Five short anecdotes about money

Five short anecdotes about money

What a long, strange couple of months it's been for me. On the blog, things have been quiet. Behind the scenes, I've been as busy as I've ever been.

The good news is that this busy-ness will (eventually) lead to a number of interesting articles. I've been reading Cal Newport's Deep Work, for instance, and have some thoughts on it. I've been thinking about the concept of “no speed limits”. Shocking but true: I'm going to write an article about my primary credit card. And I've been reading and writing a lot about “doing nothing”.

Today, though, I want to clear my head (and my inbox) by sharing five short financial anecdotes.

In the past month, I've had probably twenty deep discussions about personal finance and personal values. While some of these conversations lead to bigger things (like the three articles I mentioned above), most don't. But they still produce intertesting concepts and ideas. They sometimes lead me to make changes.

Here are a five money-related topics that don't (yet) warrant articles of their own, but which I still find interesting (and worth sharing).

Going With Google

During my ten days in Portugal for the FI chautauqua, cell phone service was a common topic of conversation. Some folks didn't have any. Others were paying a small fortune just to get a tiny bit of data from their provider.

There were two types of people who didn't have any trouble with their cell service in Portugal: those who use T-Mobile and those who use Google FI.

“What's Google FI?” I asked. I'd never heard of it.

“It's Google's cell service,” Owen said. “It's cheap and has lots of features, but you can't use it with Apple phones.”

“Actually, you can,” Bill said.

“But the website says it doesn't work with iPhones,” said Owen.

“The website is wrong,” said Bill. “I've been using it with my iPhone for months with no problems — even here in Portugal.” He showed us his phone and explained how much he liked Google FI.

“I'll look into,” I said. And I did. Here's what I learned:

  • Kim and I currently spend $117 (plus taxes and fees) for our shared T-Mobile plan. This gives us a limited amount of high-speed data (although plenty for normal needs), plus service for my Apple Watch. (When the watch dies, I don't plan to replace it, so eventually that'll save us ten bucks per month.)
  • If we were to move to Google FI, it'd cost us $120 per month (plus taxes and fees). That's roughly the same price, obviously, with no real advantages. (We'd have access to more high-speed data, although we rarely need that. Plus, we'd get Google One, whatever that is.) And it doesn't include service for my watch.

My conclusion? For T-Mobile customers like us, moving to Google FI doesn't make much sense. But I suspect many people ought to consider their service.

Meanwhile, we've been struggling with our wireless network here at home. Although Apple no longer makes wireless networking equipment, our network is built with routers from when they did sell the stuff. Some of these routers are now a decade old (or possibly older). We have four of them.

For whatever reason, our network is constantly going down. It's frustrating. It's quite common that three of the routers will be up while a fourth will arbitrarily decide to stop working for a few days. (And when we changed the network name last spring? Nightmare!)

While visiting MMM HQ last weekend, I noticed that Pete uses the Google Mesh system to provide service in his co-working space. “Do you like it?” I asked. “I've heard other people rave about Google Mesh, but I don't know anything about it.”

“It's awesome,” he said. “Totally trouble-free.” So, I've ordered a starter set of Google Mesh devices. They'll arrive tomorrow. I have high hopes that this will cure our wifi headaches.

Taming the Email Beast

After returning from my nineteen-day trip to Portugal, Wisconsin, and southern California, my email inboxes were swamped. (I have five separate gmail accounts. Crazy, right?)

Naturally, I complained about the situation on Facebook. My friend Charlotte sent me a private message: “Do you have time to hop on a video call?” she asked. “I'll show you a way to tame your email.”

Charlotte spent twenty minutes walking me through an email system she recently adopted. It effectively divides your gmail inbox — and yes, you have to be using gmail — into five different inboxes, each of which is themed. Once a day, you tackle your main inbox, routing messages to sub-inboxes. Then, when you have time, you work through the other inboxes.

This is a minor change to the way I do things (and admittedly it mostly delays messages to later), but it's effective.

I send myself email twenty times each week. It's my note-taking system. It's how I offload things from my brain. This is great…except that my inboxes tend to get flooded with book recommendations, article ideas, and reminders of upcoming events. It's a mess. Using this system, I can still send myself messages, but I'm now able to flag these messages so they're routed to the appropriate sub-inbox.

I've been following Charlotte's advice for two weeks now, and I like it. It hasn't solved my email woe, but it's mitigated the problem substantially.

My inbox

Dozens of Credit Cards

Last weekend, Kim and I flew to Colorado to celebrate the birthday of a certain mustachioed friend. While there, I had several memorable conversations.

For instance, I chatted with Amy from Go With Less about how she and her husband play the credit-card game. They have an insane number of cards — 34? 43? I can't remember the exact count — and over three million credit-card points.

While our conversation touched on topics like manufactured spending (a concept that blows my mind and angers card issuers), I was more interested in how and why Tim and Amy juggle dozens of credit cards. Doesn't this hurt their credit score? Turns out: No. Because they pay bills on time and never cancel cards, they have nearly perfect credit.

Here's a video in which they address this topic:

I wanted to ask Tim and Amy more about their crazy credit-card fueled lifestyle, but I didn't have the chance. I look forward to picking their brains more in the future, though.

Health Shares for the Non-Religious

Last weekend, I also had a conversation with Ben, who famously gets his cars for free. Ben is super smart and doesn't accept the status quo. He's always looking for ways to challenge the system in order to make the most of his money.

Lately, he's been doing this with healthcare.

For many people who have retired early, health insurance is thorny issue. It's expensive. Take my case, for example. I pay $403 per month for shitty coverage. This year, I've met my $7900 out-of-pocket max, which means I'll have spent $12,736 (plus co-pays and prescriptions) when the dust settles. I hate the U.S. healthcare system. It's insane.

Well, Ben too thinks it's insane. Rather than complain about it, though, he's been seeking creating solutions.

“Have you looked at health-sharing ministries?” Ben asked me on Sunday morning. “They can be a great way to cut costs.”

“I have,” I said. “But they all require a statement of faith, which I'm not able to give.”

“I had the same problem,” Ben said, “so I searched for alternatives. I found Sedera. It's basically the same as a health-share ministry. You still have to agree to abide by certain principles, but they're not based on a religion.”

“Is it affordable?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I'm paying $200 per month per person for my wife, my daughter, and myself.”

“That's not bad,” I said.

“But here's the thing,” Ben said. “Sedera is designed to work with a direct primary care physician.”

“A what?” I said.

“A direct primary care physician is just what it sounds like. It's a doctor that you work with directly without a third-party intermediary. That means the doctor bills you directly, not an insurance company. When you combine this with a health-sharing program like Sedera, it's a cost-effective alternative to traditional insurance.”

“Kim and I have an appointment to talk with an insurance broker next week,” I said. “I'll have to look into this as an alternative.”

“Do it,” Ben said. “You won't regret it.”

Downgrading My Motorcycle

Lastly, here's a topic that comes from several different conversations and a lot of soul-searching on my part.

When Kim and I started dating, I was surprised to learn that she was a motorcycle enthusiast. After she bought her father's bike from him, I decided to learn to ride myself.

I started with a low-power Honda Rebel, which was perfect for my needs. Then, a couple of years ago, I made an impulse purchase: I upgraded to a Harley-Davidson Street 750. The new bike gave me the power to keep up with Kim on long trips. (The little Rebel was always falling behind on the highway.)

Turns out, though, that for day-to-day riding, I wish I had my Rebel. Kim and I don't make many long trips — about one per year. And when we do, I'm fine falling behind. I'd rather have a quick and easy bike for running errands or zipping downtown. My Street 750 is not the right bike for this. It takes a long time to gear up and get the Harley ready to go.

I've spent the past year trying to figure out my best move. I've talked with a lot of friends and considered several options. Do I just stick it out with the motorcycle I have? Do I buy a new Rebel? Do I do something else?

After much thought and contemplation, I've decided that my best plan for the motorcycle situation is three-fold:

  • Sell the Street 750. Use the proceeds to purchase two replacements.
  • Buy a (used?) scooter to use for errands and running downtown. Kim plans to sell her motorcycle, so long trips are no longer an issue. I want something quick and easy to ride. I want to be able to get on the bike and go.
  • Buy an electric bike for use around home. I already own a bike, but as I've mentioned before, I don't ride it. For one, I am fat. For another, we are surrounded by hills. MMM has urged me to look into Rad Power electric bikes.

Making this move — which likely won't happen until the spring, when people are looking for motorcycles — is much more aligned with my values and lifestyle. Currently, my motorcycle mostly gathers dust. I ride it maybe 1000 miles per year. I'd ride the scooter more often, and the electric bike would get me out slicing through these hills for exercise!

What about you? What financial conversations have you been having with your friends? What minor money moves are you making in your life?

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Eileen
Eileen
8 months ago

Glad you checked in JD!

I look forward to your CC and CC/Travel Hacking post(s). I’d love to hear more about people using CC/Travel Hacking, but some of the resources out there are so acronym heavy it’s obviously not meant for me at this point.

We recently grabbed a new card before our son’s wedding. We hosted a large rehearsal dinner at a restaurant and easily hit the spending minimum with 1 evening to get the bonus. No one should ever host wedding related stuff w/o getting new cards/bonuses, lol.

KSachs
KSachs
8 months ago

The “religious health sharing ministries” are the not the way to go! It’s not insurance at all! The “organization” simply collects premiums, and pays claims for people as they are submitted. If the claims expense costs more than what they have collected in premiums, then they cannot pay. The person responsible for the large cost is the claimant. All you need is one catastrophic claim to undermine that system. In my opinion, it’s simply a ”self-insured system” which works fine untile you run out of money! This is not at all a “health insurance policy”. The old adage applies here,… Read more »

Mike
Mike
8 months ago
Reply to  KSachs

As JD said this is exactly how insurance works. The only difference is that insurance has been around for many many decades and has large reserves in place from the excess premiums over claims paid. Ministries just haven’t been around long enough to build up those large reserves. But, there’s no reason why they can’t get there someday.

The Other JD
The Other JD
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike

That’s not the only difference. The primary difference is that insurance is regulated, investigated, and required to have assets in place to pay current and future claims. “Health-share” ministries have virtually no requirements whatsoever. They *specifically* state they are not insurance because they have no obligation whatsoever to pay any claim. It’s a joke that allows (usually) young and (usually) healthy people to believe they have health coverage and a lower cost of service than people buying health insurance in the marketplace. They’ll find one anecdotal guy that got $100k of cancer bills paid to convince people they’re the real… Read more »

mary w
mary w
8 months ago
Reply to  KSachs

It’s also important to understand that insurance companies are regulated by states that ensure some level of fairness and reserves while Ministries are the wild west. When you rack up $1 million in bills good luck 1/fronting the money to pay direct and 2/hoping your Ministry comes up with the money. There’s a reason it can’t be called “insurance”.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago

If you’re getting an e-bike, do you really need a scooter to run errands?

The cargo bike looks like a proper beast, and 25 miles per charge on the low end ain’t bad (you gotta pedal assist if you want the full 45).

Granted, I don’t know your distance to downtown, but that’s so close to a scooter as to practically occupy the same transportation niche. Seems either/or to me.

I say get the bike because you’re gonna stay fat if you never pedal xD

Plus… Portland! Great bike town.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Yeah. Those ebikes look great actually, very good value, but I’d shop around for options For example, there’s the Copenhagen wheel, which is not really Danish, and is custom-fit for your existing bike. But a cargo bike is really great for errands, and that price is nice, cheaper than that wheel alone. Why? Not sure… Also, for longer trips, consider bike + transit connections (e.g. bike rack, or foldable bikes, on bus/train). Just a matter of investigating a little bit… the more you learn the more you can do. And then there’s this: https://www.biketownpdx.com/ …which you can use if you’re… Read more »

Jen G
Jen G
8 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Have to give a shout out to RadPower Bikes. I bought a RadWagon two years ago and it has been amazing – so much fun to ride. We have two kids and no need for a second vehicle because I can transport them on it, when needed. Over 2000 miles and I’ve had exactly one flat tire, no other issues. It is great for running errands and great on hills. It would have the range to go downtown and back no problem.

zzzzzz
zzzzzz
8 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

My thoughts exactly.

You might consider getting the e-bike first, and see if you still need the scooter.

You may also find yourself getting into better shape, and pedaling more and relying on the battery less, over time.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  zzzzzz

After reading some more, that would be most achievable with the Copenhagen wheel actually.

This review should clarify why: https://www.treehugger.com/bikes/superpedestrian-copenhagen-wheel-review.html

tl;dr: it learns your pedaling and helps you as much as you request.

And they have fully ready bikes. Here’s a full commuter bike with rack and fenders. just add saddlebags:

https://shop.superpedestrian.com/?_ga=2.74727188.769379089.1572554107-1502058177.1567009264#/wheel

I’d pick a hybrid tire so it can run dirt paths, but not too fat so it can still fit on transit racks.

M Cutri
M Cutri
8 months ago

If you are happy with the service from T-mobile but would like to spend less, I recommend mint mobile. They are a MVNO that use the T-mobile towers and you can keep using the same phone you currently use with T-Mobile. I switched my wife and I from T-Mobile to mint mobile about a year ago and we went from paying $115/mo to $40/mo (we do the yearly plan for $240/yr X 2) for essentially the same service and data. http://www.mintmobile.com or if you want to give me a referral credit fbuy.me/n4BaY My only connection to them is that I… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  M Cutri

I pay $35/mo. for Verizon prepay (ok, plus tax) and my new iPhone SE was only $150 (yes, I bought a Verizon phone as the product was being discontinued = ace pf move).

I get… a number of GB I never seem to use up (is it 6 these days?) so they roll over into the following month, and the price gets knocked down from $40 to $35 for autopay.

I have no referral link to post, but maybe I should get one, and make some money… hmmm….

zzzzzz
zzzzzz
8 months ago
Reply to  M Cutri

Another happy Mint customer here.

bappy
bappy
8 months ago
Reply to  M Cutri

I had T-Mobile.
Switched to Mint.
Its the same network so service is exactly the same.
You can keep your old number.
My bill is $15/month (if you pay 1 year in advance) for the base package – 3G data and unlimited voice and text

MSB
MSB
8 months ago
Reply to  M Cutri

i’m also a mint mobile customer–it doesn’t work overseas. Fine for the US though.

barry
barry
8 months ago
Reply to  MSB

Mint definitely works overseas.
You have to purchase Roaming to get that to work.
I was in 2 countries in Asia and it worked fine.
Not the cheapest but good enough.

MSB
MSB
8 months ago
Reply to  barry

My mistake–You are correct, mint works overseas, but at 25 cents per minute of voice, and data at 20 cents per megabyte, it will get very expensive if you do anything other than use the phone for an emergency.

Mackenzie
Mackenzie
8 months ago

Get the e-bike first!!! I just moved to a very hilly city, and the e-bike is incredibly fun — you can adjust the assist (and therefore your effort) to zip up hills, or for long distances, or with heavy cargo. We got the Tern GSD pedal-assist cargo bike, which is admittedly a financial investment. But in our previous less-hilly home, we had previously used a non-electric cargo bike for years, and loved the flexibility and mobility it gave us. Moving to a city on the side of a mountain, we wanted to continue the fun of getting around by bike… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  Mackenzie

Wow, that Tern looks INSANE!

I’m trying to be anticonsumer and all, but… now I want one! Hahahahaaa….

Just want, don’t really need though. Still,
very nice. Thanks for sharing the info.

Kristen
Kristen
8 months ago

I LOVE Google Fi. My Google phone is one of the best I’ve ever had, and our service went from $170/mo with Verizon to $85 a month with Google. We had to buy new phones, but at that savings, it didn’t take long to be ahead. We can seamlessly travel into Canada, which we do in summer a bit – not to mention most of the rest of the world. Can’t recommend them highly enough!

Valerie
Valerie
8 months ago
Reply to  Kristen

Yeah, I’m curious where the $120+fees came from. My husband’s and I consistently hit $80-$90/month total with 3-4 gigs of data split between us.

I will say that the coverage isn’t nearly as good in rural areas as some other carriers.

JC Webber III
JC Webber III
8 months ago

If you’re serious about checking out e-bikes, I suggest the brand we went with, Sondors.com. My wife has a Step and I have a Sondors X7 Fat Tire. Love them. Her’s was less than $1k and mine was about $1.5k.

Jason
Jason
8 months ago

If you’re in Portland, Clever Cycles is still having a big sale. Not sure how long it lasts, or what their stock levels might be, but worth checking out to save a lot of money: https://www.clevercycles.com/blogs/news-and-events/not-going-out-of-business-sale/

GK
GK
8 months ago

Categorising emails into subfolders definitely doesn’t mean you “have to be using gmail”. Half the benefit of GTD is that it’s a simple enough structure you can do it anywhere.

L
L
8 months ago

My credit score after mild travel hacking has improved from 795 to 835 over 6 years. I have opened and closed many accounts. I have never tried extreme manufactured spend to earn millions of points. I have paid for most of several trips with my nieces and nephew with points and enjoyed some nice hotels and perks like lounge access. Advice start small and keep open at least 2 or 3 of you current cards with the most credit history. I will never be jetting around the world in business class all the time, but the miles and points have… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 months ago
Reply to  L

Just want to add that we have been credit card/travel hacking for almost a decade. I would conservatively guess we have saved well over $10,000. We have slowed down as we feel we have seen everything we want, and can no longer take ten hour flights without being miserable.

We have, and always have had, excellent credit.

Don’t worry about manufactured spending. Just live your normal life and be aware when a big expense is coming up. That’s the moment to go for a new credit card.

Ellen
Ellen
8 months ago

I’m using Medi-Share, a health sharing program for a year now and I like it. Low premium compared to other insurances out there. All the terms about Not An Insurance is all for legal purpose. Even the US govt recognized health sharing programs. Dave Ramsey liked it too. They are incorporated differently than regular insurance companies so that’s why they have to use different terms that’s all. I was taken back by these terms in the beginning too and was cautious of signing up but I eventually did and I’m glad I did. One thing that is missing is to… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 months ago

Thanks for sharing the info about Sedera. Unfortunately they don’t cover preexisting conditions.

olga
olga
8 months ago

I read “Deep work” last month. Brilliant book.
I am a little bewildered by “I am fat so I’ll get e-bike” sentence. Kind of counter-intuitive for me. But what do I know…

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 months ago
Reply to  olga

An e-bike is not a scooter. You still have to pedal, but the motor helps you when things get though (steep slopes, heavy loads, extended range, hot weather, etc).

This makes it a more reliable substitute for a car than something that depends 100% on one’s level of athleticism.

At the same time, it can help an out-of-shape person get progressively in shape by regulating the level of motor support. But first you need to establish the pedaling habit, and this device can help bridge that change.

The Other JD
The Other JD
8 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Realizing that we are on a site that is meant to encourage people to think more deliberately about money, to me some things are not worth the “savings”. Motor vehicle vs. bike/motorcycle/moped in the US is one of those things. American drivers are distracted, driving enormous vehicles, and roads in most of this country are not/were not designed to handle anything except a fast-moving large 4-wheeled vehicle. Death and injury rates relative to use are far higher with 2-wheeled vehicles than cars, for obvious reasons (simply physics, car vs. alternative). You can’t “get rich slowly” if you’re not alive, or… Read more »

Joe
Joe
8 months ago

Sedera sounds good. I bookmarked it for later. Once my wife retires, we’ll need something. Staying busy behind the scene. That’s great.

Jone
Jone
8 months ago

JD, I went through a very similar motorcycle downgrade. I first sold my Moto Guzzi V7 for the exact same reasons you describe with the Harley. Then I bought an electric bicycle brand new for about $3,000 (Trek). It was very good but I really missed the ability to go for an occasional motorcycle ride. Fast forward a year or so, I later bought a used Honda Silverwing scooter for about $4,000. These “maxi-scooters,” and the very similar Bergman by another manufacturer, are basically 650 motorcycles in a scooter-ish body. I LOVE my scooter! I not only use it for… Read more »

Jen
Jen
8 months ago

I don’t understand why people still pay for roaming. For most places, it’s cheap and easy to just buy a prepaid SIM card at your destination. I’m sure there are exceptions but I’m also sure Portugal is not one of them!

Amanda
Amanda
8 months ago

After you research Sedera further can you please post a follow up article with your thoughts?

Also, Sprint is in the process of being bought out by T-Mobile but they want to build their customer base. They have been offering $25/month unlimited everything plans that will roll over to T-Mobile when the merger finally happens. I jumped on that plan awhile ago and have had no issues except in a few older buildings.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 months ago

Not only does Google Fi work fine with iPhones, it officially supports them now (which is relatively new). But I still get local SIM cards when traveling. It’s the first thing I do before leaving the airport, even though the airport is the most expensive place to buy SIM cards. You can always get coverage with a top local provider (which often has better service than your international roaming plan that might be partnered with some relatively small provider in any given country), but also, data is *way* cheaper in almost every other country besides the US. You can buy… Read more »

FuR
FuR
8 months ago

But if you pick up a scooter you can hang out with the st Johns scooter club… Picking up a used genuine buddy 170i would not set you back much at all and still be able to do short highway rides if needed. I picked up a buddy 125 4 years ago and have put about 7k miles on it. I’ve also thought about going the electric bike route to work on the fatness but haven’t ponied up yet. Also we have TMobile and only pay 140 for 5 lines and a watch. It was 6 gig but TMobile is… Read more »

Keilexandra
Keilexandra
8 months ago

I would be wary of health sharing ministries, even if non-religious. Fundamentally they don’t guarantee unlimited coverage in the catastrophic case — if you get cancer, you can request reimbursement for your costs, but you aren’t *guaranteed* to get 100% of what you’re eligible for. For the extremely high costs in these catastrophic scenarios, it’s more likely that the org will be unable to fully reimburse you, exactly at the time when you least want to worry about money. It’s basically a legal way to self-insure, which is fine is you know what you’re getting into. Just realize that you’re… Read more »

Amy (GoWithLess)
Amy (GoWithLess)
7 months ago

WOW, a shout out from JD! Much gratitude. I loved meeting you and lovely Kim. Tim and I are happy to provide you with all the credit card/travel hacking info you could imagine…and then some. Why so many cards??? With more than 100 travel days in 2018 and 2019, we travel more than most. Also, we’ll be full-time nomads this January. We’re selling our home, cars, furniture and will be out of the US 10 months a year. Rinse and repeat until we’re done and want a home. Maybe our next home will be a nursing home. Time will tell.… Read more »

Chris
Chris
7 months ago

There are quite a few electric assist bikes out there with varying ranges, weights (you’ll notice this when you are pedalling), and reliability. And costs of course. I’ll be interested in following any research you do. Kansas City, where I live is also hilly and I’m getting tired of huffing and puffing uphill.

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