Strategies for Good Times

Here are three areas where I fool myself.

Consider Ruin – I’ve done a good job of addressing the risks identified three years ago. So good that, when I asked myself the question, “What can wipe me out?” I quickly answered, “You’re set amigo.” That’s a top-of-the-market sentiment if I ever heard one.

Having mitigated the hazards of leverage, unemployment, litigation, fraud, risk-seeking peers and insolvency… my main risks are health and accidental death.

Do you know your own?

Stay Variable – I was listening to out-of-state visitors rave about the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

They’re right.

Where they go wrong is assuming that buying a condo will enable them to lock in the emotions of beautiful spring day.

I’m just like them.

We’re all just like them.

Good times give us access to additional finance/capital. We often use this money to capitalize luxuries and time.

Stay variable, stay invested and resist the urge to lock in family overheads.

Rebalance Time – the best deals I’ve done have been where I traded money-for-time.

It takes vigilance to carve time to become world-class at things that interest me. Mastery makes me happy.

Social media, marriage, long-term friendships, work/non-work, self/family – I don’t advocate being in balance – I do advocate making an honest assessment and asking myself if I’m OK with where my time allocation will take my life.

Geographic Reappraisal – Real Estate October 2017

This business insider article about an SF Bay Area house that sold $1 million over asking caught my eye.

Here in Boulder, we’re up 100% over the last seven years. Most of the increase has happened in the last 2.5 years.

Notwithstanding our big local increase, the “coasts” and luxury vacation markets look expensive from here.

The coasts look even more expensive when I factor in…

Schooling – Can I use the local schools? If not then my cost of living jumps by $25,000 per kid, per annum, after tax see the linked article – public, in-state education will save my family $1 million per kid.

Tax Base vs Legacy Liabilities – How heavily taxed is the location? How large are the legacy liabilities (health care and pension) from former city, county and state employees? The large cities of the oldest parts of the US look awful in this regard.

Other costs of living – Cali always surprises me when I run the numbers. I suspect it’s similar in places like New York and Seattle. Costs are 50% more expensive for the rest of my budget.

I am not recommending that you sell. I’ve made a decision to hold through the next recession.

However, the relative trade into “states with great lifestyles” strikes me as attractive — North Carolina, Montana, Idaho and Colorado.

If you are considering taking-the-leap…

Live where you don’t need to leave — can I create a long-term, year-round, local life here?

When I worked in international finance the “top guys” had homes in three or four countries. That kind of overhead has two negative impacts on your life: (1) your ethics are easier to purchase; and (2) you’ll need (at least) an extra decade of full-time office work.

Kill your commute — can I live within an easy walk, or a short ride, of where I spend my time?

When I was thinking about moving to Cali, I plotted my life in Google Maps. I did the same thing for my prospective life in Palo Alto. That gave me two geographic “triangles” and I calculated real estate and family costs inside the triangles.

Finally, surround yourself with people that live a life you’d like to follow. I do best with an active, outdoor life in a location with abundant sunshine.

This last point is important — know what you want — know where you do best.

What Makes Real Estate Assets Cheap – Tame Your FOMO

Because we are hard-wired to be poor investors, your family’s best bet is dollar-cost averaging in low-cost index funds. Consistent investing, over your working life, it’s as close to a sure thing as you can get.

Despite, and because of, the above truth, many people are going to dive into the real estate market.

When the masses get into trouble, you can do very well by applying this post.


Wait for…

FINANCIAL DURESS — Once a decade, debt markets rapidly contract and everyone has a freak out.

DIVORCE — Corporate, professional or personal — vendors will hurt themselves to damage former partners

MOMENTUM — Collectively, our long-term memory is about three years long. The Great recession ran from December 2007 to June 2009. It took three years years for us to “forget” the asset price run up of 2005-2007.

If you don’t have two-out-of-three then wait. Discounts are coming!

Do work…

INFORMATION — I assume the vendor knows far more than me, and probably you

How can we improve our knowledge?

Wait & study — while waiting for the next crisis… live in the location where you’re thinking about buying. The cost of the rental will pay for itself through better information.

Fundamental Value — do this with every large investment (or purchase)…

A./ What is the net cash flow the asset can generate after current taxes, all operating costs and the investment required to keep it producing cash?

B./ What is the total capital required to purchase? Include every_single_dollar.

C./ How does the implied yield (A/B) compare to the yield on 30-year US Treasuries (currently ~3%)?

Example… across 2014 and 2015, I was unsure if I should sell, or hold. The common wisdom was long-term rates were going to rise and prices would stagnate. Tempting to switch asset classes…

I calculated my cash yield was roughly equal to the, then, 30-year rate.

I considered…

1./ My sites were exposed to the upside from Boulder County economic growth

2./ My alternative investments had lower yields than my existing investments

3./ I would crystalize significant deferred tax liabilities

4./ My existing position was good enough to meet my goals

I decided to sell a negative-yielding asset and hold the cash generators.

NOBODY predicted what happened next, long rates fell by a third, and local real estate values rose by 50%.

FWIW, long rates are back up but fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving the market upwards.


When is our margin of safety highest?

  1. Let prices, and transaction volume, fall for two years
  2. Look for a distressed seller
  3. Look for a deal where the cost to own is less than the cost to rent
  4. Confirm your taxed, net cash yield is greater than the 30-year treasury rate

Your FOMO will tell you that the above will NEVER happen.


Since I graduated university (1990), very favorable conditions have happened FIVE different times where I was living.

It takes a long time to build capital and two great deals (in 50 years) will let you meet your goals.

Tame your FOMO and choose wisely!

The Road Ahead

Four recent reads.

A neat concept from Pasricha is to view a week as three bins of time.

  • 168 hours in a week.
  • Splitting into thirds, we get three bins of 56 hours.
  • Most folks drop two bins (112 hours) into sleep, work and commute.
  • Leaving 56 hours for everything else, which happens to be the subject of his book.

The author encourages us to have a look at our allocation. Here’s mine…

  • Sleep and unscheduled personal time – 65 hours
  • Kids — meals, bedtime, homework, housework, dad time and school drops – 40 hours
  • Exercise, strength training, time in nature – 21 hours
  • Admin, taxes, legal, finances, writing – 15 hours
  • Travel, Driving – 15 hours
  • Open, Reading – 12 hours

When I bring energetic action, time and expert instruction to an area of my life… I get results.

If it’s not happening then it’s not a priority.

Better to tell the truth — especially to myself!

Younger Next Year was written for Baby Boomers but I found it entertaining and useful.

Around 2030, I’m going to have a 40-hour slice of time land in my lap. Leaving my desk job in 2000, I have been through much of the author’s story. What I haven’t dealt with is aging and decay!

This winter, I learned to ski well. Learning to ski was humbling — I found myself lacking in absolute power, power endurance and quickness. Add that experience to the gradual deterioration of my vision. Aging and decay!

Through an explanation of Harry’s Rules, the book reminded me of other potential gaps in my life — connection, commitment, passion.

“Kids” have taken a big slice of time in my forties. Because we’re likely to have another 15,000 hours to come, I’ve been working on up-skilling everyone.

Some day the “kid” slice will be gone. My marriage will remain.

The two books by Gray (as well as The Soul of the Marionette) were fabulous and challenged the narrative my local community tells itself.

When I’m doing, connected and engaged…

…I don’t overthink any passing emotional state.

It’s worth making an effort to fill-the-gaps.

It wasn’t enough

When I follow my own advice, life is better.

At the back of my mind, especially with kids, I have a desire for life to be “easy.”

My desire makes me chuckle because my “easy days” are often boring.

Based on eight years of parenting… easy is not going to happen so focusing on “better” is a smarter option.

From time to time my appetites come up with ideas to make my life _even_ better.

  • These ideas might be small — five beers, two burgers, large fries and couple desserts
  • They might be large — a vacation property with a cost of ownership that doubles my core cost of living
  • Many fall in between — clothes, vacations, sports equipment, alcoholic beverages, risk-seeking friends

These desires pop up as an emotion associated with pleasure, excitement or release.

Certain choices, situations and people are associated with bad outcomes.

Despite an association with pleasure, excitement or release… many of my desires are highly-likely to lead me to bad outcomes.

To tame my appetites, I pause and consider the last time I gave into that specific appetite…

I ask myself…

Was it enough?

It was never enough. Not even close!

I remember always wanting more, even while I was getting what I wanted.

My desires are frequent, but my specific desires are fleeting.

They come and they go.

If it wasn’t enough then maybe I should find a better way to live….

…and that’s the system that I’ve been sharing.


What’s your system?

Is it working?


2016-11-26-12-06-54Sleep, exercise, kindness and childcare are the foundation of my marriage.

Here’s what works for us…

  • Optimize so every member of our family sleeps well
  • Train someone to put our kids to sleep so Mom & Dad’s nervous system get a scheduled 24-hour reset on our weekly date night(s)
  • Exercise the kids
  • Use the same routine — save energy for managing inevitable surprises

As a couple, the payoff is huge… more sex (!), better moods, less bickering, better body composition, more energy, better cognition…

If you’re looking for romance then start by improving everyone’s sleep.

2016-10-23-16-05-28Saying “no” to sleep deprivation is a difficult — you might need to say “no” to pets, friends, family, extracurricular activities.

2016-10-04-18-06-32We have a family sleep system.

Our kids (4, 5 and 8) nap on all non-school days. The minimum acceptable nap is 60-minutes alone in a dark, cool room.

  • Routine
  • Separate Rooms
  • Blackout Shades

The nap gives everyone an emotional reset and splits the day in half. Often, we need a fresh start!

Sleep is non-negotiable. Obviously, we can’t force the kids to fall asleep but we can exercise them, model the desired behavior and insist on their staying in bed without electronics.

We have colored digital clocks and everyone knows to stay in their rooms until the “Green Seven.”


Once again, consider the opposite of the bullets (above). If that sounds like your household then you have tremendous upside!

Regime Change

2016-11-24-19-02-19A friend asked for my thoughts about “what he should do” regarding the changes that are about to happen within the US Government.

My quick answer was “do nothing.”

2016-11-25-16-16-29..but there is a lot we can do.

I spent the days after the election teaching my kids to read, helping with math and working on the family’s open water skills.

My advice to “do nothing” is based on the following…

#1 – if you are adjusting strategy more than once a decade then you don’t have an effective strategy // if you truly feel the need to change then there is a structural problem within your family plan

#2 – you should consider tweaking strategy when your life changes (not the ruling party) – unemployment, impending retirement, new dependents, less dependents, major illness, wealth transfers // external surprises are going to happen all the time — spend your emotional energy preparing yourself to stay-the-course, not feeding your fears

#3 – the best time to sell high-quality assets is “never”

2016-11-25-16-31-59#4 – all the emotional energy and financial wealth spent on elections is better allocated to the next generation of your family

#5 – the richest people in America are about to feel a whole lot richer // stay invested and, if you sell to rich people then, raise your prices

#6 – with Elaine Chao’s appointment, the pieces are falling in place for a major domestic infrastructure initiative — this strikes me as a whole lot better (for everyone) than nation building via Asian land wars

#7 – don’t build capacity, or leverage, to the peak // the next recession is likely to be large

#8 – there will be excellent buying opportunities in all our futures // I’ve been researching my next major purchase since before the last recession

2016-11-26-10-29-40The hive-mind has been wrong all year. Glaringly wrong!

I ask myself, “Have they ever been right?!”

Spending time infecting our minds with media noise is the worst thing we can do for clear thinking. Turn off the media, learn persuasion psychology and study history.

Know that the largest gains in your family’s human capital come from self-improvement, ever stronger marriages and educating the next generation.

  • Financially – stay the course
  • Individually – incremental positive change