Tom’s Finance Tips for Young People (Under 35 years old)

I have been talking with a friend from work, Tom, about finances for some months now. He felt inspired to share some thoughts about finances with others. This is a first, a guest post on MyWheelLife. I hope you enjoy.

Tom’s Finance Tips for Young People (Under 35 years old)

1) Learn to assess personal value. This is the absolute most important thing to master when making purchases. What I mean by this is imagine a young person who wants to buy a table saw, and the table saw cost $400. Should they buy it, $400 is a lot of money for a tool. So it all boils down to value. Value is defined as the price of product / usefulness of the product to the purchaser. Everyone pays the same price but each person has a unique “usefulness”. So simply answering the question based on cost is impossible. You have to be realistic with yourself on how much you will use something and if it really is important to you to justify the money.

The premise sounds so simple, but I continue to see people make terrible decisions assessing value. You have to be honest with your assessment of time, sometimes we have ideas in our heads that are not realistic.

For example, my neighbor has a nice mustang sitting in his 3 stall garage. He wants to protect it because it cost a lot of money so he parks it in the middle of the 2 stall portion, and then the 3rd stall is filled with crap. He doesn’t want to drive it in the winter because it is rear wheel drive or expose it salty roads. He has a beater car that he drives to work and another SUV for the family. All year they park their cars outside, scrape the windshields in the winter, so that this mustang can sit in the garage to be protected. Is this good value? The vehicles they use every day are being taken care of less than the vehicle used a couple of times per year.

Another example, my brother drives a Lexus. For a conservative like me, why would anyone drive a Lexus? Some may argue they break down less or last longer etc., but there are many alternatives that would be more cost effective. I believe luxury cars to be status symbols more than anything. So it is a terrible idea, correct? He is a commercial real estate agent and is constantly driving around high net worth individuals. His car is his office, therefore there is high value. A beater car doesn’t make sense here. It is okay to be expensive things if they have high value.

One more example, I drove a 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix for years. I got it from my parents, and kept it running. The thing was rusted real bad and got in an accident at one point. I had them repair the mechanical portion from the accident but just left the body work as is. That car cost me nothing, great price. The problem was that it was in such disrepair that a break line rusted out in a parking lot, and it was becoming not a safe vehicle to drive. One day as I was going through a busy intersection on my way to work, I realized if my brakes went out right now, or this car crapped out on me, I could be injured or killed. I am cheap, I hate spending money, but then if I can’t work how much money am I really saving. I got rid of that car and bought one from my parents that they were going to trade into the dealer back home. The moral of the story is that sometimes the cost is not just the product cost, but in this case also the cost of the potential injury. If you factor that in, a newer car was cheaper.

2) Financing, be careful. I am a strong believer that there a few things that you should finance and nothing more. Those things are a college education (assuming you have some level of ambition and a plan), a house, and sometimes a car. The things on the naughty list are vacations, campers, boats, ATV’s, marriages, furniture, anything out of a big box store, and home remodeling.

The goal is to knock down recurring monthly expenses as much as possible. With big ticket one time purchases, you are more likely to be realistic with your expectations compared to monthly payments and assess personal value. The auto people love to shove financing at you. I only buy cars with cash, and when we bought one of our cars, the sales person kept coming to me with a new monthly payment. I told them several times that we were paying cash.

For example, let’s talk about a camper. I would like to get a camper at some point, but I don’t think that we will use it enough to justify the cost. When we are at the camper show they are financing those campers for at least 120 months! That is 10 years. If you pay for something for 10 years, the monthly payment doesn’t seem too bad. For $220 per month you can have this $26,400 camper. That does not include interest…. Then for just $10 more per month, you can have a $1200 feature. You will be underwater on that camper every month as long as you own it.

3) Talk about finances with Friends. People are hush, hush about money. It is important to feel comfortable talking about finances with others. If you don’t talk about it, it is impossible to get advice or other perspectives. Sometimes our personal perspectives are not always the best route. My Dad is a money person, and so is one of my brothers, so we have many discussions about money. I like to talk about it with friends, and hear their perspectives. Just because your Mom and Dad did it one way, doesn’t mean that is the only way.

4) Learn to track your monthly expenses using a computer program. I am a strong proponent of Quicken, there are alternatives out there. I started a couple of years ago, and I should have been doing it all along. People ask me if it has changed my habits on spending, and not so much, but it completely changes the ball game on planning. The thing I learned the most on spending is that it is the little items that are the worst. It is amazing how the $1 to $50 purchases add up to large amounts. I like to go through the spending and determine how much it would take to live each month based on the necessities. We need to eat food, we need a place to stay, and we need heat. If you want to cut back on spending, there will be a couple easy hitters that show up, but it really boils down to controlling the little expenses. This skill is so important that I cannot emphasize it enough. The reason being is that it is something that applies to successful business as well as successful people. Learn to manage money, don’t assume like I did that I just kinda knew what we were spending.

I talk to a lot of people and am surprised at how few people track their spending. Quicken is so fast, I do mine one or two times a month, takes about 10 minutes to keep it up to date. The reason for this is that I have the ability to make decisions, and powerful decisions. For example:

A) We had a child and I was not sure if my wife was going to return to work. Having our spending tracked and categorized I was able to see exactly how this would work. It allows a very clear picture of what it would mean.
B) Emergency fund: I am a big proponent of emergency funds. How much do you need? The only way to answer this question is to understand how much its takes to support the family and then how much it takes if you went into conservative mode.
C) Investments: If you are able to invest money, you can gauge how much you can invest and when.

5) Investing is a key and the time value of money is amazing. Don’t try to time the market, just invest as much of your paycheck as you can every month and let it ride. I tried timing, and I was an idiot. The goal is just keep buying and buying. If the market is falling, great, you get to buy cheap, if the market is rising, great you are making money. Having your expenses tracked will tell you how much you can invest.

6) Do your own taxes. It is worth filling out the Turbo Tax thing even if you still take it to a professional. The $100 of working through the program can be considered an educational expense. The key is that you need to have some understanding so that you can make good decisions. It isn’t always fun but is well worth it. If you really hate it, sit down with someone and tell them your situation at the beginning of the year so that they can help you through it. It is worth paying someone for the advice, even at $100 per hour, there is still a lot of value. For example:
A) 401K Roth vs. Traditional tax savings
B) HSA is important and saves a ton of money
C) Dependent care FSA saves a ton of money
D) Knowing if you take standard deduction or itemize can save you a ton of money. Funny story is that I bought our first house in Texas citing tax reasons. I told the realtor we needed a tax write off (I was using stuff I had heard people say, thinking I was smart), we took a standard deduction every year we lived there.

7) Balance is the key to life. I have a friend who is cheap, I mean cheap. I heard a story on how his car locks didn’t work so when he would buy something at Walmart, he would use zip ties and bungee cords to lock the car doors. I have another friend that is so cheap that he would transport his young kid in a car that was unfit for the road, saving money. They both save a lot of money, one of them is young and has his house PAID off. A 250k house paid off.

Each person has their own strategy, and that is a good thing. The moral of the story is the guy that has his house paid off is so cheap that he won’t take a vacation, he hates his job, and always is a glass half empty type of guy.

What I am trying to get at here is that you need to go back to the most important thing, and that is the ability to assess value. I take vacations, if I look back, those are some of the high points of my life. We went to Alaska, Ireland, the Caribbean, the mountains, etc…. If I take out a photo album, I don’t get excited about talking about pictures of my car parked at work, or what my cubical looks like. That killer whale off the front of the boat in Alaska, or seeing a sea turtle in the crystal clear Caribbean waters are something I get excited about. It is important to get away, and take time to enjoy life. Don’t let being cheap ruin it, that is an important life lesson. At the same time, be realistic with the spending. You need to track your spending, and understand what you can spend on vacations. I would not try to cut it completely out of the budget, but also don’t fly first class.

8) Home owner ship is not all that it is cracked up to be. This is really important. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Here are a couple of key components:
A) Houses are not a great investment: There are exceptions where some folks make it out real good, on the contrary there are plenty were people lose a lot of money. So don’t think you are “Throwing your money away by renting.” The reason is simple, houses have a lot more cost than just a mortgage. They need upkeep such as roofs, plumbing problems, yard work, windows, and people fail to include these in the cost. They also require taxes and insurance. The cost of moving is extremely high. Real estate commission alone will knock out most people’s equity.
B) My rule is simple, if you don’t like doing handy work, are young, and single, RENT!!!!!
C) If you have a family, plan to stay somewhere for a while, and are being realistic with yourself on spending, BUY!!!!!

9) Being cheap is not always the answer to wealth. I personally feel that being cheap has cost me a lot of money. The reason is that knowledge is money, and it is important to always keep learning. Being cheap and not buying the proper tools, or investing in myself will cost me more in the long run than the money I saved. This one is a little harder to wrap your head around.

If you are young, it is very important to learn as much as possible in the primary environment that you make your money, OR in a secondary environment that has the potential for income.

A primary environment example is that as a young person, you can quickly become the EXPERT in a field even within a very large company. The reason being is as people advance in their career they tend to go to management roles that are non-technical. The technical stuff is left to younger employees and is constantly evolving. Older people tend to have kids and more commitments outside of the normal working hours, where young single people can invest more time in learning new tools, concepts, and expertise. When it comes time for promotions or layoffs, the extra knowledge is surely going to help keep you employed, or make you more money. It might be worth spending 10 extra hours a week working on building expertise within your role, than trying to save money by buying a house that needs restoration. I used to make fun of young people with new cars sitting in front of an apartment building, in hindsight, I think that is the most brilliant route to take for young people.

Another example of this is as an engineering student in college, does getting a job at the food service place making $10 an hour make sense? It seems like the young student is being fiscally responsible by working during college to help offset the debt. At the same time if the student is working 15 hours per week, this time could be used for studying or better yet getting involved in an extracurricular engineering activity such as a design competition. The design competition does not pay an immediate salary, it may lead to better job offers, and higher job satisfaction than the $150 per week gained during the food service job. Clearly if the student is not able to maintain greater than a 3.0 GPA, they should clearly focus on studying as opposed to the food service job. Don’t let short term gains impede long term gains.

For a secondary environment example, I should have tried to start my own business on the side instead of trying to fix up my house. I saved a lot of money doing my own housework, but I have always wanted to try to make a business work. With the housework side of things, the most money that I saved is the cost of having someone else do it. For example if a painter cost $50 per hour, and it took them 20 hours, then I saved $1000 doing it myself. The problem is that I took those 20 hours doing a task that will never get me more than $1000, whereas a business could make that weekly. Only do this if you have an opportunity cost that is higher in value. Paying someone $1000 so that I could watch football on TV is not a good use.

Redistribution Of Wealth Is Not Sufficient To Fix World Poverty

“We as individuals, we must extend peace and knowledge growth throughout the world, for that is the only way we all prosper.” – Axel Hoogland

Redistribution of wealth is not sufficient to fix poverty because there is not yet enough wealth in the world.

There is $217 trillion dollars of valuable stuff in the world.

$217 trillion/ 7 billion people = $30k/person.

Therefore, if you are one of the people reading this who has more than $30,000 in net worth you should consider redistributing your own wealth before you call for Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates (who IS redistribution his wealth) or others to redistribute their wealth.

We need to understand the difference between production and net worth.
This is the issue people, including Oxfam, have and perpetuate when they say “the richest 7 people could end poverty”. To say that a billionaire who “made” $40 billion in a year in capital stock appreciation could “fix poverty” is ignorant.No one is stopping any person from getting rich and giving all their money away. If you have a great idea to start a company, by all means, start it up and give your money away! Show us how it’s done!

Anyone who holds a significant amount of shares of a company likely created that company from nothing. They accumulated wealth because people use their services because their services or products work so we give them money for them. These people take something, add value, and sell it to us, making themselves rich and our lives easier in the process.
Most people are bad at making money or adding value or thinking creativity. That is why we work for companies that tell us how to add value. That is why companies pay us a part of what value we create, because we wouldn’t know how to do it ourselves.

Most people also have excess money from their jobs, which they then re-invest in the stock market or in government bonds because they don’t know what constructive thing to do with their excess money also.
You shouldn’t be mad at Bezos! He created a company, he did an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of stock. During an IPO people say “I have an idea that I think I can make you money.” People then agree with that person and give him the money they worked to earn, in the hopes that he will make them more money with it, because they can’t think of a way to make that money work themselves.

So, if someone has started from very little, made a move to say “I can add value” and people have both freely given them money (working capital) for stock (part ownership of a company) and then that person DID add value and create a very useful company that millions of people use for it’s efficiency, why would you want to then take that money away from that person who you gave it to in the first place? We should give those people more money! Which is exactly what happens in the stock market. The main purpose of the stock market it to get money from people who don’t know what to do with it to people who have an idea of how to add value.

The only way to raise the poor from poverty is to give them better tools to produce more. I am only as successful as the tools I have access to, knowledge being a tool. If you are a person in the middle of Africa, with no access to the knowledge that has been built up for hundreds of years, you are at a distinct disadvantage, through no fault of your own. This is one reason I like “One Acre Fund”. They are helping people learn to produce more, not just handing out charity. The old “teach a man to fish” axiom. That being said, there are many even more efficient ways to farm than these people are being taught. These other methods are initially capital intensive and lead to fewer workers to produce more goods, creating lower prices.

The other thing to note is that the world GDP is only $17,300 a year. As I mentioned above, the only way for everyone to be on a level playing field is to raise the worldwide GDP. How do we do that? Through investment in technology and innovation. As I said, you are only as good as the tools you have and the value you create. The more knowledge people have, the more tools they can use and the more value they can create. You can see some companies are very good at creating profit per employee like Facebook and Google. Others are not so good. We should continue to work to improve the profit per person which comes down to value created per person. People can only create more value with better tools!

Another thing we should learn about investment of capital comes from Norway and Venezuela. Both countries discovered oil and the oil was at least partially drilled by the state. What they did with the profits after that is instrumental though. Venezuela used the money to subsidize many things and pay for the government to run. This worked, as long as there was always more oil and people willing to pay for it. But once it ran out, bad times.

Norway took a different approach. They also saw the oil as belonging to the people, they could have paid each person some of the oil money (but they didn’t) but they did something (also somewhat socialist) but at least it involved long term thinking. They continued to collect taxes from the people but they used the profits from the oil sales to invest in real estate and businesses around the world! This will provide them income for many years to come. In fact the Norwegian Oil Fund, which holds assets around the world, has $1 Trillion dollars of assets! This is about 1% of the world stock markets! They own 0.5% of Apple, the company! I bet you didn’t know that. It is good that Norway has tied it’s success to the success of others. That way they are less likely to fight with anyone, as a decline in value of anything around the world negatively impacts them also. The Oil Fund holds about $200,000 per Norwegian. I bet Venezuela wishes they had that kind of money saved up, instead of having spent it.

I believe that this is a good way to see world relations. I am personally invested around the world also, via International and Emerging Market index funds.

Of the top 10 holdings in the Emerging markets fund, 7 of the businesses are in China, 1 in Russia, 1 in Brazil and 1 in South Africa. As you can see, it is in my benefit for the rest of the world to do good as I have invested in them also!

If you look in your 401K or other investments I bet you will find you also have holdings in other countries. It’s time to realize we are one world, one economy, we can’t win by hurting others because there are no others, we are all in this together.

Sovereign wealth funds (like the Norwegian oil fund) are basically a step towards Universal Basic Income. They use assets (oil minerals) that should be for everyone, if found on public lands, and invest the proceeds for the good of everyone. I mentioned at the very start of this post that if you split up the whole world’s assets there would be $30k per person. But Norway has $200k per person in this fund, from public land. Now we could ask if they should share that money with the rest of the world? I would argue no at this point, although it would be an interesting debate. But the facts are that would open it up to every country being obligated to giving away all it’s goods. I believe there is value to trade, but I think that this type of discussion should happen in all countries related to their assets. What we need to do is create more assets. Then each person could have more. $30k per person is not sufficient!

The USA does not have a sovereign wealth fund, but some states do. Texas is one. It is also funded by oil revenues and land. They use it to fund their public schools. A good use of basic income money and the point I am trying to make with this whole post, that education is important! It sounds like they need a little more in their fund to completely pay for school though.

“Although the FSP constitutes a majority of the funding received by public schools, public schools receive other funding, such as state and federal grant funds, and that funding is not described in this manual.” – Funding of Texas Public Schools

People need to realize that the world is so interconnected that we don’t win by making others lose. The Sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia invested money in Uber, as well as many other things. Did you know you are making money for Saudi Arabia each time you use an Uber? We need to realize that the pie is not of finite size. Through education and innovation we can make the pie grow and it has to to make enough for everyone.

I can see why foreign governments are skeptical of any help by outsiders, as I wrote in a short story that I didn’t publish, yet. Many countries believe other countries don’t have the best wishes for each other. That has certainly been the case in the past. There has been a lot of exploitation of countries by each other in the past. We, young and old, need to realize that we have the greatest opportunity for collaboration in history! We can connect with literally anyone else on the planet! Learn what hardships and joys they have.We can learn that other people don’t really hate us and we don’t really hate them.

I am personally helping a young man in Haiti attend college there. I converse almost daily with him via Facebook and I am in contact with his school to try to learn what opportunities they have to help make their country better.

In your neighborhood, you want your neighbors house to look good, and you want your neighbor to be successful. You don’t think, I need to take my neighbor’s job because there is only 1 job in town. That is how we need to think about other countries.

It will be difficult. There are people who want to kill us. There are people who are born into societies and brainwashed to believe things that are not true. We need hard men and women to protect us from those people and countries. But as individuals, we must extend peace and knowledge growth throughout the world, for that is the only way we all prosper.

What Color is the Sky? A Book Celebration (and review)

“It’s a wonderful thing to behold when you see someone take control of their finances AND their life.” – Finley

I finished my 2nd read of “What Color is the Sky” this weekend. What Color is the Sky is the 2nd book by a personal friend of mine, Michael Finley. As I said in the title, this is both a review and a celebration of a great book. I believe it is one of the best investment books available because it delivers useful, actionable, information instead of vague concepts. Because of this I have personally bought and given away over 40 copies of this book to friends and family  (and I hope to give more in the future, and that people read them!). A great feature of this book is that each chapter is 2 pages long and covers 1 topic. The book delivers a wealth of information in a short enough read for the average person. The average person doesn’t want to or have time to read 30 pages about stock market bubbles, timing the market or index investing. Finley delivers concise, precise, useful information that shouldn’t tax your attention span.

There are 5 stages in the book.

Stage 1 is simply Finley giving you a pep talk. He wants you to know that you are able to manage your own investing, or at least that you should be able to find someone to help you along but who won’t screw you (like 95% of financial “advisors” (salesmen) these days).

Stage 2 includes a lot of chapters informing you about what smart investing is NOT.
Smart investing is not trying to guess which one stock will do good each month.
Smart investing is not listening to your uncle who is not educated on investing.
Smart investing is not trying to find the best managed mutual fund and changing it each year or two.
Smart investing is not  investing in something because everyone else is (housing bubble, tech bubble, tulip mania).

Stage 3 includes a many chapters informing you about what smart investing IS.
Smart investing is investing in index funds (or target date funds which are made of index funds).
Smart investing means you are diversified through various classes of investments (US, international, bonds, REITS).
Smart investing is understanding opportunity cost, the rule of 72, taxes and different types of account you can save money in (401k, 403b, 529, IRA, ROTH or traditional).
You could skip right to stage 3 of the book if you are really bursting to get the knowledge of what you should do, but if you do you need to go back and read the start of the book. This whole book needs to be read, by everyone and I will buy it for you, if you need me too. As Mike often mentions in the book, he is not paid by Vanguard to promote their product, he just believes they are doing what they do the best. Similarly, I believe Mike is providing the most unbiased, useful, actionable (helps you actually make investment decisions) advice in an easy to understand format.

Stage 4 builds on stage 3 with more practical actionable advice.
Discusses buy and hold (vs selling constantly to buy “winners”), different asset classes such as large capitalization stocks, small capitalization stocks, REITS and bonds.
Discusses international vs domestic stocks.
It also discusses rebalancing your portfolio, asset allocation as well as one of my favorite topics the 1 and done fund, the Target Date Fund.

Stage 5 is rather short. It encourages you to continue your financial education with recommendations of some good books. It encourages you to seek fee-only advisors if necessary.

Finley also uses a chapter to provide his vision for the future. He speaks about institutional investors, who are collectively losing million of our dollars to fund “managers”. Many large state and company investment funds offer poor funds. He wants to change that. We must demand the change and to do that you must be informed.
Finally, Finley encourages you to share what you have learned. As is his life goal, educating and empowering others to become the best they can be, he encourages the readers to help others learn more about investing and personal growth. That is part of what I am trying to do by writing this blog and this post, teaching others what I have learned in hopes that it will make their lives better and ultimately, make the world a better place. Active fund “managers” are generally providing negative value to the world and we need to stop that, so do your part, learn, become educated, get rich and live a rich, fulfilling life.

You can find Finley’s book here on Amazon (as I said I get nothing from this, he doesn’t even know I wrote this until he will see it on Facebook). I will buy you the book if you don’t think you can afford it. Leave a comment below if you’d like me to buy you a copy. You can’t afford to not read this book and I can’t afford for you to not read this book! Changing the way the whole market operates is in my, your and the world’s best interest. Forward to a better future!

You Might Need $3 Million to Retire at Age 65

You might need $3 million to retire at age 65 (if you are 28 years old today, which I am). See how I came up with that number below.

The purpose of this post is not to scare you into thinking you’ll never save $3 million dollars. It’s to expose you to how to think about how much you need to save for retirement. You might not need $3 million. But how much do you need and how do you calculate that?

Most people have no idea how to save for retirement, how much to save, where to save that money, etc. In everyone’s defense, there seem to be a lot of questions and it seems daunting to learn. But in reality, it is not that difficult to invest your money for retirement. I have already written a blog post about how you should invest in a target date fund in your 401k (as much as you can a year) and call it good. You (may) not need any other investments.

But a good question people should have is “How much do I need to save for retirement?”
If you were to retire today some people say you need $1 million.
That number is created by using the 4% rule, meaning you can withdraw 4% of your money a year to live off of. $1 million x .04 = $40,000 a year to live off of (plus social security).

It can also be called the 25x rule. This means you need 25x the money you will need each year to live saved. If you want to live on $40,000 a year 25 x $40,000 = $1,000,000

This is fine for today’s retirees, but for people between the ages of 20 and 30 we might have a different number to shoot for.

We have to consider inflation. To account for inflation any number of year from now there is a very simple formula.

1.03^37 = 2.98 

(a quick review of powers, 1.03^37 means 1.03×1.03×1.03… 37 times)


What do the above numbers mean?

.03 shows an inflation rate of 3% per each year (which is a historical average of US inflation)

37 = 37 years in the future (when I’ll be 65)

2.98 gives you the answer of how much less money will be worth in those years (inflation).

So 37 years from now it will take $2.98 dollars to buy something that costs $1 today.

So you can take today’s money $1,000,000 and multiply it by the inflation rate 2.98 and get that you’ll need $2,980,000 (or basically $3 million) in 2054 to equal $1,000,000 today.

And that is why you might need $3 million dollars to retire.

So the basic formula

1.03^ (years until you turn 65) x how much you want to live on per year in today’s dollars x 25


(1.03^37) * $40,000 x 25 = $2,985,226

This means you would need $2.9 million dollars ($3 million) to retire.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the fact that many basic services of today like food, healthcare, housing, transportation, will likely cost less in the future. You might not need near this much saved! But then again, you might. It never hurts to over plan. If you find yourself in a position with too much money you can always give it away.

I don’t want to scare people away from saving for retirement if they don’t think they’ll have $3 million. As this CNN article says, even though a lot of people say $1 million today the average person who’s 65 only has about $148,000 saved which would be $148,000 x 2.98 = $441,000 if you were to retire in 37 years. Now we agree that like CNN said, $148,000 is probably  a little low, but not starving low. So you likely want to shoot for between $441,000 and $3,000,000. Use the rule of 25x to think about how much you might need to withdraw from your investments but also remember to account for inflation!

If anyone would like to review their own personal retirement numbers with me don’t hesitate to contact me. I really enjoy reviewing these numbers with anyone.

My IRRATIONAL Fear – Short term market collapse

You NEED to understand that the market is risky, in the short term, but so is every other place to put your money, including under your mattress (inflation risk!). – Axel Hoogland (yes I quoted myself)

My IRRATIONAL fear is a short term stock market collapse (meaning stock prices go down for a year or 2, similar to 2008 market collapse) (Learn about what the stock market is here).I am afraid of this because I am continually telling people to invest their money in the stock market. Most people are already invested in the stock market (but don’t know how their money is being managed or what exactly they are invested in). Some are only invested in bonds (which is risky as you are losing money to inflation). Some will pull their money out of the stock market at the first sign of trouble or market dip, which happens often (dips) but usually the market recovers quickly and they would lose on the gains. When investing in the market people should always ask themselves “What do I need this money for?” You NEED to understand that the market is risky, in the short term, but so is every other place to put your money, including under your mattress (inflation risk!).

My greatest fear is being wrong. I hate to give people incorrect information. It is ok to be wrong on some things. If you recommend someone eat at a restaurant they will be upset with you if they don’t enjoy it they will choose to never eat there again and might just stop taking your advice on restaurants.

If you recommend something to do with investing people’s money, something that they don’t completely understand themselves, and they seem to lose money (even if it is only for a short time and then it comes back in a year or two) they may hate you forever. People will be sure that there was a better option for them to invest their money in. They will not know what that option was, but they will be sure it was better than following your advice.

Someone is is almost always better at doing something for you than you will be at doing it for yourself. Some things require training to learn how to do. Many people do not feel comfortable fixing their own car. They take it to an expert, a mechanic. They don’t feel they have access to the right tools or knowledge (and that’s often true) so they pay someone to do it for them.

Unfortunately many people are happy to let an “expert” manage their money, for a large fee! The problem is these people are not experts, they are “salespeople”! You don’t let the car salesman fix your car and you shouldn’t let a “financial salesman” manage your money. The truth is that as a whole all fund managers will underperform the stock market. This is because of the fees they charge and because they are bad at guessing (yes they are guessing) which companies will perform better than average on any given year. Whenever someone sells a stock remember someone is on the other side of that deal guessing that that stock is going up! As a whole, all managed money will underperform (measured by percent returns to clients after fees) the total amount of unmanaged (index funds) market. Certainly some money managers will pick good and outperform the market and many will underperform and pick worse stocks than the market average, but all charge high fees. That is why index funds generally are the best place to put your money. To further diversify you should put your money in a Target Date fund which automatically transfers your money to bonds (safer investments) as you reach retirement.

A question people often ask is

Q.The stock market is high, should I pull money out of the market?

A. I ask them “What will you do with your money it if you do “pull it out” of the stock market?” The stock market should always be at the highest it’s ever been because the world is growing in population, thus businesses are making more products to sell.

As Mr. Money Mustache recently posted about, there is always a recession coming, so instead of worrying about it, it is better to understand what might bring it about, understand what you are investing in and why, and ride the storm out. A benefit of all this is that if people understand what causes recessions, over spending followed by underspending, we (may) be able to avoid wild cycles and instead keep a nice steady rise in abundance in the future, that is my hope by helping to educate people on “The Stock Market”.

Now that I’ve shared my fear with everyone, and why it’s not a rational fear, you should continue to learn about investing and why it is probably one of the most important things you can understand for yourself and for the world. You can learn more about Target Date Funds (where everyone should start investing) from this post or this video.

Expense Ratio

If you could make an extra $1,000 a year would you? Of course you would! If you have a retirement account there is a good chance you are “giving away” over $1,000 a year in expenses to your fund adviser. The first thing you should do when you start looking into your investments is understand how much you are paying the people managing your money and how they are getting that money.

There are 2 main ways managers get money from you.

  • Loads
  • Expense ratio

Loads are ALWAYS bad.

Expense ratios are necessary but should always be low, less than 0.3% if necessary (meaning $3/$1000 invested) or less than 0.15% if possible $1.50/$1,000 invested.This is possible at Vanguard and many other places.
There are many places that will charge you a 1% expense ratio, $10/$1,000 invested! That’s 10x more money than places charging 0.1% (which is also very achievable).

Remember the expense ratio is taken out each year also, not only one time.  
Take an example where someone has $100,000 invested in a 401K.
If they are paying a 1% expense ratio they will pay $1,000 that year to their fund manager.
If they were paying a 0.1% expense ratio they would only be paying $100 a year, saving $900 a year! Does that sound important? It is!

In the Example below I share the result of a .2% expense ratio ($2/$1,000 invested per year) vs 0.6% ($6/$1,000 invested per year). You can see after 10 years you end up paying $836 more in fees with the 0.6% expense ratio.

For more information on expense ratios you should watch this video I made on expense ratios. Then you should go into your 401K or other investment accounts and try to find what expense ratio you are paying.

02016 Year End Review

You can read my 02015 year end review here, which I did in November 2015. Wow. For 02016 I am waited until the actual end of the year to complete it.  

Here is my 02016 year in review. You can check the contents below if you just want to skip to one section
Simple Solar

Charities I Donate To
Personal things I did this year
Earlier in the year as part of my quest to share information that I think will have a positive effect on the world I made a few videos about investing and money. They can be found on my Youtube Channel here. For 2016 I had a total of 680 views coming to 814 minutes or 13 hours and 34 minutes.  While that is not a record for YouTube by any means, it was an interesting experiment for me. I will continue to think about YouTube this year and see if there is any more interest on my part in using it.


Simple Solar:

I believe almost 2 years ago I heard about a potential solar field that would be built by my local electricity provider. They called it Simple Solar. I really liked it for a few reasons.

  1. You could buy as many or as few shares as you wanted.
  2. You didn’t have to do your own maintenance (which most people don’t want to do, simple is better!)
  3. It would move with you if you moved houses, as long as you were in their provider area still. Not possible with a $20,000 home solar system.
  4. You didn’t have to worry about metering back into the grid it’s already part of the grid. This takes away a bit of hassle that you may have with a personal solar setup at your home.

The way it works after we purchased the credits and the field was build was that the shareholders will be credited each month on their bill for 20 years the amount that their shares produced when averaged over the whole solar field. There is no specific panel I own in the solar field.

I started receiving payments on my monthly bill in approximately July 2016. I also started paying for my panels, 4 shares of the whole project at $270/share for a total of $1080 or $90/month paid over 12 months. My monthly pay back rate is  $0.055002/KWH.  (Kilowatt hour). My 4 shares each generated 14.28 KWH in December (a not very sunny month). The normal rate I pay is $0.0579/KWH. While that is only $3.14 this month other months I have seen a payback of $6 or $7. Assuming a monthly payback of $5 = $60/year = $1200 over it’s lifetime. This just covers the $1080 investment. So at first it may not seem to be great money investment. $1,080 returning 7% a year for 20 years would be $3,869.  My calculation doesn’t take into account any raise in the electricity price that will surely happen over 20 years. It also doesn’t include a calculation for how much pollution is being reduced. Because of those reasons I see the money I put in this solar field as investing in the future. I see this as just as important as investing in your retirement accounts or perhaps even more important!

Here is an interesting website that shows the instantaneous and lifetime, and other facts, output of the solar field. Here is a video of the field.

I wrote 17 posts for You can find the list of all posts here.


Near the end of 02014 I was introduced to Mike Finley AKA “The Crazy Man In The Pink Wig”. He can be found here. He helped me learn a lot about investing and money management. One thing he encouraged was a yearly net worth statement. Here is what I’ve done over the year related to that.  

Start of Year 02016– 1-1-02016
401K – $60,383
HSA – $4,119.76  (none invested)
Vanguard – $14,268.47 ($3,000 to be part of 2016 ROTH $5,500 limit)
Bonds – $853
Total – $79,624.23

End of Year 02016 – 12-31-02016

401K -$85,896.34 (Change +$25,513.34)
HSA -$6,527.75 ($2,799.24 invested)   (Change +$2,407.99)
Vanguard -$17,933.78 (Change +$6,665.31)
Bonds – $882.01 (Change +$29.01)
Total – $111,239.88

My total 401K deferment was $17,399.20 between my own money and my company’s match. My personal ROTH IRA deferment was $5500, the max for someone under 55 years old. My HSA investment was $3350 but some of that was spent for health expenses, that’s why that is not $3,350 higher than the start of the year.

This gives a total of $22,899.20 into retirement accounts (401K + ROTH IRA).

You can see that my 401K balance rose more than the money I put in. This is due to growth of the economy. This is why it’s good to save money in the market, it grows faster than the market. You can see a great graph from Mr. Money Mustache here about how the market is always growing (over the long haul). If you checked the markets everyday, like I did, you will realize that most of the growth in stocks came after November 11th. Previous to this the return was hovering around 2% or 3%. This just goes to show that it is hard to know when to put money in which is why dollar cost averaging is a good strategy. With this strategy you don’t try to time the market. You just buy when you have money. This is how most 401K investments are set up if you have money deferred from a paycheck anyway since that is a regular payment.

On 7-6-02016 I purchased $2600 of FUSEX (a S&P 500 index fund) through my Health Savings Account which is held at Fidelity . The expense ratio is .09% or $0.90/$1,000 invested (Meaning if I have $2,600 total invested in that account I pay $2.34 per year to have that money in that investment. At the end of the year that $2,600 had grown to $2,799.24, which is a growth of $199.24/$2,600 = 7.6% growth. The Mad Fientist has a great post about the benefits of a HSA and investing it.

Digging further into my financial laundry, I will report that I do not own a house nor am I saving up for one. I am enjoying the limited amount of home repair time and cost that an apartment affords me. For most people you could include a house in your net worth calculation but you’d also have to include it in a debt calculation. I have no debt from vehicles, student loans or a house which puts me in a fairly good situation.

As for savings, I have a relatively small amount in cash at any one time. I do have my HSA which can cover any medical bills and the principle of my ROTH IRA can function as emergency cash at any time if I am in a real bind. If I need thousands of dollars in cash for anything besides a car or home loan I am probably in trouble. With my salary and  credit history and showing I have assets in a ROTH and 401K I should be able to secure a loan at any time with little down. This may not be an option for everyone but I believe it works for me.

I have a life insurance policy through work by default (2X my salary) and one extra one through work for $30,000 that costs about $2 a month. I have been meaning to cancel that but I have to physically send in paperwork and haven’t yet. Being a single male with no dependents I don’t see much need for life insurance on my part.

I wanted to share this information because a lot of people do not talk about money or retirement, but a lot of people are anxious about it. The less you talk about something the more anxiety comes from it because the less you know about it. I believe in the free sharing of information. I also believe if you don’t control your money it will control you. I understand that some people measure the value of others by how much money they have or make. This is true for people who don’t make or have a lot assuming that those who do have stolen it from them or others. It is also true for people who make or have a lot thinking that those who don’t are lazy or stupid. Both stereotypes are mostly wrong. Open dialogue between people would help clear up those misunderstandings. I also believe that knowing what you have should help you realize that you probably have more than you need. You can compare yourself to the rest of the world at the website “Global Rich List”. I found that (according to investments) I am in the top 7.6% of people in the world. That certainly makes you think.


One thing that I am unsure about is how I am supposed to balance saving vs. spending vs investing in myself or others. I think about how selfish it is to consume so much energy, food, entertainment myself when there are many who are unable to get enough to eat. That lead me to read the book “Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help”. While I am no saint, I wish I was better. One friend I talked to about this this year said that we should all do our best at whatever we are “called” to do. He thinks that if you are “called” to be the best race car driver in the world you should pursue that with passion. I am a bit skeptical if anyone is called to be the best race car driver. I understand that we can’t always be focused on helping others or we’ll get burned out or cynical. But how much more should we be trying to help others who are in a worse spot than us solely based on where they were born?

The tough thing about this line of reasoning is that you eventually end at that you shouldn’t have any fun and you are never doing enough because there is always someone else to help. At least that’s what others have told me. I want to take a bit more hopeful view of it. I hope for a time when we each care about one another more. We provide for those who don’t have enough and we aren’t to wrapped up in our own small lives. The book “Looking Backward” by Edward Bellamy has a pretty interesting outlook on this future.

In light of that, and while I am probably saving more than many people, I am also interested in many charities. Here is some information on those.

Charities I Donate To:

I read the book “The Life You Can Save”. You can read my review of that book here

That goal is possible. Here’s a seven point plan that will make you part of the solution to world poverty.

  1. Tell others what you have done. Spread the word in any way you can: talk, text, email, blog, use whatever online connections you have. Try to avoid being self-righteous or preachy, because you’re probably no saint, either, but let people know that they, too, can be part of the solution. Peter Singer (page 168 The Life You Can Save).

In working with that message, here is my list of charities for 2016 and a bit of justification for each.

Wikipedia – I uses this nearly every day. I appreciate that donating to charities allows you to choose how much you value it yourself and also allows you to pay as much as you can while not limiting access if you can’t pay.

Partners in Health – I read the book In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez at the end of 2015 and into January 2016 at the request of a friend. I appreciate that Dr. Farmer is working to help those in need get basic services that we take for granted in the developed world.

Alternatives Pregnancy – Based in Waterloo, Iowa. This is a Christian based non-profit that helps women who are pregnant. They are a pro-life organization. I appreciate that they are working to help those who can be in a tough position (unplanned pregnancy) instead of just telling them to have a  baby but not supporting them.

St Augie – Platteville, WI – This is the church I went to in college. They asked me to donate to them so I do now since I didn’t have a lot of money in college. (This is a relatively small monthly amount).

Long Now Foundation – This is a non-profit dedicated to long term thinking. They are where I picked up the idea of using 02016 instead of 2016 for a year date. I like them because they are inherently selfless, planning for long after they are gone. ($8/month = minimum membership).

End 7 (sabin vaccine) – Similar to Partners in Health.

“Most people have never have heard of diseases like elephantiasis, river blindness, snail fever, trachoma, roundworm, whipworm or hookworm. But nearly one in six people globally, including more than half a billion children, have these diseases. Without treatment, NTDs can lead to lifelong disabilities and suffering. Just 50¢ can treat and protect a person against all seven of the most common NTDs for up to one year.” – From their site.

Focus – Being Catholic I supported a friend’s girlfriend and future spouse (now spouse) who was doing Focus at the time. Now I support one of her friends.

One Acre Fund – I read their book, The Last Hunger Season, and a few pages into the book I donated to their charity. Here is my review of their book. Their philosophy of giving a man (or woman) the tools and knowledge to take care of themselves vs. handing out charity is a great idea to me. This is supporting both immediate needs (within one growing season people get more food) as well as helping them provide for themselves long term.

Imagine Missions – A woman started an orphanage in Haiti. I went to a friends church one day this year and she was speaking there so I decided to donate to them. $25-$50 a month provides for a child’s education and food. They also make a Facebook post daily so you can keep up with what they are doing.

The Job Foundation – I both mentor kids through this local program and donate to them. I see it as an investment in the future. This is a local and long term program.

NPR – I had grown up listening to NPR and was on a resurgence about a year or 2 ago. Eventually I have transitioned to listening to audiobooks almost all the time when I’m driving but continue to contribute (a little) each month to NPR in the likely event I start listening to them in the future again. I also listen to some public radio content via podcasts so supporting my local NPR station is another way to support those. Similar to Wikipedia, if you can pay for something and you use it you should to help subsidise it for people who may not be able to afford to pay for it. I know I listened to NPR in my life when I couldn’t pay for it and others were.

Children International – This charity allows you to sponsor individual kids who otherwise wouldn’t be getting the schooling and some healthcare. This is an international and long term program.

House of Hope – This is a local charity that is helping women and children who are in a tough place. I like that it gives them 2 years to get back on their feet as well as helping with education. I think this is very similar to the idea of a basic income (in a limited capacity).

Charity:Water – This charity is working to provide clean water to people by providing wells. Clean water can provide so many benefits since it stops a lot of other issues related to dirty water. It also gives more free time since people shouldn’t have to walk as far to get water.

Give Directly – This is a charity interested in seeing what happens when you provide people with a basic income. I read the study, “Household Response to Income Changes: Evidence from an Unconditional Cash Transfer Program in Kenya”  about some people who received help from them. I am interested in what happens when a basic income in provided. Will people work harder at something they enjoy? I am interested in what would happen for a basic income if it was applied to everyone. It’s cheaper to provide that for people who have a lower standard of living to start out with. They are working on a basic income program this year in Kenya.

Cedar Valley Gearheads – I don’t donate to this charity but I was the Vice President this last year. I see their work as good for effecting a short term immediate need of some local residents. Each charity has it’s own focus, long or short term, local or distant. Ultimately all need support so we should just identify which we can help the most and do that.



I had heard about micro-loans and microfinance for a while. I finally took the plunge and put my first $100 into Kiva January 28th, 2016. Since then I have put in a total of $608. Some of that was donated to Kiva for their own expenses. I have made a  total of 37 loans this year of $25 each for a  total of $925 loaned. That is one interesting thing about Kiva is that that money is not donated but only loaned. You can also pull that money back out of Kiva anytime after it’s been repaid to you. The money comes back but you don’t receive interest on it. I had one person die who I’d provided a loan to so that money was lost, but since it’s $25/loan (unless you choose to do more) it’s not a big loss. A much sadder loss for the man’s family that his life was lost.


I also read the book “Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least” which was sort of a memoir of one of the founders of Kiva.

Kiva is interesting because it gives you a lot of stats. You can keep track of how many countries you’ve loaned to (28 of 79 available countries to loan to for me this year). This could be a bit of a result of the gamification of everything. Another interesting aspect of their gamification is you can join lending teams. Fittingly the 2 largest teams with their stats are:

(A+) Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics,… 36,404 members have lent $29,751,725 in 1,024,874 loans

We loan because… We care about human beings and understand that it takes people to help people.


Kiva Christians 18,557 members have lent $28,448,925 in 611,093 loans

We loan because… Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (Jam. 1:27)

A little further down the list is Kiva Mormons 1,747 members have lent $3,877,725 in 111,031 loans

To spare you the math, and just for fun, that’s an average of $1533.06 from each Christian and $817.27 for each Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics….
The Mormons come to $2219.65/person.

Another fun thing that Kiva will do for teams is make various graphs. For example the Kiva Christians seem to fund more loans by men (by some percentage) while the Atheists seem to fund loans to women by approximately 4x!



Kiva’s microloan dollars are distributed by local banks and credit union partners in the countries it operates in. The lenders, such as myself, are only the capital. Some of the partners charge interest, others do not. The lenders (like me) do not get any interest though.

I am often quick to make a judgement about something like charging an interest rate to those who are asking for such small loans. To help offset some of those thoughts here is a FAQ page from Kiva. This can be seen as similar to the One Acre Fund policy of lending partners (people they are helping) money to purchase seed, fertilizer and other stuff from One Acre Fund and expecting to have that loan paid back. The borrowers are better off since they are able to produce more food for themselves and to sell. It is good for them to give that money back so someone else like themselves can receive that loan the next year. They are also free to get another loan from One Acre Fund to purchase more feed/fertilizer. Since they are likely to produce excess to be able to pay back the loan and have more for themselves overall the loan is a good thing. I believe the way Kiva’s partners operate with charging interest if they have to to survive may not always be a bad thing.

I am interested if Kiva and microloan is the right thing to do in general. I certainly believe that those people are probably being helped but one question is if the people who don’t receive loans are actually being hurt by the competition they are receiving from someone backed by a loan? Are the people receiving the loan getting an unfair advantage? I am not sure.

Another question I wondered was “Would there be an opportunity for ‘regular’ lenders like banks to make money from lending and gaining interest from a typical microloan user?” Again, perhaps but they may be more likely to lend at even higher rates than if the capital is coming from a relatively “rich” backer from Kiva. (Relatively rich since a typical loan on Kiva is a few hundred dollars compared to thousands or even hundreds of thousands for a typical USA loan for a car, house or education.

Kiva is also interested in other types of loans, such as their 0% loans available in the US here. Perhaps they are also available in other places?


I loaned my first money via Zidasha on August 21st, 2016. It is similar to Kiva (it was started by a former Kiva employee) in that it does micro loans. I can’t tell you exactly what is different. The way I have it set up it auto relends money as low as $1 (although you can go in and set it to relend at a certain date to allow more to get paid back to you for a larger loan to any one person). I sort of like have a little more ($25 vs $1) in each loan, but I suppose the way Zidisha does it, having even more people participate in each loan, donating as low as $1 spreads the risk out even more for the lenders. If you don’t particularly care which projects/businesses/school education gets your money the auto relending seems fine. It is probably more efficient. I mostly signed up for Zidisha just to see a different system from Kiva. My first loan through Zidisha was for $52 and now through repayments $78 total has been lent to 9 loans. I am not actively adding money to this like I have been to Kiva. I haven’t looked into it enough to determine which I really think is better. Kiva is certainly larger. You can find a lot more information about Zidisha here.




I finished reading 33 books in 2016. I started 2 books that I didn’t finish. Antiquities of the Jews (super long book, I got 100 pages in which is longer than most of the books on this list and Getting Things Done the art of stress-free productivity (2015 Edition) – David Allen This book I just found rather boring. A lot of people in the work group I read this with didn’t finish it either.) I also read 1 kindle book (Time and Regret). I had resisted reading Kindle books because I like being able to highlight in my books and find those references again. I found that it is even easier on a Kindle to do that. I also just like having a book in my hand. Maybe I’m old fashioned. I may try more Kindle books in the future.

I finished 21 audiobooks between audible and CD’s.  I have mainly given up listening to music or news on the radio. Perhaps current news would be good to listen to but I find it usually incomplete. I generally find that I can find more reliable information a few days after some real information is found out. I remember in 2015 listening as the Boston Marathon Bombers were being chased down. It sounded as though I was getting live updates from the officers chasing them. I was getting anxious just listening to it. I don’t really need that up-to-date news. I can hear it in a day or 2. Because of that I am now identifying things that will improve my understanding of how the world came to be as it is and things that will improve me. I read books on history and the future. On technology and religion, about science and pseudoscience and science fiction and a lot of books about space, Mars and astronauts! I listened to books about the governments of China, Russia and North Korea. I read a few books about the work certain nonprofits were doing (Kiva and One Acre Fund). I purchased 33 books from Amazon but only read 20 of them. I didn’t read 13 of the books I purchased (for myself to read). Of the other 12 books I did read some must have been purchased the previous year, some were purchased in person, a few came from a book study at work and at least a few were gifted to me by other people. I listened to 2 books by Walter Isaacson, read 2 by C.S. Lewis, 2 by Oliver Sacks and 3 by Scott Adams, one by Albert Einstein and one about him, 2 by astronauts (1 by Buzz Aldrin and 1 by Chris Hadfield) and one about the experiences of a lot of astronauts (The Overview Effect) and 2 books about Kiva (one by a person who started it and one by a man who loaned a lot of money via Kiva and interviewed some of the people who received that money).  I also read one book for the third time, Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth by Buckminster Fuller.

My complete reading list over the past few years can be found here.

Personal things I did this year:
In January I attended the Detroit Auto Show. One of my favorite vehicles shown there was the 3 wheel, 2 person Elio. It is not in production yet but I hope it eventually is!
In June I attended a wrestling Camp with my younger brother. He is a freshman this year.
Later in June I visited a friend in Texas. We went to the Johnson Space Center, 2 Lamborghini dealers and a Hindu Mandir (temple) in Houston.
In July I attended a family reunion where we celebrated the 100th birthday of one of my father’s aunts.
In July I also became a Godfather for the 2nd time.
In November I visited a friend in Chicago and went to the Museum of Industry and Science. The German U-boat there was incredible!
I visited the Performance Racing Industry Trade show in December 2016.