Fear and Panic

Yesterday, my local CostCo sold out of Charmin in 15 minutes.

My cognitive capacity is so lit up I can’t remember my daily calendar.

Stress makes us stupid.

So…

#1 – execute my strategy, made before the current crisis

One of the nice things about following a rebalancing strategy is you are very likely to have sold (a little) at the peak. My pre-crisis rebalancing happened January 4th and I sold enough to cushion the psychological impact of recent declines.

I rebalanced on Monday and again today.

Limit down opens => phew!

#2 – lean into fear

Since 2014, my portfolio assets have been 60/40 in equities/bonds. For the last six years, I’ve expected bonds to get hammered by rising rates. It didn’t happen. Been wrong the entire time but it didn’t hurt me.

For my long-term capital, I’d rather use a 90/10 strategy (90% in equities). The trouble is getting there. I have zero confidence in my ability to pick the right time to shift. So I created a re-weighting strategy based on VTSAX/SP500.

A simple rule: as the market moves from 20% down to 50% down, I will rebalance equities upwards from 60% to 90% of portfolio holdings.

Today’s rebalance moved me to 63/37. The 63 is held 42/21 VTSAX/VTIAX.

Simple to execute => each time, I rebalance I check the %age off the peak, if we’ve set a new low then adjust the equity weighting upwards. Otherwise, steady as she goes.

This simple strategy is not easy to do => either I want to rush more money in (FOMO) or hold money back (plain old fear).

#3 – real estate

When your neighbors are stocking up on TP in preparation for the end times… it’s generally not a good time to be selling real estate.

What about buying? Real estate prices respond much more slowly to feelings/sentiment. At the last downturn, local real estate didn’t “get cheap” until 18-24 months after the crisis.

I suspect we’re going to see the residential market stop dead for a few months.

After that? I have no idea.

#4 – family

My family has been watching me stock the house for three weeks. They were amused but now we are ready.

I’ve been reassuring the kids they are going to be OK. There’s a lot of fear around.

At school, our youngest heard that “old people” were dying. She took me to one side and asked if I was going to be ok => Yes, Sweetie, I’m going to make it.

That said, a finance background is useful for understanding the impact of compounding. Our state saw a 33% increase in positive tests today. Keep that going through the end Spring Break and we will have 4,200 positives in 16 days (from 44 at Noon today).

Notwithstanding an absence of positive tests in Boulder County, I’m going to start home schooling on Monday. A significant burden on myself but a small price to slow the spread.

#5 – community

Will Colorado’s experience follow Italy, Hong Kong or Taiwan? I don’t know.

What we know for certain is there will be a large, sudden burden on the lower end of our communities. Consider giving a sizable donation to your local food bank.

We also know we will save lives by staying away from each other.

#6 – immunity

Something simple, but not easy, for readers of this blog => cut your training in half.

Take your program, cut it in half and watch what happens with the infection rate in your state.

If your state is on a log-scale infection rate then it will become apparent far more quickly than any fitness loss.

Your immunity will get a boost from this change and you’ll preserve all the health benefits from exercise.

#7 – cash, debt and leverage

If you have an emergency fund then this would be a good time to make sure it is liquid. I have three-months expenses sitting in my checking account.

Not willing to lean into the market downturn? Consider using surplus cash to pay down debt.

If the downturn persists then do you know what can ruin you? There are many types of leverage => I’ve written about this a lot.

 

 

 

 

How Wealth Endures

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Over time, human nature does far more to address income inequality than the policies of your favorite politician.

Families that succeed across generations have certain traits we can learn from. While you can’t control your birth situation, there is a lot you can do to influence family wealth.

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My great-grandfather was one of the wealthiest men in Canada and I have an early memory of seeing him on the cover of Fortune magazine. Down my branch of the family, the magazine cover endured longer than his finances, which found their way back to society within two generations.

On the other side of my family tree, my great-great-grandfather was wealthy, but not cover-of-Fortune wealthy. A small amount of his money will eventually pass through to my children. I get a kick out of this as he was born in the mid-1880s.

Living rich is different than living well and it takes generations for this difference to become apparent.

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A favorite quote, “there has never been a more expensive time to be rich.”

Dropping this gem will likely get you a smirk and an eye roll from most young people. However, it touches on a truth of our time and provides a warning to wealthy families.

Over the last 40 years, a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Lifting the bottom of the wealth curve has impacted the top of the curve.

While we were lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, “the rich” started to live differently. Morgan Housel’s article touches on these changes and reminded me of a valuable legacy from my great-grandfather (the one on the Fortune cover). A non-financial legacy that made it four-generations down my family tree.

Camping.

The fondest memories of my childhood happened at a YMCA summer camp. A camp largely unchanged from when my uncles attended 20 years before me.

40 years on, I ask myself:

Am I willing to constrain myself to get a better outcome for my children’s future selves?

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, you may develop “requirements” that increase your baseline cost of living. Your “requirements” are your business. However, know that your luxuries will become your children’s baseline.

These cultural baselines have unintended consequences in family systems. The kids who can keep up with their spending aspirations have a greater risk of neglecting their families in favor of money. The kids who can’t keep up are more likely to reject you, to protect their self-identities.

I’ve known five generations of my family and have witnessed this pattern across each generational transition => the increasing spending of the ascendant, and the pain as the descendant fall out of their childhood demographic.

I believe there is a better way.

I’m going to offer three areas for you to consider.

I’ve made mistakes in each area. Having kids later in life (highly recommended), the main people who have had their values skewed by my errors are my wife, and myself.

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The three areas are vacations, housing and education.

Your first filter is to ask: Are we living well, or are we living rich?

To keep yourself honest, search for your reaction when other people live a certain way.

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VACATIONS

Cultivate interests that hedge your need for cash flow.

Camping, driving distance from home, has a very different long term cash flow impact than Surfing in Kauai, via private jet.

I’ve spent a small fortune trying to make family trips work (catamaran charters, seaplanes, traveling staff, ship’s captain with deckhand).

Everyone had a blast but what did I achieve?

I increased the hedonistic baseline for my wife, my kids and myself. Not a big deal to make a mistake. However, if I create a habit then what happens when three kids, and five grandkids, scale my choices across their lifetimes?

Simple, one-on-one trips in nature is where I focus these days.

We will come back to the scaling effect.

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HOUSING

Housing is the most consequential capital purchase most of us will make and it’s a tricky one because of the changes happening in many of the places where we grew up.

My wife and I went to high school in cities (Boulder/Vancouver) where many of the graduates are unlikely to be able to afford to live in their childhood homes. The winners of global wealth creation have bid up local real estate values.

My notional share of my great-great-grandfather’s estate is about $100,000. Money that would have proven very useful if I had chosen teaching, rather than finance, for my first career.

If you ask my seven-year old what type of house she’d like to live in then she’ll describe something that looks a lot like my grandparent’s homes: 1,500 sq ft per person, swimming pool, grounds… you name it. She’d put us into a 7,500 sq ft mansion with seven bathrooms.

She’s not alone. As soon I as I had the cash, I bought myself a monstrous house. Buying at the top of the market, I was lucky to avoid financial disaster.

Am I willing to constrain myself to get a better outcome for my children’s future selves?

Yes I am.

Coming out of the last recession, we downsized and bought two rental properties in our school district. I’m positioning the family to do a similar thing coming out of the next recession.

The kids were disappointed to learn that the next house was going to be smaller but I’ve been watching what they do, rather than their aspirations. When my kids can pick, they want all of us jammed into a bunk room => they love a seething, noisy mess!

Beware of the preferences of others and pay attention to where you are happiest, rather than what you think you should like.

What you don’t see when you “get the house” is the life you don’t lead as a result of living there. The time you don’t spend together, the energy spent managing a large asset you don’t need.

Once again, these lost opportunities for connection scale across time for your grown children and grandchildren.

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EDUCATION

Graduate debt-free with skills enabling you to get paid

This implies a few things:

  • working in high school, and for a long time thereafter
  • public education, as long as possible
  • parents who are willing to let you fail, experience poverty and learn from your own mistakes

Unless your family is exceptionally wealthy, or you are an outstanding student, you are going to be much better taking the bulk of your family’s education dollars and investing them over a 20-25 year time horizon. The goal being to enable your family to (continue to) live in a great public school zip code.

For example, the Boulder Valley School District isn’t (yet) priced out of reach. BVSD just built a school in the eastern part of the county and we have strong political support for local investment in education.

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Are you seeing how all of this fits together?

  • Moderation of spending, regardless of being able to afford it
  • A modest allocation in personal real estate assets
  • Over time, yields long-term capital within the family system
  • A focus on helping the family stay local and avoid shackling themselves with education loans
  • When graduating debt-free, young adults repeat the cycle

This works so long as everyone pays their own way, for the way they wish to live.

Collectively, the family system avoids subsidies towards personal consumption.

Each branch, and generation, of the family defines their values, and lives with the consequences of their choices.

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Further Reading

Basic Week Parenting

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When I was training seriously, I’d start most seasons with 13-weeks where I would “stay put and roll the week.” Having a simple, basic week is a powerful tool for getting stuff done and avoids the cost of variation.

The cost of variation is the energy required to consider alternatives, to choose and to negotiate for “space” for ourselves.

When you are at the limit of your ability, patience or capacity to recover => eliminating unnecessary variation (and associated conflicts) can be a big help. I’ve brought a similar approach to my family.

I’ll use my son’s schedule as an example, here’s what he’s doing November to April:

  • Monday – school/soccer
  • Tuesday – school/water polo
  • Wednesday – choir/school/jiujitsu
  • Thursday – school/swim lesson
  • Friday – school/go to mountains
  • Saturday – ski group/movie night
  • Sunday – family ski/back home

Every-single-morning, he’s going to read for 20 minutes before doing anything. He is usually reading by 6:31am.

Despite everyone “knowing” the schedule, we write it out and place it on the kitchen counter. This lets everyone have a look and get comfortable with the plan.

There is variety between the days, but little variation between the weeks. For example, I don’t need to worry about what we are going to do on a rainy February weekend.

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The bulk of my “life” fits into the time before my kids wake up, when they are at school and my “days off.” In the winter, many weeks, my wife handles the kids from end of school Thursday to Friday evening.

Bedtimes, my own included, are set so we can wake up and keep the week rolling. When we start to get run down bedtimes move earlier and earlier.

I give myself zero flexibility with my own wake-up time => “no excuses wake-up” eliminates energy spent on choice.

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Some principles we use.

Sleep, school work and healthy eating is our highest priority. Create the habits and energy to outperform.

Kids don’t know what they want. Our minds are hardwired to complain about every single change and variation => just look inside! Absent a repeating schedule, you are certain to have endless negotiations. Exhausting, when you don’t have energy to spare.

My kids want: love, to demonstrate competence and acceptance => the schedule needs to provide everyone with a chance to meet their basic human needs.

Clear ownership of responsibilities. Who is doing what? The kids are hardwired to compete for your time. Lay out the mommy/daddy times, make it equitable. With our preschoolers, showing them their “mommy days” was very important to reduce conflict and let mom see she was doing enough.

Keep it rolling at grade level. I do not care about the relative performance of my kids. I am most interested in identifying holes. If you have a future Rhodes scholar in the house then it will become apparent in its own time. However, if you miss the fact that your little one doesn’t know how to read then it will severely damage self-confidence, their attitude toward education and their capacity to teach themselves.

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My constraints are extremely useful as they keep me from over-doing-it. I have a track record of burying myself with fatigue.

My goal is to do what needs to be done, strengthen my marriage and have peace of mind => to know I am executing to the best of my ability, most days. I know what I want.

Because I witness my internal dialogue, I am constantly reminded of my shortcomings!

Meeting a reasonable basic week gives me an anchor and avoids the temptation to increase my expectations of myself.

Simplicity and repetition.

 

Growing Up

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Our oldest turned 11 this month.

We are past the fog of the early years and moving away from a moment-to-moment focus.

The way things have played out:

  • 0-6 years old => learn to get along with others
  • 6-12 years old => learn how to learn
  • 12 years old onwards => learn how to live independently

With a desire to prepare the kids for Phase Three, I ask myself, “How do my kids see me act?”

I find myself lacking at this transitional point.


My kids’ teen years will not be well served by listening to me complain. Complaining is endemic in my demographic, usually about the shortcomings of others.

Most my complaining is internal.

Likewise, they won’t be served well by watching me manage a team of staff to cater to their every whim. You see, my strong marriage (today) is a function of a decade of outside assistance around our home. Creeping ever-upwards, this outside help had a side-effect of my kids getting used to being waited on (and me doing less at home).

Beware of the double-whammy => complaining about the staffing required to take care of things you’re unwilling to do.

So I need to change, but what should I change?

My situation or my attitude?


Start by considering what you know is true. In my case…

We have stable finances, a loving family and good health

I’m thinking that this indicates that I need to adjust my attitude rather than my situation.

That block quote is a worth considering in your own life.

Are your problems your problem?

My problems aren’t my problem. I have great problems. I’ve done a good job of improving them.

But it is more than my attitude that needs adjusting.

An improved attitude will correct the faulty thinking inside me but it will not prepare my kids to live in the world.


My kids have _really_ short memories => they are completely dominated by the recent past.

With this in mind, I’ve been playing a new game => introducing my family to TINA (there is no alternative).

The game is cutting outside assistance (nannies, sitters, au pairs and cleaners) and consolidating our schedules. It’s a test if outside help really helps.

We are three-quarters of the way through a reduction of ~4,000 hours of annual assistance. TINA forces us to “work it out” and gives us an incentive to train the kids.

Now, being pointman on cleaning our toilets has not improved my life.

However, and this is an essential insight, my_life_is_no_worse after I have removed the outside assistance.

This lack of negative impact makes me wonder, “Did the decade-long upward creep of spending actually made my life better?”

In the heat of the preschool years, it most certainly did.

However, my kids aren’t the only ones growing up.

Helping Kids

lexi_11I’ve been playing a game where I greet “challenging” kids by name and try to chat with them.

I am leaning against an urge to avoid them.

I aim for a kind word because it is tough to go into an environment, daily, where you’re not fitting in.

An environment where you could be forgiven for thinking that you are being told that “you” are unacceptable (rather than your behavior).

Some of these kids have no safe haven.


I was asked,

If he was your kid then what would you do?

I’ve been thinking about it => Kindness and Mastery.

I would teach kindness by improving the way I interact with everyone around me => his lack of kindness is likely taught at home.

I would find a way for the kid to demonstrate mastery to someone.


Consistent Role Models => I’m in my kids’ lives and I am modeling the behavior I expect from them.

I’m showing my daughters the sort of husband I would like for them. I’m showing my son how I’d like him to act in the world.

The role model doesn’t need to be you.

In certain domains, it is better if I act through peers & coaches.


Where’s The Win? => for yourself, and your kid

  • Where is the “win” in your life?
  • What are you projecting on to your family?
  • What can your kid excel at?
  • If he’s disengaged then are you fully engaged?
  • Might he be mirroring your relationship?

If I see a challenging kid do something well (sport, kindness, reading) then I go out of my way to give them props.

Around my house, I am quick to point out when my kids do something better than me and I acknowledge my mistakes.


Sports => If you find yourself with an aggressive kid then give them a socially acceptable physical outlet.

Moguls, cliffs, chutes, mountains, camping, water polo, medley swimming, jujitsu, BMX, skateboarding…

…activity is superior to modeling anti-social behavior on electronics.

The activities my kids most enjoy don’t have a scoreboard and we don’t go near judged sports.


For lollapalooza effects, combine the above => demonstrating mastery to a male role model will reduce anti-social behavior in boys.

Our children will get the attention they crave one way, or another.

Enhancing Family Harmony

byrn_kids_2019Here’s how I run my house.

It saves a lot of hassle and reduces resentments that build, then blow, when people feel obligated.

I repeat these mantras, out loud, in front of my wife and kids.

I get buy-in, across generations and between households.


#1 => All family is optional.

Opt-in or opt-out, I’m ok either way.

If you opt-in with a difficult person then best to limit the interaction to short visits where you go to them.


#2 => It’s OK to say no.

When someone blows their stack, it’s often a result of their inability to say “no.”

People that have trouble setting limits need to be constantly reassured that it is OK to set limits!

Likewise, if you happen to have a person in the family that uses social pressure to manipulate others then you may need to find a non-threatening way to remind everyone that it’s OK to say “no.”

For example, my kids like to try-it-on with new babysitters. On the first day, we have an “all parties” meeting and I explain they are likely to test boundaries and it’s OK to say “no.” I also give the sitter the option to call me up and I’ll say “no” for them.

Keep a look out for someone saying “no” to you and your mind starting a dialogue that they are wrong. Slap yourself down and remind yourself that it is OK to say “no!”


#3 => If you can’t stand someone then, chances are, someone can’t stand you.

Impossible, you say?

Maybe you’re perfect but I’m certainly not.

So it’s best if we mutually agree that we’re going to do our best to be polite to each other and get along as best we can.

If we can’t get along then there’s always mantras #1 and #2.


Bonus Tips

A => Don’t invite someone over, get rocked and tell them what you really think of them! How on Earth will that make things better for anyone?

B => Close but not too close => A mantra from the most successful multi-generational family I know. Three adult generations, who get along, do a lot together and always maintain their personal space.

 

Parenting 2019

2019-03-15 08.09.40Ten years in, fatherhood still feels new to me.

At my current rate, I am going to settle into my role by the time they start to leave!

Recently, I took advice from a father, that’s been at it for close to twenty years.

On the subject of family governance, he is the most believable person I know. So, I was listening carefully when he shared ideas about what he wished he knew.

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No judged sports

No phones, alone, in the bedroom

Read: iGen by Twenge and Coddling of the American Mind

Optimize your family’s life for the family, do not create a series of “micro lives” for the individuals => schools, activities, geography, holiday time => make it work together.

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I know a lot of readers have kids even younger than mine (6, 7 and 10).

Somewhere between six and twelve, your family rules are going to get set — one way or another.

There’s a lot of pain involved (for everyone) if you wait until high school to change direction.

Choose wisely and be the brand.