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I was originally attracted to this blog by Darrow’s consistent focus on the things that really matter. It helped me to improve my financial situation and use my money to live my best life.

The Best

Like many of you, I’ve gotten sucked into articles, podcasts, social media posts, etc. this month about hot financial topics. They include “meme stocks,” GameStop, AMC, Robinhood, Bitcoin, and the opinions of people like Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, and Dave Ramsey. 

With so much attention being given to these topics, it’s hard to ignore them. But we should try, or at least keep them in context.

This month, I tried to bring the focus back to those things that really matter for those of us trying to save more, invest better, and retire sooner. Dig in….

What Really Matters?

Peter Mallouk wrote What Works for Financial Media Goals Doesn’t Necessarily Help You Reach Yours.

The next selection is a great contrast to the “click bait” market forecasting Mallouk points out. From the Vanguard blog: Why talk about a market downturn now? Why not?

Jim Dahle shares the Top 7 Uses for Bitcoin. Multiple family members and friends who I doubt ever read the blog recently asked me whether they should be buying Bitcoin. Moving forward, my response will be to share this article.

First Principles

When the world around us seems crazy, it is good to zoom out, look at the bigger picture, and regain perspective. Perhaps no one does that better than legendary investor Charlie Munger. From the farnam street blog, The Munger Operating System: How to Live a Life That Really Works.

It is hard to find two people who are smarter and more well respected when it comes to all things related to investing and the financial advice industry than Jason Zweig and Michael Kitces. So when they spoke on Kitces’ podcast, I listened. I wasn’t disappointed and I promise you won’t be either.

Troubling Trends

Mary Beth Franklin provides a sobering look at the finances of the average retiree writing Retiree debt doubles during pandemic. Most of this audience is doing much better than average. That’s great! Still there are lessons to be learned. A big one is only about 3 out of 10 retirees retired when they had planned. In a community full of meticulous planners, it’s important to remember we don’t control everything.

Over the past few months I’ve been meeting with readers. A common challenge among multiple people I’ve spoken to is finding good financial advice at a fair price. 

Paying attention to leaders in the financial planning industry on their blogs, podcasts, and social media gave me the impression that financial advice was improving and becoming more affordable. Talking with readers made me aware of the disconnect between the industry’s version of the story and the experience of actual consumers. 

Quality of advice consumers receive varies considerably. Costs are consistently high. My observation of costs was confirmed by Derek Tharp: Financial Advisor Fee Trends And The Fee Compression Mirage.

We spend a lot of time focusing on safe withdrawal rates. It’s an important topic. Knowing how much you can take from a portfolio determines how large of a portfolio you need at the start of your retirement.

The 4% “safe withdrawal rate” provides a starting point. Many experts recommend lowering that assumption in the current investing environment.

You may fret about how much larger a portfolio you will need to start retirement with a lower withdrawal rate. Christine Benz provides a different perspective, writing The Good News About Retirement Income.

Ignoring Trends

Don’t place too much attention on the future and trends we can’t know or control. There is a lot we can know and control right now.

Mike Piper writes Long-Term Tax Planning Requires Guessing. Focus on the Near-Term.

Harry Sit provides vital information for readers who are planning around health insurance premium subsidies this year. He writes 2020 2021 2022 Federal Poverty Levels (FPL) For ACA Health Insurance.

My Credit Card Reward Wins

One way I focus on getting immediate financial wins is signing up for new credit cards periodically to collect the generous sign-up bonuses. I focus on travel rewards over cash back rewards, because they tend to be more lucrative. 

The biggest challenge for our relatively frugal household is hitting the minimum spending requirements. I tend to look for the best available offers when I know I have a big expense coming up.

Last year, I only signed up for two cards. I signed up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card early in the year. I then got the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card in the fall. Each had enticing introductory offers at the time I applied for them. My current rewards point balance looks like this:

This translates to about $1,700 in free travel with Southwest and $800 in IHG rewards. I also earned a Southwest Companion Pass. It entitles me to a free ticket every time I fly (which hopefully is at least once) through the end of 2021. This will make the Southwest points stretch even further. My total credit card fees on these two cards were $99!

We know we renew our season ski passes annually in March. With this expense looming, I went looking for the best current credit card reward offers. No sign-up bonuses were particularly enticing at the moment. 

So I looked back at my absolute favorite travel rewards card, The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Over 48 months have passed since I last earned the sign up bonus on this card, making me eligible to earn it again. So I pounced on it.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card enables you to Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s a minimum of $600 in cash back rewards, $750 if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, and potentially more if you transfer the points to one of the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel partners. Plus earn a $50 statement credit towards grocery store purchases. The card has a $95 annual fee.

Too Important To Ignore

This month, I critiqued a popular article about the FIRE movement. Unfortunately, I didn’t express my points as well as I would have liked. The article elicited polarized responses that turned off readers I most wanted to reach. That said, the topics of taking agency and making better decisions are at the core of everything else we write about on this blog. So they are too important to ignore.

One of the people whose ideas I cited in that article was former poker player Annie Duke. This month, she was on the Art of Manliness podcast talking about How to Decide.

I am critical when FIRE principles are presented unfairly, particularly on major websites or in media. It is only fair to offer praise when they get it right. Michelle Jackson was given a platform by Business Insider to share her relatable, actionable, and inspiring story. She described how she applied FIRE principles to transform her life, writing I didn’t want to wait decades for retirement, so I made 3 money changes that let me live a ‘retirement’ lifestyle right now.

Celebrating a Milestone

Joe Saul-Sehy has been a long-time friend and supporter of this blog. Darrow has been a guest on his Stacking Benjamins podcast multiple times. I’ve also been a guest and he hosted me in Detroit to support the launch of my book.

So, I would like to return the favor by giving Stacking Benjamins some attention. I realized the show is no longer able to attract such interesting guests and they need our help (EXTREME SARCASM!).

This month Joe spoke with Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph. It is a fascinating conversation about overcoming Randolph’s fears as an entrepreneur, the role timing, luck, and continuing through adversity have on success, building a great team (or getting hired onto one), and much more. Two days later, Stacking Benjamins released the 1,000th episode of the podcast.

CONGRATULATIONS to Joe, Doug, OG, and the rest of the SB team for building such a successful show by making personal finance fun! If you haven’t given this podcast a listen you should. That’s no joke.

Have a great month and let me know what articles resonated with you so I can continue to better serve your needs.

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Valuable Resources

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  • Monitor Your Investment Portfolio
    • Sign up for a free Personal Capital account to gain access to track your asset allocation, investment performance, individual account balances, net worth, cash flow, and investment expenses.
  • Our Books

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[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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