No inheritances, no special access to a hedge fund, no stock-picking skill. You can build serious wealth with something as accessible and boring as the Vanguard Target Retirement fund.

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.

Flippa: Buy and Sell Digital Real Estate Like eCommerce Stores, Amazon Products

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Flipping, rehabbing, or rental residential real estate is a popular entrepreneurial activity, but I’ve always been more partial to digital real estate (websites). There are similarities in that anyone can enter the business as long as they are willing to learn quickly and put in the hours. Nobody gets a degree in “landlording”, just as nobody gets a degree in “digital marketing”. Everything is about results, not letters after names. Some own $500 websites, while others own $5,000,000 websites.

You can now also buy and sell digital properties via online marketplaces. I often spend idle moments browsing the email newsletter of the biggest one, Flippa.com, and realized that a beginner could learn a lot about the industry by just reading through the listings. The best way to learn is still to jump in and get your hands dirty, but seeing the inner details of all these properties will accelerate your education. How does their website valuation tool work? What are the ranges in terms of multiples of revenue? How do you verify traffic stats? By signing up for a free account, you can see the non-public listings as well. I’ve learned a lot more about the Amazon ecosystem myself.

Some people love to start websites from nothing and quickly sell them for $1,000 to $10,000. Others like to find a starter drop-shipping site or Amazon product with potential and improve it into a six-figure property. Others are just looking to build a portfolio of properties that creates a steady cashflow with minimal maintenance. The market is a lot more mature than when I was buying domains on small internet forums. Private equity funds and publicly-listed corporations are also increasingly in the game.

You should also know that digital properties are much more volatile in price. A condo in Manhattan, NY or a 4-plex in Portland, OR might double in price in the next 10 years, but it won’t go up 2,000% or drop by 95% either. They also vary widely in the ongoing work involved. Some require hardly any maintenance, while others require ongoing marketing campaigns and a team of independent contractors.

One of the pathways to wealth is to find an asset type that you have a passion for, instead of a consumer product. Some people get $1,000 and spend it on video games, a car modification, or some nice clothes. Others get a kick out of buying another share of BRK, JNJ, or VTI stock. Same for a downpayment toward a rental property, reinvesting into their own private business, or to improve or acquire a digital asset. You also end up increasing your knowledge in that industry, which is highly valuable on its own.

Disclosure: I did sign up to be an affiliate of Flippa, and will receive a commission if someone clicks and lists a site for sale, but not if you just sign up for an account to browse listings.

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: Huge Compilation of Annual Shareholder Letters, Interviews, Op-Eds, Speech Transcripts

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Charles Munger is probably best known as the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and longstanding investing partner of Warren Buffett. However, he has also been the CEO and/or Chairman of the Board of multiple other companies. This means there many additional sources of knowledge and wisdom beyond just BRK shareholder letters. I recently discovered this huge 1,000 page compilation (PDF) of everything Munger, including annual letters from Blue Chip Stamps, Wesco, and Daily Journal as well as his op-ed contributions and transcripts of speeches. Found at ValueWalk, the PDF includes links to most of the individual sources inside as well. Thanks to all the folks that worked hard to preserve this material.

There was no table of contents, so I started making a list of all the goodies inside:

Annual Shareholder Letters and Meeting Transcripts

  • Blue Chip Stamps, Annual Shareholder Letters, 1978-1982. Blue Chip Stamps was merged into Berkshire Hathaway in 1983.
  • Wesco Financial Corporation, Annual Shareholder Letters and/or Meeting Notes, 1983-2010. Wesco Financial was officially merged into Berkshire Hathaway in 2011.
  • Q&A sesssion with Charlie Munger July 1st, 2011. An event paid for by Charlie Munger after the Wesco merger.
  • Daily Journal Corporation Annual Meeting Notes and/or Transcript, 2013-2018.

Speech Transcripts, Op-Eds, Interviews, Etc.

  • Opinion Pieces, 1984.
  • Speech by Charlie Munger to the Harvard School, 1986.
  • Resignation of Mutual Savings from US League of Savings Institutions, May 30, 1989.
  • A Lesson On Elementary, Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business, 1995.
  • Practical Thought about Practical Thought?, 1996.
  • Investment Practices of Leading Charitable Foundations, 1998.
  • Foundation Financial Officers Group Master’s Class, 1999.
  • A Perverse Use of Antitrust Law, 2000.
  • Philanthropy Round Table, 2000
  • Optimism Has No Place in Accounting, 2002
  • The Great Financial Scandal of 2003
  • Herb Kay Undergraduate Lecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara Economics Department, 2003.
  • Munger speech at University of California, Santa Barbara, 2004.
  • The Pyschology of Human Misjudgment,
  • Charlie Munger – USC Commencement Speech 2007
  • Sacrificing To Restore Market Confidence, 2009.
  • Basically, It’s Over. A parable about how one nation came to financial ruin, 2009.
  • Wantmore, Tweakmore, Totalscum, and the Tragedy of Boneheadia: A Parody about the Great Recession, 2011.
  • A Conversation with Charlie Munger and Michigan Ross Dean Scott DeRue, 2017.
  • Charlie Munger, Unplugged, 2019.
  • Foreword to the Chinese Edition of Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger (by Louis Li).

This should keep me busy for a while!

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

The Warren Buffett Pilot Story: The Importance of Making a NOT To Do List

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Even before COVID, I hated that feeling at the end of the day that comes after running around but not being able to list anything accomplished. Here’s a helpful idea of what I call the story of Warren Buffett and his pilot. I’ve read a few different versions from various sources, and I honestly don’t even know any of them are true. This one is taken from the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth:

Warren Buffett—the self-made multibillionaire whose personal wealth, acquired entirely within his own lifetime, is roughly twice the size of Harvard University’s endowment – reportedly gave his pilot a simple three-step process for prioritizing.

The story goes like this: Buffett turns to his faithful pilot and says that he must have dreams greater than flying Buffett around to where he needs to go. The pilot confesses that, yes, he does. And then Buffett takes him through three steps.

First, you write down a list of twenty-five career goals.

Second, you do some soul-searching and circle the five highest-priority goals. Just five.

Third, you take a good hard look at the twenty goals you didn’t circle. These you avoid at all costs. They’re what distract you; they eat away time and energy, taking your eye from the goals that matter more.

(Note that this is from a book about not giving up!)

Creating this list provides a clear yardstick at the end of each day. Did you make any progress towards your top 5 goals? Even a little progress makes the day seem well spent. A common problem is that not even knowing what those top 5 goals are.

However, equally if not more important is the second list. Instead of the ever-expanding To Do List, we need a NOT To Do List. In order to be truly productive, we need to be willing to focus on the most important things and not just ignore the unimportant things, but also ignore the simply not-quite-as important things. You only have a limited amount of time and energy (focus). As someone with completionist and perfectionist tendencies, this is hard!

Doing this properly means giving up on a good and respectable goal (at least temporarily). For example, I chose to give up pursuing rental properties and residential real estate. I also spend minimal time on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, even though it can be useful for research, networking, and marketing. These might be near the top of someone else’s list, but just not high enough on my personal list. I still don’t feel like I have enough time, but it is nice to let go of feeling guilty about not doing something that other successful people do.

This concept can apply to many different areas of life. Money is finite as well, so we have budgeting. You should have two lists: What can you cut? Yes. But also, what do you love so much that you want to spend more on? Ideally, you now have a positive reason that motivates you to make that change.

Marie Kondo has created an entire brand in applying this to getting rid of your stuff. I don’t claim to grasp her ethos completely, but my take is that you can spend more money (and space and time) on the list of things that “brings you joy” if you get rid of the other list of things that “you don’t really need but still can’t seem to give away”. (Still working on this one too.)

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.

Kneading Dough Podcast: Athletes Talk Openly About Money

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Another podcast that I discovered late is Kneading Dough, where famous athletes sit down and talk openly about their finances. Created by UNINTERRUPTED (founded by Lebron James and Maverick Carter) and sponsored by Chase, guests over the three seasons range from Lebron James to Serena Williams to Simone Biles. The description sounded similar to Celebrity Money Diaries.

Despite the old saying about death and taxes, studies show that personal finance is actually the most difficult topic for most Americans to discuss. But while most Americans aren’t comfortable revealing their finances, athletes’ money mistakes are splashed across newspapers and the internet.

Chase’s Kneading Dough series connects the money challenges of average people to the hard-earned lessons of pro athletes. In exclusive, one-on-one interviews, famous athletes discuss how they learned to budget responsibly, balance the needs of career and family, and prepare for retirement.

You can view all of the shorter video interviews on this YouTube playlist, but the podcast version includes the full unedited interviews.

In the end, these are often people who were not born into wealth, so I did find them relatable and enjoyed the casual conversational style. You hear straight from Lebron how he handled the fame and responsibility of becoming the family breadwinner at age 18 (and how other athletes handled huge windfalls and learned to manage their budgets), but also how one navigates the more modest WNBA max salary of $110,000 a year (now higher but the average player earns $130k). There are amusing moments like how Serena Williams tried to deposit her first million-dollar tournament check at the local bank drive-thru window, which the teller didn’t know how to handle.

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

The Money Hamster Wheel, Part 2: Multiple Solutions, Not Just More Money

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In Part 1: Identifying the Problem, I shared Lawrence Yeo’s unique take on money and the hamster wheel metaphor, where we just keep spinning and can’t get off. Since then, I have thought more about how best to slow things down by instead attacking each step of the cycle. To be honest, I don’t know if I can properly explain Yeo’s concepts, so I came up with my own version of the hamster wheel. Here it is, rather hastily-drawn:

A common criticism of seeking financial freedom is that it’s all about money. Make more money. Spend less money. However, if you take a step back, money is just part of the flow between how you spend the time in your life. How are you making that money? Why do you want more money? Why are you spending the money?

Accordingly, here various ways that someone could lessen the impact of each part of the cycle.

  • Find better-paying work that is equally fulfilling and stimulating. Try to save the excess. Don’t make yourself more unsatisfied for more money.
  • Find more fulfilling and stimulating work, even if it pays less. Be happier, and thus need to spend less to replace that happiness.
  • Engage in non-work activities that provide meaning and stimulation. If you need a better job, work on a new skill. If you need more stimulation, start a side business and keep your current job. Or just find a new hobby/sport/language. Taking action is the key, as the right activities will energize you.
  • Reduce your intake of low-quality media. Stop consuming things that make you feel worse about yourself. The wrong activities will drain you, which encourages more spending.
  • Exercise more (try outdoors or with other people) and eat better food. This gives you more energy all day long.
  • Spend less money on the things that don’t matter, so you need less money. Cut out the mindless and unhelpful spending.
  • Spend more money on the things that truly matter to you. Now that you cut the mindless, you can spend more on improving interpersonal relationships, or energizing activities (see above).
  • The more you learn to control this cycle, the more you can use the concept of “Enough” to widen the gap between money in and money out. Decouple earning and spending. Invest in enough productive assets so that your required income is less and less.

Addressing the problem from one angle, helps free you up to attack it from another angle later. For example, if you eat and exercise better, you might have enough energy to take corrective action, and not just fantasize about that side business when you really just turn on the TV after a long day at 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.

The Money Hamster Wheel, Part 1: Identifying The Problem

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I started looking into financial independence because I simply couldn’t imagine doing what I was doing every weekday at that time for another 30 or 40 years. Some people know exactly what they want to spend their life doing, and it also pays the bills and then some. I was always envious of those folks. Strangely, I never really felt that making more money was the final answer. I saved diligently in order to quit my job and go back to school and explore alternate paths.

This week, I’ve been pondering a longread by Lawrence Yeo about his philosophy of money at How Money Forever Changed Us. It’s a very high-level exploration of how money both solves and causes various conflicts in our lives. This culminates into what he calls the Money Hamster Wheel:

The questions posed are slightly different than you may have seen elsewhere. Does working a job that doesn’t fulfill our need for purpose and meaning really take something away from our identity? Is that identity loss what we are really trying to replace by spending money? Why is it so rare to find people that are truly happy and aligned with their work and the rest of their lives?

You’ll have to read the entire article to understand all the spokes of his wheel (although I’m still not sure I do completely), and while Yeo admits that it is not possible to fully “get off the wheel”, you can do something:

When I look at each spoke on the wheel, I view them as potential opportunities to slow the whole thing down. If we are aware of each mechanism, we can notice when we’re operating under them, and lessen their impact in turn.

The hamster wheel is a great metaphor. Over time, I’ve accepted that financial independence will always be rare. I used to think that higher income = more wealth = more stability. But then I noticed that certain things don’t change when people make $75k vs. $150k vs. $300k a year. The neighborhood changes. The car changes. Yes, even average net worth changes (but rarely enough to 33x expenses before age 65). Unless they hit a huge windfall in the multi-millions, most of them will work until they are 65 or older. Most will say they like their job okay, but they would never do it for a 25% pay cut. Most will never be able to handle an extended period of unemployment. Earn more, spend more. Still spinning on the wheel. Maybe that’s just how it’s meant to be? Yeo presents a solution:

But if we take the time to look closer, we’ll see that a middle-ground exists. A place where our fears could be calmed, and our desires could be curtailed. A place where the quest for money falls only to what is essential.

In a world where neither scarcity nor abundance will do, perhaps the closest solution to the great paradox comes down to one principle:

The ability to recognize when we have enough.

Sounds easy, but shockingly hard. “Enough” is not encouraged in our culture. I still struggle with it as well, or at least I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up the fight forever.

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.