January 2020 Best of the Web

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I’m still adjusting to writing 2020. It’s surreal to think that we’ve started a new decade and Y2K is twenty years in the rearview mirror.

We’ve got a lot of great articles to help you start your year and decade on the right foot. We start with details and planning implications of the SECURE act, passed at the end of 2019 and currently going into effect.

Our selected articles look back at market performance over the past year and decade, forecast future economic conditions, and help you use all this information to make better decisions with your portfolios and retirement plans.

Our selections explain why the actions that lead to financial success, including those of the often sensationalized Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) community, are actually mundane and why that’s a good thing.

Finally, I close out this month’s selections with a fascinating article about medical tourism that is making me take a closer look at adding this option to our early retirement tool belt.

Getting More SECURE

Last month I squeezed an article about the then just passed SECURE Act into our December round-up. It was far and away the most clicked article. So, now that the dust has settled here is insight on what has actually changed.

For the CliffsNotes version, Mike Piper simplifies the aspects of the law most likely to impact readers with Retirement and 529 Changes from the SECURE Act.

And for those of you looking for an in depth analysis of planning implications, Jeffrey Levine writes SECURE Act And Tax Extenders Creates Retirement Planning Opportunities And Challenges.

Markets: Past and Future

Ben Carlson offers a look back at the past decade with The 2010s Market Decade in Review and he also looks back to give perspective on 2019 with I Gotta Say, It Was a Good Year.

Economists at Vanguard shared their look forward with Vanguard economic and market outlook for 2020.

Some people think gold is a necessity to hedge against worst case future scenarios. Karsten Jeske analyzes the past to see what holding gold would have done to your safe withdrawal rate, writing Using Gold as a Hedge Against Sequence Risk. His analysis will be of particular interest for readers who have written for our opinions on the gold heavy Permanent, All Weather, and Golden Butterfly portfolios. 

More on the Future

Retirement planning requires all of us to make some assumptions and predictions about an unknown future. Larry Swedroe offers a sobering reminder to not place too much confidence in these predictions, writing Accountability Proves the Incompetence of Market Forecasters.

Facing an unknowable future, the emotions of fear and greed often drive investors’ behavior. Financial advisors Michael Kitces and Carl Richards share The Overconfident Conversation And Walking Clients Back From The Greed Ledge.

Is FIRE Mundane?

Christine Benz noticed that many people overcomplicate their finances looking for quick fixes. She writes The Keys to Financial Success Are Incredibly Mundane (Sorry!)

I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with Christine and Jeff Ptak this month on Morningstar’s The Long View Podcast. I appreciated their combination of healthy skepticism with open minded curiosity about the FIRE movement. We discussed changing your mindset around what is “normal” with finances, what it takes to build wealth quickly, the impact of the bull market on the FIRE movement, how we’re balancing risks and opportunities, why many people in the FIRE community don’t actually retire and what FIRE skeptics can learn from it all. 

My motivation to share my journey to FIRE was to demonstrate that it doesn’t require an extreme lifestyle as is often portrayed. The core concepts of questioning assumptions, spending less than you earn, and investing the difference wisely are what enables financial independence much sooner than most people assume is possible.

The cumulative results of these actions over 10-20 years look much different than those of people on the standard path through life. But at its core, like most personal finance topics, FIRE is pretty mundane. Sorry!

The Best of FIRE

Many people are skeptics of FIRE, because their only exposure to it is the clickbait headlines and sensational stories that appear on TV, newspapers, or large websites. I try to use these monthly round ups to bring together the best advice and tools, from both traditional media sources and independent bloggers.

Mr. Money Mustache is credited by many as the leader of the FIRE movement. This month he offered solid advice on intentional living and giving generously, writing Let the Roaring 2020s Begin.

This past fall, I met and was impressed with the FIRE blogger who writes at A Purple Life. She describes the evolution that many of us go through on the way to FIRE, sharing Lessons Learned After Half A Decade On The FIRE Journey.  

FIRE blogs provide an alternative to the “expert” advice typically repeated by the financial industry. A great example is the following guest post from the Physician of FIRE blog about the massive conflicts of interest that come with most advice. Donovan Sanchez writes Confessions of an Ex-AUM Financial Advisor.

Health Care Tourism

We’ll close with a topic that has my interest but also my skepticism, medical tourism. I found this article from the Salt Lake Tribune fascinating. My home state of Utah is paying state employees to leave the state to incentivize them to get cheaper medications in Mexico. Erin Alberty writes Prescriptions from Mexico? Utah is paying public employees to make the trip.

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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. After achieving financial independence, Chris began writing about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. Chris also does financial planning with individuals and couples at Abundo Wealth, a low-cost, advice-only financial planning firm with the mission of making quality financial advice available to populations for whom it was previously inaccessible. Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He has spoken at events including the Bogleheads and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants annual conferences. Blog inquiries can be sent to chris@caniretireyet.com. Financial planning inquiries can be sent to chris@abundowealth.com]

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  1. Thanks for the feature, my friend!

    The article about a US State government paying employees to travel to Mexico for prescription drugs is fascinating and evidential of the mess that is our healthcare system has become.

    I’ve been skeptical of the risk / benefit ratio of some medical tourism, but if all you’re doing is picking the identical prescription drug (and appropriate fraud / counterfeit drug prevention measures are in place), this seems like a no-brainer.


    1. Yes, that article blew my mind! What a mess our system is, and no wonder so many people like you and I are so eager leave careers that should provide so much fulfillment. Sad!

  2. Hello
    After reading and listening to many FIRE blogs and podcasts, I love the concepts of FIRE. However, I cannot for the life of me figure out how or why someone thinks they can retire at 30 years old with $500,000. That means they live on about 2K a month. I guess someone could technically do that but I think it’s a little bit of stretch to say you ‘retired’. How do you pay for health insurance, for example? I guess I could go live someone and spend my life extremely frugal, but does that really give you a life of freedom and choices? I apologize if I sound judgmental; I just don’t see it.

    1. Rachel,

      You will get zero argument from me on that point. I had the exact same thought when I was introduced to FIRE blogs through MMM. At the time, he would annually report his family (at the time of 3) lived on $25k annually, so assuming FI when you have 25x annual spending (assuming 4% SWR, which is a whole separate argument) would mean they only needed to accumulate $625k. Our family of three would need about 2x that using the same assumptions.

      That said, many people stop listening there and miss so much. The principles of FIRE, applied in a way that fit my values and desired lifestyle, have drastically changed the course of my life. I’ve covered that exact topic here: https://www.caniretireyet.com/mr-money-mustache/ and that was why I am so excited to have people like Christine and Jeff at Morningstar who are willing to have a more nuanced conversation to allow more people to be introduced to the concepts of FI and make a fully informed decision as to what will work for them and what won’t.

      Thanks for your feedback.

      1. Thank you for the response. Like I said, I love the principles of FI and hope to hear more stories that will resonate with me.

  3. I’m a fan of medical tourism. For a decade I’ve sought medical care in Bangkok at Bumrungrad. Tibia fracture repair in Bogota. Cardiac care in Bangkok.
    And I’ve shopped expensive meds abroad with good results (Praluent, Lacoryl, etc)
    I’m happy to answer questions!

    1. Thanks for the offer Laura. I may take you up on that. As I noted, I’ve been intersted but skeptical for a while. This seems like a topic worthy of a closer look.


  4. That would be a great topic to explore, Chris. I have always wondered how people overcome their anxiety or skepticism to seek care in far flung countries especially in Asia and far away from the comfort of their home country despite hearing financial horror stories here.
    We, readers, can pitch questions and you, Chris, can interview Laura unless she would love to write a guest post.

    I am very interested.

  5. What kind of MVNO plan and phone do you use nowadays?
    I’ll need one soon but hopefully, it’s unlocked and I can switch SIM cards when I go to Europe this summer. Or if I could find a SIM card here that’s usable in various countries of Europe it would be awesome.

    Any advice from you or your readers?
    Thank you

    1. I personally use the $10/month prepaid plan from AirVoice wireless. It’s pretty bare bones coverage, but it covers my calling and texting needs and service is excellent using the AT&T network. On months where it doesn’t cover my needs I just buy another $10 worth of service. The vast majority of my data usage is over Wi-Fi. I do a lot of calls with family and meetings over FaceTime, Zoom or Google Hangouts, all of which are free. I spent well under $200 for all of last year. YMMV.

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