Planned vs. Perceived Obsolescence

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The Story of Stuff (embedded below) is a short animated film about the lifecycle of material goods. Even though it was released over 10 years ago, the overall message of anti-consumerism and sustainability still applies to our current world. There are debates about specific statements from the movie which you can find on the film’s Wikipedia page, but I’m not here to defend the entire video. I believe that people should be able to watch something with a critical mind and not necessarily agree with every single point.

Here I am focusing on the discussion of planned vs. perceived obsolescence, which is approximately at 12:35 if you wanted to skip directly to that part.

Here are the definitions from the film glossary:

Planned obsolescence: designing and producing products in order for them to be used up (obsolete) within a specific time period. Products may be designed for obsolescence either through function, like a paper coffee cup or a machine with breakable parts, or through “desirability,” like a piece of clothing made for this year’s fashion and then replaced by something totally different next year. Planned obsolescence is also known as “design for the dump.”

Perceived obsolescence: the part of planned obsolescence that refers to “desirability”. In other words, an object may continue to be functional, but it is no longer perceived to be stylish or appropriate, so it is rendered obsolete by perception, rather than by function. Fashion is all about perceived obsolescence, and it could be said that perceived obsolescence is the number one “product” of the advertising industry.

Non-Consumer Alarm! In other words, companies have made easy it is to identify “non-consumers”, which usually comes with a negative connotation in our society. Let’s take cars. (Is it ever “cool” to drive an old car that isn’t a collectible?) Models change very often, even if just slightly, so it’s very easy to tell if you have an older car vs. a newer model. My wife and I have been half-jokingly told by our friends and co-workers that we need to buy nicer cars that better match our job titles and/or income levels. Yet even the newest cars pretty much do the same stuff. I could be driving a 15-year-old well-maintained Camry and add a smartphone for GPS/music/podcasts, and a blindfolded passenger probably couldn’t tell the difference.

The next time you are in public, look at the visible stuff that people own. Notice how easily you can figure out whether it was bought within the last few years.

Bottom line. I still buy stuff. You probably still buy stuff. However, we should at least acknowledge the pressure to own the most current version of everything, even if we are replacing something that still works. Cars. Cell phones. Water containers (Hydroflask). Headphones (Airpods). Kitchens that “need” remodeling because they are outdated. Shoes. Winter jackets. Purses. Clothing.

[Revised and updated from original post from many years ago. I’m cleaning up my archives and updating selected articles. Funnily enough, this post is getting increased attention because a lot of students have been assigned homework after watching this film as part of their “distance learning”.]

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20% of Gift Cards Are Left Unused After 1 Year. How About Yours?

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It’s now been a month since Christmas. Have you spent your gift cards yet? The odds are that you haven’t, as only 38% of all gift cards overall have been redeemed after a month. This is from a neat collection of gift card statistics from Zachary Crockett and The Hustle.

Here’s a chart of gift card redemption rates over time. Initially, it surprised me that less than 80% of gift card are used up after 12 months. That means 1 out of 5 are sitting there collecting dust after an entire year. Then I looked over at my own stack of unused gift cards, and realized that I am part of the problem!

This also explains why many gift cards can be discounted 10% to 20% in stores. In addition to the embedded profit margins of each specific business, around 6% of gift cards are never used. On top of their normal profits, Starbucks makes over $100 million a year from gift cards bought and never used! They literally get paid for doing nothing.

This means ~30% of gift cards that are unused after a year will never be used. Perhaps the best move is to give yourself a year and sell whatever hasn’t been used within a year. (I apply this same rule by throwing out clothes that aren’t worn after four seasons have passed.) Here are a bunch of sample quotes from card-buying site CardCash using nice round $100 numbers:

Look for extra value by exchanging for gift cards that you always use up. CardCash offered 3.5% extra over the cash offer if I exchanged into an Amazon gift card, 5% extra for Home Depot, and 7% extra for Lowe’s gift card. I have a 100% usage rate for Amazon gift cards, so that works well for my spending habits.

We all know that the solution is to give cash, but for whatever reason, giving cash in American culture is not standard practice. (Maybe some red envelopes would make it feel more classy?) In the end, I think gift cards are here to stay. I would still much rather have a gift card than a sweater that doesn’t fit. We just have to accept that there is going to be some waste in the process, like all that wrapping paper and ribbon.

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.

Consumer Report Car Brand Reliability Rankings 2018

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Consumer Reports shared some results from their 2018 Car Reliability Survey in the public articles Who Makes the Most Reliable Cars?, 10 Most Reliable Cars and, 12 Models Lose CR Recommendation Over Car Reliability Issues.

Here’s a partial snapshot of the brand breakdown, which includes the relative change from last year. Highlights:

  • Most reliable: Lexus and Toyota. Again.
  • Most spots improved: Mazda and Acura.
  • Biggest ranking drop: Honda, Chrysler, Volvo, and Tesla.

A partial excerpt with the top rankings are below:

Despite providing these brand rankings, Consumer Reports recommends that you shop by vehicle and not just by brand. Some brands like Toyota and Lexus are reliable across the brand, but others like Honda and Kia have a wide range of rankings by model. In addition, new model redesigns often results in variable reliability. Of course, you’ll need full print or digital access to get those numbers.

My thoughts. In terms of trends, I was disappointed to see Honda slip a bit again in the reliability rankings all the way down to 15th. We’ve said goodbye to our trusty Honda Fit, but I don’t know if we’ll go back to Honda. I bought a Toyota not just due to lower total ownership cost (frugal living), but mostly about avoiding headaches and hassle (simple living).

In terms of methodology, I see a lot of mentions about infotainment issues. Honestly, I now have a car with a big LCD screen, and I never use it. I just stream music, podcasts, and audiobooks from my phone via Bluetooth. Any issue that keeps me from driving the car itself should count 50 times more than a slow or frozen screen.

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 Quest of the Simple Life: Escaping The Work Grind in 1907 vs. 2018

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The Quest of the Simple Life by William J. Dawson was published over 100 years ago; it’s so old that the copyright has expired, making the book public domain (and thus available as a free Kindle download). Yet, other than the old-fashioned writing style that required regular dictionary usage, much of the contents are perfectly applicable today! Here are some excerpts to help prove my point, and at the end I compare 1907 vs. 2018. (Any bolded parts are my doing.)

On the feeling that your family time is lacking:

Let us take the life of the average business man by way of example. Such a man will rise early, sleep late, and eat the bread of carefulness, if he means to succeed. His children scarcely know him; they are asleep when he goes off in the morning, and asleep when he returns at night; he is to them the strange man who sits at the head of the table once a week and carves the Sunday joint. It is well for them if they have a mother who possesses gifts of government, sympathy, and patient comprehension, for it is clear that they have no father. He gets a living, and perhaps in time an ample living; but does he live?

On the true cost of “Keeping up appearances”:

Money may be bought at too dear a rate. The average citizen, if he did but know it, is always buying money too dear. He earns, let us say, four hundred pounds a year; but the larger proportion of this sum goes in what is called ‘keeping up appearances.’ He must live in a house at a certain rental; by the time that his rates and taxes are paid he finds one-eighth of his income at least has gone to provide a shelter for his head. A cottage, at ten pounds a year, would have served him better, and would have been equally commodious. He must needs send his children to some private ‘academy’ for education, getting only bad education and high charges for his pains; a village board-school at twopence a week would have offered undeniable advantages. He must wear the black coat and top-hat sacred to the clerking tribe; a tweed suit and cap are more comfortable, and half the price. At all points he is the slave of convention, and he pays a price for his convention out of all proportion to its value. At a moderate estimate half the daily expenditure of London is a sacrifice to the convention or imposture of respectability.

On the cost of commuting and eating out:

In all but very fine weather I must needs use some means of public conveyance every day; there was a daily lunch to be provided; and when work kept me late at the office there was tea as well. One can lunch comfortably on a shilling or eighteenpence a day; and I knew places where I could have lunched for much less, but they were in parts of the town which I could not reach in the brief time at my disposal. Moreover, one must needs be the slave of etiquette even though he be a clerk, and if all the staff of an office frequent a certain restaurant, one must perforce fall into line with them under penalty of social ostracism. Thus, whether I liked it or not, for five days in the week I had to spend eighteenpence a day for lunch, and fourpence for teas; and if we add those small gratuities which the poorest men take it as a point of honour to observe, here was an annual expenditure of 25 pounds.

Various quotes about those who feel this certain type of “discontent”:

I saw that it was the artificial needs of life that made me a slave; the real needs of life were few. […]

The debate went on for years, and it was ended only when I applied to it one fixed and reasoned principle. That principle was that my first business as a rational creature was not to get a living but to live; and that I was a fool to sacrifice the power of living in securing the means of life. […]

My chief occupation through these years was to keep my discontent alive. Satisfaction is the death of progress, and I knew well that if I once acquiesced entirely in the conditions of my life, my fate was sealed. […]

To the man who detests the nature of his employment as I detested mine, I would say at once, either conquer your detestation or change your work. Work that is not genuinely loved cannot possibly be done well. […]

On looking back having lived his new simpler life successfully for four years:

After four years’ experiment in Quest of the Simple Life I am in a position to state certain conclusions, which are sufficiently authoritative with me to suggest that they may have some weight with my readers. These conclusions I will briefly recapitulate. The chief discovery which I have made is that man may lead a perfectly honourable, sufficing, and even joyous existence upon a very small income. Money plays a part in human existence much less important than we suppose. The best boon that money can bestow upon us is independence. How much money do we need to secure independence? That must depend on the nature of our wants.

Honestly, after finishing the book I was suspicious that it was written as some sort of strange parody, as some of the themes were so similar to what folks face today. But William James Dawson appears legit and wrote several other books during the same period. Here’s a comparison between Dawson in 1907 vs. a hypothetical person in 2018:

1907: The author worked full-time as a clerk in London, but finds himself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. He worked long hours, didn’t enjoy his desk job, and felt his health suffering in the sooty city air. He calculated that much of his expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. He dreamed of a simple rural life. He found a small cottage in the countryside with very low rent. He fished, hunted, and farmed much of his food and paid for the rest with his earnings as a freelance writer for a local newspaper.

2018: A young woman works full-time in a large urban metro, but finds herself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. She worked long hours, didn’t enjoy her desk job, and felt her health suffering due to sitting in front of a computer all day. She calculates that much of her expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. She dreamed of a simpler life. A small (tiny?) house or RV on a cheap piece of land. She gained income from her investments, including a rental property (Airbnb?) and stock dividends. The rest was covered with freelance work through Upwork or Elance.

Bottom line. In some ways, life hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Some folks will become unsatisfied enough with the commonly chosen path and take the risk of making huge changes. A simpler life with lower costs but more time with friends and family. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have the money for full “financial independence” yet, but perhaps a job more aligned with your true values where you aren’t solely maximizing income.

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.

Thanksgiving Reader: The Power of Gratitude

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thanksreaderIt’s kind of sad when you hear the term “Black Friday Week” more often than Thanksgiving. I would like to interrupt the flow of deals to briefly connect personal finance and Thanksgiving in a different way. Seth Godin has put together something called the Thanksgiving Reader, which is a collection of quotes and stories dealing with gratitude that is meant to lift everyone up with hope and possibility.

The idea is simple: At your Thanksgiving celebration (and yes, it’s okay to use it outside the US!), consider going around the table and having each person read a section aloud.

You could also enjoy the quotes on your own, or use it as good source material for a Thanksgiving grace or prayer.

There is so much to be thankful for each day.
Today we take the time to pause and acknowledge this special season of harvest and its traditions of sharing with those less fortunate.
We take time to notice the labor of others, from farm to table, that culminates in this feast.
Today we pause to recognize how fortunate we are and to be grateful for the bounty we share with friends, family and loved ones, be they with us or far away.
– Rebecca Hale

The pursuit of financial freedom is really part of the pursuit of happiness. Research has found that expressing gratitude improves both your mental and physical well-being. In other words, it makes you happier. Here’s another good quote (emphasis mine):

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.

It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.
It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
– Melody Beattie

Realizing that so much of what you have is enough (often more than enough) makes you content and happier. Store catalogs, TV commercials, and Instagram celebrities like to present you with visions of perfection, making you see flaws and gaps where are none. This makes you unhappy. Guess which one makes you want to buy stuff? Gratitude is an antidote to consumerism.

I always appreciate this annual reminder to truly appreciate all that the many blessings that I have. Happy Thanksgiving Week!

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Man Who Lived Alone on an Mediterranean Island For Nearly 30 Years

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budelli

Financial freedom means that you can do what you want. Now consider that if you earn like everyone else and spend like everyone, you’ll end up like everyone else. This is why unconventional people are the most likely to achieve early retirement. I sometimes envy those people who are satisfied with the idea of working 9-5 under a boss until you’re 65 years old. I just can’t do it.

This is why I like reading about unconventional people. Some readers couldn’t get past the fact that Christopher Knight lived alone in the Maine woods for 27 years stole things to eat. Well, here’s a NatGeo story about a person who lived alone on an island for 28 years completely legally. Via NextDraft.

78-year-old Mauro Morandi is the sole caretaker of an Mediterranean island that became closed to tourists after being designated a National Park. He feels very strongly about preserving the island’s natural beauty. He has a job and a purpose. He gets food delivered to him every two weeks and there are limited visitors, so he is not a complete hermit, but he is the island’s only permanent resident. Still, I observed a lot of common ground between these two people who both lived alone for nearly 30 years.

  • They enjoyed the silence. “What I love the most is the silence,” Morandi says. “The silence in winter when there isn’t a storm and no one is around, but also the summer silence of sunset.”
  • They never felt lonely. Morandi says he is always surrounded by life.
  • They made peace with the idea of dying alone. “I will never leave,” Morandi says. “I hope to die here and be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the wind.”
  • They were avid readers.
  • They never got sick. Morandi says he has never gotten sick and attributes this to his good genes. Knight never got sick either, but observed that germs come from other people. If you live alone, there is nobody to spread their foreign germs to you.
  • They view themselves as a small part of the world, not controllers of the world. “We think we are giants that can dominate the Earth, but we’re just mosquitos,” Morandi says.

Here’s another NatGeo story about an off-grid commune in North Carolina, but it didn’t interest me nearly as much. Is it really living off-grid when you live off of donated food and go back into town for WiFi? Is is really a commune when only one person stays year-round? It seems more like a place where people visit and play at being “off grid” for a few months before going back their traditional lives.

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More Experience = Less Complexity?

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When we had our first child, it seems like we were prepared for the apocalypse whenever we stepped out the door. Below is a visualization taken from Pinterest, while we actually had this $60 SkipHop diaper bag filled to the brim.

babybag1

Compare that with what I grabbed as my “diaper bag” for our youngest baby this morning:

babybag2

If I am going to be out for no more than a few hours, this is all I really need.

– 99 cent reusable grocery bag
butt everything wipes
– two diapers
– poop bags (also used for dogs)
– food/drink (if breast milk unavailable)

If you aren’t experienced, then you want to be prepared for every possible situation. Over time, you realize what you really need and leave everything else at home. Instead of more stuff, you are instead mentally prepared with the various improvisations you can perform in unexpected situations. (I also keep a bag in the car with an extra change of clothes for everyone.)

A similar example is packing luggage. What used to just be for “backpackers” is now for everyone. Websites about packing light abound. My first few trips, I packed myself a huge, cheap Wal-Mart suitcase at maximum-weight along with another maximum-size carry-on. Something like this:

packing1

After many flights (and an experience with delayed luggage), like many others I found myself with just a carry-on travel backpack for a month-long trip (or even longer).

packing2

I feel like this trend should apply to investing as well, but it seems like the ultra-wealthy tend to have a more complex mix of investments. Perhaps the very wealthy like to spread their money across various asset classes like real estate, private equity, and hedge funds because it reduces the chance of catastrophic loss. For example, sometimes I want to buy a rental property as it seems it would offer additional diversification to a stock and bond portfolio, but I really don’t want to deal with bad tenants or mediocre property managers.

I do like the idea of simply transferring over some of my bond interest payments and stock dividends to my checking account every month in retirement. However, a part of me is uncomfortable having so much of my net worth in investments where the only tangible evidence is paper and ink via monthly statements.

simple_rf

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My Hard Things + What I’m Willing to Give Up

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myhardthingsAs a follow-up to my post on choosing your hard things, I decided to share what I came up with. Keep in my these are MY hard things. You could have the two lists completely swapped, and that would get no judgment from me. The entire point is to do things aligned with your values and stop caring what anyone else thinks!

My hard things:

  • Save enough money and set things up to live off my investment income with minimal worry.
  • Spend lots of quality time with family, especially my three daughters. (I have 3 kids?!? How the $*%# did that happen?)
  • Spend some time alone reading and thinking about things I find interesting (ex. finance, cooking, off-grid living).
  • Exercise regularly, mostly by running around outdoors with my daughters. If I’m lucky, this will also include hiking or playing tennis with friends. If I’m really lucky, I’ll be skiing.

The things I am willing to give up:

  • A steady, prestigious job and high W-2 income.
  • “Better things” like a larger house, faster car, or nicer toys/clothes.
  • Watching television.
  • Regular ski trips, partying at bars and clubs, and Las Vegas runs with friends.
  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to have them written down. If I’m not spending my time working towards one of my hard things, then I’m not being productive even with the newest To-Do List app, ergonomic standing desk, and pristine e-mail inbox. I should also be careful to stop doing the things on my “Give Up” list.

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.

How To Stop Mailed Paper Catalogs and Other Junk Mail

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surlacatAs a follow-up to how to stop balance transfer checks, here’s all I know about stopping unwanted paper catalogs. Direct mail catalogs are like weeds. You unsubscribe from a bunch of them, but then later you buy someone a cast iron skillet and then – poof! – you get Sur La Table catalogs. I don’t need three different kitchen tools to remove strawberry stems, trim brussels sprouts, or cut grapes in half. I have a paring knife and opposable thumbs!

Unfortunately, there is no standardized way to unsubscribe from all or specific catalogs. Here’s what is available:

Catalog Choice. This appears to be the most up-to-date and thorough website, although you’ll have to do most of the work. Run as a non-profit that is unaffiliated with the direct marketing industry, CatalogChoice.org serves as a database that helps guide you on how to manually unsubscribe from various catalogs. They used to offer something call the Mail Stop Envelope that let you mail them the address labels from your unwanted catalogs, but they discontinued the service. They also used to have an app called Mail Stop Mobile, but that is also gone. Sigh.

National Do Not Mail List. You can add your mailing address to the National Do Not Mail List run by DirectMail.com here.

We can use our vast direct marketing expertise to get your name off of those lists. As direct marketers ourselves, we know that mail-order companies don’t want to waste their money sending mail to people who don’t want to receive it.

DMAChoice.org. This is the big one. According to their website, “DMAChoice.org is an online tool developed by the Direct Marketing Association to help you manage your mail.” However, the Consumerist warns us that Direct Marketing Association’s Opt Out Website Is A Joke and may not fulfill its promises. While writing this post, their website didn’t even load half the time. It’s still worth a shot.

Other Direct Mail lists. Other direct mail lists that you can opt out of include ValPak and RedPlum Mail.

Phone books / Yellow Pages. You can opt out at both Dex Media and YellowPagesOptout.com to finally end delivery of those huge phone books.

Paper Karma app. I discovered Paper Karma a couple years ago, but I never could really tell if it worked or not since it takes months for catalogs to actually stop coming. The app store reviews indicate hit or miss success as well. Recently, I received reports that new users were being asked to pay $20 per year. That’s too bad as the fact that you just take a smartphone picture of the address label makes it so appealing. I just snapped another address label picture using their app (December 2016) and it went through without asking me to pay, but perhaps I am in some sort of grandfathered free account (or they give out a certain number of freebies?). If you can get it to work for free, this may also be worth the effort.

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.

Playing “Fill-In-The-Blank” Mad Libs with Financial Buzzwords

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madlibscoverAfter you spend enough time consuming financial media week after week, you start seeing patterns in the noise. I understand why of course, as creating content to feed the beast can get quite exhausting. But hopefully, by pointing out these out, you as an individual investor can realize that there may or may not be any substance behind the marketing buzzwords and short-term forecasts. Entertaining? Yes. Useful and actionable? Much less likely.

A good analogy would be with the classic word game Mad Libs, where “one player prompts others for a list of words to substitute for blanks in a story, before reading the – often comical or nonsensical – story aloud.”

Here’s how the usual “Profile of successful mutual fund manager” article usually goes. I am paraphrasing myself in 2006.

[Name of recently successful mutual fund manager] may not look the part, but at the helm of [formidable sounding firm], his [mutual fund name] has outperformed its benchmark by [big number]% annually over the past 5 years. The key is to [something skill-based like “on-the-ground” human research or complex computer algorithms] and also [something classic like “long-term perspective” or “focus on the fundamentals”]. As a result, the manager says that people should [something vague and simple for the Average Joe investor].

There are also the marketing materials coming directly from the firms themselves. Here’s an actual quote taken from a 2008 fund brochure. I’ve bolded the buzzwords for your convenience:

The OIM Core Plus Fixed Income strategy is rooted in the idea that individual security selection produces the best opportunity for risk-adjusted excess returns over time. Through an extensive, bottom-up research process, our portfolio management team focuses on optimal bond selection of investment grade corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, US Government Treasuries and taxable municipal bonds. The team employs a tightly controlled duration discipline and closely manages all portfolio risk factors. The portfolio management team’s objective is to produce predictable, consistent excess returns net of fees over the Barclay’s Capital Aggregate Bond Index.

The Oppenheimer Core Plus fund was supposed to be very conservative and was marketed to those with children within 5 years of college. What happened next? It proceeded to lose 38% of its value in 2008, while the fund’s benchmark actually rose 5.24%.

Barry Ritholz probably digests more financial media than 99.9% of folks out there, and in a recent WaPo article he pretty much nails the average CNBC guest who gets the question “Where’s the Dow going to be in a year?”:

“Our view is that the economy in the U.S. continues to _______, and we foresee _______ problems overseas ______. China is _______, and that has ramifications for the Pacific Rim’s ______. Greece is ______ in Europe. The commodity complex is causing _____ for emerging markets. But many sectors of the U.S. economy remain _______, and some sectors overseas are still _______. The valuation issue continues to be _____, and that means _____ for investors. That has ramifications for corporate profits that will be ______. We think the economy is going to do ______, and you know that means inflation will be _____, which will force interest rates to ______. Under these conditions, the sectors most likely to benefit from this are ______, ______ and ______. The companies best positioned to take advantage of this are ____, ____ and ____. Based on all that, we especially recommend an overweight allocation to ____, ____ and ____. Thus, we believe the Dow will be at ______ next year.”

There are good mutual fund managers, good financial reporters, and good hedge fund managers out there trying to do the right thing. But the problem is that when you see such meaningless words and phrases, you just can’t tell if they are good or bad. Next time you watch CNBC, Fox Business, or Bloomberg TV, see if you can match up the blanks and buzzwords. Thanks to reader CJ for the Ritholz article tip.

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My Financial Account Tidying Up Checklist

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kondoI suppose it’s not a good sign that in the middle of reading a #1 NYT bestselling book on organizing your stuff… you lose the book in all your stuff. In case you haven’t heard of it yet, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. In my defense, it is a rather small book. I hope I don’t have to buy another one.

Instead of spending more time looking for it, I decided to make a list of all my financial items that could use some decluttering. As someone who loves to try out new financial products, I tend to accumulate accounts in during bouts of enthusiasm. Part of the “Kondo-ing” process is going through things by categories (i.e. clothing) and not moving onto another category until you’re done. Most importantly, you should only keep things that “bring you joy”. Hmm… how about “bring me profit”?

Bank accounts

  • Close out inactive bank accounts which are unlikely to offer good interest rates or other benefits in the future.
  • Re-examine all automated transfers (direct deposit, 401k contributions, 529 contributions, auto billpay, etc).

Investment accounts

  • Close out idle brokerage accounts.
  • Merge all speculative activity into one brokerage account.
  • Consider liquidating all positions smaller than a certain size.
  • Merge smaller 529 plan accounts and/or change beneficiaries.
  • Check up on LendingClub and Prosper P2P lending accounts. These should be nearly wound down.
  • Check up on Patch of Land crowdfunded hard money lending account.

Credit card accounts

  • Close out accounts which will not justify the annual fee based on my planned activities for the next year. Decide ahead of time which ones to keep if they offer to waive the annual fee for another year.
  • Mark on calendar any special perks or benefits which still need to be used.

Gift cards

  • Redeem Visa/Mastercard/AmEx prepaid cards into Amazon gift card credit.
  • Think of ways to use up retail gift cards; add to calendar to be finished next two weeks.
  • Decide what to do with unused retail gift card. Sell at loss? Wait until year-end 2015 and use for gifts?

Not-going-to-do list

  • I still haven’t gone paperless and have no immediate plans to do so, but I already have a pretty good system for organizing my paper statements.
  • The same system already has me examining all expenses on a monthly basis.
  • I’m happy with my core investment portfolio. Relatively clean and simple.
  • I don’t have any old 401k or IRA balances floating around. We have an active 401(k) at Schwab PCRA, Solo 401(k) at Fidelity, and IRAs at Vanguard.
  • I’m happy with our core monthly cashflow setup. We combine finances and have one joint checking account where we deposit a set amount each month and pay all bills from that account. We make additional transfers if we have larger one-time expenses like a new roof or something.

I’ll try to update as I work through this list.

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.

Financial Freedom and The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

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mexfishIn the rush of our everyday lives, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reasons why we work and toil every day. Money is a tool, not the end.

I’ve seen several versions of this parable in various books and blog posts (like here and here), but haven’t been able to pin down the original source. Here’s my favorite variation:

An American investment banker took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village, on doctors orders due to his stress-related health problems. Unable to sleep, he took a walk along the pair and saw a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I also use this story to remember to live and enjoy things now and not focus solely on the future.

Image credit: gogeid of Flickr

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.