Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Over 650K invested

Today, our investment accounts have now hit the biggest financial milestone to date: surpassing $650,000 in value!  

Our investment accounts include money in our 401Ks, Roth IRAs, taxable accounts, HSA and 529.  Index fund investing allows us to diversify our portfolio and keep our costs very low.  This does not include money in our checking accounts, savings accounts, home equity or rental property equity.

It’s hard to believe how fast the stock market has recovered since the crash in March and then exploded towards new highs.  There is a lot of bad news out there.  The U.S. COVID-19 death toll continues to rise to record highs.  Swamped hospitals are having to ration care for the surge of sick patients they are managing.  Racial tensions and inequalities have become more and more glaringly obvious.  Small businesses are suffering.  Unemployed people are suffering.  Just last week, domestic terrorists rioted and breached the U.S. Capital.  Yet none of this bad news seems to be putting a dent into stock market returns.  

The roaring stock market is due to a combination of historically low interest rates, government intervention to protect big corporations and record stimulus spending.  Despite all of the doom and gloom this year, stock market investors are forward looking.  

With the certainty of a new president and a Democratic control of the Senate, it’s likely that more will be spent on economic stimulus.  The COVID-19 vaccine roll out, while slow, promises to finally bring the coronavirus death toll down.  More industries can start to reopen, especially travel.  This will lead to increased consumer confidence - and spending.  The Federal Reserve has indicated that interest rates will stay low for the time being.  This helps businesses and individuals keep borrowing costs down.  Homeowners can refinance to record low interest rates to save more money.  The stock market looks attractive in this kind of environment. 

The harsh reality of this recovery is that the growing divide between the rich and poor continues to widen.  Those that are invested in the stock market have become more wealthy than ever before.  People in the hardest hit industries of this recession aren’t doing well at all.  Small business owners, travel, hospitality, performance and art industries are all suffering as lockdowns continue to punish them.  Those suffering are dependent on unemployment income and government assistance, which has been severely lacking.  Millennial-Revolution wrote a great post explaining what a K shaped recovery is here.  It really is unfair to be on the wrong side of this economic recovery.  I hope this new administration can better support those with the most needs.

We continue to ride this wild stock market.  As our investment accounts have grown, we have become more conservative with our stock to bond ratio.  Our portfolio is currently sitting at about 65% stocks and 35% bonds and slowly moving towards a 70/30 asset allocation.  While we are missing out on potentially greater returns, we are comfortable with the safety our bond funds provide. 

Here is a look back at the timeline of our previous investment milestones:

June 2, 2014: 100K

March 12, 2016: 200K

June 5, 2017: 300K 

July 15, 2018: 400K 

April 16, 2019: 450K

November 5, 2019: 500K 

January 18, 2020: 550K

November 7, 2020: 600K

January 12, 2021: 650K

Volatility in the stock market goes both down and up.  While we are enjoying our net worth gains right now, we will not be overly greedy.  We will continue to steadily invest towards our financial freedom.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Adventures in Mental Time Travel

I took the title of today’s post from a chapter in Annie Duke’s book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decision When you Don’t Have All the Facts.  This is the latest book I have finished reading.  I found the information I gained from this book so useful that I wanted to share some excerpts and insights with you.  Today I will discuss how we can use mental time traveling on our journey towards financial freedom.

To quote a passage from Annie Duke’s book, “For all the scientific research on the battle between our immediate desires and long-term goals, a particularly succinct explanation comes from Jerry Seinfeld, on why he doesn’t get enough sleep: “I stay up late at night because I’m Night Guy.  Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours of sleep?’ ‘That’s Morning Guy’s problem.  That’s not my problem.  I’m Night Guy.  I stay up as late as I want.’  So you get up in the morning: you’re exhausted, you’re groggy. ‘Oooh, I hate that Night Guy.’  See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy.”

Why do we have such a difficult time preparing for our future and planning for our future-selves?  Why do we spend (sometimes frivolously) now instead of saving in our retirement accounts?  Investing towards financial freedom means that we need to find ways of saving money or earning more money now, instead of placing the responsibility on our future self.  Don’t let your current self screw your future-self.

Temporal discounting is the tendency to favor our present-self at the expense of our future-self.  In a way, we are built to behave this way.  We use up the resources available to us right now instead of saving those resources for a future self that we don’t have any strong connection to right.  

So how can we get to know our future-self right now?  The future we can imagine for ourselves is usually based off our past.  One way we can get to know our future-self is to remember past experiences.  Putting our past memories together can help us remember and construct an idea of our future. 

Annie Duke goes on to say that “Night Jerry can access memories like oversleeping and missing appointments or dozing off during morning meetings that he can use to imagine how tired Morning Jerry will be or what’s going to happen to Morning Jerry’s schedule when he doesn’t want to get up or how his day will go when he can’t pay attention.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if Morning Jerry could travel back in time and tap Night Jerry on the shoulder to tell him to go to bed?”  

Studies find that when participants are shown software created images of their aged, older looking selves (complete with wrinkles, hair loss, and white hair), subjects allocated extra money towards their retirement accounts.  Getting a glimpse of how we will look in the future can be a powerful reminder of the importance of saving up in the present.  Thinking about our future situation can get us to think about the consequences of not properly saving for that future.  

Annie Duke says these types of apps can be a: “tap on the shoulder from our future-self. “Hey, don’t forget about me.  I’m going to exist and I’d like you to please take that into account.”

We’re not perfectly rational when we ponder the past or the future and engage our deliberative mind, but we are more likely to make choices consistent with our long-term goals when we can get out of the moment and engage our past- and future-selves.  We want Night Jerry and Morning Jerry colliding on the decision of when to get some sleep.

And we want our aged, wrinkly self colliding with us when we decide between spending more money now on something like a nicer car versus saving more money for retirement.”

Do you have older family members, colleagues, or friends that have failed to save for their own future?  What are their struggles?  Are they working much longer than they’d like because they don’t have a nest egg that can support them?  Are they dependent on their children or family members to take care of them and help them pay their bills?  Imagine if you were put into a similar situation.  Would you have any regrets?  How can you avoid the mistakes that led to these outcomes?

Harness the power of regret
While many consider regret to be an unproductive waste of time, Annie Duke argues that regret can be a powerful motivational tool.  Instead of sulking over something that has already occurred, she suggests moving regret to the front of our decisions.  This way regret can help us alter choices that could lead to poor outcomes.  

Look into your future.  Will you be struggling to get by due to poor retirement savings decisions when you were younger?  Will you be dependent on government checks to cover your daily expenses?  Will you be a burden on your family and friends?  Will you regret what you see in this possible future?  Are there any decisions that you’ve made in your past that you regret?  These moments of decision interruption can get us to imagine how we will feel in the future based on the decisions we make today.

Moving regret forward can also help us come to terms with accepting a bad outcome.  If we know what to expect, we will be less likely to be blindsided.  No one likes to hear the phrase “I told you so” - especially from themselves.  

The 10-10-10 question
Author Suzy Welch came up with the 10-10-10 guideline to help us think about our future situation, during our current situation.  When considering decisions, ask yourself the questions:

“What are the consequences of each of my options in ten minutes?  In ten months?  In ten years?”

This line of questioning gets us to mentally time travel in the future.  On the same concept, you can also use these questions to ask yourself how you feel about certain decisions you’ve made 10 minutes ago, 10 months ago, and ten years ago.  The 10-10-10 question can lower your risk of making poor choices that lead to unwanted consequences.  

I highly recommend reading Annie Duke’s book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decision When you Don’t Have All the Facts.  It’s changed my outlook and perspective on many things in my life.  You can buy the book here on Amazon or check it out at the library for free like I did.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

2021: Happy New Year, December side hustles and year end summary!

Happy New Year!  Goodbye 2020, hello 2021!  We had a quiet New Year's Eve As a new year begins, many of us think back on what went right and wrong about the past year.  There have been so many major events this year, including (in no particular order):  

The Australian brushfires, the death of Kobe Bryant, the impeachment of president Trump, the covid-19 pandemic, another oil crisis, major shut downs of the economy and small businesses, one of the fastest stock market crashes followed by one of the fasts bull market recoveries, travel bans, PPE (personal protective equipment) shortages, toilet paper shortages, cancelled holidays, distance learning school, Black Lives Matters protests, Joe Biden’s presidential election win, the fires in California, president Trump testing positive for covid-19, and finally the rollout of new covid-19 vaccines.

Our lives have been forever changed by the events of this past year.  Everyone has been affected by this pandemic, although not equally.  So many family gatherings and trips have been cancelled.  We have friends that have been unemployed since March.  My wife gets to work from home now.  All office meetings are done online through a web camera.  Some friends have contracted covid-19 and have family members that have had to be hospitalized.   Many of us want to completely forget 2020 and move on.  

Did you have a good December 2020? 

With the air quality clearing up around here, this has been the month of visiting playgrounds.  There are several playgrounds to explore around our neighborhood.  We bring masks for the kids and lots of hand sanitizers.  We also try to make outdoors time a regular part of our kids’ routine.  They love getting outside and exploring.

While inside, our kids have been painting and drawing.  

We celebrated Christmas at home this year, without any outside family members.  We haven’t seen any of our family since last Christmas due to covid-19 concerns.  We took our family to a Christmas lights drive thru event, complete with animated lights and holiday music.  The kids had a blast!  

This month our little girl turned 3 years old!  We are so proud of her and it’s been quite a fun journey having her in our lives.  As typical during the pandemic, we had a little celebration at home and FaceTimed with our family.

One of my highlights this year was getting my first shot of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine.  I’m looking forward to getting my second shot on January 11th.  I will definitely feel much more comfortable visiting family after I am vaccinated.

Here’s our monthly summary of side income that we have generated in the previous month of December.

Cash Back 
On 12.1, my wife received a $20 statement credit on her AMEX Platinum credit card.  This was for $20 back on wireless phone purchases after spending $20+.  We made a pre-payment to our wireless bill at the end of November, and she got the credit on this date.
On 12.1, my wife received a $14.99 statement credit on her AMEX Platinum credit card.  This was an AMEX offer for up to $20 back on streaming services per month.  We enjoyed a free month of HBO Max.
On 12.2, my wife received a $1.99 statement credit on her AMEX Platinum credit card.  This was an AMEX offer for up to $20 back on streaming services per month.  We enjoyed a free month of Hulu.
On 12.5, my wife received another $20 statement credit on her AMEX Platinum credit card.  This was for $20 back on wireless phone purchases after spending $20+ in the month of December.
On 12.22, I received a $9.43 statement credit on my Citibank ThankYou credit card.  Citibank offered me 5% on online purchases for the month of December.
On 12.31, I received a $1.47 statement credit on my Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card from Chase Offers.  This was for 10% back at purchases made at McDonalds.

Rental Income
On 12.5, we received a net profit of $700 from our rental property.  The increase in monthly cash flow is due to our recent rental property mortgage refinance.

Miscellaneous Income
On 12.5, I received a $3 Amazon gift card from MyPoints.

Survey Income
On 12.7, I received a $20 check from M3 Global Research for completing a medical survey.  
On 12.9, I received a $50 direct deposit from GLG Survey for completing a medical survey.
On 12.11, I received a $30 check from M3 Global Research for completing a medical survey.  
On 12.11, I received a $20 check from E-Rewards Medical for completing a medical survey.  
On 12.19, I received a $220 check from M3 Global Research for completing a live panel discussion.  

Work Income
On 12.14 I received a direct deposit of $494.85 for picking up extra hours of work with my employer.  They needed extra coverage and the extra income is appreciated.
On 12.18, I received a $1,000 check for consultation income that I do on the side.
On 12.31, I received a direct deposit of $247.50 for picking up extra hours of work with my employer

Sales Income
On 12.4, we received a check for $1,074 from Midwest Refineries.  We sold them 0.675 oz of old gold jewelry, and received 95% market value ($1,767/oz) of gold.  Midwest Refineries is the easiest way to get rid of old and unwanted gold, silver and platinum jewelry - even Mr. Money Mustache recommends them!  
On 12.4, I received a net profit of $15.63 from eBay for selling an old Nokia phone. 

Monthly Totals:
We earned $67.88 from cash back income
We earned $740 from rental income
We earned $3 from miscellaneous income
We earned $340 for completing online surveys
I earned $1,742.35 from extra employment income 
We earned $1,089.63 from selling used items online 

All of this totals $3,982.86 from our side hustles for the month of December!  

Side hustle totals:
This is now the 7th year that we have been tracking our side hustle income.  Here are the numbers:

In 2020, we earned $25,563.67
In 2019, we earned $14,181.54
In 2018, we earned $14,802.47
In 2017, we earned $15,307.76
In 2016, we earned $24,195.44
In 2015, we earned $19,178.54
In 2014, we earned $28,633.42

This side hustle income adds to our quality of life and increases the amount that we are able to save and invest towards our financial freedom.  This year, our investments surpassed 600K as we continue to get closer to financial freedom.  

This past year I met my goal of focusing more on reading for pleasure.  I have been reading an average of 1 book every 2 months.  We have read our kids tons of books, every single day.  We check out all these books from the local library for free! 

For 2021, I want to continue maintaining my habits on reading and fitness.  Ever since I read Atomic Habits by James Clear, I have been working on creating and staying consistent with better habits.  One current habit I am proud of is that I have exercised every single day since April 1st, 2020.  I have not missed a single day.  Doing pushups, weight lifting, chin ups and pull ups are just a normal part of my everyday routine – like flossing and brushing my teeth.  At this point in my fitness habit, it’s easier to keep the trend going than to stop and start again.  I wrote my review of Atomic Habits here.  

As we begin our journey into 2021 I hope we all take a moment to reflect on where we’ve been and plan out where we want to go.  I am looking forward to seeing what 2021 has in store for us. 

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