Frugality’s Point of Diminishing Returns

Frugal people like me sometimes take bargain hunting too far. We need to be smarter about frugality’s point of diminishing returns.

Writing in the New York Times, Henry Petroski states the obvious—U.S. airports, harbors and highway systems are often poorly designed, built, maintained, and funded.

He adds:

. . . infrastructure can also refer to things on a much smaller scale, like private homes . . . . Thinking about the construction, aging and care of this domestic infrastructure can provide insight into how we as a nation might better respond to our mounting public works problems.

Our 60-year-old home is an example of how infrastructure can be built to stand strong, age gracefully and be almost maintenance-free. The foundation sits firmly on solid granite. From the full basement you can see how the exposed beams, joists and underside of the flooring were made of good wood, built to last.

When I see a commercial building under construction today, I see nothing like this in the materials and workmanship, perhaps because it is simply a function of finance, expected to survive only until it is fully amortized in a company’s budget.

I can see the same decline in quality when I try to do work on our house. When it was built, two-by-fours were actually only an eighth of an inch short of those nominal dimensions. Today, a two-by-four is a full half-inch shy. This sort of thing frustrates carpenters and do-it-yourselfers alike, making old construction more difficult to fix and encouraging tearing down and starting over with inferior newer materials and less skilled labor. What a waste of time, effort and money — and, more important, superior infrastructure.

Why the marked decline in the quality of home building? Petroski argues it’s because “expert craftsmen—carpenters, roofers, painters—who work with precision and pride, are increasingly being pushed out by cheaper labor with inferior skills.”

And then adds:

This is not the fault of homeowners, but of the industries whose practices favor the use of inferior products and labor that drive modern construction: the developers, lenders, builders and realtors who, to make quick money, have created a stock of domestic and commercial infrastructure that is a waste of resources and will not last.

One commenter vehemently disagreed:

“‘This is not the fault of homeowners’. Wrong wrong wrong! I work for homeowners remodeling their homes in San Francisco and environs, and their relentless pursuit of the lowest cost is costing them dearly in the long run. Many do not want to hear that I am licensed, insured & bonded; that I have only full-time long-term employees on whom I pay all required taxes and insurances, and who are respected with medical & retirement benefits; that I pay to have my hazardous waste disposed of legally (rather than pouring it down the toilet); that their toddlers will be in college before they will need my services again; in fact that their toddlers will not be intellectually impaired by improper disturbance of lead-based paint. No, many prefer the fantasy that Yelp is wise, that the China price is obtainable, that my price is merely my opening bid. We here have just built a multi-billion dollar bridge that took a quarter-century, went to the lowest bidder who subbed out major components to China, which is already showing alarming signs of premature senility, and which may not even meet it most elementary function of surviving the next Big One. Some bargain! No, we homeowners, we taxpayers, you & I, us cheapskates, we are at fault.”

In this blame game debate I side with San Francisco. My relentless pursuit of the lowest costs helps create the razor thin profit margins that give rise to all kinds of corner cutting. Us cheapskates are at fault.

This is true with respect to home building and our national infrastructure. Petroski returns to our faltering infrastructure:

We have seen short-term fixes and shoddy workmanship at home, and we see our bridges and roads the same way.

. . . we do not have to be homeowners or highway engineers to know that good materials are better than poor and a job done well from the outset will outlast one done shabbily.

As we debate how to pay for infrastructure, we should also have a discussion about raising expectations for what we’re buying. Homeowners, project managers and legislatures alike must call to account suppliers and contractors who do not produce the quality of materials and work they promise.

Again, Petroski places the blame on “suppliers and contractors” and is silent about my tendency to do everything possible to reduce my tax liability.

Meanwhile, some fellow citizens shout that they are “Taxed enough already!” and mindlessly argue that “the government is so wasteful and incompetent, it must be starved.” Any notion of public goods is lost on them. As is the quality of life of our children’s children.

My politics are different than theirs, but I’m susceptible to the same mindless, short-sighted frugality. Until I adopt a more nuanced, enlightened form of frugality, I’m partly to blame for our deteriorating homes, airports, highways, and harbors.

What People Get Wrong About Financial Literacy

Every spring a friend in North Carolina and I have a NCAA college basketball tournament bet. He takes the teams representing the Atlantic Coast Conference and I get those representing the Pacific-12. If his teams win more games, I send him a t-shirt, if mine win more, I anxiously await my cotton trophy. This year, neither conference did well, but I barely won a stylish long sleeve Guilford College tee*.

We met teaching and playing noon basketball at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the 90s. This year, along with the shirt(s—one for the Good Wife too, and a coffee mug, Christmas in April), he included four copies of recent Guilfordians, the liberal, liberal arts school’s student paper.

Reading them made it seem like time had stood still. Faculty salaries were still the lowest among a large comparison group of peers. Enrollment was down. Faculty morale was flagging. Some well-liked faculty were leaving to the disappointment of students. Students were protesting the administration’s salaries, which had increased markedly, and were at least average among the same comparison group. Tucked in one of the articles was a devastating detail that will make the new president’s job especially difficult. The small Quaker school has $16m in deferred maintenance. They budget $1.8m a year for continuing maintenance, meaning they’re eight years behind. Some students complained about mold in the dorms.

Colleges on the financial edge routinely defer maintenance. “Let’s delay the roof on the science lab another year.” Eventually, the quality of life for students and faculty suffers, and as with mounting credit card debt, the financial challenges multiply and trustees fret they’ll never catch up. Public schools, churches, and city council’s everywhere face the exact same challenge. Can we manage our finite revenue—whether bonds or levees, charitable contributions, or taxes—well enough to maintain our existing buildings, roadways, and parks? If you want to assess the health of a school district, church, or city, find out how much maintenance they have deferred.

We’re fortunate that our Washington State home backs up to beautiful woods that we’ve enjoyed for sixteen years. In the woods there are hiking and running trails, deer, owls, and a path to a nice city park. Now the woods are for sale and three different developers are interested. Many in our community who have organized to save the woods from being turned into another housing development attended the City Council meeting last week to implore the Council to follow through on their own five-year plan for creating more park space.

The organizing committee has done great work thinking creatively about grants and related funding that makes the purchase seem feasible. imgres But the city has been deferring maintenance on our existing parks. One includes a nice boardwalk along the Puget Sound, a walkway so neglected, parts of it will be closed to the public this summer. While sympathetic to our arguments, the city manager and council both regretted that the city can’t afford to purchase and preserve the woods because they’ve deferred far too much maintenance.

It’s human nature to put off saving for future expenses. Just like colleges, school districts, and churches, I do it all the time too. I replace my nicked up bicycle tires after flatting a few times. I get my lawn mower tuned up when it won’t start. I go to the doctor when I’m near death.

I talked to the college senior recently about car ownership. Most twenty-one year olds think exclusively about the purchase price, “If I can just save $5k for that $5k car.” I impressed on her the need for a “cushion” for additional costs like insurance, gas, and regular maintenance including oil changes, the battery, and tires. In an ideal world, she’d also factor in replacement costs, but that’s pie in the sky. Once I broadened her thinking about car ownership, she realized it’s not financially feasible yet.**

Most financial literacy talk is seriously flawed. Everyone overemphasizes technical knowledge. Do you know the “rule of 72”? Do you understand the power of compounding interest? Do you understand asset allocation, mutual funds, investing costs, dollar cost averaging, and taxes impact on your returns?

People think if schools just taught that knowledge all would be well, but it’s not that people don’t know enough about personal finance, it’s that they lack the self-discipline to spend less than they earn. Including legions of college educated people who would pass a personal finance multiple-choice test.

Schools can’t teach young people to defer purchases, to set aside money to adequately maintain and eventually replace possessions, to live within one’s means. The only way to teach anyone the limits of consumerism, to delay gratification, the importance of savings, and how to live within one’s means, is to model it for them over time.

Fortunately, my parents, especially my dad, taught me those habits without ever sitting me down for any sort of money talk. For colleges, churches, cities, and families, “deferred maintenance” means “We’re in the habit of spending more than we have.” Like mounting interest charges, it ties the hands of college administrators, church councils, city councils, and families.

We are extremely fortunate to be able to meet our family’s basic needs each month with some money left over. We can do one of three things with our surplus. 1) Succumb to status anxiety and buy unnecessary luxury items; 2) Keep existential questions about life’s larger purposes at bay through mindless consumerism; or 3) Set some of the surplus aside for anticipated future expenses.

* During graduate school, my friend was a UC Santa Cruz hippie. The UC Santa Cruz mascot is the banana slug. Second Born and I had lunch in downtown Santa Cruz in late January. After lunch we found a must have t-shirt that featured a large banana slug with the caption “SLUG LIFE”. The perfect gift for my next loss. So good in fact we decided I had to send it this year win or lose. He was very grateful and assured us he’ll get a lot of grief for it from his Geezer basketball pals. That, of course, was our hope.

** Odd to me that she’s not more motivated to make it financially feasible. At eighteen, I couldn’t wait to own my own car. So I parked golf carts and picked up range balls for a few years and bought a VW Bug for $1,500. Most gratifying purchase of all time. For the time being at least, in keeping with her peers, she’s perfectly content to bicycle, use public transportation, or, and maybe this is the problem, use her parents spare car.

You Don’t Need a Financial Planner, You Need Financial Teachers

The things I don’t know how to do dwarf the things I do. It’s sad really. Altogether, my incompetence is pretty staggering. I can’t speak any foreign languages. I can’t play any instruments or sing. I can’t listen patiently. I’m hopeless when it comes to plumbing, electrical work, bicycle and car repair. I don’t know how to sew and I can’t do my own taxes. I don’t know how to garden, bake bread, make beer, or fix the ice maker in our fridge. I can’t keep pocket gophers from tunneling all over our backyard. I don’t know how to backstroke underwater and html baffles me. I could go on and on, but you get the drift.

Despite this pathetic reality, I went against type recently and taught myself two things, how to create excel documents and how to prepare a Starbucks-like green tea latte. Life is especially good now that I don’t have to spend my weekends adding numbers or pay $4 for my daily kickstarter of choice.

Few people know how to manage money well so they turn to financial planners for help. Gail MarksJarvis ask whether there’s any value in financial advisors who get it wrong.* She points out that:

. . . the recently released 2008 Federal Reserve transcripts showed that even economists of the world’s most powerful economy didn’t have a clue. Even as Lehman Brothers collapsed, they expected the economy to grow, not go into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

That, she adds, should. . .

pierce an illusion many individuals embrace as they pour trillions of dollars into the hands of financial advisers they think can read the future and thereby deliver riches and safety.

Individuals, she says, entrusted about $13 trillion to advisers, ranging from financial planners to brokers and insurance salespeople, through the end of 2012.

Ed Gjertsen II, president of the Financial Planning Association admits, “We do not have a crystal ball. We make guesses.”

Gjersten laments:

Clients demand: Give me a hot tip so I can spend whatever I want. But the truth is, the individuals have more control over the outcome based on what they spend than the adviser has with investments.

MarksJarvis adds:

Even economists are more fallible than people might believe. The transcripts of the Federal Reserve in 2008 showed it relying on faulty models that didn’t take into account unique circumstances of the banking crisis. Based on little knowledge, they give very firm opinions.

In my early 30’s I taught myself how to manage money when it became apparent that the financial planner I hired didn’t really give a damn about my family’s future. Over time, I realized that he recommended investments that paid him generous commissions. Investments that not only took time and money to undue, but ones that performed worse than bond and stock index funds.

There are two types of financial planners—commission based and fee based. Fee based planners who charge by the hour are far better than commission based ones who are prone to recommend investments that enrich them more than their clients. What people really need are skilled financial teachers who can help people learn to manage their money themselves because of the lesson I learned the hard way two decades ago, no one cares about you or your family’s future nearly as much as you. But where are the financial teachers?

13 trillion dollars! Much of that spent on investment strategies that underperform market averages. What a travesty.

If the world’s most incompetent person learned to manage money, odds are you can too. Start with The Elements of Investing by Burton Malkiel. But don’t succumb to the widely held view that technical knowledge is the key to personal financial success. The key is defining “success” yourself and developing a complimentary mix of technical knowledge; self discipline; and dare I say, spiritual depth; to create the future you want for your loved ones and you.

* Thanks to the best ex-mill hunky for this reference.

Dare to Disagree

Interesting few days at Wimbledon, the US Supreme Court, and the humble blog. It all started when I criticized “Mr. Money Mustache” in his comment section for ripping into one of his readers. As I explained in the previous post, MMM is a wildly successful blogger who writes about personal finance and early retirement.

He provides excellent details on how he’s managed to retire early and offers no-nonsense advice on how to replicate his success. Understandably, his legion of readers dig him for the tangible help he’s provided them. He typically responds to every tenth or twentieth reader comment, and because nearly every one is in essence an “amen to that” I thought he’d return serve following my critique. But he didn’t. That is, until his next post, in which he not only referred to my criticism, but linked to my previous post titled “What Engineers Get Wrong”.

As a result, on Monday and Tuesday, I had a month’s worth of page views. An unintended part of my fifteen minutes of fame. Most of the mass of visitors just quietly poked around, some engineers however, took the time to rip into me for my criticism of them. If the thought of me being ripped into brings even a small smile to your face go back and read their comments. Or at least Allison’s who it doesn’t seem likes me very much. All I have to say to Allison is I’m much more charming in person. Ask my mom.

I’ve dared to disagree with MMM before and felt some of his readers’ wrath, so now I know what to expect. It’s an interesting phenomenon. It’s almost like he’s a cult leader whose followers refuse to question him. He’s even charismatic, but unlike most cult leaders, he’s not selling his personality or whacked out made up ideas, the vast majority of his content makes excellent sense. What I now realize is hIs readers so appreciate his writing that they don’t take kindly to anyone disagreeing with him. Which of course threatens to make his readers’ comment section a sleep inducing echo chamber.

But then again, you might argue the internet writ large, just like the media more generally, is an echo chamber. The sad truth is civic discourse, in which reasonable people disagree about topics that matter, is a lost art. One reason for that is no one likes to be criticized. We’re all defensive, to varying degrees. So much so we struggle to process contending viewpoints.

For example, MMM wrote that I “criticized his blog’s approach,” but my criticism was of a specific aspect of his thinking. The truth of the matter is I’m down with 90% of what he writes and if we had the chance, I have no doubt we’d enjoy cycling together, drinking a craft beer afterwards, and talking personal finance. I’m not lifting weights with him though.

Especially initially, I struggled to process all the engineers’ criticisms of me too. I’d zero in on one particular sentence that I believed to be especially wrongheaded and slight everything else. Just as my criticism was somewhat muddled in MMM’s head, their messages were muddled in mine.

The youngest daughter got a kick out of these events. “You’ve gone viral!” After she read Allison’s lengthy criticism of my last post, she asked, “So did what she write change your thinking?” That’s the all important question. After the first reading, I would have had to answer no, not at all, because I read it defensively. But thinking aloud, I said to youngest daughter, “It would be awfully hypocritical of me to blow her off when my whole point is to promote critical inquiry.”

Then I considered the criticisms more carefully and realized they had one thing in common—that I had unfairly overgeneralized about one group of professionals. Even though it was a literary device of sorts, I understand why it was upsetting. Because they showed the courage of their convictions and took the time to disagree with me, my thinking was challenged and deepened, and hopefully, that of new and old readers’ as well.

And as a result, my little slice of the internet, for at least a brief moment in time, was anything but an echo chamber.

Why I Ignore Stock Market Doomsayers

Doomsayer—a person who predicts impending misfortune or disaster. Mike, a good friend and running partner, is a stock market doomsayer. Routinely, like this morning, he tells me to sell. The doomsayers are certain that the mother of all corrections is right around the corner.

What Mike and his ilk get wrong is that when it comes to personal finance, the value of the Dow, the S&P, and the Nasdaq aren’t nearly as important as one’s income, investment income, expenses, and “historical risk return”.

If you asked me to help you with your personal finances, I’d want to know four things. 1) What’s your take home pay? 2) If any, what’s your annual passive income? 3) On average, how much do you spend each month? 4) If any, how much of any stock market-based investments can you accept losing in the next few days?

1) Annual income. This is straight forward. In the new economy, nearly everyone’s challenge is increasing it without working inhumane hours. That’s why people continue their education, work hard for promotions, and sometimes decide to work long hours.

2) Passive income. This is the money your savings generate. Nearly everyone’s challenge is increasing it in our zero interest rate world. Historically, cash has generated 3-5%. Today money markets and certificate of deposits earn pennies, so when adjusted for inflation, they’re slowly losing value. That’s why people invest in stocks, bonds, and real estate. Passive income includes stock and bond dividends, capital gains, and rental income. I also consider company matches a type of passive income. And social security for the 67+ set.

3) Average monthly expenses. Few people know this. Start keeping track of every dollar you spend using MINT or something similar and then read this recent blog post from Mr. Money Mustache, The Principle of Constant Optimization, for a great tutorial on managing spending. In particular, I second this suggestion:

Make a list of your ten biggest monthly expenses and tape it to your fridge, just so you know they are all there, constantly using up your money, so they had darned well be worth the resources they are consuming. If they are worth the expense, continue to enjoy them. If they are not, optimize them away. Look at your daily routine from an outsider’s perspective, and figure out if you are really getting the most value from each one of your hours.

4) Historical risk return. Where I invest, I can see my entire portfolio online. And with one link I can see a detailed analysis of my holdings including the all important “historical risk return (1926-2012)”. Right now it says the worst year an investor with my assest allocation has experienced is -17.2% in 1931. Ironically, it also says investors with my asset allocation have experienced losses in 15 of those 87 years or 17.2% of the time. So if I round up, on average, I have to expect to lose money every fifth year. Also, if I have $100,000 invested, I have to be prepared for that to turn into $82,800 overnight. That’s the price of admission to a historic stock market run up.

Here’s what the stock market doomsayers won’t acknowledge. As of May 15, 2013, the S&P 500 is up 141.5% since March 5, 2009. While they’ve been crying wolf, someone that had $100,000 invested in the S&P 500 on March 5, 2009 now has $241,500. Here’s what you won’t hear the doomsayers say, “We missed a historic rally because we we’re too afraid of the downside.”

Nor will you hear them say this truism, they’re not smart enough to time the market. Despite Mike’s dire warnings, I’m going to stay partially invested in stocks because I can accept a 17.2% historical risk return in exchange for what my portfolio analysis reveals to be my 87 year average rate of return, 7.6%.

Tune out the doomsayers and forget trying to time the market. Instead, control what you can. Most importantly, whether your earned income and passive income regularly exceed your expenses.

A Panacea for Improved Health

I have a neighbor who makes money off of his car. He carefully shops for an underpriced used one, then takes immaculate care of it, and then gets reimbursed by his employer at 50+ cents per mile.

I admire his fiscal discipline, but who wants to spend their weekend washing their car the way he does? One time he yelled at another neighbor who was washing the bottom 90% of her van. “You gotta start with the roof and work down!” Best comeback ever, “No one’s gonna see the top!” Blood pressure spike. And he routinely rips me for using the last bit of dirty water in the bucket to wash my wheels, but I tell him my goal is for my car to be 90% as clean as his in 10% of the time. And normally it is.

We’re all obsessive about something. One could argue I substitute exercise for car washing. Last week was pretty typical for April. Four runs for 28.7 total miles. Two swims for 6,000 meters and two bike rides for 90 miles. And an hour lifting weights. Total time, 11-12 hours. People like me tend to have a lot of fitness activity-based friendships and we often find the swimming, cycling, and running enjoyable in and of itself. We’d still go out and run, swim, and cycle even if there weren’t empirical health benefits tied to those activities. We’re lucky that our hobbies come with health benefits.

Some people no doubt think about my commitment to fitness the same way I think about people who obsess about the stock market’s every move and spend their days thinking, talking, and writing about money. There’s an opportunity cost to finance tunnel vision. Life passes by. Investing wisely is a means towards other more meaningful ends—like learning about other people’s interests and engaging with them.

Like extreme car washing, there’s a tipping point where a person’s fitness routine can detract from their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. That’s where “Doc Mike Evans” comes in. He asks a great question near the end of this high-speed informative whiteboard lecture—Can you limit your sleeping and sitting to just 23.5 hours a day? 

Like my quicker, more casual approach to car washing, Doc Evans explains how you can achieve most of my health benefits in much less time. Walk 20-30 minutes a day. Even better if you integrate walking as a means of transportation by living within a mile of your work, a grocery store, and other stores. And of course driving less is good for your pocketbook and the environment too.

Forget my approach of driving to the pool and overdoing it in the form of occasional marathons and triathlons*. Instead, as Doc Evans advises, walk 20-30 minutes a day and enjoy markedly improved mental and physical health.

Maybe you’re already a walker, but wish there were even more tangible health benefits. Evans explains how you can reap additional benefits by extending the time and distance of your daily walks. But since time is most people’s greatest obstacle, I suggest picking up the intensity by choosing more hilly routes. My running teammates probably get tired of me saying, “The hills are our friends.” When I don’t feel like exerting myself much, which is a lot of the time, I sometimes commit to a hilly route because hills force me to increase the intensity. As an added benefit, when I’m running up hill, my conservative Republican Nutter friends don’t have enough oxygen to complain about the current political scene. If you’re a Florida or Texas flatlander, move.

We expect complexity today, but this isn’t. If you want to enjoy an improved quality (and quantity) of life, take a ten minute walk sometime today. And then repeat tomorrow. And the next day. Extend it to twenty minutes next week. And repeat. Every day.

* This summer I’m going to be more family focused than last year. We’re looking forward to a fair number of visitors from afar, and at the end of the summer, launching Seventeen at a still-to-be-decided college. I’m #34 on the RAMROD waitlist which means I’ll definitely get in and Danny and I plan on running the Wonderland Trail in mid-August. I may throw in a few short/medium distance triathlons on unscheduled weekends. Or maybe I’ll just take a walk.

Betrothed and I walking

Amazing she’ll still hold hands with me after all these years

February 2013 Awards

Improbable sentence. “Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman hung out Thursday with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on the third day of his improbable journey with VICE to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and later dining on sushi and drinking with him at his palace.

Personal finance vid of the month. Helaine Olen, author of “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry“.

Apocalypse sign. CTA Digital’s iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad.

Noteworthy death. Mr. Matthew Crowley.

Weightroom t-shirt. “Gardening. It’s cheaper than therapy.”

Non-conformist. Photos.

Wasted talent. Professional sports division. My favorite excerpt, “Justify My Glove”.

Word—sequester.

Social media app—SnapChat. This news story gives it real cred. Maybe they’ll make a movie.

Consumer purchase, minimalist division.

IMG_0212

Nature pic—Holden Village (taken by La Fuerza)

Near Stehikin, WA

Near Stehikin, WA

Weekend get-away—Holden Village

Sitting in the bus I was flashing back to when I was a high school water polo legend traveling to away games.

Sitting in the bus I was reminiscing about when I was a SoCal high school water polo legend traveling to away games wit da’ boys. Lake Chelan water visibility, easily 25′.

Most widely read post. The Link Between Walking or Cycling to School and Concentration.

10 Ways to Save Money Today

Off to Canada for a little swimming, cycling, and running this weekend. One loyal Pressing Pauser asked if I was going to tweet or blog the event. No plans to blog until returning next week. Tweeting is a good idea. Better start following me on twitter to see if I survive the day. Then again, the social media adverse can just wait to see if any new posts begin appearing here next week.

Now, back to regular programming. Miscellaneous ways we’ve recently reduced our overhead.

1A-1E are biggies because auto insurance is a recurring payment. 1A. Cancelled comprehensive and collision insurance on our 2006 car with 86,000 miles on it. 1B. Took an online driver safety course. 1C. Faxed daughter’s driver training completion certificate to insurance agent. 1D. Faxed academic transcripts for good grade discounts. 1E. Informed auto insurance agency that I’ve gone half time at work and therefore will be commuting only half as much.

2. Charge daughters for portion of cell phone service, Netflix streaming, and car use. Shrewd readers may protest this is less about “savings” and more about “redistribution”.

3. We’ve been eating out less. Maybe once a week at nice, moderately priced restaurants.

4A. Betrothed had to form a small business back in the day when she started teaching Spanish to elementaries in a before-school program. Biz license cost something like 25-30 dollars. Then we got a Costco business American Express card. Meaning a 4% discount on gas. 4B. Use the simple, free, and excellent “GasBuddy” app to find the cheapest gas around. Here’s the web-based version. We have two Costcos within ten miles and I was perplexed at why their prices varied by 14 cents recently until a friend informed me that they are committed to being the cheapest within a five mile radius.

5. Buy movie tickets in advance at Costco. Ocho dollares per. And NEVER buy popcorn, candy, or coke at the theatre. Scratch that. Never say never. Bought some very lightly buttered organic popcorn at the hippie theatre awhile back. Thought my wallet and ticker could handle that. Even went crazy and splurged on a coke for my date. Yes, of course that turned her on (even more than normal).

6. Except for Sunset magazine (promotion price was $10 or 12/year), we’ve let most of our subscriptions expire. Tend to read on-line periodicals and papers.

7. My running shoes cost $130, but I hunt for previous models (all that’s different is the color) on-line and can usually find them for 50% off. I recently bought six pairs for $65/per. No taxes and free shipping. I’m covered for a few years even in the case of economic apocalypse.

8. GalPal has a garden with beans, lettuce, and we have lots of wild strawbs around the yard. Haven’t taken the time to calculate the cost of seeds, soil, etc. Labor is free because she enjoys it.

9. I use a few coupons at the grocery store. Takes almond milk from sup expensive to just plain expensive. Used a Fred Meyer coup. yesterday. Two half gallons of Dreyers ice cream for $5. I had planned to wait til after Iron-person Canada to dive into those babies, but you know what they say about the best plans.

10. Decided not to buy the new Lebron James shoes even though I could probably slam dunk in them, catch the eye of an NBA general manager, and make a little more than I do teaching.

$315. At that price, I should be able to do a 360 degree dunk in them.

I Recommend

• My new personal favorite money blog—Mr. Money Mustache. MMM started in April 2011 and he’s killing it. The DIY (Do It Yourself) Colorado bicycle riding blogger writes well and employs a nice mix of confidence, humor, disgust at the status quo, and personal finance insight. His alternative approach to life is resonating with lots of readers. Recently he’s added case studies based upon readers’ lives. Check this recent one out. Favorite excerpt, “Every young adult should be able to comfortably sleep on somebody’s floor, drive an old manual-transmission car with rust holes to a concert, and eat leftover pizza for breakfast. Without complaining.”

• Groovy post by The Minimalist Mom.

• Provocative and timely essay on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and what the end of football might look like.

• “Glee is an Immoral Television Show and It’s Time to Stop Watching It.” Trenchant critique by a young, smart, prolific blogger.

• Errol Morris documentary film, Tabloid, about Joyce McKinney, an unstable woman with a criminal disposition. Sex, religion, crime, all mixed together. The one Netflix viewer who wrote, ” She does not need a movie made about her. She needs some real help” is correct. On the other hand, deviance is often interesting because it provides contrast. See Grizzly Man and Take Shelter. I found the most fascinating character to be a minor one, a British tabloid journalist whose total lack of conscience was harrowing.

• Badass video—6 minutes.

Women Make Better Money Managers

If you’re of the male persuasion, slowly step back from the check book or computer, and find a woman to take over your financial decision making.

According to Ronald T. Wilcox, a growing body of research reveals distinct differences in how married men and women approach money and investing. Because men tend to be overconfident, they trade stocks and bonds more actively because they think they know what the next market movement will be. As a result, they incur various transaction costs associated with trading but don’t pick assets any better than women. They’re also less likely to listen to financial advice.

Women are less confident than men about their financial abilities, switch investments less often, and are more likely to listen to financial advice. As a result, they generate risk-adjusted returns superior to those of men.

The Wall Street Journal summarizes Wilcox’s findings thusly, “Men may think they know what they are doing when it comes to investing but often do not. Women may think they don’t know what they are doing but often do.”

Truth be told, you can plug in anything you want for “investing” in the last paragraph. Now if you’ll excuse me, the market is about to close and I have some trades to make.

Bonus link—a couple that has figured out how to enjoy a better quality of life despite making considerably less money.

My “not motivated by money” award nomination double bonus link—and favorite 2012 US Olympian and favorite youth sport parents—Missy Franklin, Dick Franklin, and D.A. Franklin.