POST GROWTH. Ideas and toolkit for a world in crisis

De-growth is a term most people find unpalatable. If not alarming. We were brought up with the idea that relentless growth is the only economic force that matters. Growth, we’ve been told, means increased living standards. And yet, it would be irresponsible to continue ignoring the massive human and environmental costs of our infatuation with economic growth. Especially now that the pandemic has people dreaming of “the world after.”

DISNOVATION.ORG & Clémence Seurat, Post Growth Toolkits (The Interviews), 2020

DISNOVATION.ORG & Baruch Gottlieb, Energy Slave Token (Human Labor To Fossil Fuel Conversion Units), 2020. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG

Economists and policymakers, however, argue that de-growth is little more than a naive and unrealistic ideology that can only lead to sudden mass joblessness, infrastructure collapse, widespread hunger and the breakdown of everything that makes our existence efficient and pleasant.

So where do you turn to when you’re a citizen seduced by the idea of an economy that does not inflate relentlessly, does not feed on finite resources and on the exploitation of the living? What leverage is available for transformative practices and imaginaries to overcome the continuous growth of our energy consumption?

A good place to start is the exhibition POST GROWTH at iMAL in Brussels where the DISNOVATION.ORG collective together with Baruch Gottlieb, Clémence Seurat, Julien Maudet and Pauline Briand invite visitors to question every Silicon Valley word, every technosolutionist promise and that ingrained conviction that it’s growth way or the highway. If you can’t make it to Brussels, do check out their POST GROWTH TOOLKIT, an online collection of interviews with thinkers whose research explores the forms that a post-fossil society could take and the challenges we need to confront to get there. The online resource is an incredibly inspiring guide to help you navigate concepts like Collapse Informatics and self-obviating systems as well as issues such as the need to base our decisions on the 7th Generation Principle, the fact that we won’t be able to externalise the most extreme forms of environmental destructions for much longer. Or, most crucially, how men peeing on walls in the city streets of Paris contributed to geodiversity.

Negatechnology, Interview with Bill Tomlinson

Ideology of Growth. Interview with Valerie Olson

The POST GROWTH show grapples with overwhelming issues that would normally make me want to bury my head in the sand. But because the works exhibited weave practical and theoretical ideas, depressing facts and uplifting concepts, healthy scepticism and appeals to our imaginations, individual decisions and collective actions, I emerged from my visit at iMAL with a sense of hope. And that is not a feeling I experience often these days.

DISNOVATION.ORG & Baruch Gottlieb, Solar Share (The Story)

The works I found most thought-provoking where the ones from the Solar Share series in which DISNOVATION.ORG together with artist, researcher and curator Baruch Gotlieb examines the radical implications of a speculative economic model based, not on fossil fuels, but on the energy emitted by the Sun.

Instead of being hooked on resources that are not infinite, the economic model proposed by Solar Share is intimately connected to the elementary sources of energy coming from the Sun, the Earth and the cosmos. The research project aims to revise the prevailing narratives with an acknowledgement of the material conditions required for the persistence of our form of life in the biosphere.

DISNOVATION.ORG & Baruch Gottlieb, Solar Share (The Farm), 2020. Photo: DISNOVATION

DISNOVATION.ORG & Baruch Gottlieb, Solar Share (The Farm), 2020

Exhibition view at iMAL by Caroline Lessire

The Solar Share (The Farm) installation investigates vertical hydroponic farming alluring promises of food security in urban centres, in the Arctic, underground and in the middle of the desert. Leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs and other high-water content produce grow without soil, without pesticides and with far less water than conventional agriculture requires. Unfortunately, this artificially controlled environment is energy-intensive, it requires constant air conditioning and LED lighting. Furthermore, hydroponic-grown produces obtain their nutrients from the solution added, not from the soil which means that they never get in contact with many of the billions of microorganisms that inhabit the soil and stimulate a healthy microbiome.

Hydroponics might be part of the solution to feeding the world -especially if you don’t take the externalities into account- but they cannot feed densely-populated cities. For that, we need vast areas of cropland planted with grains, legumes, root, sugar and oil crops, the produce of which is to be eaten directly or fed to animals that produce meat, milk and eggs.

Solar Share (The Farm) takes the shape of 1 square meter experiment which makes visible the vast technical infrastructure and energy flows required to grow a food staple like wheat in an artificial environment. From a systemic point of view, the “miracle” of soil-less farming is heavily dependent on cheap fossil energy to function. Even if the farms were powered by solar energy, they would still rely on the polluting extraction of minerals and other outsourced (and unaccounted for) contaminating processes distributed all over the globe. The installation challenges the agroindustry’s inflated claims by bringing to light the layers of invisibilised interdependencies and by providing a speculative reference reckoning of the incalculable ecosystem services at play in conventional agriculture.

DISNOVATION.ORG & Baruch Gottliebb, Energy Slave Token (Human Labor To Fossil Fuel Conversion Units), 2020

In 1940, Buckminster Fuller introduced the term energy slave to describe the energy required to power the modern lifestyle. The energy requirements for any lifestyle can be calculated as a number of “energy slaves” equivalent to the number of human labourers whose muscles and stamina would otherwise be needed to produce the same amount of energy. The concept puts us in the very uncomfortable shoes of a slave master. It has been estimated that the average European lords over the equivalent of 400-500 “energy slaves” 24 hours a day to keep our homes and infrastructures functioning, to grow our food, pump our water and manufacture our goods.

The Energy Slave Token consists of a series of weights made of bitumen, which are the energy equivalents to specific quantities of physical human labour time (ie. 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 1 life). Making energy more tangible than any kWh and other gigajoules ever could, the weights visualise the orders of magnitude that separate the labour force generated by human bodies from the energy exploited mostly from the fossil fuels that power the technosphere. These open source tokens are designed to be easily replicated, used and distributed without restriction.

DISNOVATION.ORG & Baruch Gottlieb, Solar Share (The Coins), 2020

DISNOVATION.ORG & Baruch Gottlieb, Solar Share (The Coins), 2020. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG

Solar Share (The Coins), the third work in the Solar Share series, is the one I can’t stop thinking about. Allow me to mostly copy/paste its description:

The concept of Emergy attempts a comprehensive accounting of the energy involved -directly or indirectly- in the reproduction of a product or service. With Emergy, factors such as extremely slow and vast processes that tend to be overlooked can be acknowledged as vital contributions to life.

Some areas of the world get more sunlight than others, some “use” more sunlight than others. Europe uses considerably more energy than it receives from the sky through imports in various concentrated forms, principally petroleum, coal and natural gas. Brussels is one of the least sunny cities in Europe, receiving only 3 kWh/m2 on an average day, and only 1000 kWh/m2 a year, a fact that its energy consumption doesn’t reflect.

Solar Share coins are made of the ubiquitous PET plastic, a petroleum bi-product, ancient sunlight concentrated in organic material over millions of years. A few grams of PET has the same embodied energy as 1m2 of yearly solar irradiation in Brussels.

How might our understanding of economics change if the instruments we used for money had an equivalent value to the solar energy required to materially produce them? As a speculative response, each Solar Share coin embodies the average solar irradiation received at a specific urban location.

DISNOVATION.ORG, Julien Maudet, Pauline Briand, Clémence Seurat & Baruch Gottlieb, Post Growth Toolkit (The Game), 2020

Post Growth. Exhibition view at iMAL by Caroline Lessire

Post Growth. Exhibition view at iMAL. Photo: DISNOVATION

Post Growth. Exhibition view at iMAL. Photo: DISNOVATION

POST GROWTH remains open until 17 January 2021 at iMAL in Brussels.

More photos on DISNOVATION flickr page.

Previous DISNOVATION stories: Predictive Art Bot. A call for artworks that interpret AI-generated concepts, Shanzhai Archeology: defying our standardized technological imagination, Disnovation, an inquiry into the mechanics and rhetoric of innovation, etc.

from Finance

How and When to Hire a Property Manager for Your Real Estate Rental

How and When to Hire a Property Manager for Your Real Estate Rental

Since I live in California and all my real estate rentals are in Texas, I heavily rely on property managers to look after the day-to-day landlord responsibilities. I get asked about this a lot… Who manages the properties? How do you find a good property manager? What stuff do they handle, and is it all worth the cost?

This post is a brain dump of everything I know about property management, and why I believe it’s the backbone of your rental real estate business. Hiring the right property manager could mean the difference between making a profit or a loss, as well as having a fun vs. a horrible real estate investment experience.

First, you gotta have a good attitude about property management

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing investors complain about how bad “all” property managers are. I heard a guy the other day telling me he’s on his 9th management company in 5 years, because “everyone out there sucks.”

Call me crazy, but if you enter into a relationship with the expectation that your partner is going to disappoint you, eventually you will find a reason to prove this true. Also if you cycle through property managers without learning or improving your experience each time, perhaps there are unclear expectations that you have for the partnership.

I encourage all investors to think of their property manager as the COO of their business. They are a partner, not a contractor. The stronger the communication and relationship, the better chance you’ll have of a positive investment.

Most of what a property manager does is deliver bad news. They are the messenger, not the cause of the bad news (usually). Something to keep in mind if and when things go wrong.

What does a property manager do?

While each management company is slightly different, here are the typical tasks of a property manager.

Tenant dealings: The property manager handles all communications with renters from start —> finish. This includes finding potential tenants, screening them, setting expectations, rent collection, inspections, responding to tenant complaints, handling disputes, and eviction if necessary. A property owner should never need to talk to a tenant directly.

Leases and legal stuff: Each city and state has different legal requirements for renting out real estate. It’s the property managers job to know the local rules, write and sign leases, and make sure all parties are living by the terms of their agreement. Most property managers are required to have a license within the state they do business.

Maintenance and repairs: Property managers find, hire and oversee contractors to do general upkeep and fix stuff when it breaks. Yardwork, plumbing, electrical and cosmetic repairs are commonly handled by the property manager. Depending on the size of the work, they may involve the property owner to approve any costly repairs. (Personally, I’ve given my property manager permission to proceed with any repair work under $300, and contact me for anything higher than that.)

Accounting and admin: Most property managers use accounting software to track all the incoming rent and outgoing expenses for each investment property. They provide a monthly balance sheet to the investor, as well as annual P&L statements that can be used for tax filings and records.

Miscellaneous & value-add items: A good property management company can also offer additional services and tools to make the investor’s life easier/happier. These can be listed in the contract (for example, my property manager will represent me in court, for a fee, if I ever need local representation) or just common sense type of activities (my property manager sends out warning emails before a large storm hits the area or when there is a change in local legislature that affects me).

What does a property manager NOT DO?

Profitability: A property manager is the COO, not the CFO. While they understand the overall goal of an income property is to turn a profit, they themselves are not responsible for whether the real estate investment makes money or loses money. Not all managers have an investor mindset.

Predict or prevent disasters: A good property manager has experienced and dealt with all types of shit and disasters you can’t even fathom. But while they might be able to foresee most common rental issues, they cannot stop all bad stuff from happening. They are not fortune tellers.

Realtor activities: Unless the property manager is a licensed real estate agent (some are!) they won’t be able to represent you in buying or selling an investment property.

Personal accounting stuff: It’s not the property manager’s job to give you tax advice, file your taxes, handle your property insurance, deal with your bank, or service your mortgage.

Manage renovations and large upgrades: Property managers are not general contractors. They also only get paid when tenants are paying rent, so they usually do not manage large renovations, remodels, or design upgrades.

Costs to hire a property manager

The 2 most common fees are an ongoing management fee and a commission for lease-related activities. It’s important for new investors to include these fees in their rental property analysis if they plan to hire a property manager.

Management fee: Typically between 8-10% if incoming monthly rent, this management fee covers almost all management activities. This fee is taken out before any other expenses are paid. For example, if the monthly rental income is $1,000, and the management fee is 9%, the management agency will deduct $90 each month.

Lease commissions: When a property manager finds a good tenant and secures a 12-month lease, they take a commission usually equal to 1 month’s rent. Commission amounts vary by location, housing type, and sometimes longer or shorter lease terms. Also, if a tenant extends or renews a lease, the property manager may collect a lease renewal fee.

Other fees: Some management companies charge a marketing fee to advertise a property, registered agent fees to represent an LLC, mark-up fees to oversee large repairs, or other custom work outside of their usual scope. These fees are custom and sometimes negotiable.

Should you hire a property manager?

Every real estate investor needs to figure this out for themselves. In some cases, a professional property manager is a legal requirement, but in most cases it’s a matter of preference. Here are some questions and things to consider:

Do you have the skill set to manage tenants? Personally, I don’t have a great track record negotiating with tenants. I’m too nice, give people the benefit of the doubt, and somehow always get screwed. It’s worth it for me to hire a property manager with people skills so I don’t have to learn these skills myself.

How close is your rental property? If you live far away, it can be hard to service your property and tend to your tenant needs. Some state laws even require local property management if an owner lives out of state. That said, many tasks can be done remotely and if you feel comfortable finding boots on the ground when needed, then perhaps self managing is a fit for you.

Time and scalability: Most real estate investors hold a full time day job, and it can be difficult to play landlord in their spare time. The problem compounds when they own 2,3,4+ properties. Hiring a property manager allows you to offload tasks so you can scale your investing business without overloading yourself with work.

Are you well organized? Managing a property is like managing a business. It requires extreme organization, even if it’s just a single rental unit. Property managers have proven systems and methods in place to help them stay on top of management.

Can you afford it? In some cases, investors have no choice but to try and self manage their properties. Perhaps they can’t afford the management fees or don’t believe the services offered are quite worth the expense. Everyone has a different opinion on this.

Do you know the tenant & landlord laws? One thing I love about my property manager is she stays current with all the local laws and is an expert in her industry. If I didn’t have a manager in place, it would be my responsibility to know and abide by local laws.

Self-management and workarounds

If you’re not quite sold on a property management service, but still want to offload tasks, there are a few workarounds I’ve seen investors have success in.

  1. Hire a “friend” to manage your place, and pay them a smaller fee. This keeps you engaged and still managing most of the bigger activities, but you can offload some easy tasks to your friend. This might include showing the property to a prospective tenant, fixing a small maintenance request, or even just driving by once and a while to check on things.
  2. Use online property management software. BiggerPockets has a great list of software companies that help landlords do accounting tasks, collect rents, track and keep rental paperwork and other small tasks to help stay organized. Cloud software is becoming very popular (and cheap!) to help investors manage multiple rentals.
  3. Shadow a property manager, and learn to do it yourself. One of my friends hired a property manager for the first year he owned a rental. During that year, he learned everything he could about tenant management, and also made friends with his tenant who wanted to renew a long term lease. When he felt confident in his management capabilities, he cut out the middleman to save on management costs.

How do you find a good property manager? 

Before choosing my manager, I set phone call interviews with ~6 top recommended agencies in the area. I asked them all the same set of questions, cross referenced their answers, and went with the one I felt was most capable in the end. We’ve been working together over 6 years, and things are still going strong.

Here are the questions I asked (outside of the typical service overview stuff) when searching for my property management firm:

  • Do you invest in real estate personally? Tell me about your properties!  If you can find a property manager that has an investor mindset, they may inherently understand your needs a bit better.
  • What management software(s) do you use? To me, it’s important that a property manager utilizes current technology and tools to be the most efficient at what they do. Any sign of unorganization scares me, because ultimately I’m the one that suffers if they can’t stay on top of their duties.
  • What services don’t you offer?  This is a great question to see how they manage expectations. I’m very wary of the management company that says “we handle everything!”. Also, their answer reveals duties that you will have to cover as an owner if they can’t do it.
  • Walk me through your process of marketing vacant properties: Hearing their methods demonstrates their knowledge advertising and finding tenants. I want to hear that they exhaust every avenue possible to find a potential tenant.
  • Who will I be dealing with day to day? My property management company has a general manager, a dedicated renewals rep, and a couple assistants. It’s nice knowing how their office staff all work together, and who to get a hold of if I have any issues.

Ongoing communication and success tips

I mentioned at the start of this article about keeping a positive attitude toward property managers and business partners. Here are some other tips I would give fellow investors based on my successes (and failures)!

Get out of their way! Early in my real estate career I made the mistake of thinking that I know everything. But, I slowly learned that the more I interfered and tried to do other people’s jobs, the more I would screw things up. Sometimes you have to trust that they know better than you, even if you disagree on something.

Take a lot of notes. Whenever I talk to my property manager about something important, I follow up with a written email outlining what we just decided on. It’s very easy to forget what you talked about, especially when you own more than a few properties. 🙂

Always be positive and fun. Property managers deliver bad news all the time. They rarely call just to say “everything’s going great!” Since 90% of your communication is about things going wrong, it’s important to stay upbeat and as positive as possible. Remaining calm and collected makes you someone who they want to solve problems with. If you are angry and abrasive, nobody will enjoy working with you or helping you make money.

Forgive, forget, and move on stronger. For every mistake my property manager makes, I use it as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship. Many investors take the opposite approach, and slowly dismantle their partnerships over time. Mistakes will happen with anyone you work with, so take a long term approach when your COO slips up.

Ask about their other clients! This is a huuuge untapped area many investors miss. Property managers know 1,000 other investors and owners – many of them older investors that want to offload their portfolios. Asking your property manager for introductions is a great way to find off-market investment opportunities, or perhaps even experienced mentors!

I would love to hear your experience with property managers. Any success tips or failures you want to share?

Cheers, and have a wicked day!

from Finance

Why You Need an Investment Diary (With a Backup!)

Why You Need an Investment Diary (With a Backup!)

Digging through my old emails, I found this one I sent to my brother five years ago…

> On May 27, 2015, at 10:03 PM, Joel <> wrote:

> Good news: We have signed all closing documents and transferred closing money to the escrow account. Just waiting for confirmation that all was settled correctly. We are officially homeowners as of 5/27/15!

> Bad news: I lost ALL of the digital data I have been gathering for this property. I kept everything on a USB stick, that encountered an error yesterday. Sadly, I have only back-up emails with some documents I’ll have to collate again.  The worst thing is my daily log of calls/email activity and lessons learned. I wish I could transfer the knowledge to someone, but i guess it’s just all in my head moving forward.

Bugger! I really wish I still had those notes right now. This was back in May 2015, when my wife and I were purchasing our first out of state rental property.

Actually, this investment was a series of “firsts” for us…

  • First time investing out of state.
  • First time buying “sight unseen.” We had never visited the property, and never even met our real estate agent or property manager in person. Whole process was managed remotely.
  • Our first investment together as a couple (we were engaged at the time, but not married yet, so mingling money and sharing debt was still a strange new feeling)
  • First time getting an investment loan. And the first loan with a new bank.
  • First time inheriting existing tenants – (one of them was mid-eviction while we were in escrow, so we got to watch the whole court process happen during the purchase)

I learned more in that 60-day period than I learned in the whole previous year of study. I was smart enough to keep an awesome daily log of activities, but dumb enough to lose them immediately. 😦

Advice to new investors: Take notes on everything you learn. Start an investment diary. Record all your wins, losses, and lessons learned. (and keep a backup of it 🙃)

I was given this same advice as a young investor. And while I’ve done a half decent job of taking notes, I wish I had done better! Detailed notes from the past are handy in so many ways.

Why New Investors Need to Start an Investment Diary

Here are some reasons I encourage investors, particularly *new* investors, to document everything they learn:

  1. Writing stuff down helps you retain information better: No secret here, most of us learned this in school… Whether handwriting or typing, you remember more when you take notes.
  2. It helps create a “repeatable process”: My original goal of writing everything down for the rental purchase was so that I could create a personal “playbook” for buying my 2nd, 3rd, and more properties. Constant note taking along my journey builds a solid book of knowledge for future investments and hopefully profit.
  3. It limits repeating past mistakes: Some of the best lessons learned are from trial & error. Making silly mistakes or hitting unforeseen challenges. My past notes help remind me to avoid the same problems. (Eg. Note to self: Stop trying to day trade. It only ends in tears. Keep buying that mutual fund!)
  4. Theory vs. practice: There’s a million books on investment strategy and How To Guides… But putting that information into practice brings a whole lot of experience and emotions you can never plan for. Documenting the feelings along your journey is a really important part of investing when looking back … and that’s solid investment advice no matter if you’re investing in the stock market or real estate or for retirement vs. another long term goal. It applies to everything!
  5. New epiphanies:  When I read my past notes and learning materials, I see brand new ideas and thoughts I couldn’t see at the time. It’s weird to think that your future self can learn from your current self.
  6. Others can benefit from your knowledge: The main reason people follow this blog is because J Money documented his net worth growth in real-time. Following his journey was so useful because a lot of it came from a beginner’s perspective. Your notes could help other individual investors save time and money, too!
  7. Knowledge > Money:  Would you rather have Warren Buffett’s wealth or Warren Buffett’s knowledge? OK, bad example, don’t answer that — you would take the $$$… but you get the point… The knowledge of how to fish is sometimes more important than the fish itself. Treasure the knowledge you gained from any investment decision, not just the money made!

Take notes about what? Where should I write this stuff?

How to Create an Investment Journal

Here’s a couple examples and things you might want to try as you make a record of your investment process …

Things you learn from books and podcasts:  Let’s say you regularly listen to the Choose FI podcast… Start up a spreadsheet with 3 columns: (date | episode | biggest takeaway). Then each time you listen to an episode, make a quick note in the spreadsheet. After 1 year you will have 100 personal FIRE notes to look back on. Any time you are feeling uninspired, overwhelmed, or want to recall a specific memory, just go back to your spreadsheet.  You can do the same with technical investing podcasts and personal finance books you read.

Notes when tracking your net worth:  A great example is J$’s net worth reports. He included a ton of valuable notes! Not just for your reading pleasure but for his own records later in life. Each month he detailed new investments he tried, things that went well, things that went wrong, changes in his income and his spending … Valuable to us, but valuable to him more so. Here’s how to start tracking your net worth.

Call logs with accountants, agents, property managers: I’ll admit I’ve gotten lazy in this area… Back when I was first getting to know my property manager, I would keep a brief log of each call we had. It helped me record action items and answers to questions I forgot immediately after hanging up. Very handy when you’re starting new business relationships or interviewing a bunch of potential partners.

Starting a business or side hustle: Open a new Word document and write 3 quick points on *why* you want to do this new business. (The main reason people give up on their side hustles after a few months is because they forget the reasons why they started them in the first place!)  In this document, you could also write your next actions to take, small and large goals, any risk you anticipate, lessons you learn along the way, etc.  Doesn’t have to be a formal business plan – Any sloppy notes are better than no notes at all!

Write down your growth goals: I keep a very basic goals tab in my net worth tracking sheet with about 6-7 bullet points of things I want to do for the year. I don’t really update or modify it much, but just the act of writing goals down brings me closer to achieving them 🙂

I know note taking can be boring and monotonous — but that’s what some people think about budgets — and we all know how $exy budgets are! You’ll be thanking yourself later in life when you’re reading your investment diary from years past. We all know that past performance is not indicative of future results … but knowing what we did back then helps us make decisions about what to do now.

What about you – are you a note taker? You bloggers out there, have you noticed any huge benefits in simply writing stuff down and documenting your processes?

from Finance

Coast Financial Independence: Building Wealth, Even If You’re Not Saving Any Money

Coast Financial Independence: Building Wealth, Even If You’re Not Saving Any Money

The concept of “coast financial independence” can be tricky to understand. Here are some fun comments and questions I’ve received recently…

So, let me get this straight… if you are spending the exact same amount that you’re earning each year, it sounds like you’re living paycheck to paycheck! How do you grow wealth when you’re not putting anything into your retirement accounts?”

“What happens if you accidentally lose your job or don’t earn enough each year. You’ll need to withdraw from your retirement accounts and you’ll be going backwards!”

“Don’t you want to retire early and stop working?”

“When the stock market bubble pops, your plans will be screwed.”

“I’d love to quit my job and slow down, I just don’t have the cajones to do it haha.”

I’m gonna talk about each of these from my perspective, but I’d also love to hear thoughts and feedback from you other Coast FI or Slow FI peeps out there!

An Important Baseline Is Needed for Coast Financial Independence

First and foremost, Coast FI isn’t the right strategy for everyone. Nor is it even an available option for some people. Intentionally slowing down your path to financial independence or stopping your retirement contributions requires three important things:

  1. Time: The younger you are, the more flexibility you have in your path to financial independence. Because Coast FI depends on compound interest, a longer time horizon is necessary.
  2. Existing assets: There has to be at least some amount of money or wealth already sitting in a retirement account that will grow over time. If you’re gonna leave your campfire unattended, you better first stack some large logs on that sucker before walking away!
  3. You still gotta work!: Coast FIRE lets you reap the benefits of financial freedom early, but it’s important to remember that without actually hitting your full FI number, you can’t stop work completely. Sabbaticals and breaks are OK, but “work” is still a big part of the strategy.

Everyone’s blend of these three necessities is different. If you have more of one, you can afford to have less of the others. It’s flexible. This is what makes Coast FIRE such a unique and personal life plan.

Having a 0% Savings Rate: How Does That Even Work?

I’ll admit, it’s a little scary earning only as much as I spend each year. Living paycheck to paycheck is something I’ve avoided my entire life! 

But what allows me to sleep at night is my confidence in compound interest. Sounds nerdy, and it definitely is! It’s also a little risky, which I’ll talk about, too. Simply put, the reason I don’t have to keep contributing to my retirement accounts each year is because the growth of my existing assets does it for me. 

Let’s take a look at a Coast FI scenario using this FIRE Calculator from the awesome dudes over at Playing With FIRE. 🔥  For this scenario, I’ve used the following inputs:

  • Age: 35
  • Annual expense: $40k per year
  • Annual Income: $40k per year  (0% savings rate)
  • Number needed to hit FI: $1 million
  • Current net worth: $500k

Based on a 7% assumed growth rate, someone who is about halfway to their financial independence number can retire in 10 years without contributing anything new to their portfolio.

Some people would call this model conservative, and others would say it’s risky … let’s take a look at what happens when things don’t go quite according to plan.

Scenario: What If We Make Less Than We Spend? (Negative Savings Rate)

Let’s now assume that we have trouble keeping steady employment and only earn $30,000 per year instead of $40,000. Unfortunately, this would mean pulling out $10,000 per year from our retirement savings to cover annual expenses.

  • Age: 35
  • Annual expense: $40k per year
  • Annual Income:  $30k per year  (-33% savings rate)
  • Number needed to hit FI: $1 million
  • Current net worth: $500k

Looks like even if our savings rate goes into the negative every single year, it only adds two more years to the FIRE timeline. Even though we’re withdrawing $10,000 from the portfolio each year, the compounding growth more than makes up for it.

Retiring at 47 instead of 45 is not a huge deal, is it? 

Let’s now take a look at if/when the stock market shits the bed.

Scenario: What If the Stock Market Crashes 30% Right Now?

Let’s say the stock market crashed 30% next month, which brings the portfolio value down to $350,000. What does it mean for the growth timeline?

  • Age: 35
  • Annual expense: $40k per year
  • Annual Income: $40k per year (0% savings rate)
  • Number needed to hit FI: $1 million
  • Current net worth: $350k (Down 30% from $500k)

If there was no immediate recovery after a crash, and we still assumed a 7% annual portfolio growth, the timeline now extends out to age 50 to achieve financial independence. 

Now let’s look at one last scenario … with both the poop hitting the fan and a lower income vs annual spending.

Scenario: What If the Market Crashes 30%, AND There’s a Negative Savings Rate?

  • Age: 35
  • Annual expense: $40k per year
  • Annual Income: $30k per year  (-33% savings rate)
  • Number needed to hit FI: $1 million
  • Current net worth: $350k (Down 30% from $500k)

Wow — looks like even with these factors, financial independence can still be achieved before traditional retirement age. You can see why a long time horizon is necessary when pursuing Coast FI. If your situation changes or things start to go wrong, time can correct things naturally, as long as you have enough runway.

Work, Work, and More Work Is Part of Coast FI

Three years ago, I would have probably looked at the charts above and thought, “There’s no way I want to work for another 10 years, let alone 20!”  Many people feel the same when they first discover the FIRE movement. “Retirement” is the ultimate goal for those who don’t want to depend on work.

But my view toward work and early retirement has changed over time (and is still changing). I envision work being a big part of my future, no matter how old or how much money I have. If I’m going to be working anyway, I might as well discover or create positions that I really enjoy. This takes time to figure out, and possibly means starting from scratch in some industries. Coast FI gives me the flexibility to earn a low income for a while — maybe even many years — and still have a comfortable retirement nest egg later.

A fun thing to think about … In 20 years, I’ll probably be working on a project or doing a job that isn’t even invented yet. Just like ~20 years ago, blogging wasn’t even really a career. The unknown used to scare me, but now it kinda excites me.

The Opportunity Costs and Flexibility in Coast Financial Independence

There’s a bunch of opportunity costs that come with slowing down retirement savings and pursuing coast FIRE at a young age. I’m experiencing some of these costs right now, and let me tell you — it doesn’t feel great 😦

First, I’m choosing to work part-time through some of my “higher potential income” work years in life. This isn’t a huge deal, because I’m still confident in the math that I don’t need a massive income to achieve early retirement. But, it hurts thinking about lost opportunity, regardless.

Another opportunity cost is not being able to take full advantage of buying more stocks during market dips. Earlier this year when the stock market tanked, my friends were all socking away excess income into their 401(k)s, Roth IRAs and other investments. I didn’t get that opportunity because I had no excess earnings. We’ll inevitably have crashes and dips in the future that I can’t take advantage of, either.

That said, Coast FI is flexible. If we wanted to get back onto a more traditional FIRE path, that’s always an option. I envision some big income years for me and my wife and some zero income years in our future. Time will tell how it all plays out!

Coast FI Takes Confidence!

One of the last comments I heard was “I’d love to quit my job and slow down, I just don’t have the cajones to do it haha.”  After digging deeper, I found out this person is actually already past their FI number. They could stop working anytime, and have enough money to live the rest of their life. All the math and FIRE spreadsheets in the world couldn’t convince this person to quit their job, and that’s totally OK!

Everyone has different levels of comfort and confidence. At the end of the day, we need to follow the FI journey that makes most sense for us individually. Whatever keeps you stress-free and sleeping well at night!

Any fellow Coast FI peeps out there with 0% or negative savings rate? Am I the only idiot trying this?

from Finance

Net Worth Report – Numero Uno!

Net Worth Report – Numero Uno!

Can you believe it’s October already! As much as I love the holiday season, the tight-ass inside me calls the next 3 months the “expensive season” where our costs get a little crazy on food, travel and gifts!  🎃 🦃 🎄 🎁 🎅.

Today I’m sharing my very first ever net worth report. Well, kind of … this is a partial and simplified version, which excludes shared rental properties and private partnerships. This report is the first of many I’ll publish monthly going forward.

Why I’m Sharing Net Worth Tracking With You

There are hundreds, (maybe even thousands?) of bloggers who are tracking their assets and net worth online. But what’s cool is that everyone does it in a slightly different way. Also everyone shares it publicly for different reasons.

Here are my reasons:

    1. To keep encouraging others to track their net worth, too. In fact, everything I write online is to share processes and methods that have helped me, and hopefully can help others out there increase their financial situation. If you don’t track your net worth – start TODAY. If you don’t know how, start here and email me if you have any questions!
    2. A unique-ish perspective. Since my wife and I are pursuing “Coast FI” we are pretty much solely relying on the compounding growth of our existing assets. Even if we don’t add any more contributions, we *hopefully* will still reach our FI number. We’re trying to prove that the slow and boring path to FI is just as good as any other! This slow strategy lets us work in jobs we enjoy, even if it means having a 0% or even a negative savings rate for a few years. You will never hear us complain about our jobs, which is rare these days.
    3. It’s about the process, not the numbers. It’s always fun to check out someone’s net worth or assets statement… But, the true value is watching how things change over time. Plans change. Things fail. Life gets in the way. We all approach obstacles and windfalls differently. It’s the tiny decisions we make along our journey that have the biggest impact in the long run. Each monthly report is just a snapshot. But together, over time, they all tell a story.

Drumroll, Please …

Let’s jump into the big-picture numbers, then afterwards delve into the details and whatnot. Here’s a list of our assets (for my wife and me) and their balances as of October 1, 2020:

Breakdown of Assets

Checking & Savings Accounts ($38,868): This is the liquid cash across our regular bank accounts, including our personal emergency fund. I know, it’s probably a little too high for what we need going forward. My wife and I are just getting back into regular W2 income after our lengthy sabbatical, so we will reduce this cash balance over time.

Rental Property, and Reserve Account ($235,931): The backstory of this duplex is posted here. I recently ordered a Market Comp for the property which confirmed a $220k evaluation. The reason I keep a dedicated reserve account for this rental (and I recommend people do this for all their investment properties) is because I track it separately from my personal income/expenses. I view each rental property like a self sufficient business – all of the incoming rent gets paid into the reserve account, and all expenses taken out of it.

IRA – Rollover ($118,633): This account is the combination of a few old employer 401k plans rolled over into an IRA. The full backstory is posted here. Since my new workplace offers a 401k plan, I won’t be contributing to this specific IRA, and its growth solely depends on the overall stock market.

IRA – Roths ($61,162):  We were a little late to the Roth game, starting both our accounts in 2016. Going forward, our plan is to max out our Roth contributions each year, even if we have to pull from other retirement accounts to do so.

Joint Brokerage Account ($158,853): This is an after-tax, self managed brokerage account. Since my wife and I will most likely need access to retirement funds before we turn 59½, this account is a big part of our early withdrawal strategy. Our long term plan is to slowly sell off our real estate holdings and move money into this brokerage account (and our Roths) going forward.

HSA ($1,677): Quick update on my healthcare situation… I’ve enrolled in a shithouse HDHP plan, but one of the benefits is the ability to invest in a Health Savings Account. Although its purpose is for healthcare expenses only, the tax advantages of an HSA make it an excellent investment vehicle. The max contribution I can make is $3,550 this calendar year, which I’ll be adding shortly when my coverage kicks in.

New 401(k) at work ($0): I was on the fence about contributing to my new workplace 401k plan. Since my wife and I have almost a 0% saving rate (making just as much as we spend), adding any money into this 401k would put us in a negative cash flow situation each month. But, since our emergency fund and cash position is quite high right now, we feel OK living off of our checking account cash and investing parts of my income. At least for a little while.

Breakdown of Liabilities

Rental Property Mortgage (-$122,997): This balance will slowly decrease over time as principal is applied with each mortgage payment. There are options for refinancing this rental property and borrowing more money, but we need to stabilize our income a bit more so we can qualify for a new loan 🙂

Credit Card Balances (-$304): Although we pay off our credit cards in full each month, there’s typically a few hundred or maybe a couple thousand dollars in new charges. This balance represents whatever we owe at the time we do a net worth snapshot.

My wife and I have no other consumer debt. 🙂 

Stuff Not Included in These Monthly Net Worth Reports

Our Car: Personally, I don’t consider a car as an “asset” because it’s something that takes money out of our pockets each month, and doesn’t contribute towards growing our wealth. Our Prius (nicknamed “The White Shite”) is owned outright, so there are no payments or debt attached.

Wife’s CalSTRS Retirement Plan: The saddest and most frustrating thing about being a teacher is the tiny compensation and absolute ripoff retirement options. The State of California deducts a small portion of my wife’s paycheck (involuntarily) and hides it in a secret, invisible, web of trickery. It’s almost impossible to determine where her contributions are actually being invested, and if she’ll ever get them back one day. Needless to say, this retirement account is about as dependable as Social Security later in life. It’s an asset we hope to one day benefit from, but unfortunately something we can’t control or rely on.

Australia SuperAnnuation: If you think the USA has confusing government sponsored retirement plans, you should check out Australia’s weird fee-ridden system! The good news is I have about $25k AUD in a self-managed Super account down there… The bad news is the account is growing at a rate of about -2% YoY even though it’s invested in the best available index funds. The only way I can access this money is either when I turn 60, or if I renounce my Australian Citizenship. 😦  

Joint Rentals, Real Estate Partnerships & Reserves: My long term strategy is to slowly downsize and eventually exit from owning and managing rental real estate. Shifting money from these assets over time into our IRA & Brokerage account will simplify our withdrawal strategy and be way less crap to manage in retirement. I’ll chat more about this real estate stuff over time.

Goals and Future Milestones

In the short term, like 3-6 months, we’ll slowly add money into the new 401k account. We’ll probably fund the HSA before year end ($3.5k), and then think about maxing our Roths in January ($12k). To do all this, we’ll need to take cash directly from our reserves. I don’t anticipate a huge increase in overall net worth, just a shuffle of money between accounts.

Our longer term goals are still shaping, and much of these depend on market performance, offloading some of our rentals, and possibly increasing our income a bit next year. More to come on all this stuff — things are a bit wonky right now!

As far as milestones, looks like we’re in sight of a $500k report pretty soon! J$ hit the Half Millie mark back in May 2016, then it only took 3 years from him to double it to $1M! 😅 I can’t promise my assets will grow as fast, but it’ll be an interesting journey nonetheless! 

How are your net worth updates for the end of September? Any news or milestones to share?!

Have a great weekend!

– Joel

from Finance

The “Great Wealth Transfer” Has Begun …

The “Great Wealth Transfer” Has Begun …

This article is about The Great Wealth Transfer. But before we get to that, a quick hypothetical question to help me explain why this is so important …

What would happen if you took all the money in the world and split it up evenly across all the people in the world?

Let’s say there’s $360 trillion in ‘wealth’ floating around the world right now, and we divided it up equally between the world’s 7.8 billion people…

Each person would get about $46,000.

Forget for a second whether this is fair or if the numbers are correct… This is just a fake scenario to get you thinking about what would happen afterward.

How long would the equal transfer of money last? If this happened tomorrow, how would people spend their money? Would it be invested? Or would people blow their $46k on consumer crap and lifestyle upgrades? Maybe a bit of both?

Experts believe that within 5 years, all of the world’s money would end up right back in roughly the same hands that it is in today. It’s crazy to think that a massive global event like this would be so short-lived!

It’s because the way people manage wealth strongly depends on their financial education and money habits. People with high financial IQ tend to build and maintain wealth easily. Whereas people with bad money habits or little money knowledge find it hard to hold onto wealth. This is also why most lottery winners go broke quickly.

Of course all of this is a hypothetical scenario, because a global money division will never happen in real life.

But, do you know which large-scale money transfer event will happen in real life…?

In fact, it’s happening right now…

The Great Wealth Transfer

Over the next 20 years, the most prosperous generation that has ever lived (Baby Boomers) will be passing down $68 trillion in wealth to their heirs. The recipients are Gen Xers and Millennials.

The reason this is more significant than previous wealth transfers in history is because:

  1. Baby Boomers represent a huge percent of the population
  2. Their ownership percentage of current wealth is ridiculous
  3. The money habits of the younger generation are grossly different

Here are some stats around the great wealth transfer that will blow yo’ mind 🤯:

The Baby Boomer generation currently owns more than 56% of the wealth in the U.S. And their parents own 24% of the U.S. wealth. This totals a whopping 80%!

Gen Xers own 15.8% and the Millennial group only holds 3.4% of total U.S. wealth. 

The chart below shows our current population split by generation. And it’s projected that in 2029 (when the last baby boomer turns 65), boomers will still represent 17% of the population.

It’s estimated that women will inherit 70% of the Great Wealth Transfer, according to Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. And by the year 2030, women will control 2/3rds of the nation’s wealth.

Studies suggest that 80% or more of heirs will look for a new financial advisor or wealth manager after inheriting their parents’ wealth.

70% of wealthy families lose their wealth by the second generation, and a stunning 90% by the third, according to the Williams Group wealth consultancy.

*All the sources I used for these stats are linked at the bottom of this article, along with other interesting articles about generational wealth.

So What Does This All Mean?

First, it’s important to note that this “great transfer” is more like a “slow trickle.” The shift of wealth will be rapid, but not sudden. We all have time to prepare and adapt as things change around us over the next 20 to 30 years.

Also, recognize that assumptions and predictions around this event are very generalized. We can’t predict exactly what will happen because the world hasn’t experienced something like this before. And each individual country, business, and person is affected differently when money changes hands.

One thing’s for sure though… Just like in the hypothetical example at the beginning of this article, financial education will be the biggest deciding factor of whether wealth grows or shrinks within your household.

Why Should You Care About This?

Many of you might be thinking, “Hang on a sec… My parents don’t have much money, so I’m not expecting an inheritance. Why should I care about all this anyway?”

Well, think beyond the direct transfer for a moment. When money rains down on people, in general, it only sticks around as long as the recipients know how to keep it. Sadly, there are millions of Gen Xers and Millennials who have poor financial education. Over time, wealth will flee from their accounts if they are not prepared or taught responsibility.

When money evaporates due to bad financial habits, do you know where the money goes? It goes to business owners, shareholders, investors, savers, hoarders, side hustlers, net worth trackers, FIRE walkers, and the sexy readers of this blog. Money is attracted to people with good financial education and habits. You will indirectly benefit from more money changing hands and as the economy is redesigned to support aging boomers.

Financial Planning for the Next Few Decades

These tips are useful if you’ll be giving or receiving wealth directly, but they are also just good general advice all around!

Talk about money more often! Financial conversations with family members can be awkward, ugly, and sometimes lead to fights. But, the more that money is discussed and problems are addressed early, the higher the likelihood of a family succession plan working out well. Remember, when talking to people from different generations about money, go in with a complete open mind. We all hold different values and motives around money.

Keep increasing your financial education! There’s always something new to learn. If you are confused or need help with wealth management, there are professionals and advisers in every single industry that can help you with hard financial planning decisions. If you’re already very financially literate, help educate others out there!

Consider charitable giving and directing money to services that are needed in the world. Many people inherit more money than they need, and some accumulate more than their heirs need to inherit. Take some notes from this guy, who built a fortune and donated it all anonymously. 🙂  Even if you can’t afford significant sums, any giving is good giving!

Estate planning and tax planning. Uncle Sam is rubbing his hands together just waiting for the wealthiest generation to make mistakes in the wealth transfer process. Inheritors usually find out too late that they pay major estate taxes on family wealth … and that much of it could have been avoided if proper planning had been done earlier!

Consider the “burden” of some assets. Some wealthy people are asset rich but cash-flow poor. If they hand down complex assets (for example, a large real estate portfolio or a unique business that requires constant upkeep), there’s a chance the offspring or loved ones can’t handle the maintenance or annual expenses. Think about simplifying wealth before transferring family assets. This goes hand in hand with planning ahead of time and educating younger investors!

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Got any predictions on how this will impact our lives over the next few decades?

Reference articles for this post: 

All of the world’s wealth in 1 visualization (2020)

Wealth percent by generation, (Interesting data since 1989!)

US Generational Wealth Trends (Deloitte study from 2015)

Considerations for Women In Wealth Transfer

70% of rich families lose wealth by 2nd generation 

What the Great Wealth Transfer means for the Economy

2018 US Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth

Staggering Millenial Wealth Deficit

What the Wealth Transfer Means for Advisors

from Finance

We Ditched Our Big City Life for a Small Town, and Our Finances Thanked Us

We Ditched Our Big City Life for a Small Town, and Our Finances Thanked Us

Ever think about packing up all your stuff and moving your family to a small, less expensive town? That’s exactly what Joe DiSanto and his wife did. In today’s post Joe shares their transition across the country, cutting their budget by 60% (!!!), and all the good and bad stuff along the way. 

Quick note: Joe’s budget numbers might be much higher than yours! (They’re certainly higher than mine!!) But what I love about stories like this is that freedom and time are what we strive for and value most, no matter what our numbers look like. 😀


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many Americans are exiting big cities and heading for the safety and tranquility of smaller towns. Although my family and I moved from the city to a small town almost two years ago (under normal circumstances), it felt like a good time to share the details of our transition. 

I’ll show you how we were able to save so much money (60% of our previous budget!) so that we could work less and enjoy life more. Like me, you might even benefit from a total rehabilitation of your previous workaholic life-style! In small town America, you and your family may just end up happier.

A Little Preamble…

So why did we leave Los Angeles for a small town? Simple…we wanted to spend less time working and needed a cheaper location in order to accomplish that. Easily done? Not exactly. Here’s the gist of it.

I’m a former executive producer/business owner and spent many years and LOTS of  hours climbing to success in the advertising and entertainment industries. My wife (a former film/tv editor) and I created multiple successful businesses (with our close friends and business partners), which provided an “enviable” big city lifestyle. We even won a couple Emmys, which pleasantly validated all our hard work! 

(The Sonic Highways billboard on Sunset Blvd. And our audio team with their Emmys for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing!)

THEN….we kissed it all goodbye to start a new life. At the ages of 38 (Kristin) and 43 (Joe), we left our stressful big city careers and (eventually) relocated to a charming Florida beach town where we knew no one, but were able to raise our 3-year-old son full time. 

We traded in time spent on work, for time spent together (such a cute tagline. I literally tear up every time I read that. Ok, not every time). Now we refer to ourselves as “semi-retired”, and living “Act 3 of a 4 Act Life.”

The (Hot) Financial Details….

Being that this website thinks budgets are sexy, I’m going to just get to the sexy part, and save the rest of the story for pillow talk (creepy yes, but funny).

For those of you who fantasize about a good “belt-tightening,” you’ll be happy to know that moving to Florida has reduced our overall monthly expenses by about 60%. Really. It went from an average of $21,060 per month to $8,420!

A little background on the data: These numbers are not a “guesstimate,” they are actual expenditures. For LA we used a monthly average of 2017, and for FL we used a monthly average of 2019. We didn’t use 2018 because we moved three times and lived in LA, Austin and FL. It was not a consistent comparison.

Most every area of our life is cheaper here, but not all by 60%. And we do spend more on discretionary because we have more free time..yah! The biggest reductions in spending are our housing payment and child care costs. Plus we also have tried to corral our spending a bit.

Here’s Some Info on the Main Areas Where We Are Saving…

Child care costs are way less because we went from a full-time nanny to a full-time mom with some preschool. We would have eventually switched to school in LA, but not as soon. With Kristin working full-time, we would not have been able to do that until kindergarten, and then still would have needed after school care. It’s also likely that our son’s amazing Waldorf school here would cost 2x more in LA.

The other major reduction is housing. With the sale of our LA home and some other real estate, we are able to own our house outright here, so the out-of-pocket expense is only taxes and insurance. 

Taxes are higher here, on a percentage basis, but house prices are significantly lower. Insurance is also higher here because hurricane coverage is mandatory and you really need flood insurance as well. In LA, earthquake was not mandatory, but we had it…so insurance is about the same.

We switched to getting groceries at Walmart instead of Whole Foods and Amazon. Walmart has nearly every organic item we want and it’s all cheaper…and they deliver. There is the moral dilemma of Walmart having low-paid employees and using a deplorable amount of plastic bags (among other things I’m sure), but it’s definitely cheaper.

We don’t have a housekeeper anymore (which sucks). We really liked having a housekeeper, and we needed it in LA because of our schedules. But it cost us over $500 a month. Now we clean our house and do our own laundry (it’s tough…hahaha). Honestly, we may get a housekeeper again, but it would only be once a month.

We only have one car now. This is possible because I work from home and Kristin is mostly with our son or blogging while he’s at school (three half-days per week). When we end up in the rare car bind, I just Uber. With the invention of ride services, many people could go down to one car and save money.

Other smaller ways we are saving a bit include buying less new clothing, ditching regular cable, switching to a cheaper mobile phone plan, buying fewer toys and skipping nail salons.

Take a Look at the Full Expense Comparison Below 

(FYI…You can download this data (along with a budget version), and get a walk-thru video, by signing up for this Free Personal Budgeting Basics Course!)

Some Additional Thoughts Beyond the Numbers…

While we’re very diligent about tracking our spending, we’ll be the first to admit we are not the most frugal people. We (luckily) made enough money in LA to prioritize convenience over extreme frugality (which will cost you a lot). 

We often didn’t have too much choice however, with our demanding work schedules. Plus, when we had free time we didn’t always feel like employing “frugal restraint!” But now that we are living less hectic and excessive lives, it’s easier to save. 

So How Did We Pull This Big Change Off?

A lot of financial planning, many good investments (mostly real estate), and a healthy fear of life passing us by before we actually got a chance to live it. But even with most of our financial ducks in a row, I will admit that it’s not an easy thing to do. 

It’s also worth mentioning that it took about 1.5 years from when we fully committed to this idea, to the actual departure from the airport on July 31, 2018. Extracting yourself from your life of 20 years involves a lot of functional planning and “untangling” of yourself from the web you have built around you.

Additionally, I will admit that we really didn’t have groundbreaking ideas about how we were going to make money after we left LA. We had a vague plan to “start a blog.” (Hey…you have to tell yourself something.) Our hope was that whatever we did for work, it would at best be more passive and at least be mobile.

We did, however, have enough savings that we were comfortable kind of winging it for a year and figuring it out. I realize this may sound irresponsible, but because I keep detailed accounts of our finances, I knew exactly how much money we had to work with.

Forcing Change Can Create New Opportunities

Luckily, when I initially discussed my departure with my business partners, they were interested in having me continue to do financial management from afar, for a monthly consulting fee. 

This was welcome news and something I was more than excited to keep doing (because it gave me a little income to start).

Then (more) luckily, after leaving, other friends (who owned similar companies) asked me if I would be interested in doing similar work for them. Now I have 5 businesses and 2 individual clients in this capacity.

Some Passive(ish) Income

We have a handful of rental properties which produce some cash flow. It’s been a crap shoot every year on how much cash that is, but it provides a bit. Around $1200/month.

Additionally, we have realized some revenue from real estate this past year selling existing properties, like one in Austin and another in Kansas City.

There is also the reality that the equity in our remaining real estate, and the money in our retirement accounts, is growing. So we figure if we’re only breaking even on our life in general, then we should be ok in the long run. Time will tell of course.

Throwing in a Little Long Game

Finally, while blogging (or what I prefer to call the “business of education by individuals”) on Play Louder may have great income possibilities, it seems to be a pretty serious long game. 

Writing informed and valuable lessons takes time, and I’m not working 70 hours per week right now. But, I’m really enjoying working on some killer finance and real estate courses that will hopefully add knowledge and value to people’s lives. I believe, in time, the blog will definitely produce some additional income. 

How Did We Choose Our Small Town?

In a very weird way…

Our initial plan for this life changing journey was to move to Austin TX. Here’s a funny (not really) story about how we initially moved to Austin…promptly had an existential meltdown…and “changed our life” again just 88 days later. Yep.

Part of the idea with going to Austin was that there was a market for our work experience there, if we needed it (but we were also hoping to make a work-from-home scenario happen). We also had a rental property there that we thought we could fix up and then live in. 

Long story medium, WE PICKED THE WRONG TOWN! The live music scene in Austin was really the only thing we liked about it (and the cheap Lonestar beer.) So after we completed our renovation, we put the house up for sale, packed up the family and moved halfway across the country…AGAIN! 

(By the way, I wouldn’t at ALL recommend moving across the country twice…in three months…WITH A TODDLER! But if you DO find this ever happens to you, I highly recommend the book “life’s purpose,” this insight timer course on “gratitude,” and this documentary about happiness.)

So where did we find our new small town dream? Well, that’s a very unusual story involving the internet. We really didn’t know where to go. When you’re not driven to a place by either family or work, it’s actually surprisingly hard to “know where to go.” 

We knew we wanted to be near the water and that we wanted a town with a charming main street. Sooo…we googled “reasonably priced seaside towns with charming main streets?” Genius!

We made a list of six of the towns that looked really good in the pictures, and seemed to check off some or all of our boxes. Reasonably priced homes, lower property tax, hopefully no income tax, walkable, decent schools, etc etc. It’s hard to get all these things in one town!  

Then we said to ourselves, “Well we need to go visit these places!” Problem was that at that time we only had about 1.5 months left on our Airbnb, and we still had a renovation to complete before that date arrived. 

So, we picked the town that seemed the most promising, and went for 5 days…Dunedin, FL.  It’s pretty hard to decide if you want to move somewhere in a few days, but we were not staying in Austin…and we didn’t have time to visit anywhere else on the list so… Dunedin it was.

Fortunately, Dunedin turned out to be a wonderful place to live. We really love living here (thanks be to the gods). Within a short time of being here, we also found a home we wanted to invest in and renovate! So we stayed in a temporary house for a year, then moved into this beauty!

How Our (Non-Financial) Lives Are Different Now

Lets see…now I work as a part-time CFO and small business consultant and a part-time blogger (my blogging itself doesn’t make me any money as of yet though…g-damn blog!). My wife is able to be a full-time mom and part-time blogger (sure…she’s a non-paid blogger too….why not!). We both spend most days at home now as well.

We don’t dress up for award shows and fancy parties anymore, but honestly that’s a huge relief. 

We only have one car (a minivan!) because we no longer have a life-sucking commute! 

We get out during the middle of the week for a round of golf, or to the beach when there are fewer crowds and even out for sailboat rides!

We walk four blocks to the ocean, three blocks to the park, or two blocks to get ice cream. 

We actually know our neighbors and would consider them our friends! 

We have time to volunteer at our son’s school and get to know his classmates’ parents! 

We are officially living the small coastal town dream…and it turns out…we really like it!

Another great example of how different our life is now…

This summer (because I’m no longer tied to an office) we hit the road for six weeks and explored America…

We hiked to waterfalls, picked blueberries, climbed trees and even stayed in an Airbnb in Cincinnati that was so terrible we left early because we were getting eaten by spiders while we slept. 

None of this would have been possible with the financial demands and hectic work schedules in LA!

What Has This Journey Taught Us?

In so many ways, we lost our family’s safety net. BUT, when you let go of everything and everyone you’ve been gathering around you for years to create your life, you’ll find that you DO eventually settle in. When you do, you begin to feel a weight lifted off your shoulders.

One of my favorite stories to tell is how back in LA, I didn’t have as much time to spend with my son. When I did get to be with him sometimes he wouldn’t want to be with me and he’d say, “I DON’T WANT TO DO THAT WITH DADDY. DADDY IS TOO WACKY.” (Kids say the darndest things. He would actually say it in all caps too.)

We didn’t really know what he meant by that, but we were pretty sure it wasn’t a good thing. Well, after our move to Florida, one day he looked at us and out of the blue said, “DADDY ISN’T WACKY ANYMORE!” We were like WTF…WOW!?! It brought tears to my eyes. 

I think what he was saying was that I actually spent quality time with him now, and he was able to form a real relationship with me. Before, I was so scattered, and always thinking about work. Now I’m actually being present with my son, and we have a legit relationship. Go figure!

Another important thing we learned was that we could move away and survive! It’s quite the character building experience. We made new friends (although we still miss our old ones), and have amazing adventures. 

When we first left LA, we weren’t confident about our decision, and had a lot of fear that we would just want to go back to the way things were. But now that we’re happy and doing well, we’re even more confident that we could try something crazier, like moving to a foreign country. 

But we’re staying put for now!!! Plus Europe won’t let us in at the moment anyway!

Thinking About Doing Something Similar? Have Any Questions?

I hope I made you feel (kind of) excited about the idea of taking the plunge to move from the big city to a small town to save money. If you are thinking of doing something similar and want to talk about it, feel free to contact me!

Until Then…


from Finance

Churning Bank Accounts for Cash Bonus Rewards

Churning Bank Accounts for Cash Bonus Rewards

One of my 2020 goals was to start taking advantage of cash bonus rewards via new bank account signup promotions. This is similar to “travel hacking” or “credit card churning,” except the bonuses are paid in all cash, and there’s no credit applications involved.

I’m by no means an expert in this type of stuff, but I’ve done a pretty decent job so far this year and made $2,200 for a pretty small amount of work. This post details my process and experiences.

Churning bank accounts isn’t a good idea for everyone… So I want to be cautious about promoting activities that might lead to account fees or banking issues. (There are no referral links to banks or affiliate promotions in this post). Everything I write should be taken with a grain of salt!

YTD Summary & Results:

Since January, my wife and I have opened up 9 new bank accounts. That might sound like a lot! But spread throughout the year, across 2 people, it’s been pretty easy to track and manage it all.

We’ve earned $2,200 CASH in sign up bonuses. This money was credited to our various accounts after completing easy welcome offer terms. None of this $ is from referral credits — which could earn us more rewards, but referrals was never our main focus.

Here’s the accounts we opened and bonuses we received:

Bank Name Account Type Time to bonus $$ Sign up Bonus $$
Wells Fargo – me Checking Account 90 days $400
Wells Fargo – wife Checking Account 90 days $400
Citi Bank Checking Account 90 days $400
US Bank Checking Account 60 days $300
PNC Bank Checking Account 60 days $300
Chime – me Checking Account 5 days $100
Chime – wife Checking Account 5 days $50
SoFi – me Checking Account 3 days $125
SoFi – wife Checking Account 3 days $125
TOTAL: $2,200


Unlike a credit card company, none of these banks charged an annual fee for opening an account. So this $2,200 only cost me time to set up and manage. If I had to estimate, it probably took 10-20 hours throughout the year to open these accounts, set up transfers, and close whatever I didn’t want to keep open.

Getting Started & Research:

During my sabbatical, I kept a larger than usual amount of cash in an emergency fund. One of the downsides of holding cash is that the money isn’t invested or growing wealth — most cash just sits in a simple savings account, earning peanuts.

So I started researching different banks that could offer me a slightly higher interest rate, as well as a nice signup bonus or welcome offer to join them. I set aside $20,000 of my emergency fund to start opening accounts but later realized I could do most of these activities with less than $10,000.

What I like about churning bank accounts is there is no hard pull on your credit report*, and every checking and savings account is FDIC insured. Moving money around between established financial institutions is virtually a risk free activity. If I ever needed to pull the cash out, I could do it anytime at no cost.

*Just as a precaution, I monitored my credit score each week throughout the entire year. I started 2020 with an 816 credit score, and today it’s 814. Opening checking accounts doesn’t have the same effect on your credit history as opening multiple credit cards or new lines of credit.

Finding Welcome Bonus Promotions:

To find which banks are offering the best and highest signup bonuses, I used this site: Doctor Of Credit. They constantly refresh the current promotions list and available offers across the country.

Also there’s a TON of information on the site, including user feedback and experiences that help avoid scams, fees and bad deals.

Some things to note about bank account bonuses:

  • Not every bank or offer is available in every US state.
  • Each offer has different and unique qualifying activities. (The most common ones are explained below)
  • Each bank has a different set of terms and conditions for opening, closing accounts, and minimum balances to avoid a monthly fee.
  • These offers are mostly for NEW customers. So if you’re already with a particular bank, or recently received a bank bonus, you may need to wait a year or two before qualifying for another bonus with that same bank.

Needless to say, there’s a decent amount of research and fine print to read. For my first few accounts, I chose banks with promotions I could easily qualify for, had the best reviews, and ones that had physical bank branches near to where I live.

Meeting Criteria for a Welcome Bonus Offer:

The two most common ways a signup bonus is achieved is with qualifying direct deposits, or a minimum account balance held for a specific time period (typically 60 to 90 days).

For example, the Wells Fargo promotion I signed up for required a minimum of $3,000 in direct deposit activity, each month for two months in a row. That’s a total of $6,000 across multiple deposits. After this activity was done, they posted a $400 checking bonus.

For the CitiBank promotion, this required a minimum of $15,000 cash deposited and left in the account for a 60 day period. After that time period, they applied a $400 account bonus. Easy stuff.

Note: Each bank has a different definition for “qualifying direct deposit.” Changing your employer payroll is one option (the banks prefer this), but it’s not always the most convenient. In my case, since I was a freelance contractor this whole year, I just set up ACH transfers from myself to myself. This site here has a great list of which methods qualify as a direct deposit for each bank or credit union.

Tracking System and Reminders!

Signing up online for accounts is pretty easy, but what’s hard is remembering all of the unique promotion details, qualifying activities, user IDs and passwords for each bank. There are a few tools I recommend to help stay organized. 

  • Excel or Google Sheets: I use a simple spreadsheet to track all the bank names, dates, bonus amounts, etc.  
  • Word or Google Docs: I created a simple document to journal anything new I learned, make a note of recurring transfers I set up, and special T&C’s I need to remember.
  • After each new account opening, I immediately connected the new bank user-id and password to my account. Makes for easy tracking of transactions and net worth updates! (Some people prefer Personal Capital)
  • Calendar Reminders: For the accounts I want to close or money to withdraw in the future, I set calendar reminders so I don’t forget stuff.

Things can get messy really quickly. So if you’re not great at record keeping, perhaps churning isn’t a good fit for you. Or, try maybe signing up for just 1 new checking account bonus at a time.

Overall Experience and Is It Worth It?

Since I have the time, cash, and a personal interest in nerdy finance stuff, making extra bonus money is fun for me. For just a few hours each month I can make an extra few thousand dollars each year.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how easy it all was and plan to keep taking advantage of promotions as they come up.

Another cool thing about joining all these banks… I got to evaluate each of their processes and systems to see if they were worthy of me switching all my primary accounts over to them. I’ve been with Chase for about 10 years so it was good to shop around a little bit. I found some impressive things here and there but none of them really blew me away enough to make them my primary bank.

Have you tried churning bank accounts like this? Any killer stories to share?

from Finance

10 Ways to Stop Impulse Spending

10 Ways to Stop Impulse Spending

Do you know how easy it is to blow $10,000 in 1 year on useless crap? Easy! Just do $27.40 of mindless impulse spending each day for a year.

Everyone falls victim to some type of impulse buying. For me, it’s usually at the brewery right before I pay the bill and leave. I see those fancy branded pint glasses with the brewery logo on it… Suddenly I convince myself that it’s important to “support the brewery” (as if paying $9 per beer wasn’t already enough!) so I add a few little mementos to my purchase.

Then when I get home I realize I’ve somehow been tricked! My cabinet is already full of ~80 other impulse purchase beer glasses that are just sitting there collecting dust. 

Why do I keep doing this!!? How can I stop?

Some surveys show almost 90% of us make impulse purchases somewhere, somehow. And not just cheap stuff. Most people admit to buying things in the $100+ range for impulsive buying! Covid seems to have both helped and harmed our spending habits. While some people have become more frugal, others are increasing their online retail therapy. In the USA we are buying more video games, toys, home improvement stuff, and electronics.

What triggers impulse spending?

I always thought impulse spending was something you can control internally. But just when you think you’ve got your emotions under control, retailers come out with new marketing tricks, tactics, and methods that beat your internal programming. Those crafty buggers!

We have to be aware of both our own emotional spending habits as well as watch out for retailer trickery.

Personal triggers for impulse purchases

Our mood: Impulse spending mostly happens when we are extremely excited (~50%) or bored (~30%). Shopping while intoxicated doesn’t help! 🍻 And shopping while hungry doesn’t help either!

Our age: The younger you are, the more likely you are to make an unplanned purchase.

“Status awareness”: Those who notice what other people own or are doing tend to buy things quickly to feel included.

Instant gratification: This happens when you mix wants and needs with “right now!”

Subconscious habits: Grabbing a candy bar at the grocery store checkout is a common spending habit people do without realizing.

E-commerce vs. retail environment: Most impulse shopping used to happen in-person when the shopper was holding the physical product in their hands. However, our online buying is growing so the “thought of owning” is one of our spending triggers.

Retail trickery that encourages impulse buying

Store design or walking path: Physical shops are designed to make you walk near, past, through, under and over high demand items! They’re placed in areas easy to see and pick up. Things placed near the check-out lines are put there to trigger impulse buying. Online stores do this too, via a “virtual click path” while you are checking out!

Music, fragrance, and sexy signage: Stores will do anything to put you in a happy, relaxed and buying mood.

Time limits & urgency: When we read “promo ends in 12 hours” this triggers our fear of missing out on a deal. Also things like “Only 1 left in stock” makes us want it even more.

30-day money back guarantee: These offers make us think there’s no harm in buying, because we can easily return it if we decide later we don’t want it. Usually, we are too lazy to return things, even if we don’t need them.

“FREE shipping” or “Buy one get one FREE”:  Everyone likes the word FREE, even if we have to pay for it! 

Personalized and targeted ads: Almost all online advertisements are personalized via your location, internet search history, things you “like,” your demographics and more. It’s scary how much information is collected on you over time and used against you to encourage you to impulse buy. Don’t even get me started The Social Dilemma!

Tips on how to stop impulse spending (or at least reduce it!)

  1. Limit social media use! I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Facebook or Instagram… They are cool apps you can download on your phone that let you look at ads whenever you feel like it. 🤣 But seriously, social media is designed to excite you, then sell you stuff. Limiting usage limits your impulse buying.
  2. Log out of Amazon, or whatever online stores you regularly buy from. When you are forced to enter your Username and PW manually, it becomes less convenient to buy things and gives you time to second guess your purchases. The “1-click-buy” buttons encourage impulsive spending!
  3. Carry cash or a debit card instead of credit cards. I know, this seems so inconvenient! But, a bunch of research proves credit cards make you spend more, and makes unplanned spending less painful. Using cash or a debit card makes you think of the immediate impact on your savings account.
  4. Use apps and plugins to help limit spending! Icebox by is a Chrome extension that changes the “Buy” button to a “Put it on Ice” button. This gives you time to re-think your purchase and stops impulse shopping. Another cool chrome extension is Amazon Contemplate that ads a 30-second wait time before you can go through with a purchase. In this wait time you can think about if you really need it!
  5. Get a credit card sticker or decal. When you pull out your cc to make a purchase, you’ll be reminded by Joe Exotic, Terry Crews, or other fun messages that impulsive shopping is bad, and saving instead is good! You can also just write reminder messages with a sharpie all over your cards.

    Credit card decal to stop impulse spending
    Joe Exotic Credit Card Decal on Etsy!
  6. Get an accountability partner. You can share your budget with a friend, make commitments, and hold each other accountable. People do less spending when they are being watched. 🙂  (My wife and I share a login – we see each other’s transactions and keep one another in check).
  7. For holiday shopping, go in with a list! Impulse purchases happen when you have no particular item in mind. Start a “gift ideas” list and keep it on your phone. Throughout the year when you see cool stuff that you want to buy others, jot it down in your list. When the holidays come around you will be more prepared for specific spending vs. unplanned spending.
  8. Calculate the cost of things in time or work-hours, instead of dollars. For example, if you earn $20 an hour and you see a $40 t-shirt you want to grab, that would cost you 2 hours at work to buy. Is it worth it? This method applies more logic to your decisions vs. emotional spending.
  9. Return stuff! Over half of people who do impulse shopping admit they feel regret or remorse when they get home. If you fall in this category, make yourself return the items. Many people feel embarrassed or are too lazy to go through the return process… Don’t be one of them! Return policies exist if you change your mind – take advantage of them.
  10. Start a good ol’ fashioned no-spending challenge. If these seem boring and hard to do – that’s because they are supposed to be! When I do a 60 day no alcohol challenge, my chances of buying excess crap at the brewery drop to zero. No spending challenges can be done with specific categories like clothes, fast food, or guilty pleasures, or try not spending anything at all!

How do you resist temptation and cut back on impulse buying?

from Finance

Book review: The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species, by author, illustrator and photographer Marianne Taylor, must be the most interesting, beautifully designed and enlightening book about biology I’ve ever read. Packed with colourful illustrations, graphics and photos, it is also firmly rooted in rigorous science and doesn’t shun complexity.

The premise of the book is surprising: “If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be?” Taylor uses soft-shelled turtle, Darwin’s finches, the giraffe and other living organisms as a springboard to survey the long evolution of life on Earth and break down the intricacies -and in some cases the subjectivity- of taxonomy.

The fern, for example, opens up observations about the formation of oxygen in the atmosphere, about chlorophyll and the fact that “before there was life there was chemistry.”

Nautiluses have changed very little over the past 500 million years. Taylor explains how these “living fossils” survived 5 catastrophic mass extinctions. And yet, today they need to be protected from human activities. Already threatened by pollution and climate change, the molluscs are also hunted for sale as live animals or for their shells.

Act Wild for Lord Howe Island Stick Insects

The chapter about humans is a humbling one. It comes after the chapter on sponges, animals that have no organs, no circulation, no digestive systems, no distinct body parts. The human species has all of the above, plus an impressive list of evils: it is hyper-predatory, obsessed with domestication and it thrives at the expense of all other living things. The section also rehabilitates Neanderthal men. They were great apes too and were as quick-thinking and as societally advanced as we are today.

The chapter on the stick insect of Lord Howe Island does restore a tiny bit of faith in humanity. The story of the massive insect offers lessons about Lazarus species (organisms thought extinct and rediscovered), life in ultra hostile environments and the phenomena of island gigantism and island dwarfism but it also shows that many surviving species are dependant on human conservation efforts. If we disappear the least adaptable will fall into the “evolutionary dead-en” category.

The giraffe (Latin name: Camelopardalis!) tells about the inbreeding depression. A low population is accompanied by a drop in genetic diversity which can concentrate harmful genetic mutations that further weakens the population as a whole and slows down its potential rate of evolution.

Roelant Savery, Edward’s Dodo, 1626

The author uses the dusky seaside sparrow and the many, unsuccessful programs put in place to save it from extinction, as an opportunity to look at cloning technologies, genetic engineering and other tools at the disposal of conservationists to “rebuild” a species that is extinct or about to be extinct.

The “half” species in the title is artificial intelligence. That section is a bit of an odd one. It crams together the “artificial selection” imposed on cultivated crops and domesticated animals, genetic engineering, cybernetics, the marriage of living tissue to non-living components, etc. Its conclusion suggests a planet in the throes of mass extinction and powered by flying robot pollinators and artificial photosynthesis. Nothing to be cheerful about but Taylor keeps such a good balance between reasons to despair and reasons to keep the hope alive that I almost forgot to be angry about what we’re doing to the other inhabitants of planet Earth.

from Finance