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.

Wisdom

2016-06-20 09.38.59Last month, Dr. John wrote an excellent blog about medical wisdom. I’d urge everyone to read it. I took that post one step further and read Ending Medical Reversal, which was recommended in the article. If you want to make better life decisions then you need to make time to read and consider the book. At a minimum, ensure that the book is read by a leader within your family, firm or practice.

Aside from the specific examples, which are fascinating, I hope you take the following away from the book.

2016-06-18 08.42.46-2HUMILITY – medicine is a global field where we have tens of thousands of our brightest humans spending trillions of dollars. The book makes are strong case that 30 to 40% of that expenditure provides no net benefit to humanity.

The authors lay out numerous examples where billions are blown for no net benefit. It is a wonderful reminder of our shared capacity for irrationality and misjudgment.

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2016-06-18 08.44.11PARACHUTES – one of my favorite parts of the book is when they explain that there aren’t a whole lot of parachutes left in medicine.

What does this mean?

If all of humanity has to jump out of an airplane then nearly all of us are all going to do dramatically better if we’re giving a parachute.

A parachute is an intervention with big positive outcomes for a large slice of the population.

What are parachutes that you can apply in your life?

They probably include items like: exercise, germ theory, antibiotics, vaccines, not smoking and seat belts. In a capitalistic society, there’s a clear role for government to play in keeping society focused on the big ticket items.

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2016-06-18 08.33.54EXPECTATIONS – let’s say you do your part and follow the “parachutes,” what’s a reasonable expectation from modern medicine?

Keeping in mind that 30-40% of modern interventions are bunk, I was left with an expectation that most procedures will usually make most people a little better.

That’s it.

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If we have the courage to consider:

  • widespread error
  • limited number of high-value options
  • realistic expectations

then we might find that there are new resources to focus on parachutes in other areas of our society. The cost of the status quo is often hidden from view.

There are plenty of good ideas: universal basic health services, early-childhood programs, pre-K, drug treatment, parent coaching and financial literacy training (see Kristof at the NYT). Other authors prefer infrastructure projects.

Whatever your preference, it’s clear that uninformed choices can waste valuable resources.

 

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A final note about change.

Even clearly harmful treatments can take a decade to exit the system (plenty of examples in the book). Strangely, I took this as a message of hope.

You might not be able to reform the healthcare system but you can certainly make better decisions within your own life.

Keep at it.

Ultimately, the truth wins.

Small, Negative Suprises

Sneaky SquirrelPart of being human is a tendency to over-react to small losses.

As this error has cost my family (big) money, I’m going to share a case study that illustrates the point.

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One of my jobs is to manage a small portfolio of local real estate. From time-to-time items come up that need to be sorted. Each of those items represents a small dose of unexpected pain.

In most years, there will be a dozen items that require action. Total cost of these items is on the order of one-month’s living expenses.

To give an idea on scale of the “pain”, the portfolio is worth ten-year’s living expenses and, annually, it generates cash equivalent to seven-month’s living expenses.

Combining the above, you could calculate that the portfolio has a cash yield of ~5% on net realizable value.

When compared to all of the alternatives, this investment is one of the best places to invest.

But the random, little bits of pain hurt — jammed sewer lines, flooded basements, six-foot high marijuana plants, missing tenants, leaking toilets… none of this is unusual, or unexpected.

The small doses of pain hurt so much I’ve been considering selling the portfolio and switching into a less attractive investment.

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To escape the small and random pain, I am willing to accept certain, large and immediate pain! A discount on market value and payment of significant tax liabilities. The total cost would be more than two-year’s living expenses.

In a fantastic investment, with less attractive alternatives, I’m willing to pay 25x more than the cost of the pain to make it go away.

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Rather than pay two-years living expenses to make the pain go away, I’ve hired a property management company to insulate me from the pain.

Annual cost is 0.6% of net realizable value and less than a month’s living expenses.

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Beware of quick reactions triggered by small, negative surprises.

They are often irrational.

 

 

Living The Plantpower Way

2015-05-03 18.22.19Rich Roll and Julie Piatt have a new book, The Plantpower Way.

I loved it.

The book reflects a way of life Rich & Julie are seeking to bring to their marriage and family.

At it’s heart, “The Way” is similar to what I’m seeking to offer my own family.

However, my home life doesn’t involve tranquil meals after a serene afternoon shopping at the local farmer’s market…

So, I caught myself muttering there’s no way their life’s like that

Then I started laughing.

I was laughing because their reality doesn’t matter and, like Rich, my reality is far removed from the craziness of years past.

The book is filled with proven advice:

  • Plants are a foundation of nutritional health
  • Weight management is linked to veggie consumption
  • To get your family to eat better, involve your spouse/kids in menu selection and food preparation
  • Be the (nutritional) change you want to see in the world (and your home)

If you’re already preparing meals then this is a must-have resource. The recipes are simple, quick to prepare and taste great.

If you’re not preparing meals then start by creating a habit of eating real food. After 20 years of better choices, I arrived at three basic meals. Nutritional liberation doesn’t require complexity.

If, like me, you find yourself intimidated by the thought of 100% compliance then remember weak implementation of plant-based nutrition offers strong results. 

Rich did an AMA that lays out the basics of his philosophy. His humility, tolerance and lack of dogma shine through. It’s a refreshing read.

Practicalities:

  • Double all the recipes – Whenever I fire up the stove, I want to get four to five days worth of whatever I’m cooking. Actually, my wife’s been doing the cooking. You’ll need someone to take the lead in your home.
  • It is not about the goji berries – health benefits flow from replacing sugar/starch with veggies. You can be plantpower’d via CostCo.
  • What’s your goal? What are you seeking to achieve in your life?
    • Weight management? Focus on cranking up the veggies
    • Emotional stability? Be the good in the world
    • Fame? Focus on goodness under your own roof
    • Serenity? Focus on relentless simplification

Understand why you are motivated to make-the-change.

If you can transcend your (food) choices then you will have a roadmap to apply throughout your life. Letting go (of animal products) may be similar to releasing ourselves from other habits.

It takes courage to live an open life.

Respect to Rich & Julie.

Structuring A Family Pension

Ax_iglooThree questions for your next family meeting, or your financial adviser:

  1. How long of a retirement should we plan to fund?
  2. As a couple, what is our joint life expectancy?
  3. As a family, how do we invest considering our collective life expectancy?

Today, I’m going to take you into the future of your retirement, your children’s retirement and your grandchildren’s retirement.

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Retirement

If I make it to 63 then my wife will be 55. At that point, there is a 50% chance that at least once of us will last another 31 years. Here’s a calculator that you can use.

It’s worth repeating – as a couple we have a joint life expectancy of 31 years when I reach 63 years old (17 years from now). Today, my wife and I have a joint life expectancy of 47 years.

That’s a heck of a long time for inflation to act on our cost of living.

Inflation of 2.5% for 47 years brings each $10,000 of current expenditure up to $31,917.

In other words, despite being middle aged, our core cost of living is likely to triple across our lifetime.

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Children

The joint life expectancy of my daughters (6 and 2) is 90 years. Their cost of living is going up 8-10x over their lives.

Can I insure against the risk that my surviving children run out of money late in life?

Let’s look at a case study.

At the end of last year, I was considering an expensive vacation. I couldn’t justify spending the money on myself and the calculation that follows is part of the reason.

As a family, we can make the decision to invest $10,000 per annum. There would be no impact on my quality of life.

What could it do for my children?

  • $10,000 per annum, invested for 47 years, 5% rate of return is $1,781,194
  • $1,781,194 invested for an additional 13 years at 5% is $3,358,707
  • Over $3 million in 60 years from redirecting my vacation budget

Let’s talk in 2015 dollars. I have no idea about future inflation, let’s assume 2.5%.

  • The $3.4 million will be worth a lot less in 2075 than today
  • $3,358,707 discounted back to 2015 at 2.5% is $763,379

In case I’ve lost you.

  • The cost is foregoing $10,000 of annual expenditure for the rest of my marriage.
  • The benefit is my survivors share a 30-year retirement income with a current purchasing power of $49,658 per annum.

The payment is calculated with 5% rate of return, over 30 years, with $763,379 starting value.

It’s never “too late” for compounding to work for your family. I’m closing in on 50 and can leave a valuable form of insurance to my children by changing my current habits.

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Grandkids

Run the exact same scenario except I have 85 years to grow the capital.

  • Invest $10,000 per annum for 47 years
  • Roll up for another 38 years (85 years total)
  • Discount back 85 years at 2.5%
  • How much income for the surviving grandkids (in retirement)?

30 years of $90,705 per annum in 2015 dollars ($1.4 million of present value, 5% rate of return).

It’s worth the effort to learn finance and tweak your wealth behaviors.

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This post inspired by Nick Murray’s book, Behavioral Investment Counseling

Link to a google doc that let’s you tinker with my assumptions. Make a copy before editing.

What I Know But Cannot Prove

sxm_beachI came across a finance blog asking about the limits of statistical proof in the world of investing.

It reminded me of an old surgeon who shared, “Half of what I learned in med school turned out to be wrong.”

So I ask you…

What do YOU know but can’t prove?

You may talk about your faith.

But for me, the lesson runs deeper.

What is the ONE thing of which I can be certain but can’t prove?

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I start by asking myself, what did my grandparents believe that we now know is false?

I came up with smoking and trans fats. You’ll probably get a more exciting list!

Anyhow, the lesson isn’t to switch margarine brands…

The lesson is to be skeptical with my own beliefs.

I can be certain that some of what I now know will turn out to be incorrect for my grandchildren.

However, I can’t prove which of my current facts are incorrect.

I can only be certain that some of my knowledge is wrong.

So I should be careful when I find wise people on both sides of an issue.

I might be best served by acting as if they were both right.

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This article influenced by Russell: Sceptical Essays (first edition 1928!).

The Lindy Effect is a good way to sort knowledge. The longer an idea lives, the greater its life expectancy.

Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth

Happy_EverythingI came across this week’s title via a book recommended in The Reformed Broker’s twitter feed. The author is Nick Murray, who’s been a financial adviser for longer than I’ve been on the planet!

Here’s a link to the book on Nick’s website.

The book is an easy read and the first pass through won’t take you long. It’s a good one to share with your family and discuss. My key take aways…

Volatility isn’t loss – while emotionally painful, adverse movements in asset prices only hurt me if I sell. So long as I can hold through the bottom, price movements have limited bearing on my life.

Dividends are indexed income that comes from appreciating tax-deferred assets. This point really hit home. Sample yields from my portfolio:

  • US Equity – VTSAX => 1.82%
  • US Bond – VBTLX => 2.00%
  • Boulder Real Estate => 3.30%

Both the equity and the real estate have an option embedded via the potential for capital appreciation. The value of the asset can increase (or decrease), thereby increasing my total return on investment.

Nick would say the true risk on my portfolio lies at the far end because a long-term holding of bond-type assets has zero capacity for capital appreciation – I receive return of capital, taxable income and exposure to default risk.

Dollar Cost Averaging with a lump sum is only superior when there’s a crash within 2 to 3 years of receipt of funds. Very similar to the advice Vanguard gave a friend of mine and something I hadn’t fully considered. My lump sum article was written at 5.5 years into a bull market and my holdback capital has an investment rate of 2 to 3 years.

If your goal is long-term wealth creation then you should be close to 100% equity – this is similar to Warren Buffett’s advice for his daughter’s portfolio (90% US Equity index and 10% short-term government bonds). Nick makes the point that dividend income is indexed and we can afford to ride the volatility.

Protect your family by holding enough short-term securities so you don’t have to sell into the inevitable crashes and let long-term compounding do its work.

He also has a great example of the change in total dividends and total profitability across long periods when the market “doesn’t move.” Even when share prices are stagnant, the world makes forward progress.

The book contains very little advice on investment selection because Nick’s take home point is Behavior Drives 90% of Investor Return.

This mirrors my advice to athletes – until you can do, what you do doesn’t matter. Nick’s point is we focus too much on the type of Investment and not enough on making ourselves better Investors.

The final chapter was the best – Optimism is the only Realism. The pessimists in our lives will claim that their views are based in reality. While fear, anger and pessimism are supported by our media, Nick makes the point that long-term optimism is the only position supported by the facts.

Lots to discuss with my family and I recommend it to your own.