Amazon Brand Detector

Two months ago, The Markup — a big-tech watchdog site — published a piece about how Amazon prioritizes its own "brands" first above better rated (and/or cheaper) products. This came as no surprise to me.

I've found Amazon increasingly useless over the past few years. Its search results are cluttered with ads. Sometimes my searches fail to show products I know the company stocks and sells. And Amazon Prime has lost its luster as shipping times have lengthened and Prime Video has become increasingly superfluous.

So, to learn that Amazon cheats search results by crowding out better and cheaper products in favor of it own stuff was no big shock. Yet another reason for me to take my business elsewhere, when possible. From the article:

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More about...Shopping

The long, complicated history of lines at Disney theme parks

As part of my new commitment to just being me, I hope to share a lot more random stuff around here — just like I used to. Instead of waiting for weeks (or months) in order for inspiration to strike for a longer essay, I want to share the best of the interesting money stories (and semi-money stories) that I find around the interwebs.

Think of it as Apex Money, I guess, but instead of sharing three to five discoveries each day, I may share one or two a week. And instead of editing and polishing these pieces, they'll just be quick braindumps with minimal attention to detail.

Today, for instance, here's a 103-minute YouTube video about the lines at Disney theme parks. Continue reading...

More about...Spare Change

One thing to my people (A prayer of thanksgiving)

I recently flew to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the second-annual EconoMe Conference. I had one of the best weekends of my life.

I can't say that the conference itself was the reason for this peak experience. There's no question that I enjoyed interacting with the speakers and attendees. As the video below demonstrates, the main-stage talks were both entertaining and educational. The conversations at the venue were great too. I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dIKlFgCqyk

But while I enjoyed EconoMe, the conference was mostly incidental to making my weekend great. EconoMe was merely the vehicle for bringing everyone together so that I could experience the laughter and conversations I enjoyed for five days.

Turns out that EconoMe was also the vehicle for one of those oh-so-rare moments when all of the disparate strands in my life — all of my hopes and fears and recent objects of rumination — weave together to produce something spectacular, a sort of personal Big Bang.

The net result is that today I find myself with a clear sense of purpose for the first time in years. More importantly, I feel deep gratitude for all that I have in my life.

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More about...Money Mindset, Psychology

The Get Rich Slowly file vault

A new Get Rich Slowly subscriber emailed me yesterday to alert me of two problems.

  • First, all of the free resources I share on Google Drive have magically switched from publicly-available to private.
  • Second, the automated email sequence for new readers is broken (which means that folks aren't receiving The Money Boss Manifesto).

Fixing the email sequence will take some work. It wouldn't take much effort to make it functional again, but while I'm in there mucking around, I might as well make a pass to revise it. The info and examples are five years old. (Meanwhile, the current version of The Money Boss Manifesto can be downloaded here.)

Fixing the shared documents on Google Drive was easy, though. They should once again be publicly viewable. Please let me know if they're not.

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More about...Money Tools

Your First Rental Property

It's official: Kim and I have moved from Portland to Corvallis, Oregon. We closed on our home — a 1964 daylight ranch with fully converted basement — at the end of August, and we've spent the past six weeks moving and unpacking. I thought I'd have time to post the gory details of our purchase, but obviously that hasn't happened. We've been too busy!

The short version is this: After offering $128,000 over asking on our dream home (and still losing out to a cash offer), we came close to joining in another bidding war on a similar house. But we didn't. While other folks were bidding up a place down the street from $589,000 to $707,000, we snuck into a home we liked better for $680,000 — just $5000 over asking. We got lucky.

And while I was worried that we might experience buyer's remorse, I'm pleased to report that absolutely has not happened. We love our home and we love Corvallis. How could we not?

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More about...Investing, Side Hustles

We offered to buy a home for $128,000 over list — but it wasn’t enough!

Sunday evening, Kim and I made an offer on a house. The Greenwood Place (as we'll call it) was listed at $649,000. We offered $677,777 escalating to $777,777; no repairs required; and a $50,000 appraisal gap waiver.

Our offer was not accepted.

The Greenwood Place

That's right: Two months after selling our home — and three months after beginning to search for the next place — Kim and I have waded back into this crazy housing market. We're not sure how long this process will last (or what the outcome will be) but we're prepared to be searching for many weeks, if not months.

Both our mortgage broker (Michael S.) and our real-estate agent (Michael K.) tell us we're doing things exactly right for this market.

  • Kim and I both have credit scores over 800. "Everything looks unbelievably perfect here," Michael S. told us in June. "That's amazing. Perfect credit."
  • We've sold our previous house and are currently renting a place while we search for another. This allows us to make offers without home sale contingencies.
  • We're willing to take calculated risks to increase the strength of our offers, but we're not willing to compromise our financial health in doing so. "You can borrow $850,000 all day long," Michael S. told us. "You'd probably have zero difficulty qualifying for $1 million." We don't want to borrow a million dollars though because doing so would severely compromise our other goals.

All the same, there aren't many homes on the market right now. Demand far outpaces supply, which is driving prices up and creating insanely competitive situations. It doesn't matter whether we're doing everything right. We're still going to run into folks who can make cash offers at more than $128,000 over a $649,000 asking price.

Our plan? Be patient. Remain vigilant. We don't need to buy a home at the moment — and, in fact, perhaps it would be best if we didn't — but we want to be prepared to pounce if/when we find the right place.

Today, I want to share a bit of our thought process as we attempt to buy a home in 2021.

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More about...Home & Garden

Series I savings bonds: A safe investment with a high return

I get a lot of questions about money. These questions tend to vary based on the asker and her needs, but there's one question I get more often than any other: "What's a safe investment with a high return?"

For the past decade or so, I've had no answer to this question. Savings accounts and certificates of deposit are safe, sure, but they're no longer attractive investments. Since the Great Recession of 2008/2009, interest rates have remained shockingly low. This is by design. The government doesn't want you parking your money in a savings account. They want that money out circulating in the economy.

Over the long term, the stock market offers excellent returns. But when people are asking for "safe" investments, they're wanting avoid short-term volatility, which means stocks are out of the question. (And stuff like Bitcoin and precious metals are even more out of the question!)

Today, however, while catching up on my blog reading, I stumbled upon a link from Michael Kitces' weekly roundup for financial planners. The story he shared blew my mind. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jason Zweig explains the safe, high-return trade hiding in plain sight. (This article is behind a paywall.) That safe, high-return trade? U.S. government Series I savings bonds.

These inflation-adjusted bonds are currently yielding 3.54% annually!

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More about...Investing, Saving & Investing

We sold our house!

June has arrived and it's glorious! The sunshine and warmer weather make living in Oregon wonderful this time of year. October is better, but June is a damn fine month here in Portland: wild roses, blackberry blossoms, and strawberries; birds, squirrels, and bicyclists; outdoor dining, evening strolls, and morning coffee on the porch.

I've been in a great mood for the past week, and it's not just because of the weather. It's also because, after three months of hard work, Kim and I have sold our country cottage. We're not sure what the future holds, but for now we're renting a small place in the Lake Grove neighborhood. It's fun!

And now that all of that work is finished, I can turn my attention to other things — such as writing about money. To kick things off, here's the story of what I've been up to for the past few months, of how we sold our house in this crazy real-estate market.

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More about...Home & Garden

An uncertain future

On February 17th — in the middle of nine days without power due to an ice storm — we had the foundation contractor out to re-inspect our house. We experienced some settling last fall, and I was worried that might indicate deeper problems.

For thirty minutes, the contractor explored the crawlspace while I sat in the living room, fretting. When he finished, he came up to tell me what he'd found.

"Look," he said, "my assessment is the same as when you had me out here three years ago. Your foundation is fine. It's not failing. The house isn't falling down."

I felt a wave of relief wash over me.

"That said," he continued, "I do think you'd feel better if you were to reinforce one section of the foundation. It looks to me as if you're seeing some minor expansion and contraction of the soil, which is what's causing your settling issues. It'd cost about $9000 to remedy that."

Plan for reinforcing foundation

That evening as Kim and I huddled in our powerless living room, bundled in coats and jackets and using flashlights to read, I made a confession.

"I want to move," I said. "I know we both love this house and this yard, but it's taking a toll on my mental health."

"I know," Kim said. "I know you've been struggling. Ever since we moved in, I've seen how you've grown increasingly depressed and anxious. I'll do whatever it takes to make you happy, but I think maybe you should give up on your dream of owning an old house."

She's right. I love old houses but my personality isn't suited for them. They stress me out. (My ex-wife and I owned an old house too — she still lives there — and it caused me endless stress, as well.)

For the next couple of weeks, Kim and I spent many hours discussing our best course of action. Then, one month ago today, we made a decision: We would sell the house as soon as possible (to take advantage of the crazy Portland real-estate market), then rent a place for a while as we made a careful, calculated decision about where to live next.

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More about...Home & Garden

My life philosophy: 52 lessons from 52 years

Now we are 52And now we are 52...

On this day in 1969, baby J.D. entered the world. I don't think there's any way my parents could have predicted the path their firstborn would take through life. It hasn't always been easy — no thanks to the obstacles I've placed in my own way — but I've really had a wonderful (and interesting) life, and I look forward to whatever time is left me.

As I do every year here at Get Rich Slowly, I'm going to commemorate my birthday by sharing some of the most important things I've learned during my time on Earth. These are the most important pieces of my life philosophy.

Let's start with a look at the core takeaway from my 52nd year, the newest addition to my life philosophy.

What I Learned During My 52nd Year

This past year, especially, has been an interesting one. I know that's true for the world as a whole, but I personally have experienced a great deal of growth over the last twelve months. It's been a deeply introspective year.

If you were following along, you could see me process some of this introspection in real time, both here on the blog and at the Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube.

In July, I wrote that I am the one thing in life I can control. In August, I wrote about eliminating net negatives (or trying to). In October, I wrote about the pursuit of quality. And just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of low expectations.

What I've realized in recent weeks is that all of these Deep Thoughts seem to be a manifestation of the same fundamental problem in my life: my ADHD. For years, I suspected I had ADHD. In 2012, my therapist confirmed it. In consultation with my M.D., my therapist prescribed a medication (Vyvanse) that I was meant to take every day. I hate the side effects, though, so I never did. I took it only as needed.

But in searching for answers regarding my ongoing depression and anxiety, I've come to understand that these two debilitating mental illnesses can actually be caused by ADHD. My inability to focus leads me to become overwhelmed. When I become overwhelmed, I get stressed. When I get stressed, I get anxious and depressed.

It all seems obvious today, but it was never obvious before.

Anyhow, I've begun taking my Vyvanse regularly. Today is the sixth day in a row that I've used it. It seems to be helping. Meanwhile, I've been trying to practice mindfulness in everyday life. Plus, Kim and I are taking some big steps (to be discussed here in the coming weeks) to alleviate some of the things that overwhelm me on a regular basis.

Coming to grips with the fact that my ADHD is more pronounced than I believed (and that it's probably the source of so many of the things that bring me suffering) has been eye-opening. As I reviewed this list, for instance, I was surprised at just how many pieces of my philosophy directly tied to ADHD coping mechanisms. It's crazy.

So, the biggest lesson I learned this year is the age-old maxim: know thyself. As far as possible, know what makes you tick — and how that affects your goals, actions, and relationships.

My Life Philosophy

Before we dive into the rest of my life philosophy, I want to make something clear: I am no wiser or smarter than anybody else. And I'm certainly no better. But I am an individual.

I'm my own person with my own personal preferences and personal experiences. These have all jumbled together over the past 52 years to give me a unique perspective on life (just as you have a unique perspective on life). To quote my favorite poem:

Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met...

So, these 52 nuggets of wisdom are things I've found to be true for me — and, I believe, for most other people. (But each of us is different. What works for me may not work for you.) These beliefs make up the core of my personal philosophy of life.

Some of these ideas are original to me. Some aren't. When I've borrowed something, I've done my best to cite my source. (And I've tried to cite the oldest source I can find. Lots of folks borrow ideas from each other. There's nothing new under the sun and all that.)

Here are 52 principles I've found to be true during my 52 years on this planet. I'll lead with this year's new addition.

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More about...Psychology