Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People

This is a good back-to-basics book on financial health. Quinn’s first rules:
* Only a few things work, and they work really well.
* Set up a system that runs automatically and you can’t fail
* Success comes from starting right, then keeping your itchy fingers off
On saving– make it automatic, with 401k deductions from your paystub and automatic deposits into investment accounts. Compound interest really works. Think twice before purchasing toys or non-essentials. Keep a 3 month cushion fund for emergencies. Enroll in DRIPs. For retirement, you MUST save 10-15%. Pay off everything (retirement, debt, cushion fund, college plans) before prepaying your mortgage.
Check your credit score annually (for free). Auto/home insurance: shop around, and opt for the highest deductable (to ensure lowest monthly rates). Make a will and living trust. She’s got great info on buying a house, mortgage types, how much house you can afford, ARM vs. fixed rate, etc.
There’s also chapters on reducing debt and saving for college.
Her best chapter was on No Worry Investing. Since I’m currently invested in stocks only, this was a big wake up call for me, and a lot of the info resonated– I’m not a professional investor and I can’t put enough time into managing my investments to ensure that I end up ahead. So why don’t I just dump everything into an index fund and call it a day? She loves the Vanguard Target Retirement funds b/c they diversify, choose appropriate assets for age/situation, hold down costs, limit your risk. Index funds are also big with her- particularly the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund. Index funds consistently beat out actively managed funds over time, and they’re cheaper– win/win!
Her recipe for success with No Worry Investing:
1. Funds that track the entire US stock market (Fidelity Spartan total market, Vanguard Total Stock Market, T.Rowe Price Total Equity index)- 40%
2. Funds for international stocks (fidelity spartan int’l fund, Vanguard Total Int’l Stock fund)- 20%
3. Index fund for REIT (Vanguard REIT index)- 10%
4. Bond index funds (vanguard total market bond index fund, fidelity US bond index fund)- 20%
5. Commodities index fund- Pimco’s Commodity Real Return Strategy Fund- 10%
Other funds of interest:
1. Funds that track S&P 500 (Fidelity Spartan 500, Vanguard 500 index)
2. Funds that track small/midsize stocks (Extended market funds)
3. Fund for socially conscious investors (Vanguard Calvert Social Index fund)
She wraps up with her last rules:
* You can’t see the future
* If you’re saving money steadily, that doesn’t matter
* All that really matters is getting more out of life

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New Ideas From Dead Economists

Applying past economic theories to contemporary issues, Buchholz takes an entertaining tone and leaves us with a mildly interesting work. From my newbie’s perspective, there was too much information packed into 300 pages, so I’m left slightly confused still. Here’s what I currently remember:
Absent-minded Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations, pub 1776) praised free trade and the division of labor- specializing and dividing tasks to explode production capacity.
Thomas Robert Malthus was primarily concerned about population growth and its effect on happiness.
David Ricardo favored free trade without tarrifs or restrictions. He saw 2 possible futures for Britain- protectionist island barring foreign goods, or an extroverted trader. The former would lead to a weakened economy. Free trade makes it possible for households to consume more goods regardless of whether trading partners are more or less economically advanced. “If French farmers are willing to feed us for less than it would cost us to feed ourselves, let us eat French food and spend our time doing something else.”
John Stuart Mill- tumultuous life, went from rationalist to romanticist. Wrote Principles of Politcal Economy in 1848. From this we get the non-flat income tax (2 tiered) which encourages work and income, and high estate tax, which also encourages work.
Karl Marx- capitalism is a necessary precondition for socialism. Alfred Marshall & the marginalists- elasticity of economy. Thorstein Veblen (Theory of the Leisure Class). Maynard Keynes- smarty pants Cambridge man- savings exacerbate recession.

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Why smart people make big money mistakes–and how to correct them

Yes, I’m still on the economic book bent.
This one was well-written and entertaining. Basic premise is that we prevent ourselves from making good financial choices, by simple human pyschology. We mentally account for money differently based on source of money (i.e. you go out and think nothing of spending that birthday check on an expensive coat, but you’d never do that with your paycheck) and keep pouring cash into the car that keeps breaking down simply because we have already put so much into the car so far.
Other tricks used against us are the anchoring effect of a listed price– maybe something isn’t worth $200, but when we see it marked down from $500 to $250, we can’t resist buying it. Anchor effect also hugely impacts the final price on your house sale. Overconfidence in our own abilities to time the market or to have the inside scoop on a stock also hamper us. On the opposite side, the herd effect of “everyone’s buying it” similarly hampers effective financial decisions.

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The scorpion’s gate

Blech. I happily stranded this poorly written novel after a few pages. Rudimentary dialogue and sentence structure, I felt like I was reading one of my own written-in-6th-grade stories. I am trying to remember why I put this book on my To-Read list; I think Clarke was a Daily Show guest, which piqued my interest.
Syndetic Solutions classifies this as “Men’s Adventure” writing, but I’d have to clarify that as “Men Reading at a 4th grade level’s Adventure.”
A sample of Clarke’s “writing” is below, where you can see his overeagerness in getting into the story. He wants to tell all the details all at once. A better writer would tease us with this info over several pages. Suddenly, in the space of 2 paragraphs, we know his name, his bodyguards’ names, where he is, his title, who he works for, and what he’s done over the last 3 years. Crappy dialogue too… who names the person they are talking to?!
From Chapter 1:
‘Suddenly, Alec, one of Brian Douglas’s bodyguards, was over him. He wondered how long he had been down. Had he been out? “Does it hurt anywhere, sir?” Alec asked.
Brian now noticed that blood was dripping down from his scalp, matting his sandy hair. “No, Alec, somehow my luck has held once again” he said, getting up on one knee, grabbing the overturned table for support. Brian’s head spun like a carnival ride. He tried to wipe away some of the blood and dust and rubble from his face. “Where’s Ian?” For the three years that Brian Douglas had been Bahrain station chief of SIS, British intelligence, the staff at the station had insisted that he take two bodyguards with him wherever he went, driving to and from his house on Manama’s northern beach, going on trips elsewhere in the little country, or visiting the subordinate posts in the other Gulf states.’

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The Millionaire Next Door

This one was recommended by a myriad of financial blog sites, so I finally dug in and read it. Basic premise is no shocker– the wealthy do not flaunt their wealth– they’re the ones buying used Hondas and reasonably priced suits and modest housing. Instead of buying “stuff” they are investing in stocks, businesses, real estate. They are frugal.
Here are the seven factors of those who successfully build wealth:
1. Live well below your means.
2. Allocate time, energy, & money efficiently in ways conducive to building weath.
3. Believe that financial independence is more important than display of social status.
4. Parents did not provide economic outpatient care.
5. Children are economically self-sufficient.
6. Proficient in targeting market opps.
7. Choose the right occupation.
The book also touted the pursuit of occupations to serve the wealthy, such as estate and tax law, accountancy, brokerage.
How to determine if you’re wealthy:
Multiply age times realized pre-tax annual household income from all sources.
Divide by 10.
This is what your net worth should be. Got some work to do on this one too.
PAW (prodigious accumulator of wealth) vs. UAW (under-accumulator of wealth).
PAWs are worth twice their expected net worth.
Overall, not a bad book. Quick read, and reinforces ideas you probably already have (especially if you’re motivated to pick up the book).

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Top Picks of 2005

Here are my top picks for 2005.
The Winners
1. The Pacific by Mark Helprin
2. The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey
3. Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox
4. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
5. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
6. Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Honorable Mentions
1. Poet of the Appetities by Joan Reardon
2. The Middle Mind by Curtis White
3. Obsessive Genius by Barbara Goldsmith
4. The Light of Day by Graham Swift

The River of Doubt

Gripping tale of Teddy Roosevelt’s journey along an unmapped 1000 mile river in the Amazon in 1914, originally named River of Doubt (Rio da Duvida), but renamed Rio Roosevelt after the expedition. They traveled across the Brazilian Highland to the origin of the river, then jettisoned most of their passengers and supplies, cramming 22 men and hundreds of pounds of equipment into 7 clumsy dugout canoes purchased at the river from a group of Indians.
Ably led by Colonel Rondon, the expedition originally mapped the river with time-consuming fixed-station surveying using a sextant and a lead canoe to place a sighting rod along a bank of each bend in the river. On the first day they set up the sighting rod 114 times, only travelling 6 miles. Roosevelt was joined by his son, Kermit, and naturalist Goerge Cherrie, as the only Americans. Most of the Brazilian contingent did the dirty work of paddling and lugging supplies during portage. They purged baggage 4 times along the way, but the “officers” kept all their books and other items I can’t imagine lugging through the Amazon.
The Cinta Larga Indians lurked everywhere, invisible in the jungle; the expedition left gifts and tried to show friendly intentions along the route, thus the Cinta Larga did not attack the party. There were 3 deaths– one camarada drowning in a whirlpool after Kermit disobeyed Rondon’s orders to halt, one camarada murdering another, then the party abandoning the murderer to the jungle where he most likely died.
Roosevelt contemplated sucide by morphine overdose which he always kept on himself, instead of dragging the party down with his illness. They were all dangerously ill by the time they met up with the relief party at the end of the journey, on April 26, 1914, after 2 months on the river. Roosevelt never fully recovered, and died less than 5 years later from an ailment stemming from his “old Brazilian trouble.”
The author interviewed Cinta Larga tribe members who have passed down the story of the expedition for the last 90 years, as a legendary interruption from the outside world.

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On Seeing and Noticing

I picked this book up at the famous bookshop, Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London. This pocket Penguin has served me well in the months since London– I have carried it with me and made the most of my time in waiting situations. I confess, I was lured by the Table of Contents, which I’ll reproduce here:
On the Pleasures of Sadness
On Going to the Airport
On Authenticity
On Work and Happiness
On Going to the Zoo
On Single Men
On the Charm of Boring Places
On Writing (and Trouts)
On Comedy
56 pages of blissful de Botton writing!
This is part of the 70 Pocket Penguin series, published to celebrate 70 years of Penguin paperback editions.

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David Foster Wallace Interview

“… the sense I get of my generation of writers and intellectuals or whatever is that it’s 3:00 A.M. and the couch has several burn-holes and somebody’s thrown up in the umbrella stand and we’re wishing the revel would end.” Read the whole interview here.

Holiday Pleas from Book Lovers

All I want for Christmas is no more books foisted upon me by people whose taste in reading I don’t agree with. And Joe Queenan of the NYT also agrees with me in his Christmas article “Wish List: No More Books!” Reprinted here b/c of that nasty NYT habit of forcing archives behind walls. Best quote from the article: “Even if life were not too short, it would still be too short to read anything by Dan Aykroyd.”

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Freakonomics

Definitely as good and readable as all the hype surrounding it (unlike The World is Flat, which I found to be distastefully obvious). Topics as unlikely as abortion legalization in 1976 causing the decrease in crime in the mid 1900s; drug dealer infestation to figure out their sociology (most live with their moms b/c only the upper echelons of the gangs make serious cash); teachers and sumo wrestlers cheating b/c the incentives to succeed are too tempting; real estate agents listing their own houses for 10 more days than they’ll list yours b/c the incentive for their own house sale is much greater than yours.
Recommended.

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Endings

What are the options for authors finishing off and wrapping up their stories? Great Telegraph article on the ends of books, contrasted with the importance of beginings. Suggests that writers conceive of an ending when they begin writing, so they have a life raft they can swim towards as they write.

The Middle Mind

White has awoken my slumbering senses so far… I’m 65 pages in and feel more alive than before I began.
“… to make something that has the click of invention… is to feel that life has been pulled from the abyss called death of perception wherein one is dumbly pent by Stevens’ quotidian or Hegel’s ‘night,’ the night of the Middle Mind dead. Each day’s practice is the requirement of going once more to that abyss, where life’s failure is a real possibility, and plucking life out in the possibility (if not the realization) of its human capacity. This cannot be done in a context in which, as Stevens wrote, ‘the deer and the dachshund’ (or Eschenbach and Manilow) are one. It can be done only in a world in which the imagination rules supreme.”
*******
Later, finished the book. I love Curtis White’s crotchety, critical insights; he brutally rips apart contemporaries’ works without a care in the world. He demands that we THINK CHANGE. He demands that we delete our TVs. He begs us to read Wallace Stevens The Necessary Angel and trashes deconstructionism, and lambasts our politicians, and praises Marx Hegel and Chompsky. He likens Lycos CEO Bob Davis to Bizarro, Superman’s evil antithesis. He ridicules businessmen.
He urges us to give up Spielberg and embrace Radiohead.

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It Must’ve Been Something I Ate

After a couple of cross-country flights, finally finished this 500 pager. Steingarten writes well about food, tho’ nothing revolutionary. His endlessly deep pockets secures him $4k worth of caviar in a few months time, trips to and fro (France, Thailand, Baja California, New Orleans, Italy), and mounds of ingredients (pot a feu– roosters, pig’s blood, Turducken ingredients upwards of 90 spices). Probably the most inspiration I got out of this was the knowledge that he one day decided he had enough of being a lawyer and simply turned into the Vogue food editor.

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