All Things Money – Roundup

Some interesting things this week:

Budgets are Sexy has another installment of “Would you rather”. This time on the interesting topic of fame vs. fortune.

This has to be the coolest idea I have seen in awhile from the PF blogosphere. I have an idea for a documentary I have been kicking around for awhile as w I look forward to this one!

Wise Bread on How not to be a wage slave, how to git-r-done on an airplane and college fund tips. All great articles (as usual)

Get Rich Slowly has an interesting reader story about the relationship between nosy family members and personal finance

Financial Samurai has an article on How To Always Feel At Home While On Vacation

Don’t Do This!!! (but if you have to read this article first) How to borrow from your 401(k)

 

Be Well

-WR

The Hero’s Journey to Financial Independence [Kindle Edition] is free for 24 hours

If you own a Kindle (and even if you don’t) don’t hesitate to grab a free copy of the new book The Hero’s Journey to Financial Independence:

Free for 24 hours!

 

This small book offers a unique approach to the subject of personal finance. The Hero's Journey to Financial Independence takes the reader through the steps necessary to develop strong, enduring money habits and to avoid the pitfalls many of us face. My intention was to create a fun, easy to read volume full of rock-solid financial wisdom and real-world advice. It is based in part on Joseph Campbell's monomyth as described in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The hero’s journey has been an inspiration to writers for over half a century. The Matrix, Lion King and Harry Potter all use a form of this framework. Most notably, it inspired George Lucas to envision Star Wars as a mythological hero tale.

 

-WR

 

 

 

 

 

What Is A U.S. Company?

 

As we head into the final furlong of the debt debate it may be perplexing that our economy seems to be doing so poorly in terms of housing, joblessness, consumer confidence and myriad other ‘coal mine canaries’. I thought it would be interesting to understand why the stock market seems to be riding so high.

What do the following organizations have in common?

3M
Alcoa
American Express
AT&T
Bank of America
Boeing
Caterpillar
Chevron Corporation
Cisco Systems
Coca-Cola
DuPont
ExxonMobil
General Electric
Hewlett-Packard
The Home Depot
Intel
IBM
Johnson & Johnson
JPMorgan Chase
Kraft Foods
McDonald’s
Merck
Microsoft
Pfizer
Procter & Gamble
Travelers
United Technologies Corporation
Verizon Communications
Wal-Mart
Walt Disney

If you answered that they are all American companies you’d be right, technically. There is a slight problem with these companies in particular though. They happen to be the 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. When newsies say “The Dow is up” or “The Dow is down” what they are saying is the average price of these 30 companies stock has gone up or down. (The actual calculation is slightly more complicated, it is the sum of the prices of all 30 stocks divided by the ‘Dow Divisor‘, a magic number used to take into account company changes such as stock splits or spinoff companies but the effect is the same.)

So what’s the problem?

When you read or hear something like this: “U.S. blue-chip stocks are riding high and the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished its best month of the year.” You’d be inclined to infer that the health of the U.S. Economy is somehow tied to the Dow. You’d be wrong. While all of the companies are technically American organizations, many of them are actually multinationals with a majority of employees and sales abroad.

Things that make you say MMM

When a company such as 3M (Originally called the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company. You can’t get more apple pie and baseball than that) has only 34% of sales in the U.S you could say, “Hey, great. They are selling stuff on the global market.” When you come to find out that only 33% of their employees are in the U.S. then you might start to wonder if they should really qualify as an American company at all, much less be listed prominently on the DOW.

 

Caution:Rant

Perhaps this is why the DOW is sky high yet people can’t find jobs or buy houses around the country. Incidentally, how does the U.S. Federal Reserve lending $45 billion to european banks help U.S. citizens? Many bankers and the people inside our own Fed are increasingly proving to be dirty, despicable people. Banks got a big bailout yet won’t lend to small businesses or American people. Maybe we shoulda let them fail.

/Rant

Which other companies on that list should perhaps not be there?

What should we use instead to measure the overall health of American enterprise?

When Tim Geithner says “We’re almost out of runway” it might be time to be very concerned.

 

please let me know what you think.

 

Should I Plan For A Market Correction?

Is a major market correction headed our way?

What should I do about it?

What is a market correction, anyway?

Why is it going to happen?

 

Well, I believe there are 3 big reasons why we are going to see a major correction sometime soon.

 

But first, let’s answer the big question. What exactly is a market correction? In pure ‘big finance’ terms a market correction is a drop of 5-20% in stock values in a relatively short amount of time. A quick market dip of sorts. Not quite as quick as the flash crash but not nearly as long as a true bear market. I like the term ‘correction’ here because it implies, usually rightly so, that stock prices are artificially high and need to be corrected to their fundamental values.

For an idea of what these fundamental values are and how to find them take a look at “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham.

For our purposes just suffice it to say that there has been a rapid run-up in stock prices that are not driven by the values of the underlying securities. said differently. Stock indexes are high because of undue optimism, government fiddling and other stuff that is not based on the actual value of the companies whose stocks make up the index.

So what are the 3 reasons a market correction is imminent?

1. June 30 marks the end of QE2. QE2 is the government policy of quantitative easing that was essentially the Federal Reserve’s program to buy a ton ($600 billion= a ton)  of  bonds. this was supposed to grease the skids by holding down long term interest rate in effect making mortgages cheaper for people to get and reduce the cost of new projects for businesses. The big problem here is that if this hail mary pass gets fumbled, the result will be that inflation will kick in and kill the fledgling recovery. To use another metaphor, the Fed is pushing the economic jalopy one last time hoping that businesses and consumers will pop the clutch and drive off into the sunset.


2. The smart money is heading to safer ground. What are billionaires doing? they are putting their assets in currency (i.e cold, hard cash). This is a fear/wait and see what is going to happen response. Cash is not a good investment because inflation will eat it up. Everyone knows this. Billionaires know this and are still fleeing to cash. Why? Perhaps they know something.
3. How are house prices still going down? Impossible! Interest rates are at an all-time low and there is a glut of empty homes on the market. Home prices and interest rates are low, right? Not quite so fast. We are actually nowhere near the bottom in the U.S. housing market. Check out the Case Shiller.

Case Shiller

Home Values Index Case Shiller

The collusion and corruption that artificially inflated home values has only been barely touched so far. After 1999 home prices took off not because homes started to become so well built and wonderful (quite the opposite) It was because incentives were in place for banks to screw us and politicians to look the other way. Unfortunately, Our fine public servants and regulators seem to still be in bed with Wall Street. Sad. Home prices will need to get to pre-1999 levels before growth in this sector picks up again. The economics of this are rather simple. The only way a middle-class family can afford to buy a home with the new, stricter lending rules in place is to buy a cheaper one. Requiring 20% down, for example, is good policy since it puts the buyers skin in the game and requires financial discipline to achieve. The downside for now is that 20% of $400,000 is $80,000. Way more than most families have at their disposal. With job security looking shaky for many and dropping prices all around people are afraid to get in. Even folks with the requisite 20% down and interested in buying have an incentive to wait for the bottom.

So, as an investor, what are my options?

It really depends on how you personally read the tea leaves. If you think that there will in fact be a major overall stock market drop of 20% or more then rebalancing your 401k/IRA dollars into cash or cash equivalents in the short term might be prudent. There are 2 major things coming up that are sure to create uncertainty in the marketplace: QE2 ending in late June and the debt ceiling being reached early August. Shifting from equities to cash for a few months might not be a bad idea.

But what if stocks keep going up? What if you are wrong and the DOW goes to 15,000?
Rule # 1: As soon as you opt out of any investment it will take off like the Space Shuttle (or at least appear to). Right now stocks are close to an all-time high. If you stay fully invested in the stock market (assuming your positions are in index funds) you could possibly eek out another 2-4 %.

If the DOW climbs steadily to 15K then I’ll eat my hat.

 

If a correction happens it will be brief, don’t try to time the bottom since the bounce back up will be sudden. get back into equities and ride it all the way back up.

 

In the 2004 Berkshire Hathaway chairman’s letter, Warren buffet quipped, “Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.” (emphasis mine)

 

Thoughts?

WR

Personal Finance Snapshot

Some interesting things going on in the world. Gotta keep your eyes open or you might miss them. Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits:

 

1. Why is this even legal? O.K. Not PF but damn! How can that be kosher?

2. Does it hurt when you hit the debt ceiling? Why yes. Yes it does.

3. I have a BIG pile waiting for a place to call home.

4. Don’t think you qualify to refinance? Think again.

 

Let me know what you think.

-WR

Worthwild Financial Snapshot: Cinco de Mayo Edition

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

First, Let me dazzle you with my Margarita Recipe:

2 Ounces of  freshly Squeezed lime juice (Pulpy is good)
1 oz triple sec
2 oz tequila ( Get a bottle of Dos Gusanos, or Two Worm Tequila and share with a friend)

Ice, Kosher salt and a few wide rimmed glasses.

Ok, Now that’s better. Let’s do a Worthwild Roundup. Here are a few stories and articles I found worthwild this week:

1. SCORE blog: Successful Entrepreneurs Share Stories.

My favorite line: Self-employed individuals have a certain entrepreneurial spirit that’s hard to describe. But, you can see it in his or her facial expressions and hear it in their voices. Once you catch the bug, it is hard to think of anything other than launching your business. How true

2. Budgets Are Sexy: Help a Reader- pay off student loans or start saving

My Advice?: Get moving on building an (at least) 6 month contingency fund. This is not a matter of current need, local situation or any other fleeting reason. It is a matter of philosophy. Building and maintaining a contingency fund forces you to make tough value choices and build enormously powerful lifelong habits. You’ll realize that having this critical safety net allows you to make better choices about almost everything else in your financial life. Try to refinance your student loans to lower rates + longer term. One thing different about student loan debt than most other forms is that *hopefully* your earning power will climb over time.

3. Consumerist: I am so glad to see an American company be so profitable, Wait! What? http://con.st/10018507

4. Deal Seeking Mom: Lots of coupons going on!

5. Get Rich Slowly: Pack Smart To Save Money

Great article. My personal tips are to pack sandwiches, water and a bag of veggies for long road trips and picnic instead of restaurant. You get on the road quicker and can spend the time walking and stretching your legs (instead of sitting in a booth at a Shoneys). You save a ton of cash, too!

 

I posited my opinion on who should get the Bin Laden bounty

 

Let me know what you think.

The Wisdom of Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet is amazing. He is one part folksy, one part frugal and all parts genius. Anyone interested in achieving financial independence would benefit from his sage advice. Anyone interested in investing their lot successfully would benefit from reading a book he considers to be the best treatise on investing ever written The Intelligent Investor

Anyone who would like an annual insight into his methods, successes and failures would do very well by reading his annual letter to the stockholders of his company, Berkshire Hathaway.

I never, ever read stuff like this. Annual report to shareholders? ugh. Like reading the instruction manual for a microwave. (Why do they even have these. Should say, “If you do not know how to use a microwave, please return it to the store or ask someone to help you”.)

This one is different. Buffet’s annual letter to shareholder’s is the investment world’s Steve Jobs Keynote. Instead of dropping the cloth from this years i-Thingy, It is a look into the thoughts and philosophy of the worlds greatest investor. It is an anomaly. A shareholder letter should not be easy to read and funny. These literary vessels are supposed to obfuscate performance and hide the CEO’s mistakes, right? Instead, Buffet’s letter is clever, open and even whimsical. Full of interesting ideas and quotes with impact.

In his discussion of  Clayton Homes, Builder of manufactured homes (Trailers), Buffet discusses the plight of the American homes industry. In just a few paragraphs he sums up the conundrum. While Fannie, Freddie and the morally bankrupt mortgage industry were populating their stick-built homes with warm bodies (only to dice up the loans and resell them as commodities) , Clayton was in the unenviable position of selling and mortgaging small affordable dwellings without the help of the big government backed organizations. Why bother helping a working class family into a starter home they could readily afford when we could lure them into a McMansion and profit twice! First when the loan is sold and again when the home is eventually seized. The collusion and corruption we saw in the entire real estate sector (including the U.S. government involvement) is legendary. We will be reading about this era as a warning for a long time to come.

Buffet offers an unorthodox and outstanding solution:

“Our country’s social goal should not be to put families into the house of their dreams, but rather to put them into a house they can afford.”

Well said. My wife and I started off in a starter home, not a manufactured one but a structure 75 years old and small enough to be called a shed if looked at with squinted eyes. This was during the boom times and every lender I spoke to ridiculed me for not leveraging more. We bought that home (still own it as a rental) for a little over what I earned in 1 year. I used an online calculator that told me a conservative choice would be in the 400-420k range. I knew that was crazy. We found a home for 100k, drove used cars and worked hard to make it just right and never looked back. I am not suggesting that I made no mistakes (ask me about my WorldCom investments) but I do assert that your big choices need to be made using your own wisdom, intuition and clarity. A Bank and a Real Estate Agent will not have your best interest in mind when telling you what you can afford.

He is just as wise in summing up the subsequent credit crunch:

“Borrowers then learn that credit is like oxygen. When either is abundant, its presence goes unnoticed. When either is missing, that’s all that is noticed.”

We should all have cash in our portfolio. This is not just a contingency fund that waits for us to make mistakes, it also awaits our moment to seize a unique opportunity. To Zig when everyone else is screaming “ZAG!”.

“By being so cautious in respect to leverage, we penalize our returns by a minor amount. Having loads of liquidity, though, lets us sleep well.”

In short, Buffet runs his enterprise just as one should run his or her home and life. Keep an eye on value, be frugal, be optimistic in spite of the naysayers around you.

Here is the link to the letter: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2010ltr.pdf

Let me know what you think.

-WR

The Cult of frugality: Part II

Frugality is no longer a fad. (That ship has sailed)

Fads of yesterday

Fads come and go

The most recent wave of the fad of frugality is on it’s way out. This fad comes upon us when jobs are scarce and people are scared. Now that things are looking a bit rosier I urge you not to let it go. Donate your Crocs, Uggs and lowrider jeans but hang on to your frugality.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average  is hovering above 12,000. Consumer spending is up. Credit card interest rates are up as well according to this CNN Money article. It seems that the credit card reforms left out the most obvious culprit in the ‘debt is the slavery of the free‘ equation: Interest Rates.
One of my favorite radio programs is APM Marketplace. Kai Ryssdal, besides having a pretty cool name, puts on an amazingly informative and entertaining half hour money talk. Today the Marketplace team reported that credit card use has risen while savings rates have dropped. Hmmm. I remember wondering last march how many people would retain their frugal mindset. What do these numbers seem to tell us? It is too early to tell but I think most of us have or will soon revert to previous habits of spending. If your pre-meltdown habits were frugal, great. If you, like millions of others, got caught up in the spend-for-all then you should probably hide your plastic right about now. Couple the past few years of recession fatigue with good news of the economy and an early spring and you could be in for some difficult consumer temptations.

Spring is near!

Now, it is true that we need consumers (you and me) to go out and spend. Buying stuff is the engine of capitalism. Just make sure that you are building your contingency fund and investing in your long term wealth first. There is no benefit to our society when unhinged spending leads to a personal financial disaster. One of my all time favorite quotes is from public speaker and author Jim Rohn:
“I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me. ”
- Jim Rohn
It is important to understand that while it may seem like there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between one and the other, The Stock Market is not The Economy. Experts use the economic indicators and stock indices to predict the future but are often wrong in their prognostication. The only relatively sure path to financial independence is to practice the fundamentals:
1. Give your money or  time to a worthy cause (here’s a good one: Lovedrop)
2. Be frugal
3. Build a contingency fund
4. Park your money in well-balanced investment vehicles
5. Strive to find your bliss and follow it

If you will do these things for me, I will do the same for you.

-WR

btw- I have a ton of Silly Bands, real cheap, if anyone is interested…

Auld Lang Syne and A Financially Independent New Year!

Happy New Year!

This day tends to force us to reflect on the past and as a result, there is no shortage of top ten lists out there. We have instant access to the top 10 movies, games, news items, victories, blunders,the sexiest, the ugliest, the best dressed, etc…

I wanted to take a different tack and focus much more on the coming year. In that vein I have chosen one area of reflection and several more items to help plan for an amazing 2011. I hope you find these ideas useful.

The Past:

Consumerist has a tidy list of their most read stories of 2010. Since I got a Best Buy gift card for xmas, this article popped out as one of my favorites. They are all good as there are few things more satisfying than hearing about a little guy beating a corporate Goliath. As their tag-line reads: shoppers bite back.

OK, enough about the past…

The Future:

J.Money at Budgets are Sexy posted a great looking forward article.

Entrepreneurship:

Is this the year you are going to get that business started?

Now would be a great time to visit SCORE.

What is SCORE you ask?

SCORE, Counselors to America’s small business, is a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small business start, grow and succeed nationwide. SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

As I mentioned in The Hero with a Million Dollars, SCORE is all about finding a mentor to help you with your business.

Should you incorporate? Form a multi-member LLC? Go in as a Sole Proprietor? Should I set up in my home state or in Nevada? Delaware?

These are questions every potential entrepreneur faces from day one.I have 2 things that helped me and could serve as the launching point for your great idea:

1. Get a copy of Limited Liability Companies for Dummies by Jennifer Reuting and (after you read it) head over to her site: MyLLC to set yours up.

2. Don’t be afraid to Ask the Business Lawyer about specific issues related to your chosen endeavor. Nina Kaufman has tons of excellent articles, a free E-zine and if you are considering a partnership of any kind, you absolutely need to check out The Entrepreneurs Prenup.

Investing:

1. Open an account with Vanguard (Disclaimer: I have zero affiliation with Vanguard other than some excellent investments). They have the best low fee mutual funds in the industry. Whether you are starting a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA or a Tax advantaged Bond fund, you should be working with Vanguard. Do you want to learn about ETF’s? Check this out. It is the single best overview of ETF’s I could find anywhere.

2. Do you already have an IRA? Don’t worry, you still have until April 15th, 2011 to max out your 2010 contributions. Nice!

3. Pick up a copy of The Richest Man in Babylon and check out my review of The Elements of Investing. Both of these small, easy to read books should be on your bookshelf.

Taxes:

1. Get a copy of Sandy Botkin’s Lower Your Taxes: Big Time. It is an eye opener and will pay for itself in the first chapter.

Frugality:

1. Check out inexspensively.com and clean out your cupboards already!

Giving Back:

I believe giving should start at home, in your neighborhood and in your community. Give to your church, your school, your firehouse. Buy local when possible and help employ one of your neighbors. The following organizations are amazing in their creativity and cause. Give till it hurts then give some more, you will never regret it! Here are my favorite charitable groups:

1. There is nothing quite like Operation Homefront. Helping out those who bravely and tirelessly defend our freedoms is possibly the best kind of giving back.

2. The Giving Effect:

from The Giving Effect’s about page: Most of us have lives filled with things we don’t use — shoes, food, clothes, computers, and more. At the same time, thousands of non-profits and civic-minded people are struggling to get basic items to people in their communities. We see an opportunity to connect these groups together.

What a great concept!!!

3. LoveDrop:

You’ve heard of micro-transactions right? Small amounts of money from a large enough pool of people can add up to some huge results. Well, Love Drop is a micro-charity concept. With as little as $1 a month, you assist the love drop team in helping one person or family a month.

-WR

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