Triple Whammy – Tenth And Last Anniversary

Two days ago I looked forward to writing this post to celebrate significant progress in my recovery from my Triple Whammy of August 2011. Back then, three major events imploded then depleted my net worth. My net worth has not regained those levels, but within the last 18 months my net worth improved enough for me to begin relaxing anxieties. One bureaucratic mistake two days ago severely threatens enough aspects of my life that I do not, and to some extent can not relay them here. This blog, however, is about personal finance; and not just personal finance but personal finance that challenges taboos to some extent. It’s easy to tell the stories when the news is good. The lessons from when news is bad can be more valuable.

As someone put it,
If you want to learn about sex, don’t ask someone who has always been celibate.”
(Variations on that theme can be tuned to your needs.
I know I can think of several alternatives.)

Hindsight is handy. In 2011 my bad news seem to come from several directions, each largely uncoupled from each other. Back then a friend researched instead of just reacted to the parts of my news. As they put it, I was hit by a perfect storm of bad luck. The odds that someone is bound to have five dice rolls all go their way is about the same as someone having those dice rolls go the wrong me. (Bad) lucky me.

Ironically, this happened after the Great Recession began. I’d just released my book on personal finance (Dream. Invest. Live.). After the initial global market impact, my portfolio began to rise because three of my investments were in positively disruptive technologies that weren’t affected by the markets as much.

Then (and pardon me for forgetting the exact order),

American Superconductor (AMSC), a developer or more efficient electrical infrastructure components, found that their biggest customer decided to steal the intellectual property and become a competitor. The loss of several hundred millions a year almost eliminated the company. Fast forward and find that AMSC won the court case; but only after several years and only receiving a fraction of one year’s revenue. I lost about 40% of my portfolio within weeks.

Dendreon (DNDN) developed an FDA approved cancer vaccine. Reread that one that most folks don’t know. They were succeeding, though at a somewhat slower pace than expected; not surprising considering how revolutionary their treatment was. Shareholders commented on machinations that seemed criminal. Regardless, a takeover of the company bankrupted the company. Fast forward and find that the takeover was challenged in court, it was confirmed that some were found guilty; but the damage was done. Allow me to copy and paste the closing line from the previous paragraph. I lost about 40% of my portfolio within weeks.

MicroVision (MVIS) was expected to produce a projector that could fit in a smartphone, a projector only slightly larger than the cameras already showing in them. According to a Wired interview, the CEO of Corning was going to demonstrate to the CEO of Apple the key subcomponent that Corning was developing with MicroVision. Apple felt that a stronger glass was more important and MicroVision’s effort was stalled. Shareholders didn’t know why things were delayed until years later. MVIS eventually fell to as low as $0.15 in April 2020. (Thankfully, it is recovering, but that’s a much longer story.)

As those three issues played through, all of my fallback positions of getting a better job or selling my house, or various other “lines in the water” fell through thanks to the Great Recession. Soon, I had to sell off almost my entire conventional and IRA portfolios. I ended up down 98%within a few years. I almost lost my house. (Another long story.)

As I wrote in various posts within the last 12 months, my net worth has been increasing thanks primarily because of my house’s value and MVIS’ recovery.

Within the last few months, I also learned that my credit rating has recovered to almost the maximum possible. That meant it would be easier to refinance, or get some equity out of my house, or generally relax and celebrate at least that accomplishment. I also started receiving Social Security, another anxiety relaxer.

Here is where the celebration has been postponed.

I don’t know all of details yet, which is why I will write about those later when they are facts rather than speculations. But, from the high of an anticipated celebration to a low from a surprise pronouncement – well – I feel devastated. The oddest part remains that I don’t know the entire story, either.

I have become a larger proponent of loosening that taboo about talking about money, at least with close friends. In today’s internet, revealing much more can put assets and livelihoods at risk. In person, however, and as I asked for help, people shared their situations, too.

There are far too many having to deal with problems that are too large, but which have no ready resolution. Move to a better job? That takes money. Pandemic hurt your business? You’re not alone, and the recovery may be painfully slow. As lifestyles change because of health care and housing issues, the solution may be to move – which again leads to ‘move where?’ I only have me to worry about. Others are dealing with families, generations, and generally compassionate responses to others without support.

I’ve been described conflicting ways. Some say they are impressed with my optimism. Some say they are dismayed by my pessimism. Maybe I can carry both of those perspectives in my head simultaneously. I’ll go with that.

Learning about the biographies of many famous people, almost all mention some bit of good luck that was out of their control. We get to hear about the people who’ve benefited from such encounters. We don’t get to hear about the others as readily. Luck, whether good or bad, can happen in an instant. Some developments take longer. I wish I wrote down a phrase someone used earlier today. Something like, “Plans are useful; and you have to have them; and all you can do is what you can when it’s necessary because you don’t know what’s really going to happen.” They extended that old adage more eloquently.

It is difficult to ascribe everything to luck. It is also unrealistic to ascribe nothing to luck. The world is too chaotic and random. We are not in as much control as pundits may make it sound.

I’ll continue the blog. Only the Triple Whammy updates will end. Ten years are enough, I’m now over 60, the pandemic changed so much, and I am sure the pandemic will not be the largest change I’ll witness. I think technology, economy, climate, and society are all being redefined by necessity. Each is a big enough topic to overwhelm most people. Combined, I think their effects become a guessing game.

How’s my life, our lives, going to turn out? It’s a guess, but I intend to continue writing about it. Stay tuned.

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Hiking And Health

Yesterday was a good day. By the end of it, my Jeep was dusty, I was sweaty, I’d spent four hours driving and another three hours sitting in traffic delays, and I had a lot of laundry to do. I was waiting for my knees to cast their vote. I went on a hike and I felt the best I’ve felt in months. I’d like to do that again, which I intend to do.

Barclay Lake

A friend once said something like; “After reading your book, you’ve convinced me to never go hiking, again.” That’s one of the issues with writing about hiking and nature, human communication is best at describing drama and struggle, not at describing serenity and peacefulness. Think of the classics. Dante’s Inferno is well known. It’s about Hell. Dante’s other two books in the series are less well known. They’re about Purgatory and Paradise (as I recall from college days.) The last one is particularly repetitive and dull. Bliss, bliss, bliss. Great, but it didn’t sell as well. Think of social media. Cute cat videos are popular, but drama and conspiracy are so dominant that major governments are being destabilized. The good parts about hiking? They’re harder to convey. 

The good parts of hiking are easier to experience, though. 

Thanks to the recent good fortune of my truck breaking down and someone stealing my credit card – yes, this good news started with that country-music kind of bad news (A Jeep Dancing And Credit) – I went on a hike yesterday.

I need more than a hike. That’s gone from missed opportunities, to broken habits, to getting out of shape, to not just a want but a need, to affecting many aspects of my health. Hiking is not the issue. Time to heal and time to enjoy and time to relax is the issue. Nature is a healing place. I’ve spent too little time there. I intend to spend much more time there, again – which is much easier now that I have a Jeep.

Video ads show SUVs bouncing along gravel roads, churning up rooster tails of dust as people hit the power while letting the wind blow in the open windows and through their hair. Ads can be so funny. Drive that fast on many trail head roads and find that potholes are more abrupt than most realize, wheel rims less forgiving, and letting all that dust in means turning the car into a job for a detailer and turning hair into an excuse for many showers or for wearing a very tight hat, and glasses, and maybe a shirt buttoned up and sleeves rolled down.

A typical drive to a hike in Western Washington can be a hundred miles on highways, followed by a slow, bouncy, and squiggly drive up a scratch of gravel that might have room for two vehicles. Much of that width may be taken up by having to maneuver from the far left to the far right just to get a few miles to the trailhead. It can take concentration to avoid going terribly off-road as in into-the-forest or over-the-edge, or into a confrontation with another driver’s skills and grill as they try to drive the same way. It’s enough to make you want to take a break between driving and hiking when you get to the trailhead.

Now imagine a small, organic parking lot and greater demand than supply for places to park. My Jeep ended up with its red nose in the bushes, just to fit in. (Another comment about SUV ads. Big brawny trucks look powerful, but if they can’t fit between the edges of the gravel or can’t turn around at the end, they begin to look silly, like a football player trying to tackle a task by fitting into a space ideally dealt with by a petite plumber.) Whew. At least I didn’t have to turn around and try the next trail.

Hiking is seen as frugal, and it definitely benefits from that mindset. Only carry what you need; that includes emergency materials, but it also includes snacks. Hiking is not cheap, however. Gas and gear can add up to enough for a cheap hotel stay instead. That’s the cost, not the benefit. Too many conversations only look at one or the other.

This was a short hike because I try to be careful. Everything takes practice, even walking in the woods. Did I bring the right gear? Am I in good enough shape? My new Jeep is designed differently than my previous Jeeps. Can it handle the reality of Forest Service roads that may not have enough budget for maintenance? (I’ll save you the suspence. Yes, it all worked out well, or at least well enough.)

For two hours (see, I said it was short), my concentration was on walking without stumbling. Sounds simple? Sure; but I was also part of a rescue operation because one person injured their ankle. Getting them out involved dozens of volunteers. Things that are easy to take for granted in the paved part of the world can be vitally serious in the reality we’ve yet to flatten. 

Concentrating on walking is meditative, for me. Hiking along a trail through natural forest is a long string of opportunities to stop and notice the world (and pant and catch some breaths.) These flowers are blooming. Those streams are trickling. Sunshine is coming into this meadow now, but not earlier and not later. 

Getting to the destination is an accomplishment which varies for every individual. Some are there for lunch. A few were there like me, testing what it will take to get back in shape, or into a new shape. A family was camping, introducing a child to something beside a video game. One couple reportedly BASE jumped off Baring Peak, almost four thousand fee above the lake. Another was there to try summiting it for the first time, for them. Another wanted to explore rumors of a third lake, which we talked about when I mentioned that I wrote a book about Barclay Lake in 2004. 

The overwhelming and shifting collection of lifestyle, economic, and worldly issues in my thoughts didn’t immediately evaporate. Maneuvering around tree roots, uneven rocky spots, or long and hopefully strong log bridges over streams quickly reassign priorities. Thinking about stocks? Bump. Good thing my boots protect my toes. Wondering how my business will recover? Bonk. Forehead, meet a fallen tree that’s sticking out. Wrapped up in my thoughts? Scratch. Vines can have thorns, you know.

Eventually, I realize there’s nothing to do about any of those everyday issues while I’m beyond the trailhead. Inspirations may come, but that’s almost by accident.

A nature walk is not an escape. A nature walk is a return to reality.

What’s that worth? 

What’s it worth to see a dozen families heading to the lake, each with pre-teens in tow?

What’s it worth to be glad that I’m not camping there that night?

What’s it worth to talk to people who are more likely to talk about bugs instead of politics?

What’s it worth to find a self-selected group of strangers who have at least something in common with you?

Construction hassles, a long ferry line, and a hotter than usual day made the drive home memorable in a different sense. Logging on after I got home refreshed too many of those anxieties, reminded me of so many societal issues. It reminded me of a lack of manners and tolerance. A literal stack of bills was a reminder of a different reality that must be dealt with. There was also a lot of laundry thanks to dusty roads, my sweat, and then baking it all on the drive.

There’s a saying about personal growth; “Chop wood. Carry water. Reach enlightenment. Chop wood. Carry water.” My modern version uses, “Pay Bills. Do Laundry.”

Here I sit, the day after the hike. Things are better than I expected. The Jeep may not be the same, but it did much better than I expected. It wears road dust well. The need for ibuprofen didn’t arise. That was a surprise. My knee that’s been causing such a problem with my running and even with my dancing actually feels and moves better. Maybe it needed more natural movement. Maybe I needed more natural movement. Maybe I needed more nature. There’s no ‘maybe’ about that need.

This blog is about personal finance. It is about personal values, and resources. Money and time are important in our daily lives. Time is naturally vital. Money is arbitrarily vital. I’ve spent so much time trying to make enough money that I’ve spent some of my health. It is easy to say, “Duh, just hike more.” I hear such things said, as if it was obvious. Just as it can be difficult to describe the peacefulness and serenity of nature, it can be difficult to describe the reality of the struggle of people who can’t pay the bills. That was me, and in some ways still is me; but I’m now able to get back into nature because I have a Jeep (that I had to go into debt to buy), and some income thanks to Social Security, and time thanks to business being so slow that I could hike for a day without missing any vital calls. 

I’m glad I’m having a good day. Those days have been too few. Now, I can at least trade off priorities enough to afford a few, and hopefully more. I am also reminded of how many are told to “Just Do It” as if that’s simple and trivial. It can be; 

As
Long
As
You
Can
Pay
Your
Bills
#ALAYCPYB

That’s a reality, too.

(Disclosure: I wrote Twelve Months at Barclay Lake. It’s available for sale online, though possibly through some stores. This post was not about plugging the book – which may partly explain my financial situation – but it and the others in the series are for sale, Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla, and Twelve Months at Merritt Lake, a simple chronologies of pockets of nature, two of many places that have affected my perspective. Don’t be surprised if they don’t match what you see in the ads.)

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Terms And Conditions Changing

The world is changing. Duh. If you feel like you’re having a tough time following all of the updates, revisions, and error corrections associated with your stuff, then congratulate yourself on being perceptive. Even for folks who strive to keep it simple, but not too simple, it may effectively be impossible to know exactly what has been agreed to if anything electronic is involved. Time is more precious than money. Terms and conditions are complicated enough that free services aren’t truly free. But what to do about it?

A common frustration when writing these posts is knowing I’ve seen the data I’d like to reference, but not being able to find it quickly enough. The data is out there, but it would take too much time to find. So, as I recall, the average length of time spent agreeing to a web site or product registration’s Terms and Conditions is less than five seconds. Terms and Conditions for social media sites can take more than an hour to read. Comprehension is necessarily longer, and also more difficult because comprehension requires the reader to understand the company’s lawyer(s).

I imagine most folks find themselves shunted off to the “I Agree” button and click away. If you’re not intending to do anything illegal, illicit, or even rude, then why not agree? Of course, if you are intending to do something illegal, illicit, or rude, then you may not care about the agreement. But, the lawyers are there to protect the company, so we’re steered to agreeing to things we may not truly understand.

Terms and Conditions are like the hot dogs of the Internet. People assume it’s meaty, but don’t ask questions about what’s inside.

socialmediatoday.com

Corporate Terms and Conditions can exceed the number of pages I see as part of real estate transactions. (Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.) A real estate transaction is frequently involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, and transferring the stewardship, rights, and responsibilities for a portion of the planet from one person to another person. For some reason, social media sites and electronic component manufacturers require our agreement to include more details than society requires of serious commitments to neighbors, the community, the municipality, and even the country. More effort goes into protecting corporations than goes into transferring the responsibility for a house and the land it sits on.

And then things change.

I can hit I Agree, and not be surprised if two days later they change the conditions of the agreement.

From Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back; Darth Vader:

I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.” – IMDB.com

Ideally, every time a company changes its Terms and Conditions I should reread and re-agree, or decide to discontinue my association with that company. Every update and revision release adds additional costs, or requires the acceptance of additional and unknown risks.

Pragmatically, most people take the risk. It costs too much in time to do anything else. Or, it costs time in discontinuing the service and finding a replacement.

Corporations can also change the Terms and Conditions that we call Laws. Copyright laws were supposed to protect the person who created the work, but eventually transfer those rights to the public after a few decades. Lobbying has now changed those laws and conditions to allow corporations to hold art ransom far beyond the life of the artist. Instead of protecting the rights of an author for long enough for them to make a profit, those laws now embolden monopolies to the point that it is hard to imagine Micky Mouse ever becoming something people can use without being sued. Locked down content makes it easier for monopolies to put entire universes of movies and shows out of reach of the general public who at some level helped support those corporations with the infrastructure that is the government under which those corporations are chartered.

We can’t all be lawyers. Government could and may revise such laws and enforce anti-monopolistic actions, but that is such a radical notion that it would be a major news item and initiative, not the simple fact of the government doing its job.

It is easy to become cynical. It is easy to revert to extreme pragmatism. For me, it makes sense to use judgment, to assess the importance of the Terms and Conditions. A house transaction involves real world issues of housing, a biological necessity; and finances, a societal necessity. A web site or contract that will affect my business or a major element of my life, like health care deserves a review, too. As for social media and other information web sites, I pay attention to reports and reviews from others, and research more if my values, or expectations are significantly challenged. Life is about balance. Ideally every one of us would know everything about everything, and the lawyers can say we were told everything, but we don’t have infinite resources, and we certainly don’t have infinite lifespans. A life spent reading fine print is bad for more than the eyes because it is a life spent not living.

There are many web sites I no longer visit. There’s more than enough information on the internet that I don’t have to have it all. I have a life to live and while some things are necessary, not everything needs to be treated the same way. Will government restrain corporations from imposing impossible Terms and Conditions, or dismantle monopolies, or return to the idea that knowledge and creativity must find a balance between protecting an artist while also enriching the society? I don’t know. But, I find it interesting noticing how many times I’m expected to agree to things, and those thing’s updates and revisions, far out of proportion to their usefulness or common benefit.

As in so many endeavors: Keep it simple, but not too simple. Use judgment. Be willing to do without. And the most powerful tool any of us have is the ability to say No. Hmm. Maybe those are my Terms and Conditions.

Now, about the recent revisions to this blog platform’s software…Grrr…

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A Jeep Dancing And Credit

Pardon me as I crack open a beer, because this story starts out like a country song. Don’t worry, no dogs die. A credit card did. Along the way there is a troublesome truck, dancing, and some impressive efforts from some islanders. By the end there are high-fives (that only some can appreciate). It actually starts a week or two ago.

I was hacked. Not me, my credit card was. Someone stole my credit card information. Nods to Chase Credit for catching it. Their response was to cut off the card and issue me a new one. That was unfortunately because credit card numbers as so integral to so many subscription services and online purchases that for the next year I’ll be replying to dozens of requests to update my account information. The cost of identity theft is more than the amount they charge, it is also the time involved in correcting the situation. The new card will be in the mail!, they assured me.

Have you heard that the US Postal Service has been undermined? Chase promised (with appropriate caveats and waffle words) that I’d have the new card in 3-5 business days. Sigh. I tend not to use my credit card, but had been doing so for a short while as I waited to sell some stock. Real estate sales have been great for sellers, but I’m representing buyers. (Required Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.) So, while waiting for sales to come in and as I’ve been waiting for MVIS to rise I’ve been using the credit card a bit more. So much for that. Every day goes by, and nothing.

Five business days go by and no card. Late on Saturday it is apparent that the credit card won’t be available until Monday afternoon at the earliest. Oh well, that’s okay. It was only a buffer, not a lifeline.

It’s Saturday, time to go to the (free) street dance in downtown Langley. Hundreds of people, a good local band, a closed street, and the end of a work week. That’s all great, but I’m basically shy when it comes to asking someone to dance. If I know them, great, but otherwise I don’t want to look like some guy trying to – do something other than dance for the fun of it. Alas, and oh well, going home and relaxing isn’t so bad. I get in the truck to head home, still with my dancing shoes on. At the top of one of Langley’s bigger streets I turn the wheel at the intersection and the engine dies. I’ll skip the diagnostics, because the more important issue was that my truck was completely blocking one lane on one street and nosed into a lane of the intersection. Say yay for small towns and not much traffic. Also say yay for smartphones.

Hello, 911. I’m blocking a lane of traffic. Yes, it is blocking. Yes, I am going to call AAA. No, I can’t move it because it might roll back down the hill into town. OK, glad to hear that you’ll have someone come by soon.

Hello, AAA. Hello, voice menu. For six and a half minutes AAA’s system repeatedly asks if I want to use the automated system, or go online. I’m holding the phone while directing traffic! I’m not in a position to squint at a small screen in glaring sunlight while also directing traffic! That’s not safe! Harumph. I was frustrated. 

AAA finally answers at the same time that the local officer (it’s a small town, there’s only one on duty at a time on Saturday nights, evidently) arrives. I walk up to the officer, tell him it is AAA finally on the line, and let the two of them decide who I should talk to first. Officer Don smiles and waves me towards AAA while he takes over waving traffic around my truck. For the next several minutes I answer questions that are more appropriate to an office environment when there is no urgency. The questions get so detailed with little relevance to towing a truck with a tow truck that it takes longer to answer the questions than it would for the tow truck to drive to the scene and get their own answers. Officer Don only hears my patient yet increasingly terse answers and starts shaking his head and grinning with each of my responses. 

Everything is finally answered. The tow truck, which is only ten stoplight-less miles away will be there in two hours. Now, I know they can get called out to greater distances and have to respond, but I digress.

The Officer, Don wasn’t sure that his cruiser’s push bars were tall enough to reach the bumper of my truck, but he expertly connected and got the truck out of the intersection and off the road – and into a No Parking Zone. Thank you, Don, for patience and humor – and recognizing the circumstances by not ticketing me.

Welcome now to the nature of small towns. While I didn’t see any of my friends at the dance, I did have three different visits while sitting beside the road. It was a very social event. I even arranged an interview for a podcast I co-produce (WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com).

Recall: AAA said the tow truck would take about two hours to get to me. Reality: Here he comes about ten minutes later. 

My truck is a rather large white Chevy pickup. AAA sent the tow truck driver directions to a Honda sedan. Well, that wasn’t me, but at least he knew where to find me. We worked out his probably destination and I sat back to waiting again. 

Only ten minutes later he’s back having solved their much simpler problem. My truck’s problem could be simple, too. Out of gas? Fuse blown? Loose wire? Regardless, it was Saturday night. I asked him to take it back to the garage beside their shop. He knew the way. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions meant the tow truck driver couldn’t take me home. My truck had a ride home. I had to find my own. 

Fortunately, I knew a friend was in town because I saw them at the grocery, earlier. They’re on their way! In the meantime, I had so many offers of rides home that they could’ve set up a relay race with me as the baton. Cavalry Run #1 (Let’s see if we can keep track.)

One treat for the night: sitting with my saviors on my front deck watching the Sun set. A nice, yet stranded way to end the week.

About an hour after AAA’s two hour deadline AAA gave me a call to assure me they are doing everything they can to get the tow truck to me. They were surprised to hear that we’d all resolved the issue already. (Oh yeah, and I won’t get into the fiasco of them not understanding local places names which confused them when they tried to give directions. And then there was the AAA representative’s venting about their system, an emotion they thought would resonate with me. Different issue. It took several minutes for them to realize that.)

Oh, no problem. The next day I’d just go rent a car. Hmm. Sunday. Maybe not. Or maybe, but I needed a credit card to rent a car. I only have the one, and I didn’t have it. Doubly stranded.

Well, Monday will resolve everything.

Monday resolves almost nothing. Every shop on the south half of the island was so booked with work that they couldn’t even tell me if it was out of gas until a week later. As for when they’d fix it, well, that was a mystery because they hadn’t diagnosed it, and if it involved spare parts they might not be available.

I’m a real estate broker. That’s hard to do by bicycle. Finally I found a shop on the north half of the island, about 45 miles away, that would at least diagnose it the next day, and was within AAA’s system so the towing was free. Whew.

Prepare for a dramatic shift, at least within my life.

Later Monday the truck ends up at the shop. I implore them to fix my truck because my business, my main source of income relies on it. They’ll see what they can do.

And then, there’s dancing. Monday night is a very informal dance practice. It’s couple’s social dancing, things like waltz, swing, latin. If you’re doing it right, but you’re not smiling you’re doing it wrong. If you’re smiling even though you’re doing it ‘wrong’, you’re doing it right. A fellow dancer had been having a very tough time lately. They wanted to dance. I wanted to dance. They could drive. I couldn’t. They could drive me to the shop and get a direct prognosis for my truck, just before closing. (Cavalry #2) The truck had something serious, something much more than a fuse. They’d look at it next week. Next week again? Aargh! Whatever. Dance it off.

I dance, I smile. Whew.

Another bit of good news: The new credit card arrived. Ah.

Tuesday, the shop assures me there’s nothing they can do for a week. Sigh. It might just be time to get a different vehicle, something more appropriate, something with four doors, a turning radius that doesn’t require 15-point turns in narrow driveways, but that still has good ground clearance for driving across lots that had just been logged. And, it better not cost much because I suspect my episode with nearly being foreclosed must have ruined my credit rating. Decades of frugality evaporated during the Great Recession. Well, the dealership beside the garage is a Jeep dealership. Hey, miracles could happen.

Ironically, I almost bought a used Jeep just before car prices spiked. About $12K could’ve gotten me a ten-year-old Jeep, and at the time I had about that much cash. (Thanks, MVIS.) But, I held onto that money in case my home buyer customers couldn’t buy a home, which also meant me not getting a commission. And so it was. 

Instead, the Jeeps and SUVs were about double that price. Part of that must also be the luck of what’s on the lot. Oh well. Let’s take a look. 

After preliminary research, and after many, many, many questions to Emma, the ever-patient, pleasant, and capable salesperson, we find two Jeep Renegades that might suffice. Suffice? Duh. A twenty-year old ailing truck versus a new Jeep. Yeah. Suffice.

It will take me some time to sell off a significant portion of my retirement account. That’s what money is for. Saving it for some time down the road is best, but this pothole was here and now. I now feel at least somewhat committed to buying a replacement. 

About an hour later the garage calls. They felt sorry for me, so they think they can get it done by Monday at the latest. That will make two vehicles – ah, but if I trade the truck in…

Call Emma at the car dealership again. Was it Emma or me that decided to consider a loan. What can it hurt? Let’s see what my credit rating will allow… How about being pre-qualified for about $35,000? Wha? Huh? No. Yes? OK. Evidently I’ve been frugal enough for long enough that, as the dealership’s finance manager mentioned, I have the highest credit score they can remember seeing, only six points shy of the maximum. 

I think that’s called good news.

Another call from the shop comes in. They think they can get it done this week. OK with that, too.

I segue back to the credit card company because with a credit rating like that maybe they can adjust my credit limit and interest rate back to what it was the last time I had that credit rating, a decade ago. Nope. No? No. They, the credit card company, Chase Credit, doesn’t care about credit ratings. Really? Oh, well. I foresee shopping for a different credit card company soon.

Another call from the shop. They might get it done by Friday, or Thursday, but they hesitate to say Wednesday.

But, there’s a dance on Wednesday. Ah, but that would only be bonus points. 

Wednesday starts with marketing meetings, of course; and I research deeper into my vehicle and financing options. With a credit rating like this, maybe I can pay for the car in cash by accessing the equity in the house. Ah, but that is a 3-6 week process. I’ll save it for later. But, it also means that I don’t have to take anything out of my retirement account; and, within two months I might have enough cash to get out of car debt and credit card debt, and pay off some generous folks who’ve helped me through these tough times.

Other good news: I thought my Social Security application might be reviewed in August, with the first check either then or within four months. Or. The first payment was directly deposited last week. Surprise! It isn’t enough for retirement, but it is enough for a mortgage payment and a car payment.

Almost shyly, the garage calls back and hints that they might be done late Wednesday afternoon. They close at 5:30. It is a one-hour bus ride to them, and a fifteen-minute drive from my house to the bus stop. All I have is a bicycle that’s missing about half of its shifts. I moan about it on Facebook, and another member of the cavalry (#3) offers to help – if the garage calls in enough time to get me to the bus. Two bites into their lunch the call comes in, they leap into action, I read while I ride, get there with about fifteen minutes to spare, and find them to be helpful, fun, and also better to understand in person than over the phone. The truck needed a new fuel pump, a fuel pump that broke about five years ago. This time the cost sounded like twice the earlier (and possibly too-cheap) repair, at about $1,500. In person, $1,005. Whew. Yay. Ah.

Note the 3mph oops

Thanks all around for Pioneer Automotive in Oak Harbor for working so hard on the truck, their schedule, and also understanding that my original urgency was replaced by the realization that a truck with 200,000 miles on it might need to be replaced.

With a few minutes to spare I thank them, drive to the dealership (Oak Harbor Motors), which is the lot next door, and finally meet the salesperson (Emma) who has been so helpful, and at least sit in the cars to see if they fit. For me, it would be too much to handle the repair and the purchase in the same day, so I tell her I’ll be back on Thursday.

The dance was on the way home. It was another free street dance with hundreds of people. I was tired but I wanted to visit a bit. That’s where I met friends who are even more frugal than me. That’s where the news about a high credit score scores high-fives as if some sports team had won their division. That’s also where I disappointed some of them because there are more frugal transportation choices, but it has been a long time since I had a major indulgence.

And yet, I pull back from calling a fixed truck and a potential replacement vehicle an indulgence. My stress load has been significant enough that it is a major topic with my doctor. She’s a climber. I am, or was, an avid hiker. She recognizes the benefits of being in nature, and for some like me, in nature at altitude. Alpine is serene. She only half-jokingly said she’d like to prescribe a Jeep for me so I can get to the really good trailheads, spend time up there decompressing, and get healthier, again. An indulgence? Maybe. How indulgent is it to want good health?

Home after the dance, another opportunity to sit on the deck and consider options. Yes, the truck was back home. But, it’s value to the dealership was only about $1,000. That was the price of the fuel pump. The truck’s replacement value, however, is several thousand higher. It might not be the right truck for real estate, but it is designed to haul stuff. It’s a work truck. I can keep it, see if I use it as such, and when I am done, find someone else who can make best use of it. And, I have a backup that’s faster than my bicycle.

Thursday morning, get to the bus, again; but this time with my truck. Get to the dealership with forms, papers, and checkbooks. Pester patient Emma with more comparison questions about the two (and congratulate her on my unspoken third choice which she was able to sell the previous day), test drive them both on local sedate roads and a bit of gravel, and find myself buying a Red Renegade Jeep. Red has to be capitalized because this is not a subtle red. This is Red, which can be handy if Search And Rescue is on the hunt. Hey, I think of such things after accidentally assisting in a couple other episodes.

Emma must have stories to tell as she watched me adjust to 2021. My first Jeep was a Cherokee in 1987. The term SUV was new. Nav was maps on paper. No cruise control. Manual everything except steering and braking – and I was glad. My second Jeep was a 2000 Cherokee (note: not a Grand or anything fancy) with the exotic touches of cruise control, power windows, a rear window wiper, oh yeah, and a CD player. This is a 2016 Renegade and oh dear, please tell me how to turn off almost all of these features – except the backup camera, and, that’s about it. Goodbye, CDs.

Throughout, my criteria have been reliability, ruggedness (check out my books about hiking and skiing in the Cascades to get a hint of what I ask of a vehicle), good ground clearance, goor maneuverability (turning radius), and enough storage (Cherokee = yes, Renegade = TBD). All the other stuff, whatever. 

The drive home was a learning experience. For a while the windshield wipers were on intermittent, and I left them there until there was no traffic. Before she encouraged this fledgling out of the nest, Emma connected my phone to the car, something I would’ve left for weeks. I got a call from one of my best friends, someone who has actually met all of the vehicles; then from another dear friend and dancer I’ve been trying to connect with, and even a business call. I took the calls because it was easier and safer than trying to figure out how to send them to voicemail. 

Now the paperwork (insurance, et al.) begins. The more physical bits are emergency kits for both vehicles, copies of said paperwork, and adjusting seats and mirrors and such. There’s also a lot of reading to do, far more than the earlier versions, and for far less important systems. (But $300 for a spare key? Ouch!)

There are times when life’s threads intersect without warning. After these two weeks I now know that I have Social Security, a recovered credit rating, a relatively new vehicle and a practical backup vehicle, options for accessing the equity in my house rather than relying and hoping for stocks to rise, etc., etc., etc. I’ve mentioned stress relief in this post. More frequent readers may recall I’ve had several anxiety-relieving initiatives, recently. My stress level really has been that high, and I know so many for whom it is significantly higher. 

It is good and responsible to exercise virtues and follow advice, but it is possible to take such actions to extremes. If I hadn’t been so focussed on limiting my expenses, I might have been able to leverage my credit score earlier. That would’ve begun stress reduction months or years ago. By waiting so long and basically being forced into the option of borrowing, I lost the opportunity to have saved about $10,000 in the cost of a replacement vehicle, I spent about an extra $2,000 in truck maintenance, and missed that much time doing things that reduce my stress whether by not worrying as much about whether the truck would fail and by not spending time in healthier environments like the nature I best appreciate. 

These two weeks will represent a shift in many aspects of my life. It started with elements of a country music song, flowed through a period that proves the value of being adaptable, included dancing and high-fives, and a reminder that taking things to extremes can be an expensive direction. 

Now, about that credit card, that user’s manual, that trail pass that must be bought, finding the times to use it, and maybe, and not just maybe but definitely finding time, energy, and resources to do something beside work and worry.

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So Many Changes

The masks are coming off, but not entirely. Variants are keeping some folks cautious. The economy is recovering, but not everywhere. What jobs are essential and what is a living wage are being debated in actions, not just words. Old conventions are being discarded, but many are only on the side of the road, not in the garbage compactor, yet. These are turbulent times, so don’t be surprised if your stomach is a bit queasy, your head is a bit achy, and you’re not quite sure whether to stand, sit, move, or get out of the way. There are just so many changes.

When I write these posts I like to concentrate on one topic, maybe with a few side anecdotes to demonstrate interconnections. Find a topic, note its progress and maybe its conclusion, and make it personal. This is about personal finance, so of course it should be personal. Besides, I’m not a certified financial advisor or broker or any such roll within that realm. (I am a licensed real estate broker, but I mention that more to adhere to WA State disclosure regulations than any plug or brag. Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/

There is more than enough to think, write, talk, and do something about as the pandemic recedes, the US elections are behind us, and climate change change becomes less debatable and something too tangible. But. They’re all changing at the same time, confusing trends, leading to unintended consequences, and acting a bit like the early days of the internet. Everything is possible, but it is hard to tell what is probable.

A hint when talking to very literal people. Thanks to quantum mechanics and infinity, anything is possible. If you want a more useful answer ask what is probable. 

So I sit here, typing away at the end of a Friday, trying to let my mind sort through the topics that come to mind. One topic is about why I am writing on a Friday night, but that has more to do with working in real estate in the summer in a tourist area after a pandemic lock down while median house prices are accelerating. (Whidbey Real Estate And Affordability Trends – July 3, 2021

Let’s step off into an attempt at current topics from the perspective of income, expenses, assets, and liability. (See, I was able to bring it around to personal finance.)

Income

Wages are up, as long as you’re in the right job. These times are a faint echo of the rise of the middle class after the pandemics of the Middle Ages. That’s appropriate because the Covid pandemic is only a faint example of what happened back then. Workers became in demand, and they also had demands. They wanted more autonomy, and money, and choices – and largely got them. The rich kept getting richer, but the right skills meant some peasants were finally able to climb out of the severest poverty. Employers who refuse to adapt find their businesses facing struggles while adaptable businesses surpass them. 

At the same time, some workers are realizing that being required to work to someone else’s schedule at someone else’s facility means spending much of their life basically living someone else’s life. People are refusing to go back to work if it means low wages, long commutes, and unhealthy conditions. That’s a battle that can take decades to resolve on a societal level, but only days for many individuals.

Expenses

Costs are up, unless you can avoid them. The pandemic disrupted supply chains, demonstrating that hyper-efficient just-in-time processes are also hyper-sensitive to disruptions. Warehouses full of parts were considered wasteful, but only as long as the supply chain wasn’t interrupted. A little extra slack in the system can be more robust and better in the long term than filing every step of the process to a sharpness that cuts. 

Lumber prices are up, which has led to more trees being turned to vacant land. Some are switching from forest to clear cut to residential developments. Food prices are up. Long distance shipping may be cheap, but only as long as it successfully delivers the produce and the product. Seemingly insignificant components are delaying complex items, raising the awareness that every piece is important. Chips make many things work, but won’t until the manufacturers can catch up. Even bicycles are back-ordered out into 2022. The surprise may be that prices haven’t risen higher.

Assets

The stock market it up. And one of the questions is whether that is from stimulus packages or real growth. Housing prices are up. Maybe many urbanites are more interested in having a bit more room in and around a house. It can be isolating trying to survive a lockdown within four close walls in a building with many spaces that have to be shared with strangers. There really is a value and a use to that white picket fence around a tidy yard, or acreage fenced against deer and planted for production instead of ornamentation. 

There is more interest in specific assets like de-centralized alternative energy (solar), good internet (which can happen without relying on wires overhead or in the ground), and electric vehicles which keep running even if a pipeline bursts somewhere.

Bitcoin continues to confuse, but that’s because it isn’t obviously settling to no or an infinite value. 

Liabilities

Debt will always be with us. Or, will it? Probably for a while. Borrowing is back up, either from delayed gratification or from a lack of income, or both. At least interest rates are down, for now. Mortgages are getting refinanced. Some of that money goes to improvements, some to expense reductions, some to fill in for shortfalls in living expenses. One fact continues, if it takes money to make money, and you have to borrow that money, you get to advance someone else’s wealth to possibly build yours. Unless governments declare a debt jubilee in one or more areas, we’ll continue to deal with the burden of debt that delays the return of that money to the economy and real growth.

As for the debt being carried by governments around the world as they launched a series of necessary and astonishingly large stimulus packages, well, that macro issue must be worrying economists. We were already heading towards negative interest rates. Are we now going to have to deal with much higher inflation, or will the economies fail to recover, or will we finally have the incentive to re-invigorate the money flows by taxing tax havens, closing loopholes, enforcing securities laws, and generally aiming for a more equitable wealth and income distribution? 

So much of it ties back to who is a creditor and who is a debtor, and whether that system should change. 

All the rest

Many things that sounded academic to many are now proven to be essential. Public health, infrastructure, environmental protections, emergency preparedness, social injustices, et al.; we’ve seen the consequence of so many issues that are no longer abstract that public awareness is rising. Whether we’ve reached critical levels is uncertain. 

Uncertain is the key word. This is a time of transition. It is a great time for saying “This is possible.” “That is obvious.” “Now’s the time to do…”; but many of our assumptions have been revealed to be ready for an update. Predicting the future is always a silly game, but one we must play. Trying to understand just one topic is difficult enough, but today’s world shows how connected every aspect can be. Some country that doesn’t get enough vaccines can mean critical materials can’t be shipped because the dock workers are sick. The miners can mine. The manufacturers are ready for the next step. The consumers want that they bought, and may need instead of just want; but the flow of something in health can disrupt farm equipment on another continent. 

One Thing

Maybe that is the one topic that I’ve been looking for this Friday evening. We can convince ourselves that this one thing, whatever that one thing is, this one thing can be important and understandable, but our society and planet are one thing. We are all parts of one thing. We’re no longer scattered and disconnected villages. It truly has become a world where, if one of sneezes, the rest of us may catch it too. We have to consider everything as one thing.

Maybe this wasn’t the sort of thing that lets me get a good night’s rest before going to back to work tomorrow. Fortunately I have some locally grown and produced wine. I might just need, or at least want, that.

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Semi Annual Exercise Mid 2021

As I note at the start of my stock synopses;

INTRO Here’s my semi-annual exercise to see if I remember why I own the stocks I own, and so I can check back and see if their stories have changed. I post in case it helps others too.

Every six months for over a decade I’ve conducted a simple review of my stocks. Stocks and investing can be made complex, but the idea is to reduce the process to its essentials occasionally. Why do I own these stocks and should I do anything about that? This would be a useless exercise for people who don’t hold stocks for more than a few months, but I tend to invest in companies that potentially have un-recognized potential for significant, positive, disruptive impacts on industries and markets. I don’t want to compete against finance institutions that have dozens of analysts investigating every aspect of mega-corporations. They’ll always know more and move faster than me. They, however, usually don’t want to have to investigate tiny companies that may be hard to understand or treat seriously. There, I have an advantage. Here is where I make sure the company and the stock continue to meet my criteria and my strategy. 

I’ve been investing in stocks since circa 1978. For years my approach incrementally improved and evolved into my current Long Term Buy and Hold approach (LTBH). For details go read (and maybe even buy) my book, Dream. Invest. Live. That strategy sounded fine and worked fine enough that I retired in 1998. Then about ten years ago, My Triple Whammy hit and there went 98% of my net worth. So much for retirement. The next several years made this exercise a semi-annual painful reminder of my situation. There’s a value to continuing an exercise routine, so I am told. Then, about a year ago a few things began reviving my hopes. In the last six months my hopes were encouraged, not flawlessly, but the general trend is so positive that my net worth has increased by more than two years living expenses in the last six months. My house’s value helped.

My two oldest holdings are Geron (GERN) and MicroVision (MVIS). One intends to treat cancer in significantly improved ways. My opinion of the other is that it can do to electronic displays what laptop screens did to CRTs and what CRT did to punched paper printouts. For two decades that seemed like such a silly notion to others that my opinion was a sore point in at least two relationships. They thought I was beyond silly. I thought I had a good idea that just needed more time. I admit that the company needed much more time than I expected. 

Geron now intends to make the treatment available within the next few, not several, years – pending success and approval, of course. In biotech, the success of the inaugural treatment may be enough to make the company profitable; and that success may be amplified if the treatment treats other ailments in the same category. Treating one cancer may mean treating others, too. 

MicroVision’s innovative display technology has finally met the need and the attendant technologies for interactive displays, and augmented reality, and sensor packages for autonomous vehicles and for home automation systems, and other products. Decades of attempts may finally succeed nearly simultaneously in different products, fortuitous synchronicity and diversification. But the products are close to, but not in, massive quantities.

My other two investments are Lineage Cell Therapeutics (LCTX) and Neophotonics (NPTN), both of which are echoes of the other two.

Lineage Cell is testing and planning to make available stem cell treatments to regrow damaged vision tissues and damaged spinal column nerves. The echo here is that the technologies can be traced back to Geron as it sold off divisions to remain solvent long enough to commercialize their cancer treatment. 

NeoPhotonics develops electro-optical switches, the sort of components that connect up the electrical signals inside phones and computers to the optical signals in fiber optics. I invested in a spinoff from MicroVision that had impressive offers, too; but a buyout left me out of the company (GigOptix). I continue to think the internet and phones are a  thing, so I think I’ll hold.

Within the first half of 2021, those stocks, my portfolio, rose ~150%. Nice, especially for six months of watching but doing almost nothing but staying informed. As so many people eagerly point out, I haven’t made that much money; it’s just on paper. For those who want to be pedantic; my unrealized liquid net worth before taxes and commissions and fees has increased by approximately 150%. That’s hard to fit into a conversation, though. I’m happy my portfolio went up 150%, which is at about two years living expenses.

And then there’s the non-liquid asset, my house. It has only ‘only’ gone up ~9% in six months, but the market that’s carrying it higher has also risen while relaxing protections and contingencies like inspections. As a real estate broker (required disclosure: Dalton Realty, Inc. WhidbeyRealtor.com) I understand the responsible benefit such protections provide, and the reality is that many buyers are feeling the need to outcompete other buyers. I can only advise and aid. (The plan is to publish a separate and lengthy presentation about that on one of my other blogs: AboutWhidbey.com.)

Real estate is also my income, ideally. Practically, that has been almost all work with hardly any compensation. In a seller’s market where there are several buyers for every listing, the news makes it sound like everyone is making money. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (and quoting from a colleague); if sixteen people make offers, the seller and their broker can be happy, the buyer and their broker can be happy, but now 15 sets of buyers and brokers have to move on to the next listing and try again. Lots of work; hardly any compensation.

So, hard work and diligence have created a couple of months of living expenses so far this year, but my stocks and house have created a few years of living expenses without me doing much at all. 

Passive income and wealth growth are far healthier than hard work and diligence, at least for me this year. But every year can be different. Every situation will be different. Some stockholders will make much more, some might lose money. Some real estate brokers will make much more, some not at all. 

This year has been a financial ride that isn’t over. Developments that were rumored to happen in the first half of the year should, should, become commitments in the second half of the year. I will be much closer to re-retirement in the more optimistic scenarios. The world is changing. My blog about ‘news that is for people who are eager and anxious about the future’ (PretendingNotToPanic.com) is getting busier as the news swings back from politics to practical concerns. The various developments are not independent. 

In the meantime, I had to harvest a bit of my portfolio to pay bills while we fill in the gap between the rumors and the hoped-for news. Timing is no longer academic. MVIS reaching the community’s optimistic valuations would mean an easing of my stress. Near-term real estate transactions closing easily and successfully would benefit my checking account, and delay further harvesting of my retirement funds. And good luck can happen, and I buy lottery tickets. 

Thanks for staying tuned. I know for me the story has become much more interesting, and I don’t expect that to change. 

PS For those following my Signing Up For Social Security, there’s been a bureaucratic glitch, maybe. It’s hard to tell. That story continues, too.

The following links are to discussion boards I follow. Many of the independent investors who contribute to the discussions provide in-depth analyses that either aren’t available elsewhere, or would cost too much to buy. The other advantage is the diversity of perspectives. Unfortunately, I don’t engage as much as I did before. Some discussions have degraded due to lack of moderators, or have too many immoderate voices. Some boards are effectively ghost towns, or feel like cavernous empty warehouses. I suspect some of the tensions are associated with the subsequent delays in product announcements, program developments, and general business conservatism. Regardless, here are the sites I continue to visit, even if it is only to lurk and listen. 

I encourage you to tune in, because more voices (as long as they’re mature) make for a better conversation. Maybe I’ll read you there.  

Investor Village

LCTX

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

The Motley Fool

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

Silicon Investor

GERN

MVIS

Reddit

LCTX

MVIS

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Signing up for Social Security

Mix good news and bad news and get mixed emotions. I signed up for Social Security, I think. Should I have waited? Sure. Should I have signed up earlier, definitely in retrospect. Was it easy or hard? Yes. No. It either took a half an hour or seven months. It’s mixed.

Despite perfect storms of bad luck, I am an optimist. Sometimes that has a cost. In terms of making money, of paying my bills, I have worked and am working at many types of jobs and businesses. Just check out my bio on this blog and other sites: Real Estate Broker, Consultant, Writer, Speaker, Teacher, Photographer, Engineer, Entrepreneur, etc. Yes, we were all hit with the pandemic; but surely some mix of things on that list will create enough value to accrue to enough income to pay those bills. 

OK. I admit it. Public speaking wasn’t going to well during a pandemic. The same with teaching. I’ve been out of engineering for long enough that it wasn’t much of an option (so say so many ghosted job applications). Consultant? Sure! Crisis is an excellent time to reconsider old ways and either adapt or innovate, ideas were launched. Maybe someday they’ll pay. Photography continues, with pay in the form of compliments. Writing, as always, and optimism about my first sci-fi novel; but that might not be done for a year or two. Real estate has been the thing. I’ve worked on it almost every day; but alas, too many people were priced out of looking, too many were outbid, and too many decided to move to places more affordable than Whidbey Island. The entrepreneurial spirit, however continues, one sign of the optimist.

So much for the plans and the optimism. The reality is that bills must be paid, my main stock has been slipping (come on, MVIS!), and a stimulus check is in the mail – seemingly eternally. 

Hello, Social Security 

No, really. “Hello, Social Security.” I ended up calling them, twice.

Try Online

Back to the beginning. This financial situation was apparent months ago. I dutifully went to their web site (ssa.gov), started answering questions, reading FAQs, and being intimidated by the possibility of a time-delaying byzantine bureaucracy when finding quotes like;

Apply four months before you want your Social Security retirement benefits to start. If you want your benefits to start at age 62, you can apply at age 61 and eight months.

At least I have the age thing done. Patience and perseverance will do that.

What else in addition to name, address, Social Security Number, and contact info?

  • Dates of current and previous marriages, and where you were married
  • Employer names and dates for the past two years
  • Self-employment income and type of business
  • Bank information to set up your direct deposit
  • Your original birth certificate
  • A copy of your W-2 tax form(s) and/or self-employment tax return from last year. A photocopy is acceptable

But, according to the site, don’t take your time about it because;

For security reasons, the online application gives you a warning if you leave it open and don’t do anything for 25 minutes.

OK. This is going to take a while; but I’ll have to do it quickly. No paradox or contradiction there.

Filling out government forms about important personal matters gives me anxiety attacks. Digging up all of those old records? Not easy. I keep such things, but which boxes hold what and how much time would I have to spend in the attic battling spiders? (But not rodents, thankfully.) Humans help me at times like this.

Try Email

This step was quick. After a few exchanges that may have included Chats or Texts (a rare time when I didn’t take notes) I compiled a list of questions. 

  • Dates of current and previous marriages, and where you were married. (Are Marriage Licences and Dissolution Documents required or can memory suffice?).
  • Employer names and dates for the past two years. (All income has been earned as an independent contractor. Do I need to include the names of businesses that used my services, in particular, real estate brokerages?)
  • Self-employment income and type of business. (Do Schedules C and SE suffice, or should I include the complete 1040 package?)
  • Does email suffice or are hardcopies required? 

They answered by giving me a phone number to call. 

Try Phoning for Help

Twenty minutes after calling, which is short or long depending on your experience, perspective, and tolerance for voicemail music, someone answered. I received some relief because they can confirm many of the details; so, they just needed the information. I didn’t have to contact the hospital I was born in and ask for an official paper copy of my birth certificate, etc. Whew.

  • Dates of current and previous marriages, and where you were married. (Later I’d find that it was a good thing that I saved the Divorce/Dissolution Documents even though memory suffices. Flipping through the wedding album was a different memory experience.)
  • Employer names and dates for the past two years. (As I understand it, this is only about W-2 type jobs. None of those.)
  • Self-employment income and type of business. (Ah, this is almost all of my recent work, Gig Economy, 1099 stuff. Though I did get to freak out in June when I couldn’t find my 2020 tax package filed in April 2021 . My accountant had a backup. Whew.)

The person helping me was nice and answered lots of questions about estimated benefits, timing, and alternatives to signing up immediately. I thanked them and hung up because I knew it was going to take some time for me to gather the information. They might be fine with my best guesses, but if I had the information I’d feel better gathering it in case they called back. Signing up later could mean better benefits. It was November 2020. Surely people would wear masks and vaccinate now that we knew what we were fighting. Business would return and would chase away the need for signing up for Social Security.

Ha!

A bit of procrastination, layers of failed or maybe just delayed optimisms, and the repeated advice from several friends who signed up early finally convinced me to try signing up, again. An enormous bill from my homeowners association that matched a still-delayed stimulus check helped, too.

So, about seven months later I checked my notes, rummaged around (and actually emptied) the attic, found more old documents, and called the Social Security helpers. 

On The Phone Again

Start with another twenty minutes of repetitive electronic music. At least I got some meditation done.

They dutifully started by advising me to wait for my full retirement at 67, five years from now. If my bills could wait, that’d be great. We just went through this pandemic, remember? Glad they had a sense of humor when we discussed my recent income.

We talked about how I’d been earning, or trying to earn, money. After hearing my list they pointed out that as my business returned, some of the Social Security benefits would be offset against any business income I received. Some might complain about losing those benefits, but I’d cheer having that much income (and hopefully more.) Besides, they couldn’t take more than they’d give. (The IRS, however, wasn’t part of the conversation.)

They provided my estimated benefits, which were about 22% less than the estimate I received in the previous call. Sad. But were more than half my frugal life expenses. I’d be able to pay the mortgage and things like insurance or utilities. I’d still have to make more for the rest. Better than nothing, which is what I was working from as I called.

Within fifteen minutes they steered me through all of the questions; and they did so with manners and impressive people skills. 

And then told me that they’d set up my appointment. My appointment? I thought this was my appointment! Nope. This was just to prepare everything now to make that in-person meeting more efficient eventually. The soonest slot available was in August. I asked if we could expedite it by going to another office, even if it was two hours away. Yes. Maybe. Hard to say for sure. Of course I could just go online and there’d be no need for the appointment. 

As Inigo says in Princess Bride; “You told me to go back to the beginning… so I have.

Hello Online, Again

This time was simpler. It’s not that the process had changed, but those two heroic or at least patient and understanding people answered so many of my questions that this time through was much easier. In twenty-five minutes I answered all of their questions, guessed and estimated as necessary, and rushed along so my momentum would carry me through the hurdles of anxieties that were ready to pounce if I felt a doubt.

According to one of the last bits of information from the person I talked to, by signing up online that conservative four-month wait for the first check might be as short as two months, August instead of October. The caution, however, is that they might need to clarify information. Evidently, guesses can cause delays.

Implications And Emotions

The mix of emotions is taking time to process. That’s partly what writing this blog helps me do (though the main goal is to help others by chronicling a real experience instead of the version in some brochure.) Those years of work will literally pay off, but they only pay for half of what I need. Receiving those benefits can remove the stress of many basic needs, but it also feels like a capitulation and an admission of failure. Just as with my IRA, the less money you have the less money you receive. I had to gut my IRA prematurely because of My Triple Whammy, which also meant paying a penalty on my retirement funds. By using an IRA I now also have to pay taxes on losses that I could’ve balanced against gains if I’d left all of those investments in conventional accounts. Signing up for Social Security out of necessity, not choice, means my current lack of security reduces the amount of security I am provided. And yet, I’m glad the benefits are there, though I’ll be happier when they are here.

Now, the wait begins. Because they may need to clarify items, and because bureaucracies can have issues, I won’t consider this task concluded until the first deposit is made. 

In the meantime, I’ll continue to work because even after that deposit is made I’ll continue to need additional income – at least for now. I could sell my house, possibly move as a result, watch my portfolio for some semi-passive asset growth, hope my books or photos or both sell online for passive income, and we’ve just come back around to where I started: optimism and entrepreneurship. Wish me luck, good luck, specifically. Now, about those lottery tickets., and maybe succeeding in ways I can’t imagine…

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A Bit Of Self-Indulgence

I spend a lot of time thinking about other people, other things, other ideas. Then, Spencer Webster offered to interview me for his new audio magazine, InSpiris, about creativity, inspiration, and imagination. It wasn’t until after he posted it, and then I listened to it, that I reflected some of the energy back on my self. Regular readers may have noticed that I make personal finance personal, about what, why, and how I do things; but it may not be apparent that such an approach is basically an federal SEC requirement. I’m not a certified financial planner or analyst or whatever, so for me to describe financial matters I have to make it about me. There are fewer regulations about a person talking about themself. So, pardon this self-indulgence as Spencer Webster created an opportunity for me to listen to myself about the very philosophies that inspire me, and are part of the foundation of this blog and my other creative outlets. Maybe you’ll find it useful, too.

A few additional notes:

  • Great credit to Spencer for making me sound clearer and more organized.
  • The video is over an hour, but it’s an audio, so can just play it background while you do chores and such.
  • And special thanks for allowing me to grant myself and my self the indulgence of time because a typical blog post takes a couple of hours (and would benefit from even more time.) Time is the most precious thing. It’s even one of our dimensions. So, pardon me if I take up some of yours (though I suspect it might be at least somewhat entertaining), while I go have a cup of tea (which will undoubtedly morph into checking off some chores.)

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Selling A Sliver – MVIS

I made money. I lost money. Take your pick of perspectives, but it may be best to pick both because both things are true. After a lot of research, analysis, and thought I wanted to pop myself in the forehead because my decision was so simple I overlooked it for days. On Monday June 7 I sold a small slice of my MVIS holdings. The answer is rarely all or nothing, and sometimes the important thing is to decide on what’s enough. Buy low, sell high? That gets a bit more complicated.

For those who haven’t been reading this blog for years and putting up with my MicroVision/MVIS posts, I’ve held the stock for over twenty years. Some are calling it a ‘meme’ stock, which is comical because the use of ‘meme’ wasn’t common back in 2000. MicroVision is a company that has had great potential all that time, several stumbles and faults, and may now be nearing significant successes or at least a significant buyout.

And then the market community found the stock, and not necessarily the company, for completely different reasons.

Over those decades I’ve invested a few year’s of living expenses into MVIS, (as with many to the unintended detriment of relationships) because I was and am so convinced for the technology’s positive disruptive potential. I think MicroVision can do to flat screens, what flat screens did to CRTs, to what CRTs did to paper printout. How many displays are there in the world? That’s a big market. During the spring of 2020, those tens of thousands of dollars had shrunk to a few month’s living expenses. A bad time to sell. In retrospect a good time to buy because the stock’s low was $0.15 and its new high is $28.00. I mention its new high because its all-time high is in the hundreds back during the Internet Bubble. Pop. Sigh.

I buy stocks to sell them, eventually. My book, Dream. Invest. Live., has that title because I see Invest as a bridge, a tool that helps (but does not guarantee) a person a way to get from their dreams to the way they want to live. If MVIS does well enough, I’ll have an opportunity to buy other stocks and will write about that buy side of the next deal. This post is about selling, selling to support my lifestyle, or at least pay my bills.

Selling is also one of the more common conundrums I see people posting about as their stocks move from low to high. So, rather than just talk about what I did, I decided to also describe what I didn’t do.


ALL

Selling everything does happen. If a stock or the company are no longer adding value to a portfolio or a stockholder’s life, it is common enough to sell everything. Selling everything certainly makes it easier to move on, be definitive and decisive. I’ve also done so to raise money for a downpayment for a house. If someone bought a stock to make money, and they can sell it for a profit, then that’s a success, not something to feel bad about.

But. 

As a stock’s price climbs there can be very good reasons to not sell, yet. If the sale is simply for managing a portfolio, then is there a better place to put the money? Answer 1) always. Answer 2) Always, but maybe that just hasn’t been found, yet. Answer 3) Cash is appreciated but it doesn’t appreciate, and may be a place to put things for a while. Besides, it is usually possible to buy back in. Stocks are liquid assets. That’s handy. A friend successfully triped their money and sold. Great. It was MSFT circa 1990. So, there’s that. I waited too long to sell a quarter of DNDN, and lost almost everything.


NOTHING

Selling nothing isn’t investing, unless the decision to not sell is simply to not sell now. MVIS has risen from $0.15 to $22. Great! But there are estimates (and guesses and hopes) as high as hundreds of dollars. If the money isn’t needed and losing it won’t affect anything, then the stock effectively becomes a lottery ticket. There are some investors who will also hold because they want the bragging rights (a share of SBUX at IPO, perhaps?) – or because they forgot (and that does happen.) 


A BIT OF BOTH

Read stockholders’ comments on the discussion boards and find many experienced investors maintain a core of share they hold, and then trade with the rest. For active traders, those who understand puts and calls, and those exploring other strategies it is one way to have half the cake in the freezer while the other half becomes a long line of desserts.


DECIDE WHEN TO SELL BEFORE BUYING

If a stock looks good enough to buy, there’s either an implicit or explicit notion of when to sell. One strategy is to decide to sell at specific prices, or at specific profit points. When my portfolio was larger and more active (long story, but check My Triple Whammy for a perfect storm of bad luck), I preferred to buy, hold, and then sell about a quarter if and when a stock rose four-fold. I’d get my original investment back to reinvest. The rest would be profit. It’s easy to imagine other scenarios merely by setting different percentage profit targets. 


DECIDE WHEN TO SELL WHILE HOLDING

After twenty years, those original targets needed updates, for me. I’ve bought MVIS so many times that I could assign different targets for each lot, group them together, or whatever. Usually such decisions are at least somewhat based on expectations of future value. MVIS is such a spotlight stock currently that quantitative analyses of the company or the stock may be insignificant relative to emotional reactions (irrational pessimism followed by irrational optimism), or relative to other agendas (like attacks against shorts regardless of the stock.) 

For me, the current investment community mindset made me greatly simplify some sell targets: even numbers ($100, $200, $300), as well as tax breakpoints (then non-IRA losses can be balanced within $3,000 of the gains), as well as a few dream numbers (replace the old car, get a new car, fix the house, buy a dream house, work less, or re-retire.)

And don’t underestimate the anguish of trying to understand which shares in which portfolio with which set of tax advantages and disadvantage…


THEN CAME THE HEADACHE

Look back through that list. Consider the alternatives for the company and the stock and the taxes. Would any of the four main vertical product lines succeed independently, or be part of a partnership, or be sold off? 

There are too many scenarios when considering each of those combinations. Then consider the influence of the large customers, partners, possibly acquirers. If Microsoft bought all of MVIS to 1) preserve their access to augmented reality engines while 2) blocking Apple, Google, Tesla, Amazon, and many of the major car companies from MicroVision’s LiDAR technology or MicroVision’s display technology or the rest of MicroVIsion’s patent portfolio or some combination – would a strategic bidding war escalate MVIS’ share price? Would Amazon do something similar for a new display for Alexa? Tesla and LiDAR against the rest?

How serious, powerful, and committed are the new shareholders at either supporting the company, or the price, or their battle against short sellers? Short squeezes are less common, but maybe that’s changing as new battlegrounds seem to opening. 

Then put the two together: two simultaneous battles: companies against companies, shareholders versus shareholders, shorts versus longs versus hedgies. Oops, that went to three from two, but that’s how complicated the situation has become.


WHAT I DID

I agonized. There must be a solution. Normally I’d prefer to hold. I’ve held for over twenty years. Now didn’t seem to be the time to sell, well, maybe a little. But after considering so many scenarios, few reduced the stock price significantly. Hold – from the perspective of the stock.

I agonized. Separate from the stock considerations there is real life. Bills must be paid. A pandemic didn’t help. Real estate is booming! – as long as realtors represent the seller, or the lone lucky buyer. I tend to represent buyers. Too many offers from folks with mortgages who lose out to people with cash offers over the list price. Sign. (Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/) Sell – from the perspective of my bank account.

MVIS has done well, climbing from $0.15 to $22, but selling all would be a small gain after all of these years and those original costs bases; and I suspect the stock will continue to rise. But it looks like it may take weeks or months. Selling nothing was an option, but too many real estate deals fell through. Those bills won’t wait. 

Then came the dope slap to the forehead. Rather than selling all or nothing or according to some preset schedule and strategy, I realized I could sell just enough to cover a couple of months of bills. I’d still have a couple or a few years of living expenses in MVIS, and the majority of my holding would still be able to rise. 


CONCLUSION (For Now)

I write this, not as a way to structure when or how to sell, but to point out that over forty years of investing (MVIS wasn’t my first) deciding when and how to sell can still be complicated. If you’re new to investing and this seems difficult, that’s because it is. Congratulate yourself on being perceptive.

Now, about that perspective. I sold a slice of MVIS at ~$22.50. For a stock that was at $0.15, that would sound like a great gain. But, I lost money. That sale represents a loss about as much as the cash I gained from the sale. My cost basis for that purchase was about twice the current price (~$55 for one of the purchases.) Because it was in an IRA there’s no balancing of gains and losses, only the extra pain of having to take money out of my IRA, pay taxes on it, just so I can pay my mortgage et al. But I’ll be able to pay those bills because I made money, a sale is a sale.

Did I make money? Yes. Did I lose money? Yes. Welcome to personal finance.

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See It For Yourself – Remote Living

OK. I’m tired. But trips can do that. During the last few weeks I managed to fit in three business-related road trips. Really, business trips. Honest. OK. So they were all touristy or wild or at least remote; but so many people cover cities and major highways that I decided to visit (or at least drive through) over a thousand miles of two lane roads through about a third of Washington State. Really, it was business – and curiosity and an excuse to get out of the house while real estate is a weird mix of busy and slow.

(Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/)

With money this tight (and with a stimulus check lost in the mail) why do such a thing? Because when I can, I like to rely on more than just tweets for a better understanding of what’s going on.

The good news: During these weeks I’m past my vaccinations and the two weeks after, mask mandates have been relaxed, and enough others have been responsible enough to help drive down the infection and transmission rates. (Check out one of my other blogs for an amateur’s synopsis about the pandemic and Whidbey Island. Corona Virus June 3 2021 https://aboutwhidbey.com/2021/06/03/corona-virus-june-3-2021/)

Other good news: Real estate buyers seem to be increasingly interested in moving to Whidbey Island. 

Other news that is good for some but not for others: A recent survey we conducted showed that people on Whidbey like Whidbey so much that they don’t want to sell. Good to hear they’ve found a place they like that much. But, that also means demand is up, supply is down, and prices continue to climb. (Whidbey Real Estate During Covid19 – April 4, 2021 https://aboutwhidbey.com/2021/04/04/whidbey-real-estate-during-covid19-april-4-2021/)

That also means people who want to sell might watch their house sell quicker and for more money than they expected. Good for them. That also means buyers might find that they can’t find what they’re searching for. So, I get questions about Whidbey from out-of-state buyers, who also ask about what else is around; as in around the entire state. Hence, road trip.

Road trip? That sounds like weak logic for driving hundreds of miles around the state. Just get online and search that way. Yes, but. We’re returning to the real world, the one where people deal with people with no machines involved. (Yes, it’s true. It’s really true. Not everything happens via social media.) We’re also still in the midst of extreme opinions and stereotypes about people and places. There really is no substitute to knocking on a door, walking into a real estate office, (seeing if anyone is masked), and talking to someone about someplace. After this trip I now have a few more contacts to contact so I can refer buyers to brokers without me having to drive for hours to try to help someone buy property in a place where I am not an expert. Farm and forest lands are great, but I’m not going to claim I understand industrial operations in such places; especially when they cover hundreds of acres.

Challenging Stereotypes

The islands are remote and only for the rich. The coast is cold and wet. East of the Cascades is hot, high, and dry. Stereotypes should always get failing grades because they are probably rarely right more than 50% of the time. F. 

San Juan Islands 

Oh, the islands are sweet. Islands equal waterfront. The San Juans are touristy, and remote. Rich folks are flocking there. Nice amenities. 

Yes, but. There’s more than just waterfront. Some inland properties are expansive, and maybe with a view of the water. Remote? Well, there aren’t any bridges; but there is more than just the main ferry. There are local water taxis, airports, marinas, and for a bit of personal attention, charter float plane service. The islands tend to be quiet, are visited by various types of whales, have a lot of artists, organic and local food, and can live up to those tourist brochures. I visited the islands first, which may be one reason I saw the most masks there; but they also had to deal with more people from outside their community. Not a surprise the locals were careful. The microclimates range from very dry to deep forests. Take your pick.

Olympic Peninsula

Ah, the coast is sweet. And, the mountains are sweet. Magnificent gets mentioned a lot to the point that much of the area is inside Olympic National Park, from sea level through immense rain forests, to some of the tallest non-volcanic peaks in Washington State.

And then there are dry places like Sequim, inland waters like Hood Canal, fishing ports, resort towns, remote towns, and places so remote that there are no towns. Forest and federal lands also mean there are long drives with no homes in sight, but each house is probably a home, not someone’s vacation house number four. There is also a diversity of opinions and cultures. Some recent events led to national coverage about harassment and tensions. Considering some comments I heard, that’s not a surprise, but it’s also not ubiquitous. People are people. Another reason to go meet people rather than rely on stereotypes. 

North Central Washington

North central Washington is an enormous region that some think is all treacherous mountain terrain, or that high, hot, and dry mentioned above. It is also typified as too far away to get to. 

North Cascades & Lake Roosevelt

Of course, getting to some place far away can be exactly what someone wants. It would be ridiculous for such a large area to fit on image. The east edge is North Cascades National Park, a place that lives up to that treacherous terrain image. Just west of there is Mt. Baker, a volcano that set the snowfall record at over 1,100 inches one year. No surprise that the main pass gets closed for several months, and only opened weeks before this trip. Ah, but then there’s the Methow Valley, a vacation and tourist area for hiking, bicycling, and skiing. Also, occasional wildfires, an irony being that close to that much snowfall. Then, out to the Okanogan Valley which is drier yet, except for the irrigated orchards and such, unless you climb out of the valley to cooler lands. Keep going east and the forests return, the land gets wetter, and the homes spread out again. Farther east and the mountains rise up, again. Remote? Yes. Also very independent. Also the site of a super-spreader event that made the headlines, but that seems to be controlled. My route headed south along Lake Roosevelt / Roosevelt Lake (some signs thought their spelling was better), a long sometimes windy road shouldering the lake. Breezy, a welcome relief from 100F. Then east through rolling farms where one home could barely see the next. Dust devils swirled across the road. I lost track of the microclimates. Pick one. It might be there.

Every region was identifiably unique; and they all have things in common. Every broker I talked to had far more buyers than sellers. Wood prices are up everywhere so building on vacant land isn’t an obvious solution. Affordability for locals can be tough, especially when competing with well-funded buyers. Artists and others with less certain income are looking farther out, possibly creating new creative communities.  If you want to be remote, be remote; and also be within a few hours of cities like Seattle, Portland, Wenatchee, Omak, Chelan, Spokane, etc. Or, take advantage of the same reason others can now consider such places: high-speed internet. Remote workers are moving into places that mainly attracted retirees before. If a place has enough water and utilities and acceptable regulations, they might also get an exclusive neighborhood if it doesn’t already have one. Some entrepreneurs are going to get there first. It turns out water may be less available than broadband. It also turns out that solar power makes places that were too remote, not as remote as before. Rural and country is definitely not urban or suburban. The local government may be a smaller bureaucracy, but they’re also more likely to be overwhelmed with the sudden interest. Another good reason to be a person who gets to know people. 

And in every place, remember there were entire nations here for thousands of years, and the people are still here. Respect.

My trip was going to be grander and broader but was changed for one of the very reasons I took it. As I came out of the mountains and into Republic a call finally connected. Someone wanted to make an offer on a house within miles of my house. The deadline to submit the offer was less than 24 hours away. It could seem like forever and I was hundreds of miles away, but with a push I could’ve driven home by sunset. Because high-speed internet is so widely available, I drove partway, found a well-equipped hotel in Leavenworth, and got to work. The next morning I finished up the paperwork after talking to my client, submitted it, and was home just after lunch. 

Stereotypes about people and places persist, and they are becoming increasingly inaccurate. They’ve always been inappropriate. There’s usually that kernel of truth that’s mentioned frequently, but that’s never the complete picture. The other thing I look for is what we all have in common. The regions may be diverse, but the people usually know how they want to live. Diverse places. Diverse places. That hasn’t changed, and thanks to infrastructure, that’s also becoming easier to attain.

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