October 2020 Best of the Web

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I’ve been writing these monthly round-up posts for nearly three years. Each month I hit publish and am inevitably surprised by which articles are most popular among readers.

The Best

Last month, the most popular article was Bill Bengen’s update to his original research that led to the 4% rule. You clicked on it nearly five times as much as the second most popular resource. That’s by far the biggest spread I’ve seen. So we’ll lead off this month with more from Bengen.

I share exciting learning opportunities, including one created by the pandemic. Articles also explore approaches and opinions that are different than those Darrow and I have shared on the blog, but are worthy of your thoughtful consideration.

The open enrollment period for medical insurance is quickly approaching. I share resources and insights on the state of the health insurance landscape for early retirees. 

2020 has been a metaphorically dark time. As we get deeper into fall, the days are literally getting shorter and darker. So I close with some hope and inspiration in an attempt to bring light into your lives.

Enjoy the articles and have a great month!

Retirement Income

Bill Bengen talked with Michael Kitces for a fascinating discussion about How The Creator Of The 4 Percent Rule Applied It For His Clients And His Own Retirement

Mike Piper succinctly lays out 6 Fixed-Income Options for a Low-Yield Environment.

Learning Opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away many of the gatherings we look forward to throughout the year. One upside is more events are going online, creating opportunities to scale and reach a larger audience at less cost.

The Bogleheads announced that in lieu of their annual Bogleheads conference, which typically sells out quickly and was cancelled this year, they’re beginning an online Bogleheads Speakers Series, beginning Saturday November 14th. These events are free, but a donation to this excellent organization is encouraged.

ESI Money has been compiling interviews with millionaires so we can learn from their successes and failures. He recently shared What We’ve Learned from 200 Millionaire Interviews.

Divergent Viewpoints

Occasionally, when I publish these “Best of” posts I receive negative comments of people who disagree with the viewpoints represented. This is most common for articles that share the positive virtues of annuities, extreme viewpoints from the FIRE movement, or the politics of American healthcare. (Warning, there are a few of the latter below as open enrollment approaches.)

The entire purpose of sharing these posts is to share different viewpoints. Sharing articles is not an implicit endorsement of any strategy or idea. Instead, the whole point is to consider different viewpoints in an effort to get you, and me, to think at a deeper level and challenge our assumptions.

Brent Sutherland wote Why I No Longer Invest In Index Funds. This article challenged me to look deeper at ESG investing as I wrote about this month. Brent and I reached different conclusions about how to invest our money. But his take home message, that we should be more thoughtful about how we’re spending our time and money to make the world a better place is one we should all consider.

Physician on FIRE shared How My Investing Has Changed After Financial Independence. My investment portfolio is far simpler than his. But his ideas of continuing to play to win, learn and experiment, and be able to grow wealth for a charitable mission all resonated with me.

Dave at Accidental FIRE asked and answered Three Years Of Early Semi-Retirement, Is It What It’s Cracked Up To Be? Dave’s approach of using financial independence to gradually build a better lifestyle is similar to what Kim and I have done. He’s showing how to apply the strategy as a single person as opposed to a married couple.

On The Road Again

The COVID-19 pandemic drags on and cases are increasing. Kim and I recently accepted the fact that we won’t make the trip east for the holidays. We are starting to plan a cross country road trip for next summer.

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s How To Rent an RV: The Best Tips For Your First RV Rental is an informative read. I’ve bookmarked it to return to as we get deeper into planning.

This month I published a 3,000+ word article sharing my experience using credit card sign up bonuses to save thousands of dollars a year on travel over the past 5 years. Traditionally we focused on airline points. Since the pandemic we’ve switched our focus to hotel rewards that save us money and give us flexibility on road trips.

I included two paragraphs at the end of the article about the option to use a similar strategy for getting cash back bonuses. I don’t do that because cash rewards are less lucrative and in my opinion not worth the effort.

We got about twice the clicks on the link to the cash back cards that I didn’t recommend and don’t use as we did on the travel rewards cards I do recommend and use. So, from the school of “give ‘em what they want,” here is a link to cards offering the best cash back sign up rewards. It includes a few new offerings from American Express.

Health Care Landscape

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has two features that make it valuable for early retirees. First, retirees with pre-existing conditions are guaranteed to have an option to obtain health insurance that didn’t exist before the ACA. Second, for those who are able to control their taxable income, ACA subsidies keep medical insurance premiums reasonable.

Unfortunately, the partisan way the law was passed led to a political assault on the ACA since the day it was passed. The uncertainty this creates makes planning for medical insurance costs prior to Medicare eligibility extremely challenging.

In November, the constitutionality of the law will again come before the Supreme Court. The Kaiser Family Foundation published Potential Impact of California v. Texas On Key Provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Three years ago, I published my family’s flexible plan for health insurance in early retirement that allowed us to start our transition to early retirement in the face of uncertainty with health insurance. Three years later, flexibility is still our best plan. Unless something dramatically changes in our dysfunctional politics, flexibility and reassessing the marketplace annually will likely be required for many of us until Medicare eligibility.

Early retiree Robert’s experience reinforces the challenges of planning for and obtaining affordable health insurance as an early retiree. He wrote FIRE and Health Insurance: Four Plans in 21 Months? on the blog Stop Ironing Shirts.

Women I Mostly Admire

The greatest benefit of achieving financial independence quickly is not necessarily being able to retire. Financial independence gives many of us who save because we are financially conservative the courage to design the life we want without worrying about day to day finances.

I’m far more interested in people who live life on their terms than I am of those following the traditional work then retire narrative, regardless of whether a person retires at 30 or 80. As a proud girl dad, I’ve been paying more attention to women who navigate unique challenges they face to create non-traditional paths through life.

I loved the conversation with Mayim Bialik on the People I (Mostly) Admire Podcast. Bialik who is best known for her role on the Big Bang Theory has taken a fascinating path through life from child star to PhD in neuroscience to stay-at-home-mom before returning to Hollywood. It’s a fun listen with some profound lessons.

Despite my punny header to this section, I fully admire Christine Benz. She shares important and unique career, investment, and planning considerations for women: Women, Invest In Yourself.

Light in the Dark

Another woman who has my complete admiration is Jillian Johnsrud. If you’re not familiar with her, you should take the time to check out her work.

She is a remarkable person with a beautiful family doing meaningful work while living a fascinating lifestyle. It’s a life many would envy. But she had to overcome incredible adversity to reach this point. 

If you’re currently in a dark season of life and in need of inspiration and practical advice, do yourself a favor. Listen to her recent podcast episode 10 Year Time Capsule to learn where she was a decade ago. That low point served as a most unexpected jumping-off point to where she is today.

One thing that’s had me down was delaying the multi-generation backpacking into the Grand Canyon with my dad and daughter we had planned for this past spring. My dad is in his early 70’s and it felt that the window of opportunity for this kind of adventure may be closing. So while we have preference on getting the permit again for the next two years, this trip felt more like a cancellation than a delay.

I found joy, hope, and inspiration reading about the “Grey Beard Adventurer.” Jeff Moag writes 85-Year-Old Thru-Hiker Dale Sanders Just Lapped The Grand Canyon.

Meeting With Readers

Finally, last month I offered to meet with one reader a week through October. Everything about this experience has been great… except for my ability to use the Calendly scheduling app. 

I initially planned to meet with readers for five weeks through the end of October. Instead, I had people quickly fill the slots through November before I realized my error with the app and took down the link. I’m going to honor those appointments this month.

I’ve had great conversations so far and am enjoying getting to connect with readers. For others that expressed a desire to meet, stay tuned. My plan is to find a way to meet with more of you in the future.

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Valuable Resources

  • The Best Retirement Calculators can help you perform detailed retirement simulations including modeling withdrawal strategies, federal and state income taxes, healthcare expenses, and more. Can I Retire Yet? partners with two of the best.
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  • 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. 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. You’re welcome Dave. Enjoy reading your perspectives and ideas.

      I loved that article to close with as well. I love meeting people in their 70’s, 80’s and occasionally even 90’s who are still getting after it on trails, ski lifts, etc. That’s my personal definition of a life well lived, particularly if I’m still doing it with the wife and daughter at that age.

  1. I enjoyed the topic of RV rentals. We have used RV’s in Australia and New Zealand, but only once in the US. But I wanted to share another valuable resource, for those interested in trialing use of RV’s.

    Several times in Australia and New Zealand, we used a company called Transfercar, which allows you to move rentals cars (and RV’s!) from place to place, as needed by the rental car companies, at very cheap rates (~ $1-$5/day). Sometimes they offer other incentives, too, such as a free first tank of gas, or free ferry fares (e.g., crossing from North to South Island in New Zealand), and they generally provide insurance coverage. Down Under, we made several trips by booking a one-way flight and relocating a motorhome for virtually no rental fee. The down side is that most relocations have limits on how long you can take to get from Point A to Point B (not a lot of dawdling allowed), and provide mileage allowances that more or less restrict you to taking a pretty direct route between locations. And you are limited by what relocation needs the rental companies have. Still, we used this service to do a 5-day motorhome trip from Auckland to Christchurch, a “move” from Dunedin to Christchurch, and a “move” from Tasmania to Sydney.

    Transfercar started North American operations a few years after we returned from Australia, and we’ve used it to drive from Denver to Los Angeles in an RV (with a stopover at the Grand Canyon). There are a number of opportunities to use this service in the US, though perhaps with limited numbers of destinations (LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas, Florida, Illinois, NY area), but if you can get to one of these points easily, it offers the chance to do a nice road trip for minimal cost

    1. Thanks for sharing that tip. We would like to do an extended cross country trip allowing us to see different parts of the country and have an extended family visit so that wouldn’t likely work for that. However, with our schedule flexibility and desire to see many places, that is definitely something I’d do for shorter trips.

    1. Susan,

      I listened to the interview and didn’t read the transcript. I don’t recall what his current allocation is but I do recall him talking about market timing and also talking about being very conservative now that he’s retired. In a nutshell, he doesn’t follow the buy and hold investment philosophy that the 4% rule would imply, nor does he take a set amount from his portfolio every year as the 4% rule would say you can.

      I still got a lot out of the conversation and from Bengen’s research. The three big take homes for me from Bengen’s research (both the original and updated versions) are:
      1.) The 4% rule is based on the amount of money you could take from a portfolio without exhausting the portfolio under the WORST conditions that ever existed during the time period that data was available. Your personal safe withdrawal rate could be higher.
      2.) The worst scenario that ever occurred was worse than the previous worst scenario. At some point, something worse than the past can certainly happen. In that case 4% or even 3% could potentially be too aggressive.
      3.) The safe withdrawal rate research on the conservative side (Wade Pfau, Big ERN) and the more aggressive side (Bengen’s ideas) put the “safe” number between roughly 3-5%. We’d love to be more precise than that, but it’s not possible because the future is unknown. The more flexible we can be both with our spending and ability to earn after leaving our careers, the less we need to worry about getting that number precisely right. The less flexibility we have, the more conservative we need to be.


  2. Chris, it sounds like travel rewards cards are an excellent addition to your personal arsenal of financial tools. Since we travel by RV within the states, our cards of choice are those that pay cash rewards for gas and restaurants. While the cash rewards may be less lucrative for your purposes, they work well in our situation. For those of us who haven’t been on a plane but twice in more than twenty years, a travel rewards card doesn’t bring much to the table. I wanted to offer up a different perspective since you seemed a little surprised at the level of interest your readers exhibited in the cash rewards cards.

    1. Thanks for the insight Mary. Hope you’re staying safe in your travels.

      If you read to the end, you saw I’ve been spending an hour a week meeting with readers. I think this will be great for my writing going forward, b/c I’m seeing that a lot of assumptions I had about what our readers were thinking about, struggling with, and wanting more of were wrong.


  3. I thought Mike Piper’s article on low yield options left out (as most similar articles do) one remaining option. My roof isn’t leaking but I took out some of my near-zero earning cash to purchase a new metal roof which will last my lifetime. I also have wood windows that are starting to rot… like my roof… probably could wait a year or 2. But why? Not earning anything on my cash and the price of these items could rise significantly in the not-too-distant future. Win-win in my book.

    1. James,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Always appreciate people thinking out of the box.

      Spending money that is earning no interest as an investment in energy improvements is indeed an interesting idea. This is especially beneficial if we continue to see inflation in prices of building materials b/c your dollars are becoming less valuable while the items you want to buy with them are becoming more expensive.

      A couple of caveats though. In the spirit of Piper’s article, most people would still look to hold some fixed income investments and so this is really an apples to oranges comparison.

      Also, there is speculation that a lot of the inflation in certain prices (exercise equipment, home improvement, home entertainment, etc.) is being driven by a combination of unusual demand and stimulus money poured into the economy due to the pandemic. If we see a deflation in prices coming out of the pandemic as some predict, this could be a losing strategy if you could make the improvements later for less money. I would tend to make the bet you’re making, but we don’t know for sure.


      1. What I have seen is pools, patios, decks, etc. are almost unobtainable and the wait lists are long – which tells me these are truly the in-demand items due to covid and the desire to do improvements to outdoor space. Roofs… not so much. Surprisingly, talking to the window guy – they are backed up but not the point of adding employees. I also would imagine the stimulus check demand would be gone by now.

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