A useful new tool to help you pick a place to live

Every now and then, The New York Times gives us an awesome new personal-finance tool. Back in 2007, they created an amazing rent vs. buy calculator, which they've diligently updated and maintained over the past fifteen years. A couple of weeks ago, they unveiled their where should you live? tool. [Warning: possible paywall, which is unfortunate.]

Here's how it works:

We created a quiz using data for almost 17,000 places across more than 30 metrics. Realtor.com shared housing prices with us; Yelp contributed tallies of restaurants, music venues and gay bars; and AccuWeather helped us collect statistics on temperature, sunshine and snowfall, to name just a few of our sources.

We want the quiz to be useful to anyone who’s thinking about moving — not just affluent, highly educated people who are working remotely because of the Covid pandemic. We’ve included data on affordability, jobs and abortion rights, which could be relevant to young people deciding where to start their careers. And we’ve quantified health care quality, snowfall and crime rates — criteria that might be top of mind for retirees.

To use the tool, you select from 35 different factors that matter to most people, factors ranging from population density to climate to racial diversity to political affiliation. You can even emphasize the qualities that matter most to you. The tool tells you which American cities best match your preferences.

Continue reading...
More about...Money Tools, Home & Garden

Learning from history: How this all happened

The older I get, the more interested I am in history.

When I was young, history and myth seemed to be interchangeable to me. To ten-year-old me, there was little difference between, say, Abraham Lincoln and the Greek gods sitting atop Mount Olympus. All of it was abstract stuff that happened to imaginary people long ago.

Somewhere along the way — in my late teens, I think — history began to seem relevant. During my junior year of college, I took a course on Pacific Northwest history and my eyes were opened. I could see in my own life how events decades ago (or hundreds of years ago or thousands of years ago) created the actual world in which I lived my day-to-day existence.

Now that I'm firmly entrenched in middle age, history has never seemed more relevant.

Continue reading...
More about...Economics

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:

Continue reading...
More about...Apps, 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.

Continue reading...
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.

Continue reading...
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?

Continue reading...
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.

Continue reading...
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!

Continue reading...
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.

Continue reading...
More about...Home & Garden