Real Estate vs Stocks: A Real-Life Look at Returns

Real Estate vs Stocks: A Real-Life Look at Returns

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There will always be a hot conversation in the personal finance community about investing in real estate vs stocks. I do both, so today I’m gonna share details about two of my long-term retirement assets.

Asset #1 is a Rollover IRA account. The balance is about $109k. Asset #2 is a buy-and-hold rental property I’ve owned for five years. Coincidentally, it’s also worth about $109k!

Although both of these investments are worth almost exactly the same amount as of today, they’re in different asset classes, have different risks, and one is a passive investment while the other is constantly managed.

Over time, I think it’ll be fun to track their individual growth side by side and see which one we might be able to call the “better investment” in the long run.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter to me which one outperforms the other because I already own both and will hold them for the long term regardless. But I hope it’ll be an interesting journey for you to follow and help answer some questions … and maybe help me prove out an overall hypothesis. More on that below!

(Also, note that anytime I use the words “me, my, I, or mine” about these investments, I really mean “ours.” All of the assets I talk about are co-owned by my wifey!)

Asset #1: Index Funds in a Rollover IRA

I have an IRA account with Fidelity. The money inside this account is a result of two past employer 401k programs. When I left these old employers, the 401k funds were rolled over into this regular IRA account. I haven’t touched or contributed to this account since I left my last employer two years ago, and because I don’t have a current 401k plan, I won’t be contributing more to this rollover account for a long while — the initial investment amounts are on their own to appreciate for now.

The current balance (as of 7/1/2020) is $109,602. 

This is invested entirely in a total stock market index fund, which gives me a diversified portfolio without any of the work of creating one. The balance represents about 1,250 shares of FSKAX. (For you Vanguard lovers, this is Fidelity’s equivalent to VTSAX). All dividends are set up to automatically reinvest in the fund, and it will all compound over time.

I’m anticipating that this account will grow at an average rate of about 9% per year if left untouched. Only time will tell what the actual returns will end up being — nobody can predict the future in stock investing! I’m assuming this 9% growth rate based on historical returns and not taking any inflation into account.

The thing I love about index fund investing is there’s no effort involved. It’s a set-and-forget stock investment that doesn’t take any physical or mental energy to maintain. I wish I invested more in the stock market earlier, but I only moved to the USA 12 years ago and was late to learning the 401k game!

Asset #2: A Buy-and-Hold Rental Property in Texas

In mid-2015, I bought my first out-of-state rental property in Texas. It took about 10 months of research before finding and closing on this place, and it’s been a steady little wealth grower ever since. This property is cash flow positive, with incoming rents exceeding the outgoing expenses.

The property is worth about $220k right now. Between the latest tax-assessed value ($220k), comparable properties in the area (values range between $180k to $250k), and my local real estate agent’s “feelings,” a $220k valuation seems like a fair market price.

I have an outstanding mortgage of -$123,708 for this property as well as an emergency fund checking account with $13,334 sitting in cash. All of the rental income is deposited into this checking account, and all of the expenses are taken out of it.

All in all, this asset is currently worth $109,626.

Real Estate Property Growth Potential

Growth for this rental is a little harder to project. It’s also extremely boring to research and write about (at least for me) … so for now, I’ll oversimplify it by breaking down the growth into three categories.

This rental makes money three ways:

1. Loan pay-down. Because the tenants are covering my mortgage payment, there is a small amount of the loan balance being paid down each year. This year in 2020, the loan balance will go down by about $2,820.

2. Positive cash flow. This property brings in $1,975 of rental income each month but has expenses of about $1,750. So that’s about $225 of positive monthly cash flow, or $2,700 per year. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but this is the average.

3. Appreciation. Over time, real estate prices in the area should rise, and this house should be worth more and more. My best guess is that it will increase by about 2% per year. Of all the assumptions I’m making, this is probably the biggest. There are a million reasons why property prices become more expensive — faster in one housing market, slower in another — and my way to calculate this was very conservative. My guess (and minimum hope) is that this property will appreciate at the same rate as general inflation.

In total, I estimate this property will increase by $2,820 (loan paydown) + $2,700 (cashflow) + 2% of property value for this year. Which is about $9,920 this year.

Since my current equity is $109,626, this puts the growth rate at around 9% (return divided by equity). This return % will float up and down a little year by year, but at this time, it’s my best estimate of future growth.

Tracking Real Estate vs Stocks Over Time, Comparisons, and Questions I’m Pondering …

So we have two completely different assets, both currently worth about $109,600, and both hopefully growing at about 9% per year. Let’s forget about tax and capital gains for a moment … Here are some things I’m wondering:

  • If left untouched, will they both be worth the same amount in 10 years? What about 20 or 30 years?

Maybe, but probably not. Because the index funds involve zero management, the return will be whatever it turns out to be. There’s not much I can do to affect the price of the overall stock market.

For the rental property, there is a lot I can personally do to affect the returns. I can raise rents, refinance the loan, negotiate expenses, make profitable upgrades to the property, etc. All of these things might deliver me a higher return.

On the flip side, if I neglected or poorly managed the rental property, I could drive my profits into the ground. Many a new real estate investor believes his rental properties are passive income investments and accidentally lets his profit slip away over time. He doesn’t realize that future returns depend on his ongoing actions.

  • Which one will outperform the other?

Only time will tell. I will certainly try my best to make sure the rental property is managed correctly. But I truly have no idea which will grow faster. (And capital gains tax will have a major effect if and when I decide to sell either of these assets.)

  • If the real estate investment outpaces the IRA, will the excess growth be worth all the hassle/time/risk that goes into managing the investment property?

This question keeps me up at night.

Let’s say I bust my balls and manage the rental property like a rockstar for the next 10 years. After years of staying diligent and efficient, I might achieve a 10% annual growth rate instead of my projected 9%. Over 10 years, the difference between 9% and 10% is an additional $25k in value.

Is this extra $25k worth all the risk and monthly hassle that goes into managing a rental property for 10 years? What if the difference was only $10k? Honestly, I don’t really think the extra $ is worth it. Rental properties are hard work. Plus, if I ever sell the place, it could cost me $25k in commissions and transaction costs just to sell it!

  • If I can achieve “similar” returns in index funds vs. the rental property over the long run, why invest in real estate in the first place?

Back in my 20’s, I was hungry to make money and passionate about real estate. If there was a choice between a simple path and a hard path to build wealth, I would choose the hard path. (I have a subconscious philosophy that choosing the harder routes in life is more rewarding, even if you fail.)

But now, as I mature more and learn about risk-adjusted returns, I’m feeling that the simpler path to wealth might be a better choice. Why make it harder than it has to be?

While I am still pro-real estate investing, I’m hesitant to blatantly advise others to go out and buy rentals willy nilly, without fully understanding the long-term commitment and ongoing hard work of owning an income property. That’s an investment strategy I don’t endorse!

Real Estate vs Stocks … Let’s See How Things Grow Over Time!

I hope that tracking both these assets publicly will help give you some insight into the different ways index funds and rental real estate property can help you build wealth over time. Also, I’ll do my best to talk about the *effort* that goes into managing residential real estate as an investment and share stories along the way.

We’ve had a whacky 2020 so far, which is making the stock market do weird things. The real estate market is also being affected, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens the next few years.

More to come on all this. If you’ve got any questions for now, throw them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!


*Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat

from Finance

Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium by Lucy Jane Santos.

Publisher Icon Books writes: Of all the radioactive elements discovered at the end of the 19th century, it was radium that became the focus of both public fascination and entrepreneurial zeal.

Half Lives tells the fascinating, curious, sometimes macabre story of the element through its ascendance as a desirable item – a present for a queen, a prize in a treasure hunt, a glow-in- the-dark dance costume – to its role as a supposed cure-all in everyday 20th-century life, when medical practitioners and business people (reputable and otherwise) devised ingenious ways of commodifying the new wonder element, and enthusiastic customers welcomed their radioactive wares into their homes.

Shortly after radium was isolated, an atmosphere of enthusiasm and inventiveness took over Europe and the U.S. It was the early 1900s, radioactivity was revered, radium was celebrated in poems. Scientists, medical practitioners and entrepreneurs -some well-meaning other totally unscrupulous- launched treatments and products that now sound hysterically dangerous. Radium could do anything. It could enhance sexual virility and conquer baldness. It was in condoms, toothpaste, corsets, hair tonics, infant food, creams that gave you a glowing complexion, products that provided “abundant physical fitness” (whatever that meant) and fluids that promised to cure cancer “in all forms, locations and stages.” In the early 20th century, New Yorkers could even buy golf balls filled with radioactive materials that ensured a “high degree radiant energy” and a longer ball fly (the idea of radioactive golf balls was resurrected the 1950s with atomic golf balls that were easy to locate with the help of a Geiger counter.)

I’m particularly fond of William Thomas Green Morton’s early 20th century “liquid sunshine therapy” which combined radium, water and light, a distant precursor of Trump’s light and disinfectant coronavirus treatment.

Radithor, an early “energy drink” containing radioactive radium. It was advertised as a cure-all medicine for fatigue, arthritis, neuritis and other ailments. John B. Carnett/Bonnier Cor/via Getty Images

NUTEX Radium Condoms, 1940’s (via)

Most of those quack remedies and bizarre objects were readily available. You could buy them at your local chemist, in department stores or even order them by postal mail. Unsurprisingly, there was no safety regulation regarding the transport of radioactive material. Good thing then that due to the prohibitive cost of radium at the time, most of these products contained neither radium neither any of its weaker derivatives.

The first radon spa in the world opened in 1906 in St Joachimsthal, now Jáchymov in Czech Republic. St Joachimsthal was the number 1 source of radium in the world. And radon, a decay product of radium, was a cheap way to get a bit of that radium magic.

Realising that the water surrounding the mine could be radioactive, the town capitalised on the interest of the use of radium in medical treatments and started promoting its water cures. The Radium Palace Hotel offered treatments using water pumped directly from the mines. Elsewhere in the city, you could buy radium soaps, radium cigars and radium pastries. Other towns across Europe soon followed suit. In Bath, for example, you could drink radioactive water, find radium bread in a bakery and bring home bottled mineral waters.

Radium therapy was hailed as a medical wonder. Scientists experimented on themselves, demonstrating that “if radium could burn or kill skin it could destroy tumours”. Burns from radium healed quickly. It made operations superfluous, eliminated tumours, solved all sorts of dermatological problems, could cure blindness, impotence, arthritis, depression, insanity. A wife-beater was said to have been cured of both cancer and violence. In 1896, some breast cancer patients were being offered a course of 18 x-ray treatments. Unfortunately, neither the doctors nor their patients knew about the long-term damage of repeated or prolonged exposure to radium.

Man with neck cancer receiving radiotherapy treatment from a Flint radium “bomb”, designed in 1934 for four hospitals in London, England. Photo

Caradium Hair Restorer. Photo: Medium

After a series of scandals, a steady stream of dying radiologists, a couple of atomic bombs and efforts by medical associations to warn against quack treatments, radioactivity started becoming a subject of community alarm. It was not immediate in the US which remained enamoured with all things atomic for a while after WWII but science fiction books started featuring irradiated monsters, Hollywood movies began to reflect on the destructive side of the substance, companies closed, fashion changed, medical thought moved on and by the end of 1940s, radioactivity became associated with toxicity.

Half Lives is both joyful and harrowing. Throughout its pages, Lucy Jane Santos gives life to a rich material panorama made of adverts, objects, miracle cures and the interplay between scientific discoveries and popular culture.

In the epilogue, the author explains the many ways that radium is still haunting us. Buildings and production sites associated with radioactive elements are still in use. Their occupants often unaware of the prior use of the edifices. In 2010, The Guardian revealed that portions of the 2012 Olympic park in London built on land used to be occupied by companies producing glow-in-the-dark paint for watches and clocks during WWII.

And low-level radiation still has supporters who believe in its health benefits. Jáchymov, for example, continues to offer radon cures. Elderly people still bathe in the spa waters at Schlema, which contain low levels of radon, convinced that it can cure their rheumatisms. And if you’re not inclined to travel, then you can buy a small bottle of a Radium Bromatum homoeopathic remedy.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that pretty much everything and everyone is naturally radioactive.

More images, objects and facts I discovered in the book:

Women painting alarm clock faces at the Ingersoll factory in January 1932. Known as the “Radium Girls,” these workers were putting their health at risk by lip-pointing the brush and ingesting radioactive radium. Daily Herald Archive/SSPL via Getty Images

By the mid-1920, the popularity of radium was beginning to wane. Glow-in-the-dark wristwatches, however, were still very fashionable. Women hired to paint the faces and dials on glow-in-the-dark wristwatches used their mouth to get a fine point. Because the radium paint was tasteless and odourless, the Radium Girls didn’t suspect how dangerous their job was. Until many of them started suffering from anemia, bone fractures and necrosis of the jaw. Some even died. Amelia Maggia was one of them. When she died in 1922, at 24 years old, her death was attributed to ulcerative stomachitis and syphilis. The U.S. Radium Corporation had insisted that its product was safe. Her body was exhumed in 1927 to be autopsied. Her death was confirmed to be radiation poisoning. Meanwhile, employees were asking for compensation for their medical and dental bills. Many court cases later, the Radium Dial was finally forced to pay compensations.

The scandal of the Radium Girls led to the scientific understanding of the way radium accumulates in organs. It also led to better health and safety standards for workers inside and outside the radium industry. Furthermore, the right of individual workers to sue for damages from corporations due to labor abuse was granted as a result of the case.

The hand of Clarence Dally, Thomas Edison’s assistant, was covered in lesions after countless hours of intense X-ray radiation experiments. He died of a cancer caused by radiation exposure at the age of 39. Edison wouldn’t have anything to do with it when he realised what happened

Wilhelm Röntgen developed the first X-ray photograph in 1895. As he was experimenting with a cathode tube that emitted different frequencies of electromagnetic energy, the physicist noticed that some appeared to penetrate solid objects and expose sheets of photographic paper. He called the strange rays x-rays and used them to photograph his wife Anna Bertha’s hand. His discovery revolutionised the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and illnesses.

Velvet-lined case of an radiendocrinator, which was intended to be placed in a special jockstrap. Photo: Carl Willis

Marie Skłodowska Curie, the Polish-French chemist discovered both radioactivity and the radioactive elements radium and polonium, achievements that won her two Nobel prizes. Time Life Pictures/The LIFE Picture Collection/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

One of Curie’s mobile units used by the French Army. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie (via)

The musical play Piff! Paff! Pouf! on Broadway featured a piece of music called the Radium Dance played in the glow-in-the-dark atmosphere. The production probably used phosphorescent paint rather than the very costly radium. Photo via The Society for Theatre Research

from Finance

Would You Rather Lose Your Phone, Wallet, or Car Keys?

Would You Rather Lose Your Phone, Wallet, or Car Keys?

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Hmmm. Interesting question.

Back in the day, my wallet was the most important thing I carried around. I still remember my first wallet, one of those waterproof tri-fold velcro ones that carried my student ID and some train tickets. (Maybe also a few cut-out pictures in there from skateboard magazines — you know, the important stuff).

But that was before everyone had cellphones. These days, my wallet is probably the least valuable thing I carry. Since the invention of Venmo, virtual insurance cards, virtual coupons, and “the cloud,” I don’t carry too much important stuff on me physically. It’s all on my phone.

Interesting question, though … what hurts more — losing your wallet, your phone, or your keys?

I think the question comes down to how hard it would be to replace each one. Let’s look at the time, effort, and money it would take …

Losing My Wallet

Things in my wallet right now:

  • Drivers license: Dang, losing this would suck the most. Just the thought of lining up at the DMV in Santa Monica makes me cringe. Even with a scheduled appointment, I’ve waited in line there for two hours. The ID card replacement would be a small fee, maybe $25, I’m guessing.
  • 1 x debit card: Pretty easy to replace. A 10-15 minute phone call to the bank and I’d have a new one in the mail in three days. No cost to me.
  • 3 x credit cards: Not hard to replace. It’s more a pain in the butt to change the CC *numbers* because my bills are auto-deducted on my main credit card. This is probably an hour or so of work. No cost to me.
  • $139 in cash: Oops, I didn’t realize I had so much on me at the moment! I usually keep about $60 in cash on hand — mostly for garage sales and quick Craigslist buys 🙂
  • The wallet itself: I’d say this would cost about $20 to replace and maybe 20-30 mins to search for a replacement. The one I have now I got eight years ago from a Kickstarter campaign — they promised it would last 10 years, and I think it will!

Losing My Cellphone

Right now I’m rocking an iPhone 6s Plus. Got this one about two years ago from a friend who upgraded to a new model. It was supposed to be a loaner, but I never got a new one and my friend never asked for this one back! Ooops 😊

Since I don’t have phone insurance or anything, I’d be up for the cost of a replacement:

  • New iPhone would be prob $400 to $600 depending on the model. The latest and fanciest versions don’t really interest me, and I don’t think I’d go with one of those payment-plans or lock-in contracts.
  • Secondhand, I’d probably fork out $100-$150 for someone’s old phone that still works. Could grab one online somewhere or ask friends if they have an old one lying around.

My last data back-up was a few weeks ago, but most of my apps and stuff keep data in the cloud so I wouldn’t lose any valuable information. For time to replace, I’d say it would probably take three to four hours to get a new phone, program it all the way I like it, and get used to the new operating system. Grrr…

Losing My Keys

This is an interesting one. Back in the day, keys to my crappy cars were just metal cut-outs. I kept a spare one duct-taped under the wheel hub! But now I drive a Pruis, which needs an electric wireless key. Key replacement options look like:

  • Get a *new* key from a Toyota dealer: Wow! Seems to be around $500 to buy and program a new key! I didn’t realize my Prius was such a rare, luxury vehicle.
  • Buy a replica FOB key online ($100 to $150) and get it programmed somehow by a local car repair place ($100 to $150). Still hurts!

The other factor here is *where* I am when I lose my keys. If I’m stuck in a random parking lot and need to get my car towed home, I’d be up for tow costs too! Probably $100 there.

All in all, here’s my replacement time and costs:

Lost wallet: 4-5 hours of work and about $180 to replace what’s in it

Lost phone: 3-4 hours of work and $100 to $600

Lost keys: 3-4 hours work and about $300 to $400 for a DIY replacement and car tow

Losing ALL three things: 10+ hours and $480+ minimum to replace all three. Ouch!

Well, I guess that answers the original question (for me at least!): What would you rather lose… your phone, your wallet, or your car keys?

At this point, the least expensive thing for me to lose would be my iPhone. Funny, because I would consider it my most valuable and most used item of the three. Weird!

What about you? What would you rather lose if you had the choice?

from Finance

How to Save Money on Air Conditioning … and Fun Tips to Stay Cool This Summer

How to Save Money on Air Conditioning … and Fun Tips to Stay Cool This Summer

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Summer is here! And we’re all looking for ways to stay cool, save money on air conditioning, and have some fun while doing it!

If your home has air conditioning, we’ve got a few tips to reduce your summertime energy costs and maybe even increase the life of your AC unit.

For those of you with no air conditioning, don’t fear … I’ve lived without AC for the last 8 years and pride myself on thinking outside the (window unit) box to beat the heat.

And just for fun, I’ve included some unconventional and less common ideas to stay cool this summer without air conditioning. 😎

How to save on air conditioning

Did you know that air conditioners use about 6% of all the energy produced in the United States!!? We pay billions of dollars each year to run our AC units. And this dumps ~120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. Yuk!

Here’s a few tips to use less energy, lower your air conditioning bill, and help reduce your carbon footprint! It’s a true win/win/win!

Adjust the temperature just 1 degree higher. Next time you turn on your air conditioner, set the thermostat just a single degree higher than you usually would. There’s not a huge amount of discomfort in a 1 degree difference, but you’ll notice a 3% reduction in your energy bill!

Get your air conditioning unit serviced. It’s like a car — preventative maintenance will avoid large and expensive repairs and extend the life of your central air conditioning unit, so service is totally worth it. Just simply switching out a dirty and clogged air filter with a new one can reduce your AC’s energy consumption by 5% to 15%! Routine maintenance will keep your central air conditioner in tiptop shape.

In most metro areas, you can find a ton of local handymen 👩‍🔧👨‍🔧 who provide air conditioning service on NextDoor, Yelp, or Craigslist. Make sure they are familiar with HVAC system you have, and you could negotiate a good value service rate! 

Cover your windows with blinds or curtains to improve your energy efficiency. Glass windows let sunlight into your house and trap the heat inside like a greenhouse. Closing the blinds and covering your windows will stop most outside heat from coming in, so your AC system won’t have to run as hard to keep the house cool.

Seal your doors and windows. Cool air escapes through the tiniest cracks in your door frames and window sills. Usually for less than 10 bucks you can pick up some weather seal strips to control the air flow — keep the cool air in the and hot air out! Could be a fun project to tackle yourself, or you may know a friend who can help you glue on the strips. Easy!

Get a ceiling fan! According to the Department of Energy, a ceiling fan allows you to raise the temperature on your AC about 4 degrees without affecting your comfort level! Ventilation is the most-energy-efficient way to cool your place down, and it’s good for your electricity bill, too.

Keep the lights off, and/or change to LED bulbs.💡 LEDs still produce a tiny bit of heat, but it’s way less than regular incandescent light bulbs. LEDs also have less energy consumption in general, saving a bit more $ for lighting, too! (Residential LEDs — especially Energy Star rated products — use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting).

Repair or replace your thermostat! 🌡It might be a good idea to check if your thermostat is programmed correctly. If it’s off by even a few degrees, your A/C unit may be putting in unnecessary effort without you even knowing it. If you are planning to replace your thermostat, consider getting a programmable thermostat that automatically changes the inside temperature based on time of day and outside temps — a smart thermostat can save up to 10% on A/C energy! (Here’s a good review of the Nest.)

Turn your air conditioner off for a few days! This could be a fun frugal challenge or energy usage competition with an environmentally minded friend. Each day you don’t run the A/C could reduce your monthly bill by 3%. Do this for 1 day a week and you can save almost 15% on your bill. #sweatysundays

And now, just for fun … 

Fun tips to stay cool with no air conditioning

For those of you with no A/C, the good news is that your cooling bill is already $0! But this doesn’t solve your sweaty summertime problem. So here are a few funny and unconventional ideas and family activities to try.

*Fair warning: These tactics are extremely uncommon, so follow them at your own risk! Let us know if you use any of them. 🙂

Grow trees to shade your house. On your next trip to the hardware store, nursery, or local park, pick up a handful of acorns or very tiny tree seedlings. Then, plant these in your front and back yard, wait about 20-30 years, and you will have beautiful large oak trees shading your entire house. A genius energy saver!

This tactic requires very long-term thinking. Just like building wealth, it might be the long and boring way, but you’ll be the one laughing later in life when you’re relaxing in the cooled air of your shady jungle property! 🌳🏡🌳

Cover your entire house with mirrors. Jump on Craigslist and find a bunch of mirrors in the free section. Then glue them all on the outside of your house, covering the entire exterior. Not only will the mirrors reflect the sun rays to keep heat out, they will give a “disco ball effect” that is perfect for the 80’s party you plan to host in August! 🕺💿🕺

Dig a basement. Not just any basement — keep digging until you get like 4-5 stories down into the earth where you hit the cold air. Make sure there’s no electricity, cellphone coverage, WiFi, or anything living down there. It might be a little scary sitting in a tiny dark hole all day, but at least the temperature will be comfortable. And your cooling costs will be nonexistent!

Make your kids fan you with palm fronds. This could be a punishment or an incentive activity for them. You get to decide! Just make sure to give them regular breaks if their arms get sore. Just send them on a quick trip to the kitchen to bring you another cool beverage – that should be enough time for your human air conditioning system to get a bit of rest.

Cook at your neighbor’s house. Using your own oven and stove can heat up your house even more. So try to cook all your meals using your neighbor’s kitchen instead of yours. Just tell them that your oven is broken and that you’re waiting on a rare replacement part shipping from overseas. This excuse can probably last up to 2 weeks before the neighbor gets fed up with you. Then just switch and pull the same trick with your neighbor on the other side.

Sleep in the nude. I’m probably preaching to the choir with this one … Nobody wants to wear pajamas when it’s 90 degrees at night. Just make sure your blinds are fully closed!

Drill holes in the ceiling to let the hot air out. This tip uses good ol’ fashioned science to cool down your home. We all know hot air rises, so drilling holes for vents through your roof will allow the warm air to escape, cooling your indoor temperature. If it happens to rain, just put large pots and salad bowls all over the house to collect the water. Free cooling AND free rainwater is a win/win that you can brag about at your next extreme frugality meet-up group.

Make friends with people who have pools. Kind of like being a “gold digger,” except you only care about whether the person has a pool. Go down to the nearest mall (also a good place to hang out that has free air conditioning) and make your way over to the pool store. Or if you are at a Walmart or Target, just hang out in the aisle with the pool toys. These are great places to meet new friends! 🙂

In all seriousness, what are your tips to stay cool?

Have a great weekend, everyone! Happy Fourth of July!!

Pic up top by Andrew Seaman

from Finance

2020 Money Goals: Mid-Year Review/Revise/Remove!

2020 Money Goals: Mid-Year Review/Revise/Remove!

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Happy Monday, personal finance nerds!

This week we cross over the halfway mark for the year 2020. Oh man, what a crazy year it’s been so far.

When I sat down and wrote my 2020 money goals back in January, I had no clue about the poopstorm of events we were about to experience …

  • One of the biggest stock market crashes in history
  • Immediately followed by one of the biggest stock market recoveries in history
  • More people out of work than there has ever been
  • Governments printed trillions of dollars and handed out money to public companies, small businesses, and citizens in need
  • Interest rates dropped to the lowest they’ve ever been
  • Toilet paper somehow became worth more than gold
  • Impeachment, drone attacks, a global pandemic, bushfires, and a whole bunch of other monumental world issues

And the year is only half over!

Time to review, reset, and pivot our goals!

A friend said to me recently, “This year is a complete write-off. I’m cancelling all my 2020 plans and goals and will just figure stuff out next year.” 

While I can see why she feels that way, I disagree. I don’t want to wait until things “normalize” just to start planning my life. Plus, I think it’s important to continue pushing toward your goals no matter what challenges are thrown at you. 

I’d rather be a guy with plans that fail than a guy with no plans at all. 🙂

So it’s time to revisit, revise, and maybe even remove some of my 2020 goals. Here’s a few money-related goals I started 2020 with, and some changes going forward …

*Quick note: Last year my wife and I realized that we had built up too much of an emergency fund. Since we weren’t working for most of 2018 and 2019, we were holding almost two years of living expenses in cash, just to be on the safe side. Going into 2020, we planned on returning to work and thought it’d be safe to move some of our cash savings into new investments and reduce our emergency cash amount. 

1) Fund Roth IRAs (DONE in January)

My wife and I both have Roth IRA accounts that we plan to max out each year. Roths are relatively new accounts to us — we opened them in 2016 and have been adding to them for the past four years. This year we added the maximum of $6,000 to each of our accounts back in January.

2) Get a job, you lazy bum! (DONE)

Although this blogging gig is part-time (for now), I’m counting this goal as complete! 

3) Set up a “gift to minors” account for my new nephew!

My brother and his wife had another baby! Woo hoo! This is nephew #4 for me 🙂

For each nephew (all four were born in the past five years), my wife and I have been setting up a Unified Gift to Minor account with a $2,500 starting balance. This is a gift to each kid, not the parents. I will remain as the custodian of the account until the child turns 18, then it gets converted into a regular brokerage account under the child’s name and control.

My newest nephew was born a few months ago, but we haven’t set up the new gift account yet. If you’re interested in what a UGMA is and how it works, I can write up a future post on it all.

4) Giving stocks instead of birthday & Christmas gifts for 2020

Last year for Christmas I bought my dad some stocks, instead of buying him a physical present. I made it into a fun little game of choice, and J Money shared the story in a post here

The stocks I bought are performing pretty well, serendipitously. And it’s giving me and my dad something fun to talk about regularly and watch grow over the years.

This got me thinking … Instead of buying birthday gifts for my family this year, I’m going to buy everyone shares in public companies. I’ve got five family members with birthdays between now and the end of the year, and then I’ll probably buy stocks instead of Christmas presents for people as well. I know, it’s kind of boring to get stocks as gifts … but I think my family will thank me later down the road!

5) Make $3k in travel rewards and cash-back programs

I’ve been playing around with travel hacking and testing new bank promotions that offer sign-up bonuses. So far I’ve earned $1,800 this year and hope to make more than $3k before the year is out!

6) Sell one of our cars 

With me working from home and my wife biking to work every day, we no longer need two cars. We’ll keep the trusty Prius (good gas mileage for our road trips, etc) and plan to sell our Kia Soul.

This has actually been on our list since last year. But we’ve changed our mind a bunch of times and never made it a priority. Although both our cars are fully paid for, owning two is now pointless and registration/insurance is probably costing us more monthly than the odd Uber trip would cost if we needed to take one in a pinch.

Anyone want to buy a 2013 Kia Soul with ~45k miles?

7) A kid? Or maybe a couple kids?

This feels weird to talk about publicly … But hey, if we can talk about money and share intimate financial details online, we may as well share other life-changing personal events we’re experiencing. 

My wife and I have decided to explore fostering, and possibly adopting, children. It’s been an ongoing discussion ever since we got married. We’d make excellent parents, have so much to give, and there are a ton of children out there in need of a loving home.

Because the L.A. family services department is closed to in-personal group meetings, we need to take orientation online and do web-based training courses. More to come on this — my wife and I are still at the beginning of the process. Scary stuff!

Goals we’ve already failed at or decided to give up on for 2020

1) Invest in a new real estate partnership, $25k (FAIL) 

In early March, we partnered on a new real estate venture to buy an apartment complex with a bunch of other investors. Our agreed portion of the deal was $25k, which we wired off to escrow after signing all the paperwork.

But, lucky for us, the contract fell through shortly afterward and our money got refunded! This turned out to be a blessing because when the covid news started to roll out in March, we felt much safer having the cash on hand.

In hindsight, I should have moved the money immediately into our joint brokerage account and invested in the stock market during the March/April downturn. Shoulda, woulda, coulda … I was too nervous to make a spur-of-the-moment investment at the time, so this $25k is still sitting in cash waiting to be invested. 

I haven’t set a replacement goal yet — input welcome on this!

2) Sell an investment property (Remove)

In January, we listed one of our investment properties for sale. I’ll admit this was more just to test the waters and see if we could get a decent price in a hot market.

We’ve since removed the listing because we realized:

  1. We don’t have a good plan to reinvest the proceeds. Selling one property only to buy another similar investment seems pointless.
  2. We only bought the place three years ago and should probably stick to our long-term buy and hold strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

3) Spend “less” on alcohol in 2020 (Remove)

We spent a total of $2,117 on alcohol in 2019 and set a goal to reduce this in 2020. It was a very general goal, no specific $ amount attached. 

But, I’m realizing we probably won’t achieve this, and we’re OK with that. As of right now, we’ve spent $1,373 in alcohol so far this year. Oops.

Staying home and not going out to eat has been a big factor in this. We’ve only spent $122 on dining out this year! We’re saving a few dollars in one category and being a little lenient in another.

Plus, beer is fun. 🙂 

4) Get health insurance, via work or third party (Remove)

My wife and I were considering getting health insurance this year but have now decided against it. Our original plan was for me to get a job that included health benefits, but this isn’t an option right now. 

We’ve been living without insurance for the past two years and have found a bunch of local income-based health providers that offer very affordable care. Last year we had a few doctor visits (and even a small surgery) and paying out of pocket has worked out cheaper than the insurance policies we were quoted.

At this point we are happy remaining self insured and continuing to pay out-of-pocket when health issues arise. We’ll assess again at the end of the year.

How are your 2020 goals coming along? Found any hidden opportunities within the recent havoc?

  • Transition to working from home?
  • Learning to cook more and eat out less?
  • Any newfound hobbies that could turn into side hustles?
  • Were you able to invest additional money during the recent stock market dip?
  • Have you blown your alcohol budget already too? Ha ha 😉

*Roller coaster pic by Matt Bowden!

from Finance

REAL_ITALY. A country under the unflinching gaze of its artists

Cultural space are slowly reopening to the public here in Italy and I’m taking advantage of the very very quiet touristic season to drag my collection of face masks around art cities. First stop: Rome for the unexpected joy of visiting the Vatican museums without the need to queue and a discovery of the exhibition REAL_ITALY at MAXXI, the national centre for the contemporary art and architecture.

Danilo Correale, Diranno che li ho uccisi io / They Will Say i Killed Them (video still), 2017-18

REAL_ITALY presents the winning works of a competition held in 2017 by the MiBACT Italian Council General Direction for Contemporary Creativity. The result is a brutally honest display of social exclusion in suburbs, prisons and refugee camps, colonialist heritage, censorship, public spending scandals and fight against underworld crimes.

The works draw a uncompromising, haunting and somewhat melancholy portrait of Italy as it is today. It is dark but never hopeless. The exhibition demonstrates that in spite of all its shortcomings, the country still manages to nurture lucid, sensible and talented artists.

Here’s some of my favourite works in the show:

Alterazioni video, Incompiuto: La nascita dello stile/Unfinished: The Birth of a Style, 2017-18

Alterazioni video, Incompiuto: La nascita dello stile/Unfinished: The Birth of a Style, 2017-18

Alterazioni video, Incompiuto: La nascita dello stile/Unfinished: The Birth of a Style, 2017-18

Alterazioni video, Incompiuto: La nascita dello stile/Unfinished: The Birth of a Style, 2017-18. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Alterazioni video, Incompiuto: La nascita dello stile/Unfinished: The Birth of a Style, 2017-18
. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Alterazioni video, Incompiuto: La nascita dello stile/Unfinished: The Birth of a Style, 2017-18
. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Half of a viaduct, a swimming pool with weeds growing between the tiles, rows of pillars that do not support any road nor bridge, walls in the middle of nowhere, etc. So much concrete poured, so many unfinished structures decaying in otherwise stunning landscapes.

Over the past 10 years, Alterazioni Video has crisscrossed Italy to document, map and reflect upon unfinished public works in Italy. Having collected over 750 works on the whole Italian territory (including 350 in Sicily), they’ve declared that the phenomenon is so widespread and had such an impact on the appearance of the Italian landscape that it constitutes the most important Italian architectural style of the last 50 years. They call it the Incompiuto (the Unfinished.)

The series both denounces and celebrates this strangely appealing mix of ruin porn and Mediterranean scenery. Under their critical eye, these symbols of waste of public resources and environmental crimes are turned into savage monuments, crude markers in the landscape.

Yuri Ancarani, San Vittore (video still), 2018

Yuri Ancarani, San Vittore (video still), 2018

Yuri Ancarani, San Vittore (video still), 2018

When children visit their parents at the San Vittore prison in Milan, they’re subjected to a thorough security check. Their bags are searched, their shoes and toys are checked, they have to go through a metal detector, a security guard pats them down. They are then lead by the hand along long corridors to the visiting room where their father awaits. No matter how gentle the guard, the violence of the procedure is upsetting.

Yuri Ancarani not only filmed the arrival of a child inside the San Vittore prison in Milan, he also shows drawings made by children of inmates during workshops run by an NGO which mission is to protect the rights of prisoners and their families. There are drawings of prison bars, bloodied dolls, figures of authority and many castles. The prison is like a formidable fortress to them.

The way the artist conjures up the prison regime through the eyes of children is poignant and hypnotising.

While doing some research to write this review, I realised that Yuri Ancarani was the artist behind one of my favourite video artworks. Il Capo (The Chief) was shot in a marble quarry in the Apuan Alps as Il Capo guides his men through the extraction process. I didn’t write down the name of the artist at the time and couldn’t find any trace of the video again. I’m glad I’ve finally found him/it.

Eva Frappicini, Il pensiero che non diventa azione avvelena l’anima/Words Without Action Poison the Soul, 2017

Eva Frappicini, Il pensiero che non diventa azione avvelena l’anima/Words Without Action Poison the Soul, 2017 ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Eva Frappicini, Paolo Borsellino. Personal agenda, 1992. From the project Il pensiero che non diventa azione avvelena l’anima/Words Without Action Poison the Soul, 2017

Eva Frappicini, Paolo Borsellino. Personal agenda, 1992. From the project Il pensiero che non diventa azione avvelena l’anima/Words Without Action Poison the Soul, 2017

Eva Frappicini, Rocco Chinnici. Folder containing Report dated 25.08.1978 on Riina Salvatore and others. From the project Il pensiero che non diventa azione avvelena l’anima/Words Without Action Poison the Soul, 2017

Words Without Action Poison the Soul is an ongoing research that documents in photos the everyday “tools” used by magistrates, journalists, trade unionists, police inspectors and private citizens who fought the mafia from the 1970s to the 90s. Some of them are famous: Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino, Libero Grassi, Boris Giuliano, etc. Others were equally brave but their name has travelled far less.

Eva Frappicini hunted for manuscripts of the speeches, sketches, notebooks, agendas and other notes that belonged to these courageous men and women. She photographed the objects front and back and in 1:1 scale which gives an intimate feel to their work. This sense of having a private encounter with the documents is reinforced by the way the photos are exhibited. The public can navigate the photos through a searchable structure, with vertical drawers that you can pull out as individual photographic racks.

Over the course of her research, the artist found out that this precious historical documentation, these very objects that bear witness to the fight against the mafia are not archived in an organised and systematised way. Some are kept in archives but stuffed randomly inside big paper envelopes. Others remain in the hands of families who are not sure what they ought to do with them. What will happen to these documents in the future? Don’t these traces left by people who took a stand against the Sicilian Mafia deserve to be preserved and shared with greater care?

Margherita Moscardini, Inventory. The Fountains of Za’atari, 2017. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Margherita Moscardini, Inventory. The Fountains of Za’atari (video still), 2018

Margherita Moscardini, Inventory. The Fountains of Za’atari, 2017. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Opened in 2012 to welcome Syrians fleeing the civil war and located in a semi-desert area of Jordan, Camp Za’atari is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

Margherita Moscardini mapped all the fountains built by the residents in camp courtyards. She then produced a catalogue of the fountains, with the name of their author, the materials used, the year they were made, etc.

The artist went further. She suggests that the fountains could be copied and adopted in cities across Europe, as sculptures for public space. An official system of acquisitions would enable the designer of the fountain to benefit directly from the sale, thereby creating a system that supports the camp’s economy.

In Moscardini’s scheme, the sculptures would also receive special jurisdiction that includes elements of extraterritoriality, turning them into spaces where the law does not apply. Like offices of the United Nations, embassies, the high seas or even the outer space.

Inventory not only highlights the role that cities can play when national states fall short, it also point to the need to rethink refugee camps as urban areas destined to last, and even as models that could potentially be exported.

Leone Contini, Il Corno Mancante/The Missing Horn, 2017-18
. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Archivio Fotografico castello Sforzesco. Photo: That’s contemporary

Leone Contini, Il Corno Mancante/The Missing Horn (video still), 2017-18

Leone Contini, Il Corno Mancante/The Missing Horn (video still), 2017-18

Monte Stella is an artificial hill created using the debris from the bombings of Milan during WWII. The ethnographic collections of the Castello Sforzesco were destroyed by the attack. Some works were recovered and moved to the Mudec Museum of Cultures. Many others remain buried in the artificial mountain. Among the works of art recovered and restored is the sculpture of the buddhist deity Yamāntaka (the Death Destroyer). Its left horn, however, is now lost. It is probably still buried somewhere in Monte Stella along with several other fragments from the sculpture. This representation of a divinity is a museum object for most of us but for the Buddhist communities living in Milan, the sculpture is still imbued with spiritual life. The Yamāntaka is one of the many “exotic” artefacts that were removed from their original contexts during the colonialist period, with the promise that Europeans would take “better” care of them. And yet, it became one of the casualties of a war between European powers.

The video and the pile of rubble in the exhibition space evoke Contini’s impossible search for the missing horn in Monte Stella, using the small artificial mountains as an archeological site. Il Corno Mancante/The Missing Horn is part of a series of performances that act as healing gestures and symbolise opportunities to bring together not only fragments of artefacts but also different cultures and memories.

More images from the REAL_ITALY exhibition:

Nicolò Degiorgis, Le Baron Chéper, 2017

Nicolò Degiorgis, Le Baron Chéper, 2017. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Flavio Favelli, Serie Imperiale (Zara e RSI), 2018
. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITALY. ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

Anna Franceschini, CARTABURRO (video still), 2017

Anna Franceschini, CARTABURRO, 2017. At MUSEO DEL MAXXI. Opening of the exhibition REAL_ITAL ©Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

REAL_ITALY was curated by Eleonora Farina and Matteo Piccioni. The exhibition remains open at the MAXXI in Rome until 26 July 2020.

Related story: Future farming. How migrants can help Italian cuisine adjust to climate disruptions.

from Finance

How to Turn Your Side Hustle Into Passive Income

How to Turn Your Side Hustle Into Passive Income

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[Welcome to Side Hustle #81, where Zach from Four Pillar Freedom stops by to share his experience — and tips — on how to “productize your knowledge.” We’ve covered tutoring as a side hustle before in different flavors (#14 & #74), but Zach’s approach goes beyond trading time for money … and turns his work into passive income, bringing in money while he sleeps! For those of you with specialized knowledge or expertise in a certain area, this could be a great fit for you!]


In college, I chose statistics as a major because I was good with numbers and I knew it was a lucrative field. This seemed to be a win-win: I could earn good money and enjoy my work.

It wasn’t until I graduated and actually spent some time in a 9-5 work environment that I realized I would likely never enjoy a corporate job, even if I liked the work itself. The commute, the strict schedule, the meetings, the office politics, and the performance reviews all made the job miserable.

But I eventually found that my knowledge in statistics could be lucrative in a different setting: tutoring.

Statistics Tutoring as a Side Hustle

In my senior year of college, I noticed a fascinating trend when I told other students that I was majoring in statistics. Without fail, they would reply with some version of:

“I had to take an introductory stats course during my freshman year as a requirement for my major and I hated it.”

In many cases, they said that they’d have been willing to pay for a stats tutor but that it was so difficult to find one.

This lead to my light-bulb moment: There was a high demand for people who could tutor in introductory stats, yet very few people had the knowledge to do so.

Basic supply and demand told me that I could charge a high hourly rate for my time as a statistics tutor, so that’s exactly what I did. I posted ads on Craigslist and found several people within my first week who were willing to pay $30 per hour for my tutoring services.

In the months that followed, I met with people at libraries, coffee shops, and Barnes & Noble cafes and tutored them all in introductory statistics. It didn’t take long to realize that I could increase my hourly rate to $50 to $60 and most people were still happy to pay.

Trading Time for Money Has an Upper Income Limit

Statistics tutoring was a great side hustle for me. I could earn good money and I actually enjoyed helping people learn.

There was only one drawback: I was trading time for money, which meant there was an upper limit on how much I could earn.

For example, I often had two hours of free time each weekday during my senior year since I had a part-time job and classes to attend. So, if I charged $50 per hour, then the most I could earn through the week was 10 hours * $50/hour = $500.

Of course, I could increase my hourly rate even higher, but fewer people would be willing to pay this price and my income would once again hit a ceiling.

This brings up an important point: When you trade time for money, there is an inherent upper limit on how much you can earn. This applies to freelancing, consulting, day jobs, and any other scenario in which you’re trading your time for income. There is only so much time in the day.

Fortunately, there’s another way to earn income that doesn’t require you to trade your time for money: productize your knowledge.

Productize Your Knowledge

To “productize your knowledge” means to create some type of product that you can sell that encapsulates your knowledge on a particular subject.

For example, I have knowledge in statistics. When I tutored people in statistics, I provided a service. They gave me money in exchange for my knowledge.

However, I could instead create a product, such as an ebook, a course, or paid tutorials on statistics, that I could sell to people. This meant I didn’t need to directly exchange my time for money. People could simply buy my products and use them to learn about statistics on their own time without me.

So, that’s exactly what I did. I built Statology, a site that now has hundreds of statistics tutorials that people can read through on their own time. The site is monetized mostly with advertisements, which means I earn a bit of ad revenue each time someone visits the site.

The beauty of this is that I don’t have to be physically present to earn money from my statistics knowledge. I can create a tutorial on a certain topic one time, publish it, then walk away. 

Then, people on the internet can search for the topic I wrote, find an article on Statology, read through it, and in return, I receive ad revenue.

Now, instead of getting paid to help one person face-to-face, I can help hundreds of people each day and receive passive income in return. Even when I’m not actively tutoring, my website is earning income for me each day.

By productizing my knowledge, I  removed the upper limit on how much I can earn.

How to Productize Your Knowledge

There are many ways you can productize your own knowledge, including writing an ebook, creating a course, selling downloadable templates, or through writing helpful articles on a website and monetizing them with display ads.

The process for doing this is simple:

  1. Find a topic that you have unique, rare knowledge in.
  2. Create a product based on this knowledge that you can sell to people.

I’ve come across thousands of people online who are all earning income from their unique knowledge in different ways. A few of my favorite examples include:

  • One guy who is an orchestra percussionist earns money by selling courses to aspiring musicians that help them prepare for interviews and auditions.
  • One woman who lives in a camper sells books and courses on tiny living and on how to live optimally in trailers and campers.
  • One guy who is a magician sells courses and paid tutorials that explain how to do various magic tricks for beginners.
  • One woman who is a painter sells courses on how to paint better and also runs a YouTube channel that is monetized with ads.

In each of these cases, these people possess a certain knowledge in a certain field. Instead of renting out their time to provide services, they have decided to create products based around this knowledge that they can sell online at all hours of the day to earn passive income.

Get Started on Your Side Hustle!

What specific knowledge do you possess? 

Do you know a lot about statistics, organic chemistry, or some other tricky subject?

Do you know a lot about travel hacking with credit cards?

Do you know a lot about a certain programming language or software?

Identify some topic that you have rare knowledge in. Then productize that knowledge.


Zach quit his day job at age 25 and now earns a full-time living creating and managing profitable websites. Check out Four Pillar Freedom, where he teaches others how to build passive income and work toward financial independence!

Photo up top by Matt Ragland

from Finance

Africa State of Mind. Contemporary Photography Reimagines a Continent

Africa State of Mind. Contemporary Photography Reimagines a Continent, by writer, curator, journalist and broadcaster Ekow Eshun.

Description by publisher Thames & Hudson: Africa State of Mind gathers together the work of an emergent generation of photographers from across the continent, exploring Africa as a psychological space as much as a geographical one. Both a summation of new photographic practice from the last decade and a compelling survey of the ways in which contemporary African photographers are engaging with ideas of “Africanness,” Africa State of Mind is a timely collection of those photographers seeking to capture the experience of what it means to “be African.”

Jodi Bieber, Maria (from Real Beauty), 2014

Dawit L. Petros, Act of Recovery (part I), 2016

If you have to pick up one photo book to spend the Summer with, make it Africa State of Mind. Bringing together images taken over the past decade, the publication shakes off any tropes and presumptions we might have about the African continent. The result is eye-opening, dramatic and joyful.

The photographers selected for the book take a firm hold on the narrative around Africa. They picture the fertile clashes between the exciting life in ever-spreading metropolises and the ingenuity of people who manage to keep on doing business despite regular power cuts in poorer neighbourhoods; the not so subdued Islamic women and the communities who challenge an heteronormative society; the petroleum-fuelled economy and the opportunistic models of street commerce; the tribe in Kenya threatened with disappearance and the student protests against rising tuition fees; the many dimensions of belief in the supernatural, of feminism, beauty, imperfections.

Pieter Hugo, Chris, Nkulo and Patience Umeh, Enugu, Nigeria (from the series Nollywood), 2008

Nobukho Nqaba, Untitled, 2012

This generation of photographers also defies the representations of the continent and the ideas of ‘Africanness’ created in the previous centuries, when Africa was portrayed chiefly through Western eyes. Ekow Eshun follows 4 main threads to illustrate how these artists expand the narrative around Africa: Hybrid Cities explores the rapid urbanisation of the continent; Inner Landscapes articulates personal visions of Africa; Zones of Freedom is dedicated to the depiction of sexual identities that are violently rejected in some parts of the continent; more than the previous chapters, Myth and Memory looks beyond the legacy of European colonialism, it subverts Western clichés of the exotic and redefines the many African identities experienced by people living on the continent and in the rest of the world as children of the African diaspora.

Here’s some images and commentaries only when I couldn’t help it:

Hassan Hajjaj, Kesh Angels, 2010

Zina Saro-Wiwa, Holy Star Boyz, 2018

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, Egoungoun – Adé I, 2017

Thabiso Sekgala, Haddon and Sly (former glory), Bulawayo, 2013

Thabiso Sekgala, Tiger (Second Transition), 2012

George Osodi, HRM Pere Donokoromo ll JP The Pere of Isaba Kingdom (from the series Nigerian Monarchs), 2012

In 1963, Nigeria became a republic and the regional kings and queens who ruled over hundreds of ethnic groups in the country were stripped of constitutional power. Their descendants, however, still play a role in Nigerian society. They not only are the custodians of the diversity of the cultural heritage of the country but they also settle land disputes, matrimonial issues and other local-level disagreements among their people. In 2012, George Osodi travelled across the country to photograph them in full regalia.

Musa N. Nxumalo, This is how you start a party!, 2017

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, Citizens of Porto-Novo, 2018

Filipe Branquinho, Cine Theatre Scala, Annex, 2013

Edson Chagas, Cheick F Ouattara, 2014

Edson Chagas, Marcel D. Traoré, 2014

Omar Victor Diop, Jean-Baptiste Belley (1746–1805), 2014. From the series Diaspora

In his Diaspora self-portraits series, Omar Victor Diop poses as Africans historical figures of the colonial era. In the photo above, he recreates a portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley by Anne-Louis Girodet. At the age of two, Belley was sold to slave merchants sailing for the French colony of Saint-Domingue. He later bought his freedom, fought in the Haitian Revolution and became the first black deputy to take a seat in the French National Convention. Belley returned to Saint-Domingue in 1802 as an officer of gendarmes, but he was arrested and died in prison in 1805.

The references to football in the photo series suggests the difficulty experienced by black people then and now of living a life of glory while facing the challenges of being framed as the ‘other’ in a white society.

Kiluanji Kia Henda, The Last Journey of the Dictator Mussunda N’zombo Before the Great Extinction: Act II, 2017

Sethembile Msezane, Untitled (Heritage Day), 2014

Leila Alaoui, Water-seller in Boumia souk, Atlas mountains, 2011

Another reason to applaud Africa State of Mind is that it gives more space to women photographers than most publications of the kind. I particularly loved the work of Zina Saro-Wiwa, Nobukho Nqaba, Phumzile Khanyile, Nontsikelelo Veleko, Atong Atem and Leila Alaoui.

Guillaume Bonn, After two decades of war and destruction, the Italian colonial architecture of Mogadishu is barely surviving, 2013

Kyle Weeks, Kauyu Tjiambiru, Kunene Region, Namibia, 2015

Previously: Kinshasa. Always on the move, Delta Nigeria – The Rape of Paradise, Bamako Encounters, the Biennial of African Photography, Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography, etc.

from Finance

Upcoming: Art & Animals in the Age of CRISPR, Cloning and Cellular Agriculture

Public announcement!

In July, I’ll be giving online classes on the theme of Art & Animals in the Age of CRISPR, Cloning and Cellular Agriculture with the School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe. A first edition of the class ran back in April. This one will be a bit different. First, because I learnt so much from the fantastic group of participants in April that I’d like to feed all their ideas, links and feedback into the new classes. Second, because I wanted to slightly adjust the content of the course. OUT are the plants (they’ll get their revenge in the future) and IN are the marine animals and the birds that I had neglected in Spring.

Brandon Ballengée, DFA136: Procrustes, cleared and stained Pacific tree frog collected in Aptos, California in scientific collaboration with Stanley K. Sessions (from the series Malamp Reliquaries), 2013

Agnès Villette and Emmanuelle Foussat, Alien of the Species

For the rest, the class will keep on reflecting what I care about: socially-engaged creative practices but with a stronger focus on non-human life. Microscopic and massive. Extinct, endangered, wild, familiar, lab-grown or “tech-augmented”. And because -as we are painfully learning right now- everything is connected, the classes will also be looking at the world that animals inhabit and where they encounter fungi, viruses, bacteria.

During the classes, we’ll be looking at taxidermy, de-extinction programmes, genome editing, bestiaries, farming, “invasive” species but we will also discuss the ethics of working with animals (including dead ones) and more generally of exhibiting life inside museums and galleries. The main objectives will be to investigate the shifting paradigms of the living world and to reflect on the possibility of co-evolving in a more sympathetic and mutually beneficial way with other living entities.

The full description of the classes is here.

The online classes will be taking place over the course of five weeks, two hours each week. The first session will be an informal “getting to know each other” event during which i will also be taking notes of any special curiosity and interests participants might have.

If you feel extra studious, extra self-isolated or if you prefer to learn about something else, I’d also recommend having a look at Marisa Satsia‘s online classes on Medical Bodies; Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, Lorenzo Pilia and Bahiyya Khan‘s Hands-on guide to making personal games; Ela Kagel‘s Tools for reimagining. Better worlds through cooperation.

Classes are live meaning that you can directly interact with the instructor as well as with the other participants from around the world. Classes will also be recorded for playback if you are unable to attend that day.

The school is offering a limited number of pay-what-you-can tickets to take part in this class. Preference given to women, POC, LGBTQ+ and persons from underrepresented communities who would otherwise be unable to attend.

This way to join!

Image on the homepage: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson, Nanoq: Fat Out and Bluesome, 2001-2006.

from Finance

!! Exclusive (Totally Made-Up) Interview With Prince Harry and Meghan About Financial Independence!!

!! Exclusive (Totally Made-Up) Interview With Prince Harry and Meghan About Financial Independence!!

Post image for !! Exclusive (Totally Made-Up) Interview With Prince Harry and Meghan About Financial Independence!!

Hey, everyone! For a little light-hearted fun, today’s post is a 100% made-up interview/story. But there’s a kernel of truth to it! Harry and Megs have indeed announced that they are pursuing financial independence, and I’m a massive supporter of this decision. FIRE is ultimately about freedom, and I’m stoked that people with fame and all different income levels are figuring it out.

If I were lucky enough to interview the couple about the FIRE movement and their path to financial freedom, this is how I imagine/hope/dream my blog post about it might go …

BIG news, everyone!!!  Last week I had a private interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, to talk about the FIRE movement and their path to financial independence!

In January, the couple announced their plans to step back from their royal duties and “pursue financial independence.” I was fascinated when I heard this and naturally started thinking about how they’d achieve their goal of financial independence.

(Here’s where my imagination took me …)

Joel: Hey guys, thanks for sitting down with me!

Meghan: No worries, Joel. We usually turn down interview requests but when we saw your name, we accepted immediately! We’ve been following Budgets Are Sexy for a while now and J. Money was the one who first inspired us to create a budget! In fact, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I have a thing for guys with mohawks. I’ve been trying to get Harry to get a mohawk for a while, but he refuses. Hehe.

Joel: Nice! Thanks for following our blog. How did you guys first find out about the FIRE movement?

Harry: Well, it was mostly Meghan’s idea to start with.

Meghan: Yeah, my family didn’t have much money growing up. So I always lived pretty frugally and learned how to survive on a tight income. Then when my acting career took off, I started making money hand over fist. … I didn’t know what to do with all this extra income, so I started learning about investing.

One day I was googling “how to invest in index funds” and I stumbled across an article by J.L. Collins about a simple path to wealth, or something like that. It took me down a rabbit hole and I discovered all types of blogs and books on financial independence. I got hooked! I didn’t realize there were so many people out there pursuing FIRE. Most of them are spreadsheet nerds, just like me!

Joel: So Meghan, it sounds like you discovered FIRE before Harry. How did you convince him to get on board?

Meghan: Haha that was a really slow process. Before we even got engaged we butted heads quite a bit about finances. We come from very different backgrounds and Harry thought that money grew magically on trees. No matter how much I showed him the math, my spreadsheets, or talked to him about economics, he just didn’t get it! He thinks numbers are boring.

But then we started to discuss what type of future life we wanted to have. The traveling we want to do. The freedom from family obligations and the time we wanted to spend creating a family. … I told Harry that we can design our life however we want, and financial independence is the platform we need to do it. After that conversation, something just “clicked” for him, and we’ve been on the same page ever since.

Joel: Wow, that’s cool. Do you guys have a FIRE number or dollar amount you are shooting for? What is your FIRE timeline?

Harry: It’s difficult to calculate right now because we are still in the process of figuring out what our future living costs will be. We just moved to the US from the UK, we’re buying a new house, and we’re not even sure how many kids we want to have yet. Our FIRE number is up in the air. But if I had to guess, it’s probably somewhere between £200-300 million. What do you think, Megs?

Meghan: Harry! Our FIRE number will be much less than that! And don’t forget, we live in the States now, so it’s dollars, not pounds.

Although we don’t have the math quite figured out, that’s not stopping us from living the FIRE lifestyle right now. For me, FIRE is just a series of better life choices. It’s about making decisions based on long-term joy vs. short-term happiness.

We’ve had to make some huge sacrifices to start our journey toward financial independence. But we couldn’t be happier. There’s a long road ahead, but that’s OK, because it’s about the journey, not the money.

Joel: The world was pretty shocked when you guys excused yourself from your royal duties. How did your family take the news, Harry?

Harry: Oh, man. At first there were a lot of nay-sayers, and people were accusing us of being selfish. But we stuck to our guns and explained that we simply wouldn’t be happy if we kept doing what everyone else wants us to do in life. Slowly but surely, the family came around. FIRE is contagious and we hope to lead by example!

Joel: Meghan, what about you? Any backlash from your family and friends?

Meghan: Well, I’ve always been different from my friends in L.A. Like at my last job on the set, all my co-workers spent their money on fancy cars and stuff. They laughed at me when I rocked up to work in my old 2003 Honda Accord. But I never cared much what others thought of me. So when we announced we were pursuing FIRE, my friends fully supported us. Some of them are even calling me up now and asking for financial advice. I just tell them: VTSAX all the way, baby!

Joel: By the way, congratulations on Archie’s first birthday! How has having kids affected your FIRE plans?

Harry: The birth of our little guy flipped our world upside-down! A couple things changed… First, Meg and I completely swapped our household roles. She wants to get back to building her career and is currently the breadwinner of our household. I am loving staying at home with Archie and taking care of all the household chores. Never thought I’d be a stay-at-home Dad, but it’s awesome!

The other thing is that our FIRE timeline has extended a fair bit. We didn’t realize how much children cost. Heck, the babysitter costs $8,000 per night, not to mention the salary of our 12 bodyguards that stand by his crib 24/7.  But, it’s all worth it. We don’t mind extending our FI timeline for children. Kids are a big joy in life.

Joel: Have you guys found any ways to cut costs and reduce your spending?

Meghan: Oh, definitely. This is my area of expertise. I’m always bargain-hunting. Here’s a few ways we are saving money.

First off, since Will and Kate had kids before we did, we are getting all of their hand-me-down baby clothes. Boom! Archie will be dressing for FREE until he’s at least 15.

Also, we’ve started travel-hacking by opening credit cards with reward programs! Our Amex Black credit card only has a $7,500 initiation fee, but it comes with a TON of travel benefits. There’s a great referral program, Joel, if you’re interested I’ll send you my referral link?

Joel: Ah, thanks, but I’m good for now.  Hey, what do you think is the biggest misconception the public has about the FIRE movement?

Megan: There are two misconceptions that I see a lot. The first is that most people think FIRE is just for frugal and young millennials who have high-paying jobs. It’s definitely not. The truth is that financial independence is something everyone should shoot for, no matter your age, income, background — or even if you’re royalty.

The other misconception is about the “retire early” part of FIRE. Harry and I never want to retire or stop working on the things we love. Sitting and doing nothing all day sounds boring. We owe it to the world (and ourselves) to always work hard on the projects that are important to us. 

Joel: Awesome! Any last messages about FIRE you want to share with others?

Meghan: Yep. I want to encourage everyone to pursue financial independence. If Harry and I can do it publicly, you can certainly do it privately. It is a hard but rewarding journey, and you’re not in it alone. Create your own individual path in life, and have FUN along the way.

Joel: Well, thanks again for your time, it was great chatting with you guys!

Harry: Anytime! OK, we’ll see you later, we’re late for a tea party with grandma!


Well, there you have it. Wishing Harry and Meghan all the best on their FIRE journey.

You guys have any questions for the couple that I can ask them next time? 😉

from Finance