Monthly Archives: May 2014

What’s enough?

bowl of ice creamHow much money is enough? Enough to not have to work at something you don’t want to do.

Each person or family is different. It also depends on how much you enjoy your work. Maybe, you’re lucky and really enjoy what you’re doing and you’d keep doing it even without being paid to.

Others, most people, are working until they have enough money to stop working and start doing whatever they’ve been dreaming of doing. Who knows what people dream of doing after they stop working? Maybe it’s selling sauerkraut at the farmer’s market, volunteering with kids, hiking the Appalachian trail, or maybe riding your motorcycle across China.

Riding your motorcycle across China is what got me thinking about how much is enough. Jim Rogers made the trip from 1990 to 1992. He’d worked on Wall Street (before it was glamorous) made millions before quitting when he was 37. He’d made enough money, more than enough to pursue his traveling.

So, what’s enough? How do you figure out how much money is actually enough for you?

The answer is simple, though implementing it isn’t so easy.

“Enough” is 25 times the money you spend in a year.

Or put another way, Enough = 25 x your yearly cost of living.

By investing that chunk in an indexed stock fund, you can take out 4% of the chunk every year for the rest of you life. There’s backup for this simple idea if you’re curious.

To aggressively save up that chunk of money, you can earn more or want less. Or probably  some combo of those two. And don’t carry any debt.

It’s up to you. Everyone needs money to live in our world, but after a certain point you really don’t need as much as we’re all led to believe. You just need enough.

How’s that jellyfish sandwich?

jellyfishThe “age of the jellyfish” is on the way. It sounds like a joke. But, jellyfish are a problem. For example they’re already boxing out Antarctic penguins. Have the oceans already come to the point where the jellyfish will be dominant?

Before the rise of complex life systems jellyfish were flourishing. Jellyfish fossils go back 550 million years.

Now the jellification of the oceans is ramping up through a combination of factors like: human overfishing their competitors, the appearance of giant islands of trash their young can cling to, increased ocean acidification affecting shellfish, and extended jellyfish ranges due to warming oceans. That’s the opinion of some sober scientists.

Jellyfish blooms (sudden population explosions) have been impacting humans for a while. They’ve clogged cooling water intakes on aircraft carriers and power plants. Tons and tons of jellyfish get removed  from cooling system intakes.

It could be confirmation bias on my part, but it seems like there are more jellyfish in the surf, at least over the seven years I’ve been surfing the same area

Maybe it’s time to consider jellyfish as food. When all you have is lemons, make lemonade. Jellyfish are eaten in China and Japan. A Chinese American, whose family once owned a Chinese restaurant, told me jellyfish were good to eat, but he only knew them to be eaten as part of an appetizer at banquets.

We’ll probably need to think beyond the first course.

Stories

graffitti spider manAt some level, we know the world is made of elements and molecules of stuff. But most peoples’ worlds are made of stories. And stories are usually the best way to get an idea across.

Saying “Okay, do what you know, but when you know better you should do better.” resonates with most people more than saying “The data shows that…” They’re both right, but the more story-like first sentence will get more traction with people.

“I understand how you feel, lots of people feel that way. But when they learn about… they sometimes change their minds.” may not always convince somebody but it more likely to convince than saying “Well you’re wrong because of x, y and z.” People will forget what you said and maybe what you did, but people won’t forget how you made them feel.

In a writing program to help the elderly to cope better with aging, participants ranged from violinists to bricklayers and from cowboys to doctors. What did these older people choose to write about? A woman working with the writers said, “No one regardless of what they did for a living, ever writes about their job, or their wedding, or the birth of their children, or the war, things that many people would assume most older folks would write about. They write about the relationships and the very small gestures that have made them human.” They wrote about how certain small gestures made them feel.

What about the people who compete in memory contests? They don’t just forcefully memorize random things in their memories. Instead, they create stories, usually involving a building they know well, like their house. They make up a story about where each thing they want to memorize is located in that building.

The best communicators tell a story. If you can make data into a story that makes people feel something you’re way ahead of the game.

Self-help porn

looks likeWith the internet, the self-help genre’s popularity has increased to the point of becoming self-help porn.

Self-help material on the internet is like porn because while it’s entertaining and popular, ultimately it isn’t a substitute for actually doing something.

Take meditation, there’s lots of info out there about it. Basically you’re trying to calm your mind, because you’re better off having your mind work for you rather than you working for your mind as it jumps around from thought to thought.

It’s pretty easy. To meditate, close your eyes and sit upright while focusing on your breathing – following the breaths coming in and going out. When your mind wanders just take note of it and return your attention to your breath.

There’re finer points too.

Maybe just start with two minutes a day, something  ridiculously easy. Try it for a couple of weeks until it becomes a habit, then start increasing the time per session slowly.

Also be kind to yourself when your mind wanders, don’t berate yourself. Instead gently steer yourself back to the breath. It’s like house training a small puppy, you’d gently scootch the puppy back onto the paper, you don’t need to berate it. Gradually the puppy gets it.

That’s pretty much it, the distilled instructions from the meditation category of self-help porn on the internet.

The part that seems to be left out most of the time is that you do have to do it. Reading about it won’t work.

Finding the map

asian signsYesterday, Monday, we paid off our mortgage. It was our only debt.

It’s strange that something abstract, like being debt-free, feels exciting. But it’s a very good feeling. We paid off a 30 year mortgage in about six years. Not being beholding to anyone is liberating.

Being debt-free is a huge piece of the financial independence map. The other big piece is saving up 25 times your yearly spending is. You can do it by socking away lots of dough, or by cutting back on what you want – or some mix of the two.

I’ve always had a good financial compass. It pointed to areas like spending less than I earned, saving as much as possible, and reducing  overhead expenses. Sometimes my compass was counter to popular culture, especially ideas like being child-free, driving the same car for years, and investing in indexed stock funds.

The financial compass got me pretty far. What I didn’t have was the map. A big part of the map was finding out about saving toward 25 times your yearly spending and investing it in a low-cost indexed stock fund. And the other big part of the map, being able to withdraw 4% from it each year, year after year.

Years ago I read “Your Money Or Your Life” which got me considering whether an expense is worth it or not. It validated the compass I had. But I didn’t know about the 4% withdrawal concept until a while after that. And the 25 times concept was a fairly recent discovery.

There’s more to it than these broad brush strokes but that’s the gist of financial independence. The best entrance to the rabbit hole for this stuff is here. It’s worth your time.

Bike Security

locktechnique1There isn’t much I miss living in a small Mexican town except riding a bike. That’s mostly because of cobbled roads and the short distances to cover.

My best friend commutes in NYC by bike every day. He was just here on a visit. Of course we talked about bikes and riding (if you’re not a cyclist, now’s a good point to stop reading).  Securing your bike is important in NYC.

For example, in the winter he’s had problems with brake cables freezing inside the cable housing, meaning he can’t squeeze the brake lever. It’s a rare occurrence, but it happens and is dangerous. So he bought hydraulic brakes.

Problem solved, until someone stole his new brakes while his bike was locked outside his apartment at night. So he bought another set and melted solder into each allen screw so no tools could be used to remove the brakes from the bike. If he wants to remove the brakes, he has to melt the solder and it comes out of the allen screws.

That’s sort of advanced anti-thievery. But even the most basic bike-thief-foiling ideas aren’t often followed by bike owners.

Here’re some good NYC bike security ideas to follow wherever you live.

First, ride a cheap bike or one that’s cheap looking, and let it get dirty. It can still be a nice rig that rides well. Reselling your bike is where a crook makes money. An older frame without high-end components isn’t attractive to a crook’s potential clients, so it’s not attractive to a bike thief either.

Most bike thefts are crimes of opportunity. And if locked, the stolen bikes’ owners usually used cable locks. The consensus is a U-lock (like a Kryptonite) is your best choice to protect your bike against common thieves and maybe even dissuade (the rare) portable power tool using pro.

How you use the U-lock is important.

Look at the picture above. The U-lock only goes around the rear tire and rim just above the bike chain. Then lock it to an immovable object, like a metal railing. The lock doesn’t actually go around any part of the frame since the rear wheel is now trapped inside the frame’s rear triangle.

You can remove the front wheel and put it in there too. Or run a cable from the U-lock through the unremoved front wheel. Seeing this will deter most crooks.

Get the smallest size U-lock that fits around what you lock to. A smaller U-lock has less extra room for a thief’s crowbar or jack. It’ll be easier to carry too.

How do you make your bike harder to case? Lock it up in a different spot each day.

What about those chains with enormous links? They give a marginal amount of additional protection for a large amount of money and lots of weight to lug around. Why marginal? A determined pro’s power tool will cut through them too.

So remember, a good U-lock (and maybe a cable), used with the right technique, on a non flashy bike, will be strong enough to let you ride around NYC for many years.

Billions

three viewsWe hear and use the word “billions” pretty often. Since the word gets thrown around so much we tend to forget what a billion means. A billion is a thousand millions, of something. And usually it’s dollars we’re talking about.

Business people who have billions of dollars probably didn’t set out to get billions. With hard work, by luck of where and to whom they were born, and some good decisions – a billion dollars can accumulate.

Of course, a billion dollars is far beyond whatever is “enough” for a person or family. And how much is enough varies from person to person, but billions of dollars is far beyond enough so why do people keep it up?

I think what happens is that many billionaires enjoy playing the game they’re involved in and when they do it well the dough just piles up. They enjoy the buzz and power of playing the game that they continue to play. There’re some hoarders, but for most billionaires the money just keeps accumulating.

Some folks at the top of the food chain decided a while back to keep aside what’s enough for themselves and their family and to try to help the world with the rest. Most famously Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done this. And they’ve gotten non-binding pledges from many of their mega rich pals to do the same.

What’s so interesting about the philanthrophy Gates and Buffett are doing is this: they’re trying to relieve pain in the world, rather than trying to spread joy.

They’re interested in big ideas with big impacts, like providing inexpensive vaccines poor people aren’t getting but will have major impacts if they do receive, or funding a search for a new condom design that makes condoms more likely to get used.

They aren’t underwriting the arts. Most of those have supporters. But stopping misery needs underwriting, and it’ll make the world a better place by allowing less advantaged people to pursue a dream. And maybe to be able to support the arts.