November 2020 Best of the Web

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. In this crazy year, it was nice to hit pause and reflect on all that I still have to be grateful for.

The Best

One thing I’m grateful for is the number of amazing people who provide useful information to help us save more, invest smarter, and retire sooner. It is a challenge each month to pare down my list of the best content to share with you.

This month, we go deep on topics including safe withdrawal rates, Roth IRA conversions, Social Security benefits, underfunded pensions, and geoarbitrage.

We have articles that cover timely topics as well as sharing some timeless wisdom. Perhaps nothing is more timely and challenging than dealing with spiking COVID-19 cases while colder temperatures and shorter days are pushing us inside. I close with some awesome free resources and frugal fun ideas to fill your winter days.

Enjoy this month’s selections.

So What Is the Safe Withdrawal Rate?

The past two months I kicked off these “Best of” posts with links to Bill Bengen’s recent work. He recently updated his original research that led to the “4% Rule” that is now popular in retirement planning.

Big ERN put Bengen’s new research under the microscope. He asked and answered Can we raise our Safe Withdrawal Rate when inflation is low?

Ironically, just a few weeks earlier Big ERN wrote Do we really have to lower our Safe Withdrawal Rate to 0.5% now?

My two take homes from these articles, and Big ERN’s outstanding Safe Withdrawal Rate Series in general are:

  1. People want simplified, one size fits all answers for how much they can spend in retirement. Unfortunately, they don’t exist.
  2. The most extreme or oversimplified viewpoints get the most attention. That doesn’t make them correct. Reader beware.

Looking Deeper

Our next few articles provide in depth analysis of topics that are too often given superficial treatment.

Paul at The Good Money Life writes Optimizing Roth IRA Conversion Strategies.

Richard Connor explains taxation of Social Security benefits with That Monthly Check.

Ben Carlson asks What’s Going to Happen to All the Underfunded Pensions?

Harry Sit asks if he should Relocate Out of California to Escape Higher Taxes After Retirement? Regardless of where you currently live, this is a good article for anyone considering domestic geoarbitrage to lower expenses in retirement.

Timely Information

Mike Piper summarized IRS information that will be important as we prepare for next year: 2021 Tax Brackets, Standard Deductions, and Other Changes.

The past few weeks we’ve had reason for optimism as different pharmaceutical companies have released promising results of COVID-19 vaccine trials. I found this conversation from Peter Attia’s Drive Podcast extremely helpful to understand vaccines. Particularly helpful was learning how the process of creating a vaccine, which normally takes 1-2 decades, could safely be completed in less than a year. Warning: This conversation between two physicians is at times technical and hard to follow for a layman, but it’s worth the effort. Paul Offit, M.D.: An expert perspective on COVID-19 vaccines.

Most of us altered travel plans in 2020 due to the pandemic. Scott Medintz writes Advice on Getting Your Canceled Flights Refunded, From People Who Did It.

Timeless Wisdom

Allan Roth shares The 7 biggest shockers from my four decades of financial planning.

Dave at Accidental FIRE asks Do You Live In A 15 minute neighborhood? Though I never heard this terminology before, this is what we were seeking when we chose our retirement location. Finding a 15 minute neighborhood immensely improved our quality of life.

I learned more new terminology around another timeless concept. From the blog Millers on FIRE: Wealth Guilt – How I Overcame It.

As I was doing some work on the blog this month, I came across an article Darrow wrote four years ago, a few weeks after the last presidential election. The world is a different place today, but the take home messages are as applicable as ever. My Political Travels.

Dark Times

There’s no doubt this is a tough time. Days keep getting colder and shorter. COVID-19 cases and deaths are spiking. Our holiday traditions and social interactions are being altered.

If you’re thinking this season of life kind of sucks, I won’t argue with you. Instead, I’ll share Sigal Samuel’s work: How to make this winter not totally suck, according to psychologists.

Frugal Resources to Bring a Little Light

I’ll close with a few frugal ideas to get you through the winter.

I’ve been using this shoulder season where I’ve been stuck inside to declutter the house and get rid of things I no longer need. I recently discovered our local Facebook Buy Nothing Group. You can find your closest group by going on Facebook and searching “Buy Nothing Groups near me.” 

I had an awesome first experience. In less than an hour, we went through and loaded two large boxes of books and toys our daughter outgrew, took a few pictures of them, and posted them to the group. By the next morning, another family who will be able to enjoy them picked them up off of our porch. 

I also came across two free apps this month: hoopla and kanopy. Both can be used with streaming services like Roku, Apple TV, or an Amazon Fire stick. With both of these apps, you create an account using your local library card to unlock a wide variety of movies, documentaries, and books. All are available for free through the partnership between the apps and libraries without having to leave your home.

Since publishing my book last October, Choose FI publishing has released two additional books: Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence and The Golden Albatross: How to Determine If Your Pension Is Worth It. If you’re using this season to get your financial house in order, you can now bundle any two or all three of these books together for a discount off the already low price at the Choose FI Book Store.

A Little Help Please!

Finally, we are a family that loves to play cards and board games. That’s always been our frugal habit.

We’ve been playing Code Names with our family across the country via FaceTime or Zoom since the pandemic started. It’s a lot of fun and works well as long as the parties on both ends of the call have a copy of the game. 

We’re looking for other ideas to diversify our game collection. Have you found other board games that work well when playing remotely? Has anyone found a great app or other method that lets you play cards from different locations?

Please share recommendations in the comments. Help us and your fellow readers connect with our families and friends until we can safely gather together in person again. 

Thanks for reading. Stay safe. Be well. And have a great month!

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Valuable Resources

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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 Financial planning inquiries can be sent to]

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  1. I have finish “Don’t Go Broke in Retirement” by Steve Vernon. The author suggest a way to withdraw from your retirement savings is to use the RMD schedule used by the IRS. In the book there is a table starting at age 60. Basically take your age of death and subtract you current age. Take that number and divide it into 100. That is the percent to take. The IRS uses age about age 97. The withdrawal rate is automatically adjusted for market returns and goes up as you age. Most of us will not live to 97. The average age for a retiree to live to is about 85 . The methodology makes sense to me and shows most of the suggested withdrawal rates are very conservative. Using my current age of 68 and 85 as a life expectation gives a rate for next year of 5.88%. The age 97 gives 3.44%. As you age your spending usually goes down. This is another tool in the tool box of a retiree.

    1. Thanks for sharing that idea Stephen. I agree that looking at RMDs can give some valuable information. I will note that the IRS’s goal is to get you to spend (or at least WD) your entire portfolio by the time you die so they can tax it. These are tax-deferred, not tax-free, accounts. Some people want to die and leave a legacy to heirs, charity, etc.


  2. I totally agree with your two points above regarding rates most folks do not want to put in the time that it takes to work through the data and more importantly make some hard decisions about expenditures. I would point you to Schwab’s Intelligent Income Calculator which is a joke. On the other hand I would direct you to a July 2010 article by Humberto Cruz in his column the “Savings Game”, where he talks about Analyzing your expenditures on annually. That is how the successful retirees make the most of their retirement income sources.

    1. Thanks for sharing Ed. This sounds similar to a concept that we advocate on this blog. The final section of Darrow’s Can I Retire Yet? book is titled “Navigating Your Journey” and is dedicated to tackling this topic in detail.


  3. Just thought I’d let you know that every year I buy a financial-type book for my sons and nieces for Christmas.
    This year I bought 6 copies of ‘Choose FI’. I figure that if even one of them reads your book and starts listening to the podcast, it’ll be a Very Good Thing.
    Three weeks to go until I pull the ripcord on my teaching job and retire!!!

    1. Frogdanceer Jones,

      Thank you for sharing that. It’s quite an honor.

      And congratulations on your retirement!


  4. I did the Chase Freedom card offer 2x (myself and spouse). Just completed collecting the 2nd promo yesterday after getting this second bill, paying it off and requested my bonus points be converted to cash for ACH deposit to my chosen bank account. Looking at the spend, my wife did her regular shopping at Costco and 2 trips to Trader Joes. She racked up $550, gave me the receipt and I filed them along with the card. When the bill came, I paid it off and filed everything away after processing the points. Total time spent from apply to file was maybe an hour for everything. A small hassle but I’m happy with the payout. Just avoid the trap of not paying the card off in full or forget to convert points and collect.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Phillip. I’m still not sold on signing up for cash back cards for the bonus. I’m hoping that we’ll be returning to travel soon and I can get much more lucrative travel rewards. But I’ve learned more of our readers share your perspective, or at least are willing to sign up for lower cash back rewards until more certainty returns to being able to travel safely so I decided to highlight these solid offers for the time being.


    1. Thanks Ken. I’ll definitely give that a try. We love pinochle, and haven’t found an app that we like to play it yet.


  5. Hi Chris, thanks for all the great content you publish, it is much appreciated.

    For a good long distance game similar to Code Names, try It’s built for remote playing, and it’s free. It does require at least one participant to have an Alexa or Google device.

    1. We play Hearts+ with family members around the country at least 3x/week. It’s free and if you like hearts, great. It also has some new variants I had t played before (-10 for a jack of diamonds, etc)

      1. I’ve never played hearts, but I think it is similar to Spades and Pinochle, both of which I’ve played a lot. I’ll have to check it out.

  6. Chris,

    A note of appreciation for your terrific monthly compilations: I rely on you for your thoughtful and balanced selection of what I need to read to keep up on personal finance topics — for managing my family’s finances, teaching my teenagers, supporting my aging parents, and talking with clients when I have been a volunteer tax preparer. This month, I especially appreciate your inclusion of Peter Attia’s interview with Dr. Paul Moffat about COVID-19 vaccines, a foundational issue for all of our lives and finances. Thank you for sharing this vital information as well as your own valuable articles and masterful content curation.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Jennett. I appreciate the feedback on what others find valuable, b/c a lot of what I include is me scratching my own itch. At its core this is a personal finance blog, but without our physical and mental well being, money is kind of pointless. So I like to include these types of things that impact our financial health and overall well being.


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