Small Frugal Emergency Celebrations

The power will probably stay on. Propane is in the tank. Firewood is in the shed. Water flows from the faucet when I turn it on. The toilet works. I don’t even have to watch for snow or ice on my deck or driveway. That’s normal, and rarely mentioned; but normal is highlighted by weeks of storms, outages, and road hazards. Maybe I should celebrate this.

Missed the news? For the last few months the Pacific Northwest (which is a misnomer from the perspective of the Pacific and places farther north and west of here), the area around the Salish Sea, was hit with wind storms and snow storms with barely breaks between them. Each storm knocked out power for hundreds of thousands, though that was shared around. Whether from downed trees or unplowable roads, thousands were trapped for days.

This region usually doesn’t get noticed by the Weather Channel. Our storms aren’t named. ‘Wind’ and ‘snow’ don’t gain the same recognition as Hurricane Whoever. The Pacific Ocean doesn’t care. It uses thousands of miles of open seas to build assaults that would regularly be headline news on the east coast. And that’s OK. We’re not trying to scare anyone away. Well, maybe.

I’ve been eating my way through my freezer and pantry. A couple of those outages helped partly melt some of the frozen goodies. Maybe marginally knocked the frost off them is more accurate. I didn’t open the freezer or the fridge when the power was out, and had at least one food cache outside in the cold, instead. Still, Use By dates are good suggestions, and a regularly clearing of the contents is a good idea. It’s also an excuse to experiment in the kitchen, but that can be a different post.

Emergency preparedness isn’t just a prepper’s hobby, not on an island in a tsunami zone, over a series of earthquake faults, with a line of volcanoes on the horizon. Food caches, backup heat and power sources, generally the stuff that mimics camping, but at home, are handy. As long as I was able to sit at home, the hazards were fewer than the discomforts.

The first day after the wind dies, the power returns, the snows melt off the roads it is easy to sigh in relief. Relief doesn’t come to everyone simultaneously. I can think of a few folks who probably still have trenches or obstacle courses for driveways. Relief is both emotional and practical as those out of danger (or just discomfort) relax and turn to helping those in need. I like people who treat people as people without judging whether they should or shouldn’t have been in their situation.

I sit here, in my most comfortable chair, typing this post while safe – and have to remind myself of what things were like just a few days ago.

I also sit here realizing that the room is a little chilly. In island fashion I didn’t flush as I let the yellow mellow (which it really doesn’t do, but a flush is inevitable). A few lights are on, which is easier thanks to LEDs. Dinner is simmering in the background, a mix of meat bought on sale with some veggies that probably never truly thawed. Except for little noises from the kitchen and a room heater, the house is mostly quiet.

Frugality and environmental sensitivity mean I’m wearing a vest rather than cranking up the heat. Some houses turn on every light inside and outside, and look like concentration camps if they’re also ringed by fencing. Later I’ll watch a show, letting the internet leak in on command. That will be the noisiest part of the day. Eventually, the evening will end and I’ll retreat to my futon couch, snuggling under a nice thick comforter.

To balance all the complaining and worrying during the recent interruptions would require more of a celebration. I’m warm, enough. I’ll be fed, well enough. I have bathroom facilities that would considered luxurious in most of the world. My house isn’t perfect, but I can be perfectly comfortable here.

I can be perfectly comfortable. That doesn’t mean I am. I’m too aware of the daily struggles to exist in this society. It’s too easy to focus on the lack rather than what’s available. I’m at least imperfectly comfortable enough.

I write this to applaud those who help provide all of the services I enjoy, both explicitly and implicitly. I also write this to applaud those who, in the midst of a series of disasters, saw downed trees as firewood and maybe an opportunity for art, piles of snow as refilling the aquifers and as an opportunity to make snow sculptures, and helped those around them as they could.

It is human nature to complain, or at least seems that way. Beowulf and the Iliad weren’t butterfly and rainbow stories. I wonder if our society will evolve to focus more on the positive than the negative, or at least to balance a complaint with a solution, turning problems into opportunities.

Being frugal provides those small reminders of what can be taken for granted. A vest, a culinary adventure, time spent writing rather than watching a story, maybe those are just another version of small celebrations.

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AMSC Delivers Hope

Thank you, whoever is buying AMSC. I don’t know why you’re doing it, but it is providing hope where hope’s been dwindling. This may be about stocks, but it is also about good times coming out of bad.

There are technologies that can positively disrupt entrenched industries. I try to invest in some of those. One is AMSC, which originally was called American Superconductor. Without getting into great detail (see my semi-annual portfolio reviews for links to that) the company has the potential to do for power what fiber optics did for telecommunications: use new tech to dramatically increase capacity, efficiency, and reliability. With superconducting cables that means better transmission lines, motors, and regulators. Great idea. It hasn’t worked as planned.

For years the company was shadowed by the financial implosion of a very lucrative market and one of their divisions: wind power. Unfortunately, one of their main Chinese customers decided to use the same tech to turn from customer to competitor. Court cases became more important than marketing and sales, at least within the investing community. Recently, the court case was solved. Damages were much greater than the award, but the case finally was resolved.

In the meantime, the company’s promise for its main product hasn’t been making headline news or disrupting anything. Regardless of the court case, the business could’ve progressed, but it didn’t exhibit stellar growth or gain attention from technological achievements. Hope faded, but my investment was in an IRA so there was no benefit to balancing the loss against some other gain. I continued to hold the stock.

There wasn’t another gain to balance against, anyway. My portfolio of potentially positively disruptive technologies wasn’t disrupting anything.

Despite that, in the last year AMSC has more than tripled from $4.68 to $15.42. Look back a bit further and the stock has almost quintupled from $3.13. All without making much of a headline.

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It’s tough watching good ideas languish. Whether in stocks, the arts, social justice, the environment, good ideas exist but most don’t receive recognition or traction. And then, something simple and quiet can happen that propels the idea. Without a real example, it can feel as if nothing positive is going to break through. And yet, we hope.

Hope is not a strategy. It is a gamble, a speculation, an attitude. And yet, people win the lottery.

My portfolio has become entertainment as much as investment. When stocks fall too low they can go through reverse splits, delisting, and dilution. I continue to watch my stocks because I am interested in how the system works, and how it is changing. I’m also interested because I have hope for energy efficiency, treatments for cancers and accidents, and the elimination of millions of resource-intensive computer screens. AMSC, AST, GERN, and MVIS represent some of those companies. All have great potential. All have languished – except AMSC’s price.

Distressed stocks can be like distressed houses, their prices may be much lower than their market value, or the market may actually be overvaluing them. It’s hard to tell. That’s why there is risk in investing, and in flipping houses.

Most of the stocks in my portfolio are at least somewhat distressed. If they were all to experience the same quintupling like AMSC that would be good, but it wouldn’t mean a re-retirement for me. Five times a small number can still be a small number.

Gains aren’t limited to simple figures that we have names for, like 5X = quintupling. FFIV, the holding I sold to pay for the downpayment on my home, rose from under $3 to almost $200. What do you call that? These things do happen; especially, with stocks that are undervalued by emotion rather than arithmetic.

I don’t know if something similar will occur with any of my other stocks, but they’re all targeted at large markets with high barriers to entry and large unmet needs. Such stocks can gain premiums. As I said over on the MVIS Reddit board;

And then, dilution. The top line revenue estimates are as impressive (and speculative) as ever. The number of shares, however, has ballooned to the point that $200 is more like $10; and I suspect many would accept a buyout at $5.

The upside potential isn’t necessarily limited by the market. Sometimes it is limited by the investment community.

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If, however, ideas are allowed to grow, gain acceptance, and become important in the new necessities of our world, then a $1 stock may rise much higher than $5. Whether they get to $200 or higher is less likely, but it would be very welcome. Then that re-retirement becomes much more likely. I can hope.

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Super Bowl Ads 2019

Silly as it sounds, I watch the Super Bowl ads for insights into personal finance. Want to see who has the biggest marketing campaign? Want to gauge the country’s mood? Want to check for trends in discretionary spending? Yep. Watch the ads. Want to skip the game? Watch the ads the next day after most of them have been uploaded to YouTube. Let’s see what this year reveals.

OK. I watched all of the Super Bowl 2019 ads that were on AdBlitz’s YouTube channel. Before I comment on anything else I have to give a shout out to Ram Trucks, not because of their trucks but because they expressed the same thing a few of us discussed last week. What ads can you remember from previous years? Millions of dollars go into these ads because corporations expect to get many more millions out. They probably don’t know how effective they are, either. Here are a few that I remember:

  • Apple’s 1984
  • Mean Joe Greene and a Coke
  • Herding Cats
  • Sock puppet for a pet store
  • …and that’s about it.

I can remember more if I work at it, but I am fascinated at how poorly these ads persist. Ironically, Ram’s two other ads are already fading from memory – and I marked one of those as “positively emotional.”

In general, it looked like almost everyone was playing it safe. There was a lot less of “we’re all in this together”, “looking forward to a brighter day”, and “we can do this”.

I don’t recall any military ads, but there were ads for vets. There were also ads for emergency responders, people who deserve more credit, and people who are also topically safe. Firefighters and nurses got exposure. Police didn’t.

Working class people were applauded, frequently at the expense of mentioning the thing being sold. Kia talked about carworkers, not much about cars. There was some of that thanks to one of those Ram ads (now that I look back.) Jim Beam, though their ad was about workers making it happen even though only one name is on the label, made me wonder if the profits were similarly skewed. Head & Shoulders made three ads about small businesses that couldn’t get exposure otherwise, a great reminder of opportunities, barriers, and how little it can take to reach out.

That positive Head & Shoulders series was another odd reminder of how little mention there is of the things being sold. Hey, ESPN. Who is Rick? H-E-B, is what, a food delivery service? Hyundai makes me think of fantasy elevators, not cars. Lexus’ ad was entertaining (and also provided some confirmation that projection is entering the common consciousness, but that’s only news for MVIS shareholders), but didn’t tell me anything about the car. Hey, Sleepnumber. How and why does your product work?

There were some that made a point. TurboTax thinks people are more valuable than robots. Microsoft’s ad for accessibility demonstrated its potential. Walmart’s grocery pickup service hammered the idea of delivery to your car, without being dull about it. Fabletics actually showed their product more than most: high-tech fashionable leggings. Tostitos showed – gasp – Tostitos, and was one of the few ‘foods’ to advertise this year. (I’ll get to the beer ads, later.) Devour frozen meals did so, too; but was a bit icky to me because they played with a relationship in the message. M&Ms, cute as usual.

Speaking of chips, let’s deal with the beers. This year, Budweiser decided to make fun of other mega-brewers instead of comparing themselves to craft beers. Stella Artois made it sound like drinking a bottled beer was a bold move, something others would shun as beneath them. Michelob’s “pure nature”… To me, Michelob’s true nature was getting a pitcher in college and knowing that the brewery was only a few hours away in eastern Virginia, not Hawaii. I applaud two companies that could benefit from the exposure because they’re new enough: Bon & Viv, that also looks like they’re evolving Starbuck’s mermaid; and Bubly water, though I still don’t know what that is.

The Bud Light ad that tied in with Game of Thrones was one of several ads that are acting like major motion pictures. Movies are now being made that have several production companies involved. T-Mobile & Lyft joined the cross-promotion camp. Have ads gotten that expensive that they must share the risk and cost?

Speaking of movies – I won’t, much. Partly that’s because of spoilers. Partly that’s because some of them are series that I haven’t been able to keep up with thanks to seven day workweeks. Aside from screeching tires and things blowing up, I am intrigued by the Handmaid’s Tale playing with the “Morning Again” motto from Reagan’s era. My, how things have changed. My, how sci-fi can wrap around from fiction to reality. The fiction being portrayed is not a happy place, nor a subtle place. Nuance didn’t show up. Even the animated movie for kids is about threats to the theme park. (Oh no, we must save the corporation’s assets!)

Fear showed up in security system ads, systems that alternately use robots and automation as threat and solution, a dilemma our society must solve.

Robots rule! And robots fail, and tech fails, and tech aids, and how long until the robots are the ones watching the ads? T-Mobile made fun of texting failures, and number hacks, while hinting they have a solution. Amazon had fun with Alexa fails, which is hopefully something we can always laugh at. Hopefully. Nordic Trak is incorporating coaches into its electronics. Why pay for a personal trainer when you can buy one? A few made the point that robots can’t help with taxes, enjoy beer, or chips – and maybe we should be sad about that? For good or not or just odd, companies are recognizing that robots will be a common part of our world.

There were also ads for another world, completely; or at least one that I’m not a part of. Rich people problems. Getting into relationship argument over body lotion? Skin care startling an attacker? Folks who’ve seen real attackers may miss the joke. A luggage company memorializing a rich family’s life rather than normal people traveling. Sprint talks about saving people $1,000 per year on cell phone service. Someone out there should be getting paid by them because I’m sure millions aren’t even spending $1,000 per year on phone service. By the way, car ads are frequently about breaking the law; which is OK if you can get away with it. Having mentioned the law, the law firm that claimed to be lawyers for everyone were shown in stereotypical suits, driving Mercedes, and boarding private jets. Please tell me it was a satire.

Finally, I get to the short list, the ads that I enjoyed watching. Let’s start with a personal bias. I like Jeeps. They’re arguably one of the few that can recycle World War II footage, and they did so without going too far. I’m glad to see that they’re bringing back the truck, but I’d rather see them bring back my 1987 Jeep (not-a-Grand) Cherokee. I trust that when Google says the most common phrases translated are “How are you?” and “Thank you.” that they do so from data. Humans remain humane more than the news makes it seem. Jeep talked about the nation. Google talked about humanity. Netflix reminded us that everyone on the planet is on the same team (though maybe we could use some better coaches.)

That’s not all of the ads, but it’s enough. As I said at the start, I do this to get investing ideas as well as understand trends. When I had more money I’d supplement this exercise with a similar exercise at the mall. Wander around and see what people are buying, and ignoring. Ads seem to be more directed to manipulating emotions, not selling goods and services. Ads. They’re selling a feel, not a reason. Reason is not in fashion. Is a Lexus better than a Kia or a Volvo? There’s no way to tell. Is a Stella Artois more drinkable than a Bud Light? One had two celebrities. The other had a cross-promotion with a celebrated show.

Every year I feel further removed from mainstream America. While it is easy to say that’s because I live on an island, I moved to the island because of what I saw happening in mainstream America. Style is dominant over substance. My investing strategy is based on understanding facts and data, with an understanding of trends and market psychology. That’s why I am glad to see those few seconds of an allusion to a projector. That’s the leading edge of a trend I’ve been watching for decades.

The dominant trend is towards impulse, indulgence, gratification, – or playing voyeur to those who can afford to impulsively indulge in self-gratification. Now, I know that my subconscious is going to digest this mix, and layer on it the situations I mentioned in a previous post: climate change, social injustice, technological advances, and economic inequalities and instabilities. The trends in these ads don’t suggest solutions to those situations. Maybe we’ll leave that to the robots while we tune in to watch yet another celebrity.

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Gathering Revised Plans

I laughed. I danced. I almost cried. What a weekend. For the last few days I attended a conference/seminar/think tank/gathering of diverse people. I learned more from what wasn’t said than what was said. A lot of assumptions, institutions, and conventional wisdoms are about to shift. This is no longer academic. This gets personal.

What we are seeing is a global awakening to the stark realities of climate change; increasingly polarized politics, exponential technological change, compounded by unstable socioeconomic systems.

It’s easy to imagine being deeply aware of at least one of the topics, somewhat aware of another, and have seen headlines about the rest. It’s also easy to imagine them colliding, which is why I spend time considering how they’ll interact; and what actions I should take.

There are advantages to living for decades. I remember the first Earth Day; watched a race riot sweep past me; am a political independent with friends at both extremes; have watched technology shift from slide rules to qubits, from isolated machines to a globally-interconnected web; and have been riding a personal rollercoaster through America’s wealth classes, from middle class to millionaire to muddling by.

Watch something daily and it can be difficult to see the changes. Thanks to My Triple Whammy, I involuntarily stepped away from years of these Gatherings. Working seven days most weeks makes it difficult to spend time and spend money while not making money. Thanks to a very generous friend, I was able to attend again (with the necessary interruptions to maintain my ventures.) Comparing today to five years ago makes it easy to see changes.

co2_trend_mloFive years ago the alarm about climate change was loudly ringing. Progress was being made, but the effort would’ve been much easier if we’d made the changes at that first Earth Day in 1970. Even then, some thought the need was urgent; otherwise, they wouldn’t have spent months or years organizing one day of awareness. About ten years ago there was concern that atmospheric carbon dioxide would exceed 350 parts per million. Now, it exceeds 410 parts per million. Glaciers and disruptive weather are proving the concerns to be more than academic. The good news is that electric vehicles, renewable energy, and the closing of coal plants are all happening faster than was expected five or ten years ago.

Five years ago there was hope in the fight against social injustice. Then, a major reversal happened. Progress is being made compared to the days of the passage of civil rights legislation, but it hasn’t come soon enough or gone far enough. Of all the trends to consider, social trends are the most likely to take generations or can turn on an insightful tweet.

Five years, even thirty years ago, ever since the rise of heightened partisan politics it has been more difficult to stand in the middle. Some of my conservative friends think I am far too socialistic. Some of my liberal friends think I am far too capitalistic. The parties seem to be more in favor of beating each other rather than solving problems. Early indications are that the next election cycle will be more rather than less chaotic. Of course, maybe we could use a bit of chaos before rearranging the rubble into something more solid.

Five, ten, twenty years ago, take your pick of time scales. Technology advances are so fast and continual that instant obsolescence is assumed. The idea of AI and robots running the world are assumed. People are turning over control of their cars, homes, and auto-corrected emails to algorithms that programmers no longer understand. We hope things work and hope things don’t run out of control. As uncertain as that is, the added control over our lives and the dramatic reduction in accident rates are enticing companies and people. To have a TV or a car or even a watch that isn’t connected requires buying 25 year old machines, antiques. Consumer purchases may shift to purchases by computers. Hello, Alexa…

783px-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-westworld-may-11-2017-graph-wealth-inequalityFive years ago I was a few years into My Triple Whammy. Ten years ago I was looking forward to continuing my comfortable yet frugal retirement. Twenty years ago I had just retired thanks to following dull conservative financial wisdom: spend less than I make, invest the rest. Go back far enough and watch the rise from a lower income childhood that felt rich thanks to my resourceful parents, through college when it was affordable, to a career in aerospace engineering which I gave up when I had more than enough money and Boeing was laying off younger people who just happened to have families. In that time, wealth inequality has grown from the top 0.1% having less than 10% of the country’s wealth to now over 20% and climbing. Upward mobility is stalling as wealth accumulation is accelerating. Money is flowing out of the economy and into havens. Not sustainable.

The old rules don’t apply. Don’t be surprised that long term personal and societal plans need to be erased, or at least revised.

I assume climate change isn’t under control, that politics won’t suddenly return to running the country, that technological change will stop, or that wealth will freely redistributed.

I also assume that renewable energy will increase and pollution will decrease, that politics may shift to different power centers, that social injustice will reduce as awareness rises, that technology may provide more solutions than problems, and that unsustainable economic models will soon reach systemic limits that inspire change.

For years these issues have been academic and distant for many. The gathering proved that even just one of these issues could monopolize a community – yet, the other issues didn’t disappear in the meantime. Now, I am giving renewed thought to how I should act with regards to my personal finances, lifestyle, and expectations. What will these issues be like in five, ten, or twenty years from now. We aren’t going back, and never could. I ask myself how do we, or at least I, move forward.

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Recovery – Paying Off The Credit Card

I’ve been looking forward to getting this bill in the mail. Finally, my credit card balance is paid off – almost. I’ll start this blog by finishing a cup of black tea that’s a leftover from today’s work, and switch to a celebratory glass of wine (from a bottle!) by the end. Of the various milestones on my recovery path, this is one I’ve been approaching for years. It’s a path I started following because I am an optimist, which is what got me into trouble – maybe.

The biggest stumble in my financial history is probably My Triple Whammy. I reference it regularly because it was a pivot in almost every aspect of my life. Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it is the most pervasive in this society. At the time it seemed like a big stumble, but one that would be definitely temporary. Bad times happen in long investing careers, and I was unlucky enough to encounter what some financial professionals have called a perfect storm of bad luck. Until then, I’d almost always paid off my credit cards every month. I was retired and my income was from my stock portfolio, a somewhat diversified portfolio that was suddenly deflated. The companies, however, were making technical progress. Surely they’d return and recover. It would be silly and stupid to sell something that was low just before it would become big, and possibly much bigger than before.

One answer, relax my stringent financial habits. Use the credit card and its credit limit for essentials for a few months. The credit limit was tens of thousands of dollars. My credit rating was in the top tier. Why suffer when I had resources that could ease ills, especially if used temporarily and prudently?

Obviously, that didn’t work. The companies progressed technically, but the investment community either abandoned or gutted them. I watched the bills accumulate, strengthened my frugality skills, energized My Backup Plans, and worked and waited. My mortgage was too expensive, yet I couldn’t sell my house. That housing hurt if chronicled in My Mortgage Modification Chronology. Dive in if you want financial slapstick episodes that are funniest in retrospect, but not at the time. Still, I had hope. I had trust in the SEC, the FTC, and my skills in the job market.

Then, the credit card company learned that I wasn’t paying my mortgage. Even though I was sacrificing the mortgage payment to make the credit card payment, the credit card company effectively halved my credit limit. With no notice, my credit score took yet another hit because my credit balance was now too big of a percentage of my credit limit, not because I’d spent more but because they dropped my limit.

Skip ahead a year or so as my consulting business increased. I paid hundreds of dollars every month to drop that balance, only to see it rise again when I had to pay income taxes. Those taxes were at an effectively higher rate than just a few paragraphs ago when I was living off my portfolio.

And yet, I made progress. Frugality has its benefits, even when income is far below the median wage. It looked like it would take years to retire the debt, and decades before I could re-retire myself.

The biggest help came about a year ago. A friend gave me a financial buffer, a substantial financial buffer. That, plus help with a new career as a real estate broker cleared the hurdle of one year’s taxes, freeing up the payments to cut the balance down by hundreds of dollars per month. Every month was a mini-celebration. Near the end of last year, I had enough to pay it off entirely, but prudence suggested caution because real estate income isn’t guaranteed. (Massive understatements available for free.)

Last month I paid something more precise than an round number of hundreds of dollars. I paid the balance to the penny. There was a small, quiet celebration, but I wanted to see the next bill before raising a glass or two – and telling you.

Today, the bill finally arrived. I knew it wouldn’t be zero. I purposely put my Hulu account on the credit card account, just to keep some money flowing through it. That may seem strange, but modern financial institutions aren’t constrained by common sense. They live in an uncommon world.

I’ve paid off my second largest debt. My largest financial debt continues to be my mortgage, which is also being paid down at a few hundred dollars per month. That will take longer, much longer. My largest personal debt is to those people who have supported me through my recovery.

Along the way, I’ve met too many others who are facing tougher struggles. The old adage goes, “It takes money to make money” which is true; yet for some reason, very few give those without money the money they need to make the money that will aid their recovery. It takes money to make money, so why is it a surprise that those without money remain poor?

It sounds simple; “Pay down your credit” which is really pay down your debts. The reality is more complicated with extra fees, dropped credit limits, penalized credit ratings, and a persistence that worsens without sacrifice. Even now, my bill isn’t simple and hasn’t necessarily recovered. Take another look at it. The balance is $8.67 and the minimum payment is also $8.67. The late fee penalty is $37.00. How about one month with a minimum payment of zero? I expect to pay in full and on time, which is now much more manageable, but the pressure persists – and so does the credit limit.

An experience like this sours the expectation of dealing with the financial industry. An experience like a threatened foreclosure reveals unseemly aspects that aren’t apparent until witnessed. It is amazing that any other industry acting this way would survive, yet they will.

I’m celebrating the relief of no longer carrying around an enormous boulder on my back. It will be easier to walk taller financially and in the real world. But don’t be surprised if you see me hop a bit. It still feels like a pebble from that boulder has fallen into my shoe, which may make me walk a bit more cautiously for a while.

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Turning Sixty

I can’t remember when I was born. There’s a birth certificate, which in today’s bureaucratic world proves it happened.

I can’t remember turning ten. There may have been a party, I can only remember one from childhood, but I don’t know if it was that.

Turning twenty happened in college, a time when I was averaging three hours of sleep a night, with no allowances for celebrations.

Turning thirty only had one main urgent message which was that, if I wanted to be a father, now was a good time to find a wife. I was married a few years later.

Forty approached with friends making fun of how they’d prank me. I had enough stress from work and home life that a series of practical jokes weren’t what I wanted. Instead, I took my first ski trip, three days at Silver Star Resort in British Columbia. That set the tone for several years. I was starting to see how the wealthy lived and played because I’d been retired for a little under two years.

Fifty came by after the divorce, and as money was getting tight. Optimism encouraged me to continue my new tradition of a ten-day ski vacation. Surely my stocks would recover. The companies were succeeding technically. But I felt restrained. My one indulgence of the year had become a time for introspection.

Sixty comes after My Triple Whammy, an entry into a new career (I’ve lost count because is a job a career if it doesn’t net a profit?), and my indulgence has been to only answer a few phone calls and several emails for work. (There’s some good news there, but that’ll be part of another post.) Proper introspection and retrospection take time, and time is a luxury.

I’m much more aware of time. One of the great lessons from frugality has been that time is the most precious resource. At least for now, I don’t know how to make more time. I’ve turned sixty, but mentally I feel like 42 while physically I feel like 52.

We sit in an era when it is possible, and debatably probable, that some people will live decades or centuries longer than what has been normal; and that, if they can live that long, then they are effectively immortal. (Though not invulnerable. Accidents do happen.) Despite that possibility, I recognize that such an advance will probably be expensive and limited, at first. Thanks to investing in Dendreon, Asterias, and Geron, I’ve seen such technologies advance without much public attention. Whether the breakthroughs happen when they can benefit me is unknowable.

Lifespan is an issue that is fragmenting into more precise understandings. Life expectancy is a number, but that number is different between rich and poor, changes with regions, and is only now being understood genetically.

There’s an obvious money aspect. Personal finance is quite abstract at twenty, but outliving one’s savings is very real for most of the population who can see the end from here. About a third of the elderly population (that’s not me, is it?) have little or no savings for retirement. I don’t have enough, but I’m rapidly approaching my own version of enough, again. Re-retirement is possible. Let me check those lottery tickets – and answer a few more client phone calls. Re-accumulating wealth is greatly enabled by living a frugal lifestyle. Among the many skills I’ve tried to learn, frugality is one that I’ve practiced well enough that an even more frugal friend decided to give me the title of Mr. Frugal. I bow to those who exceed my skills.

Time is on my mind, however. How do I spend my time? Nothing dramatic is planned to change with the passing of what is really just another day, but I am already able to count the seasons possibly remaining. I bicycled across America in 2000, walked across Scotland in 2010, hope to do something similar in 2020, but how about 2030? 2040? How many more ski seasons, hiking seasons, holiday seasons remain? Recovering from My Triple Whammy meant missing out on dozens of backpacking trips, a loss of physical fitness, and a drop in confidence. Some impressive friends have turned themselves from sedentary to athletic after they turned sixty. I know it’s possible, but I also know it took great effort and sacrifice.

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How did I ever take care of a suburban house, and yet go backpacking or cross-country skiing almost every weekend? Will it take the same effort and sacrifice as then, or was that only possible by being thirty?

I wish I had the time to consider that more. But, re-retirement requires its own effort and sacrifice. Taking the time to think and plan takes time that could provide the income that could fund the time to think and plan properly. It is a common conundrum.

At least I’ve learned to trust my intuition, to recognize that one of my skills is persistence, and that a lifetime of questioning values means I know that I am chasing my goals, not those of everyone else’s expectations or some advertiser’s imaginary dream.

Will I make it to seventy, eighty, and beyond? Check back in ten, twenty, and more years.

In the meantime, I’m dining on left-over pizza (gluten-free) and getting ready to go dancing (in shorts, of course) while checking for any urgent emails (no? great!). Looking back and looking ahead is valuable, but enjoying now is all we can ever experience.

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You Are Helping Write A Book

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve been helping me write a book. Helping others isn’t always a conscious act. Readers have help writers. Patrons influence artists. Customers define companies. Citizens vote for politicians. OK, so maybe the analogy has limits. In any case, thanks.

For those who are new to the blog, a reminder of how it started. About twenty years ago I retired at 38. The benefits of a frugal life, spending less than I made, and investing the rest. As I describe on my Amazon Author Page; “I fell into writing by trying to lose weight.” Early retirement made that ‘career’ shift easier. After about ten years and having written four books, friends convinced me to write a book about my style of personal finance. I was hesitant, but evidently I am better than some at describing such concepts simply. By luck, when I moved to Whidbey Island I moved near Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life. When a bestselling author adds her encouragement, it is tough, and somewhat silly, to say no. So, I said yes to everyone. With a bit of a push I was able to write and publishDream Invest Live cover Dream. Invest. Live. about the same time that she published the second edition of YMOYL (which included me as a soon-to-be-but-couldn’t-be-predicted ironic case study.) Books are static. The basics of personal finance are persistent. Life in today’s economy, however, is more dramatic and dynamic; hence, this blog.

Read back through over ten years of posts, if you dare. It will take a while because the blog now has about ten times more words than the book. The blog also has more readers than the book has buyers. I don’t recommend that marathon endeavour because time is precious, and while I like some of my writing there’s a life to live. I, however, may go back through those posts – and here’s where you have already come in handy.

The working title for the sequel is too long; “From Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By”, but it conveys the journey that has been my rollercoaster ride through America’s wealth classes. I haven’t hit the extremes, but I could see them at various times, and met the people living there.

The details of the ride are in this blog, and they’ll be in the book. The blog is necessarily chronological. This year, 2019, should include a personal finance milestone that I’ve waited for before writing the sequel. The way people have read the blog helped determine how the sequel will be written.

As I mentioned recently with the ten year anniversary and the annual analysis, several topics and threads have proved to be interested to enough of you that I intend to include them in the book. In no particular order, and not exclusive, but things that change depending on financial perspective:

  • healthcare
  • housing
  • frugality
  • ALAYCPYB
  • Gig Economy
  • jobs
  • investing
  • attitude
  • debt
  • charity
  • community
  • relationships
  • politics

Maybe not that last one – and yet, maybe. Definitely others.

All of those topics were valid things to discuss in 2008. They’re valid now. And yet, the story for each has changed, partly from technology, but mostly from societal shifts that have yet to stabilize, that may never settle into a new normal.

Each of those topics also look different depending on where you stand or sit. A homeless person can look at a millionaire and wonders why they can’t spare the price of a pair of shoes to help someone buy a sleeping bag or tent. A millionaire can see a homeless person, and also see a seemingly never-ending line of equally needy people that they can’t equally accommodate.

One friend who is frugally comfortable and comfortably frugal was in a simple accident that required months of recuperation. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take a vacation from expenses which meant they couldn’t take a vacation from making an income. And yet, a well-meaning friend suggested they’d recover much more quickly if they ‘only took two weeks off to lay on the beach in Hawaii. To some, two weeks in Hawaii is something that can be done on impulse for cash. For others, taking two days off at home means missing bills and losing health and maybe a house.

Another entrepreneurial friend honestly laughed at the idea of taking two days off every week, even unpaid ones; and then laughed louder when I suggested being paid to take two, three, or even four weeks off every year. And then, I watched their laughter fail when I pointed out that their customers took such a situation for granted – customers who might be upset that the store wasn’t open every day from 9 to 9.

Writers, like many people, deal with deadlines. My personal deadline for the sequel is November, so the book is available for the holidays; but I’m not going to specify the year. Within the next few months I’ll complete the photo essay, Twelve Months at Maxwelton Beach (book six in my Whidbey Series), am writing the first book in a sci-fi series (unless a collaborator finished their book in the same universe first), and am writing and producing an anthology that I won’t describe, yet. All of this in and around my primary role as a real estate broker, and as a consultant for creative people.

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Busy? Yes. But, there’s My Rule of 7. Hey, maybe that’s the way I should structure the book, base it on my life management rules that have also been a constant during my rollercoaster ride.

Stay tuned. For now, I have to step away for a client call with friends in Japan. It’s all good, and as writers know, it’s all story (with discretion and liberal use of pronouns, of course.)

 

Personal writers note: Attitude (optimism, pessimism, depression, expectation) Hey, I had to write it down somewhere and the keyboard is right here. Catch those ideas before they fly away!

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Popular Posts In 2018

What was popular in 2018? In the rest of the world it was probably something about a celebrity that did a thing that no one will remember, either the thing or the celebrity, a hundred years from now. Humans, we’re such silly people. I can provide one answer, though. Here are the ten most popular posts from this blog in 2018.

  1. MicroVision Begins 2018
  2. Summarizing MVIS At CES From Home
  3. Semi Annual Exercise Mid 2018
  4. My Spreadsheet For Tracking My Stocks
  5. GERN Spikes I Buy AST
  6. Transition For Writers On Whidbey
  7. Fresh Idea – Dockside Tidal Power
  8. Apple Pixar Dendreon
  9. Small Powerful Things
  10. Woo Hoo Health Care

The other way of looking at the list is:

  1. stocks
  2. stocks
  3. stocks
  4. stocks
  5. stocks
  6. writing
  7. inventions
  8. stocks
  9. simplicity
  10. health care

OK, so evidently 2018 was the year for stocks despite my portfolio’s performance. Fine by me.

This is also a lesson the data taught me years ago. Blogging is more persistent than posting to Facebook, Twitter, et al. Check out the dates from the posts.

  1. 2018
  2. 2018
  3. 2018
  4. 2015
  5. 2018
  6. 2016
  7. 2016
  8. 2012
  9. 2015
  10. 2018

Half of the top posts were written years ago. Those posts carry more significance because someone had to look for the earlier posts. It is like readers reaching past the “Just Published” section in a bookstore, heading to the back racks, and maybe ordering something special delivery.

I’m pleased to see that My Spreadsheet For Tracking My Stocks was popular. Maybe my approach is useful to others. Happy to help.

I’m particularly pleased and will continue to ponder the relatively high rank of one of my inventions: Fresh Idea – Dockside Tidal Power. Clean energy that doesn’t interfere with the environment? Yep. Maybe. And, maybe someone wants to work on it – and include me.

To my fellow writers, data is another reason blogging can be powerful. Blogs persist. Data reveals. Instead of relying on anecdotes, compliments or complaints heard in the grocery line, or trying to count Facebook Likes, data tells me where my largest audience sits. That’s rare feedback for a creative endeavour.

To those who read and follow my blog, thanks for dropping by, commenting, and sharing. My passion is for people and ideas. Both are impressive and I truly enjoy playing introducing each to the other. Read well. Happy New Year.

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Semi Annual Exercise EOY 2018

From me (slightly edited from previous posts);

“Decades ago (was it really that long?), I started following Peter Lynch’s example by regularly seeing if I could describe each of my investments simply. The idea was that, if an investor can’t explain why they hold an investment, they should consider investing in something they understand. I set myself a schedule: every six months, write a synopsis of each company and include a simple assessment of their prospects.”

The fact that the quote is slightly edited is a good example of maintaining any exercise: persist, but alter as appropriate. Someone in their sixties shouldn’t exercise as if they were forty, or twenty, or newly born. Change is how writing and investing mature, too.

From six months ago;

“The first half of 2018 has been weird enough that I don’t expect to correctly predict my portfolio’s performance in the second half of 2018. The markets don’t like turmoil, but they might like a more efficient energy infrastructure, treatments for cancers and damaged nerves, dramatically improved electronics, and appreciation for higher internet speeds. I can hope, which isn’t a strategy, but it is what I have to work with.”

If this was a speaking event I’d have fun asking for a show of hands of how many predicted anything about the second half of 2018 from the first half. Even astronomers and climatologists would be surprised. Economists probably didn’t expect Bitcoin to crash while also becoming a popular currency in some countries, oil to retreat to below $50 a barrel, the Dow to almost hit 27,000 and drop below 22,000, and the US government to end the year dealing with a shut down.

One of my stocks doubled, but only after it dropped significantly (AMSC). The rest were a mix of no news or speculation, ephemeral foundations under volatility that continues to quiver without warning.

One stock, AST, followed GigOptix’s example by being bought out after reporting good news. The irony is that both it and the acquiring company (BTX, which already owned a large portion of AST) then fell.

My strategy that served me well for decades hasn’t done so since My Triple Whammy, a perfect storm of bad luck that may have heralded a new era. SEC controls seem less enforced. Short sellers and automated trades seem to control the market. Individuals may be less in control, which may explain at least part of my performance. Or, and an honest introspection requires considering this, I was merely luck for thirty years. You may well imagine why I had confidence and then had it challenged. Dream Invest Live coverThat strategy is described better in my book, Dream. Invest. Live.; but basically it is a combination of Long Term Buy and Hold (LBTH) and buy small, potentially positively disruptive companies when they are laughed at or ignored and sell them when they’re recognized as the next big thing. Some of that potential remains with each of the stocks in my portfolio, but none of them have succeeded commercially in the last six months.

And yet, I continue the exercise. Something I noticed when I wrote my book on personal finance and investing was that it was easy to hear from the authors who continued to have success, even if it may be attributable to luck. It is less common to hear from the ones who didn’t succeed, even it if may be attributable to luck.

The persistent question is whether doing the same thing and expecting a change is a sign of a bad choice, or the sign of the perseverance that is required of entrepreneurs, innovators, and pioneers.

In my case, there isn’t much of a choice. I maintain confidence in my philosophy and strategy even as I have diminished confidence in my invested companies. Until I begin earning discretionary income, the choice is moot. I probably won’t invest much more until I can fulfill the first of my frugal finance rules; “Spend less than you make.” then invest the rest. That potential is near, but not here, yet.

Within the next six months I won’t be surprised to hear good news from:

  • Asterias (under its new ownership of BTX) as their treatment for damaged nerves progresses,
  • Geron as it makes progress through its cancer treatments.
  • MicroVision because CES 2019 is near and management guided towards cash flow positive or profitability sometime this year.

I don’t expect startling news from AMSC or NPTN because their technologies have already been developed and introduced to the market, and both are selling to commercial, not retail, customers that are more likely to grow without press releases or customer testimonials.

The economy has its issues, too. Whatever happens with my holdings happens as the weird worlds of politics and financing mix in unexpected ways. I think my best hope, besides winning the lottery jackpot, is to take advantage of distressed and uncertain markets to buy low and sell high. Stay tuned to see what happens.

Here are the links to the discussion boards I use. Feel free to comment here or there, and to pass along links to others. The bigger the discussion, the better the chance of valuable insights (as long as the trolls and flamers are moderated appropriately.)

Investor Village

AMSC

AST

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

The Motley Fool

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

Silicon Investor

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

Reddit

MVIS

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Unexpected Favorite Gifts

“What was your favorite gift this year?”

I overheard that at the office, the day after Christmas. Thoughts run faster than words, and my mind sprinted along, but without gaining traction. About the time I was wondering at not having an immediate response, I began to hear the stories of kids and presents, of wrapping paper and emptied boxes. Getting older definitely changes things. Skip the Hallmark moments. My second reflection made me think deeper, and wonder a bit more.

There are plenty of correct answers: love, peace, community, et al. They’re popular because they are valuable, but in some ways they’re also too general. They may be at the core of what I appreciated, but the specifics are what give them meaning. Oh yeah, and there was some good stuff, too.

I’m about to become an official senior citizen, at least by clicking into the sixties. Most of my friends and family are older than me. Decades of accumulating things means most people don’t want more stuff. Experiences are hard to wrap, but food travels nicely.

Last week Whidbey Island was hit by a storm that knocked out power to everyone who relied on the grid. Folks with solar and wind backups were envied. People with generators were envied, but noted for being noisy. Our local power company had to restore power to 320,000 households. It took them days, but they got almost everyone back by Christmas Day. Thanks for the everyday overlooked gift of heat, light, hot water, and a reminder of neighbors helping each other while maintaining a sense of humor.

(By the way, the winds peaked at 117 mph at a local peak, Mount Baker; and hit at high tide, which you can see in this short video I uploaded.)

Walking through the neighborhood on Christmas Day it was nice to see an elderly neighbor. She came out with compliments for some help I provided earlier in the year. I was glad to see that she was okay, and had survived the storm and the outage. We were worried because she didn’t answer the door while the power was out. Some of us feared the worst. It turns out her hearing was probably out, too.

People visit people during the season, but the storm provided an extra reason and excuse to talk, plus ice-breakers for every conversation. How long were you out? Did you lose any food? Depending on the household, some need electricity for heat or well water, while everyone needs it for light. Conversations were about the basics of life, the things we take for granted the rest of the time.

My house is heated by propane, a story that continues, and I had a full tank; but it heats the house with water, water that is pumped around by an electric pump. Plenty of fuel, but one critical element lacking. But, I still had water, and plenty of lanterns and candles, and a well-stocked fireplace.

During the outage, gifts arrived. Food from the east coast, food packed in styrofoam with dry ice or ice packs inside, and big labels warning “refrigerate as soon as possible.” Well, they were already in the best place because I wasn’t about to open the kitchen’s fridge or freezer. The boxes stayed outside. Emergency backup food is usually freeze-dried or canned. Having filet mignon softens that situation, especially with some bottled wine that is ready for any event.

Because I am frugal, I am hard to buy for. I know that. So, every year I shop for myself. There’s one trip to the grocery store to buy cheeses or pretty popcorn that I wouldn’t normally buy. It’s a good time for smoked salmon. As a bonus, they’re all good when the power is out, too. Then, there’s usually a trip to the hardware store for some stuff. This year, lots of batteries because they provide a sense of security. The same with candles and lamp oil. Then I get things like an extra file, a special pot holder, and this year’s special treat – a sharpened lawn mower blade.

Silly? I can imagine that reaction. One advantage of truly understanding personal values and personal finance is finding those places where a little bit of monetary grease makes life much easier. The right tool? That can save hours. A pot holder? The right one at the right time saves food and a bit of skin – and may keep the smoke detector from squealing. A sharp lawn mower blade? Around here, the grass inevitably gets ahead when the spring storms are coming without a break. That first dry day can be a monstrous chore, especially of the blade is a blunt object trying to beat the grass back down. Silly? Of course, and that’s why I wouldn’t ask others for such gifts. But, I can ask and gift myself.

One time, someone with sufficient wealth asked me what I really wanted. They told me they didn’t want to hear about the small stuff. They asked for it. I delivered. I delivered a list of: paying off my mortgage, buying a new car, paying for full medical care, … You can imagine their very natural reaction. They were nice enough, however, to give me a generous cash gift – ostensibly to compensate for some emotional support I provided when it was most needed. Thanks and you’re welcome all in one.

I remember those years when the goal of opening presents included covering the living room floor in wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and empty boxes – the sort of thing pets consider an overwhelming gift. Some of those gifts were grand, and still in my possession.

This year’s most entertaining gift is probably the combined efforts of a few folks who provided me tea. Thanks to one batch in particular, I now have 27 kinds of teas and infusions (mostly loose leaf) at home, to add to the 7 kinds (all in bags) in my desk at the real estate office. I may not have to buy tea for months. A marvelous mix of flavors. Thanks.

And here’s the Hallmark moment because it is true. My best memories of Christmas 2018 are of people, people being themselves, people sharing the basics, people living in family and community. I didn’t expect to come back around to that answer to the question asked in the office, but that’s something I value, and something I received. It may not fit into casual conversation, but at least I can fit it in here. Thank you, all.

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