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!
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.
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."
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.
And 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.
Nearly two years ago, I received an unusual email at an address I rarely check anymore. The author wrote:
I am writing to you today because The Great Courses in partnership with Audible is exploring the possibility of creating a high-quality series on Financial Independence. We believe that you may be an excellent candidate to teach such a series. I've read many articles at Get Rich Slowly and I'm always impressed by your writing and how much excellent content you create.
At first, I thought this was spam. Before I deleted the message, though, I checked the sender. Sure enough. The sender (and the message) was legit.
I wrote back:
Thank you for reaching out. I get a lot of requests for my time and typically turn them down. Not this one. I feel like this is a terrific idea and well-worth exploring. I am a long-time fan of both Audible and the Great Courses. I'm not joking.
I included screen captures to prove that I owned 72 Great Courses and nearly 372 audiobooks from Audible. Those numbers have since grown, naturally.
Discussions ensued, a contract was created, and in December 2019, I began the work of creating a five-hour, ten-part course on financial independence and early retirement. I finished that course last April. I recorded it in May. And last month, at long last, How to Achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early made its way into the world!
At the end of January, I had an epiphany.
Kim and I were sitting in the living room one evening, relaxed in our easy chairs, both reading books. All four of our beasts were nestled nearby. The house was quiet. For the first time in forever, I felt completely content.
For maybe twenty minutes, I paused what I was doing and simply savored the moment. I stopped. I looked around. I made time to be present in the Now.
Eventually, my mind began to wander. "When was the last time I was this happy?" I wondered. I thought back to the late 1990s when my ex-wife and I lived in similar circumstances. Kris and I would read together in the evening, each with a cat in our laps. Life was simpler. I felt no anxiety. I was happy.
Then too, I achieved a similar level of contentment as recently as 2013. Soon after Kris I got divorced, Kim and I began dating. I lived alone in an apartment. My life wasn't filled with obligations and Stuff. Again, things were simpler. Simpler and saner and more filled with joy.
"But what really is the difference between those two periods of time and the last few years?" I thought. "Why have I been so anxious recently?"
The difference, I realized, has a lot to do with my expectations.
Hey hey, y'all. Here's a guest post from former GRS staff writer (and perennial reader favorite) Donna Freedman. This piece about becoming a frugalvore contains material that originally appeared at Donna's site, Surviving and Thriving. It's been modified for GRS. Enjoy!
The "locavore" movement is based on the idea of eating only foods grown within a 100-mile radius of where you live. Vicki Robin, for instance, might be best-known for her money manual Your Money or Your Life, but she also wrote a book for locavores in which she advocates a ten-mile diet.
I'm not a locavore but I have my own system, and I think it deserves its own name: I'm a "frugalvore". Becoming a frugalvore is pretty simple. You shop mostly (or completely) for what's on sale.
This isn't exactly a new idea. Plenty of people shop that way their whole lives. But it might be new to you if you grew up in a home where no one read the supermarket ads, created menus, and then worked to get the most bang for each grocery buck.
Becoming a frugalvore both simplifies and complicates your approach to eating.
On the one hand, it's easier to shop because you plan menus around that week's most affordable foodstuffs. However, if you're the kind of person who always shopped by grabbing whatever looked good, then you'll need to rethink your supermarket habits.
Fortunately, it's fairly simple. Not always easy, but simple. Here's how you can become a frugalvore.
While I've identified as a writer since I was eight years old, what I've written has changed significantly over time.
When I was very young, I was only interested in writing stories. These stories were child-like, to be sure, but they grew in sophistication as I did. By junior high, I was drafting large chunks of fantasy novels (mimicking the books I tended to read at the time). Then, in high school, I discovered a love for poetry.
In high school and college, I mostly wrote poetry. Some of it was actually good, too. (Seriously!) I won contests and scholarships with my poetry, and some of it even saw print in small magazines.
But somewhere along the way, I stopped writing poems. I've written a few songs with friends over the years, but that's it really. The part of me that's a poet — a part that once was integral — seems to no longer exist.
Anyhow, it occurred to me today that the spending moratorium I've set for myself in 2021 is, in a way, like writing poetry. Let me explain.
For decades, I've been a proponent of habit tracking. Habit tracking sounds and feels nerdy to a lot of folks, so many people avoid it. That's too bad. Habit tracking is a powerful tool that can help you make better decisions about your life.
Let me share an example.
Over at Reaktor, Olof Hoverfält recently published a long piece about why he's tracked every single piece of clothing he's worn for three years.
That's right: For 1000+ days, Hoverfält documented every garment he wore. (And, in fact, he's continuing to document his wardrobe publicly.) Using the info he collected, he's now able to make better decisions about which clothes to keep and which clothes to buy. I love it!
Hoverfält says people worry about how much time it'd take to do something like this but they shouldn't. Most of the time investment is in the initial setup, in that first batch of data entry. Actually using and maintaining the system requires about one minute each day. And the rewards are far greater than the cost in time.
Hoverfält's project is a perfect example of the power of habit tracking.
Kim and I are back from a week-long beach vacation with her brother and his family. We traveled to a luxury timeshare resort where it was super easy to practice social distancing because almost nobody was there. (The place was running at maybe 10% capacity because of COVID, and the level of cleanliness was mind-boggling. I felt safer there than at home! Sanitizer, mask, wipe your feet. Instant-read thermometers. Digital menus. Etc. Etc. Etc.)
This trip was a terrific early test of my spending moratorium resolve. I was mostly good.
The vacation itself cost money, of course, but I'm okay with that. We scheduled it months ago, long before I decided to take a year off from spending. I didn't cancel it, and I'm not canceling the other trip we have planned for March. Instead, my aim is to keep my spending as low as possible for both trips. Plus, I have no plans to book other vacations this year.
Because of my spending moratorium, I deliberately altered my standard vacation behavior. I'm the kind of guy who likes to get small souvenirs wherever I go: pins, patches, t-shirts, and so on. I didn't buy one this time. In fact, I only spent money on food. (On our first day, we stocked up on groceries so that we could eat most of our meals in our room.)
For the entire week, there were two purchases that violated the rules I've set for myself.