Interview With a Guru: Oblivious Investor

To gain a full understanding of a topic, it’s important to draw knowledge from several sources. In learning about personal finance, that means reading books and following personal finance blogs. Mike Piper, who authors the blog Oblivious Investor, offers “simple, low-maintenance investing” information to help you create ways to grow your savings. He was kind enough to share some of his knowledge:

1. Some of my readers may be interested in following Oblivious Investor. What value or overall message do you think your readers get from your blog?

The primary message of my blog is that you don’t have to follow the stock market closely to be a successful investor. It’s perfectly reasonable (wise, in fact!) to create a simple portfolio of 3 or 4 low-cost mutual funds. After the portfolio is created, there’s really no need to check on it more than once or twice per year.

2. You’ve become one of the most successful personal finance blogs on the internet. What are your plans and goals for Oblivious Investor in the next 1-3 years?

I only have one 2011 goal for the blog: Double the number of subscribers over the course of 2011 (from 2940 to 5880). So far, it looks like things are on track. As to plans for the blog’s content, I expect it to be the same as ever: tips for successful, low-maintenance investing.

3. What advice do you have for a person who is just beginning to get their finances in order?

To be honest, I’m not at all an expert on helping people get out of debt. But for the person who has completed (or skipped) that step and is just getting started investing, my advice is just what I said earlier: Create a simple, “lazy portfolio” that you can understand. Then stick with it.

4. What do you see as the three most important personal traits needed to achieve wealth?

There’s a lot more to building wealth than just investing (successful career development, for instance), and I’m not sure I could limit it to just a few traits. I’d say the following two traits, however, are the keys to investment success:

Stubbornness: Even the best portfolio and investment plan won’t work if you don’t stick with them. Every portfolio will have some periods where it doesn’t do very well, but you can’t let that convince you to give up on your plan.

Skepticism: When it comes to investing, you get conflicting advice everyday. That’s because nearly every source of information (myself included) stands to gain something by convincing you to invest in a certain way. Rather than taking any advice at face value, try to find somebody taking the other side of the argument. Hear both sides out, then decide which side presents better arguments and evidence.

5. Finally, if someone was planning to launch a PF blog to help others along, what advice would you give him or her?

Link out to other bloggers. A lot. Bloggers appreciate it when you link to them, and it makes them more likely to link back to you. I’ve done a roundup every week since I started my blog, and it’s been by far my most successful method of building traffic. Also, make sure to link to other new bloggers, as they’re the ones who will appreciate it most.

He makes some great points doesn’t he? Head over to his blog, become one of his 5,880 subscribers or see what else he’s saying in his book, Can I Retire?

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The Simple Joys of Simple Transit

I have an experiment for you to try. Walk outside and find the nearest road. Stand beside the road and watch the cars whiz by. Look at the drivers faces. Do they look happy? Do they look like they’re enjoying their commutes? Or do they look like hurried, sullen, zombies, waiting to get where they’re going so life can begin again? Cars are a great convenience for getting where we’re going, but they require us to deal with a great deal of extra stress and financial burden.

Why Cars Cause Stress

There are many aspects of driving that can drain on your spirits. Whether you know it or not, these can ware on your and leave you exhausted.

  • Heavy traffic – Having to stop and start, weave between lanes, and wait in long lines can make anyone feel anxious. The feeling that there’s a speed you should be moving, but aren’t will make you feel rushed and behind.
  • Unnaturally fast speeds – How fast can you run? Humans weren’t designed to naturally react to things at 70mph. Our bodies weren’t designed to take impact at those speeds either. Despite advancements in auto technology, your body knows it’s doing something dangerous and throws itself into a state of high-stress alertness at highway speeds.
  • Road rage - No matter how calm you stay out there, other drivers attitudes can . Dirty looks, honking horns, and obscene gestures can put a major damper on enjoying any journey.

What’s the Financial Burden

You may have always thought of cars as a necessity. Have you thought about all the money you’d free up each month without one?

  • Massive car payments – Whether you’re leasing or owning, car payments can be as much as half your rent. That’s a pretty major expense for a depreciating asset. And if you bought your car 100% up front, it will only mean you’ll have to spend more in the next category.
  • Maintenance fees – Cars are machines, and machines need repair. With so many moving parts, cars are an unending money pit. In addition to routine maintenance, such as tires, fluid levels, oil changes, and so on, you also have to prepare for major failures. Replacing belts, radiators, starters, and batteries can be very expensive, and you never know when you’ll need to.
  • Insurance premiums – Even with a perfect record, insurance adds yet another monthly bill. Add on a few tickets or a fender bender and the costs multiply.
  • Rising fuel costs – Each trip to the tank may not seem like much ($20 here, $50 there), but these definitely add up.

What Are Your Options

We’ve established that cars are a financial burden to your finances, but what can you do about it? You have a beautiful, free source of powerful, healthy transportation at your disposal right now. Your body!  Choosing alternative modes of transit can save your happiness and your money.

  • Walking – In addition to the obvious health benefits, walking can make you happier. You’ll get to enjoy the gardens you pass, the sunshine, the fresh air, the birds, and the sky. In fact, the slower you go, the better. Walking encourages you to observe the world around you, because your eyes are free to wander.
  • Biking – If your destination is too far to walk, consider biking. You’ll be rekindled with the childlike joy of air rushing by your skin, the satisfaction of pushing yourself forward, and the pulse of nature.
  • Public transportation – If your end point is really far away, consider taking a bus or subway. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll see with someone else driving for you, and usually it doesn’t take that much longer to get from place to place.

The Overall Advantage

You may think your car is convenient, but what is it costing you? If the answer is happiness, exploration, and a lot of money, maybe it’s not worth it. You make think you’re saving money by avoiding your expensive neighborhood market and driving to a megastore, but if your car costs more than your grocery savings each month, are you really saving at all? My suggestion is to give yourself a week long trial period and avoid the car as much as possible. By the end, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

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The Other 99%

Today, lets step back and look at the bigger financial picture for a few minutes. Focusing on your own budget, savings, and investments is a fantastic thing to do, but understanding your place in the overall financial picture can keep you ahead of the curve and away from any broad sweeping danger. I’d like to base this post on the article, “Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1%,” appearing in the May edition of Vanity Fair.

It’s becoming widespread knowledge that the vast majority of the private wealth in the United States is controlled by the very few, but what exactly does that mean? According to the article, “the upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth…the top 1 percent control 40 percent.” Those are staggering statistics, and they usually lead to loud and unresolved political debates. This blog is about helping your individual financial situation, so we’ll stay away from politics here.

What we’ll discuss is what these trends mean. As the middle class disappears, the division between rich and poor will widen. As the article states, “The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves.” Let that sink in for a moment. If trends continue in their current trajectory, the rich will become less and less motivated to devote money any projects that would benefit the common good. What does that mean for you and I?

It means that we’ll have to fortify our ability to look out for ourselves. This is not a bleak outlook, it is a realistic one. As tuitions increase and government subsidies decrease, as health insurance costs rise and government sponsored health care is denied, as capital gains taxes drop and the rich become richer, we’ll have to start covering these needs ourselves; and the worst possible place you can be is in debt.

When you’re in debt, you’re subject to the policies of the people in power. If regulations continue to decrease for the benefit of the few at the top, policies can be instated that will keep you endlessly enslaved by your debt.

The best thing you can do right now is make a plan for your debt. Create a budget, calculate your savings, negotiate with your creditors, and start paying down your balance. You’ll have to free yourself financially, begin saving for purchases early, and plan major life decisions long before you make them. The real take away from this is that no one at the top is watching out for us, so we’ll have to look out for ourselves.

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Interview With A Guru – Wealth Pilgrim

One of the best things you can do for your financial position is enhance your understanding. The more time I spend reading blogs around the personal finance community, the more I realize how many great and generous writers there are out there. One of these is Neal, who runs the very insightful blog Wealth Pilgrim. I was given the chance to interview him and here’s his great input:

1. Some of my readers may be interested in following Wealth Pilgrim. What value or overall message do you think your readers get from your blog?

I try to provide practical action steps to help people make real improvements in their financial situation no matter what.

2. You’ve become one of the most successful personal finance blogs on the internet. What are your plans and goals for Wealth Pilgrim in the next 1-3 years?

While I’m not sure if Pilgrim is in fact one of the most successful personal finance blogs, I am very pleased with the progress so far.  Over the next 1 to 3 years I hope to develop additional readership, visits and income from the blog. I don’t plan on any radical shifts but that could change.  The environment changes very quickly and I will have to remain flexible.

3. What advice do you have for a person who is just beginning to get their finances in order?

The most important course of action is to first get a solid understanding of where you are.  What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?   What is the #1 issue that needs to be addressed?
After you figure out where you are, make sure you have a strong financial foundation.  That means having enough term life insurance to protect your family and putting in a budget tracking system.

4. What do you see as the three most important personal traits needed to achieve wealth?

Honesty. Responsibility Willingness to learn and do things differently.  Thinking ahead..

You have to be honest with others of course, but be honest with yourself.  That’s hard to do but critical.

Be responsible for yourself and the fallout for your behavior and decisions.  Accept responsibility for your decisions and be willing to accept the consequences.
BBe wiling to ask for help when you need it.  Don’t let your ego stand in your way.

Finally, think ahead.  What’s going to be the result of what you do today?  What will be the consequence this year?  5 years from now?  10 years from now?
People who have these traits are successful.  I’ve never seen anyone who has these traits fail.  It has nothing to do with how much money you have or make.

5. Finally, if someone was planning to launch a PF blog to help others along, what advice would you give him or her?

Write great content first and foremost.  Then, find a way to become extremely helpful to successful bloggers and then ask them to mentor you. I wrote for every pf blogger who would allow me to guest post. Then, I asked how else I could be of service — and I was being sincere.  I worked really hard on my own blog and then tried to put out great guest posts too.  When people see you being of service to others and working really hard, they can’t help but want to see you succeed.
Also, there is something very special about the PF community.  People are real givers.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect.

Great advice, Neal! Take a second and see what else he’s saying in his blog!

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The Million Dollar Journey

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a millionaire? During one of my recent visits to other blogs in the personal finance field, I came across the Million Dollar Club run by J at Budgets Are Sexy. The idea is to make an ambitious, but entirely realistic, plan to become a millionaire during your lifetime. This sounds like a great challenge to me, and with the right mindset, I believe it’s achievable for all of us.

Here are the components of my Million Dollar plan:

  • Only spend money that I’ve already earned. Avoid debt at all costs.
  • Try to focus as much of my spending on assets that hold their value or will last a lifetime and as little as possible on fleeting or depreciable assets.
  • Continue to track my income and expenses and assess my habits on a monthly basis.
  • Contribute the maximum value to my 401k and IRA each year.
  • Post quotes around my house that remind me to focus on the simple joys of life. One of my favorites is “The most important things in life aren’t things.”
  • Maintain my emergency fund and refrain from dipping into it unless an actual emergency occurs.
  • Continue to improve my cooking skills to avoid expensive meals out.

Consider that, even if you had $0 in savings right now, if you can save $10,000 per year and invest that money at an 8% return, you would be a millionaire in about 27 years. While that would require discipline and committed investment research, it’s certainly not impossible.

I’ve committed myself to this goal, and I hope you’ll consider it, too.

Posted in Frugal Living | 2 Comments

Interview With A Guru – The Writer’s Coin

Today we’re bringing in another writer from the personal finance blog community to get a complete perspective. Carlos puts a lot of work into his very successful blog, The Writer’s Coin, and he’s generously agreed to share his knowledge:

1. Some of my readers may be interested in following The Writer’s Coin. What value or overall message do you think your readers get from your blog?

I hope they can find a place to both learn new things and be entertained. I know a lot of people don’t think money can be entertaining (unless you have a lot of it), but I always go back to the Michael Lewis example: he can make most any money topic interesting. And that’s really what I’m after. In a perfect world, everything I write is something interesting that you didn’t know about before that could potentially help you in your own life.

2. You’ve become one of the most successful personal finance blogs on the internet. What are your plans and goals for The Writer’s Coin in the next 1-3 years?

I don’t know about that! But thanks for the kind words. My plans are kind of up in the air, but I’d like to really develop the site further and see what I have to offer in terms of products, services, etc. A real business that still provides good content to people but also gives access to whatever talents I may have. The problem is figuring out exactly what kind of talents I have that others may need. It’s tricky.

3. What advice do you have for a person who is just beginning to get their finances in order?

Get rid of your debt as quickly as possible. I have never made “a ton” of money. But I’ve never had debt (until we bought our first place), and that is a great thing. It makes you feel really free, regardless of how much money you do or don’t have. Debt puts you at the mercy of money, so get rid of any credit card debt or anything else you’re carrying. It may not be pretty to have to trim your spending to do this, but in the long terms it’ll be well worth it.

4. What do you see as the three most important personal traits needed to achieve wealth?

Knowledge, discipline, and creativity. Knowledge is easy: read up on all the personal finance blogs out there, read all the books, etc. You’ll pick up what you need to know about budgeting, investing, etc. It ain’t sexy, but you need to know the fundamentals.

Discipline: You have to have this if you want to achieve any of your goals. Like getting rid of debt. Like saving up for a big item. If you’re constantly “falling off the wagon” by making excuses like “I’ll start next month” or whatever, you’ll never get what you want. It’s like working out: you can only talk about it so much until you just get off the couch and go work out already.

Creativity is a favorite of mine. You can skin a cat a number of different ways. But do it in an interesting way and you’ll go far. In your job, in your life, anywhere. It makes things more interesting, less boring, and people will be drawn to you. I think this is especially true in the workplace: being creative (regardless of what industry you’re in) makes you different than others and that’s valuable.

5. Finally, if someone was planning to launch a PF blog to help others along, what advice would you give him or her?

Don’t buy a domain! Start on a free site like wordpress or blogspot. And make sure you absolutely love the topic you’re going to write about. If you’re going to write about general personal finance, make sure your personality is coming through because the space is overcrowded and has been done to death.

What makes you different? Why are you special? Make sure you have decent answers there because nobody cares about your personal story or how you managed to get out of debt…unless you’re Charlie Sheen or something. Then everyone cares.

When you’re trying to improve your financial understanding, reading multiple sources is crucial. Check out his blog and consider becoming a regular reader!

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TGIF Weekly Link Roundup

There is a great community of personal finance bloggers sharing their knowledge and insight to ease the burden on your financial situation. To make sure you’re getting a complete financial perspective, here are 5 of my favorites:

  1. How to Think of Your Mortgage – Sam gives a fresh perspective on how his mortgage has contributed to his long term financial stability (Financial Samurai)
  2. What to Do With Your Tax Refund – Jill has some great ideas on how to use your tax refund when it finally arrives! (My Dollar Plan)
  3. Staying Thrifty While Keeping Extravagance – I really enjoyed this guest post about enjoying your life on a budget (Redeeming Riches)
  4. Check Your Bank Statements – This is some great advice on how to keep up with your expense statements and make sure you aren’t accruing fees (Dough Roller)
  5. Location Independence – This one is less financially related, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Great overview by MD on the benefits and consideration of freeing yourself from geographic tethers (Studentnomics)

Hope you enjoy your weekend!

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Interview With A Guru – Alpha Consumer

Over time, I’ve been influenced by some very wise personal finance bloggers who devote their energy to helping us learn. I want you to get a complete and well-rounded understanding, so I asked Kimberly from the very successful blog Alpha Consumer to share some of her delightful insights with us. Here’s her fantastic input:

1. Some of my readers may be interested in following Alpha Consumer. What value or overall message do you think your readers get from your blog?

My main goal is to help people make the best financial decisions for themselves. Of course, this means different choices for different people, so instead of advocating a specific approach, I try to provide the best information to help people make informed decisions.

2. You’ve become one of the most successful personal finance blogs on the internet. What are your plans and goals for Alpha Consumer in the next 1-3 years?

I would love to continue growing my audience. I am working more with social media, especially Twitter, and also I would like to write a second book related to what I write about on Alpha Consumer. My first book, Generation Earn, was based on many of my blog posts about getting your finances together in your 20s and 30s, and now that I’m writing more about parenthood, I’d like to write a book about that.

3. What advice do you have for a person who is just beginning to get their finances in order?

The first step is to decide what you want and what your goals are. What do you want to save for? Do you want to quit your job and start your own business, or go back to school, or be a full-time parent? Deciding on those goals is really the first step because it’s a big motivator.

4. Given the volatility of the market in recent years, what do you see as the most responsible strategy for investing moving forward?

To stick with the tried-and-true strategies of diversification and risk-management. As we get older, we have to shift into safer investments, without being too safe– it’s a tough balancing act that I’m still trying to master myself!

5. Finally, if someone was planning to launch a PF blog to help others along, what advice would you give him or her?

So much of blogging is about participating in the online community. I have learned so much from my fellow money bloggers. So I recommend reaching out to the community, finding blogs similar to your own, commenting often, and growing slowly that way. And, of course, write about what you love! You can always tell when a blogger really loves what he’s doing.

I told you she knew what she was talking about! In fact she just released a book called Generation Earn, The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back. Check it out to keep the learning alive!

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How Much Does Being Fat Cost Us?

Recently, George Washington University released the first ever study to list the specific costs of being overweight and obese. They say it’s the first study ever to do so! Obesity is a major issue for our nation, so I combined the study’s findings with other research to try to give a picture of the true cost of being obese:

As you can see, these are no small numbers. $2646 for men and $4879 for women annually. Thats enough to fund a retirement account or buy all your groceries or go on 2 or 3 vacations! Really makes you reconsider that 80 cent supersize doesn’t it?

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Why You Should Never Buy Now and Pay Later

I’m sure that you’re familiar with deferred payment plans. They’re a very popular sales tactic in stores that sell household furniture, white goods, and basically anything electrical. In fact, these tactics are getting pretty popular lately; you can defer payment on almost anything:

Need a student loan? Worry about it later!
Want a new car? You can defer those payments too!
How about a house? Sure, go ahead and sign up, there’s nothing to pay for a whole year!

Deferred payment plans are a dream come true for sales people and spendaholics alike, it seems like everybody wins…until the deferral period ends payments.

Oh No…

Yep, at some point, those deferred payments will have to be paid, and that’s when people end up buried in debt without even realising. If you really go to town on those deferred plans, there’s a good chance you’ll end up multiplying your problems as the deferral periods end and they compound together. And that’s when the reality of buying a brand new car sets in.

The Trap

The real trouble with deferred payment plans is that the loans you sign up for generally aren’t deferred at all. In reality, they’re compacted into a shorter loan period, which makes your repayments a lot higher than they would be if you’d just started paying from day 1. People who choose deferred payment plans are often stuck with “account keeping” fees and higher than average interest rates as well, which can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the loan. For many that end up in dire financial trouble, even selling the item they purchased brings little respite as the nature of most items sold this way is that they are worth far less than their original purchase price in a very short amount of time.

The Solution

Deferred payments plans are not a good way to buy the things you want. I would go as far as saying that you should stay away from them altogether, no matter how attractive the deal may seem. It is true that some people can use them to their advantage, but often it requires far more discipline than many can manage. It is far better to buy what you can afford and if you canít afford what you want, then save for it. This rule applies to pretty much everything, with almost no exceptions. Credit or store cards are not a solution, they are as bad or even worse than deferred payment plans. If you really need a loan for something important that is going to improve you ability to create wealth, like student fees, or to buy a car that matches your needs, then shop for a loan before you go shopping for your purchase. Investigate all possible options and find the right loan to match your situation, not one that is convenient. There is really no such thing as deferred payment, you are simply prolonging the inevitable. If you shop smart, you will enjoy your purchase far more in the long run.

Shaun is not an accountant, financial planner or life coach, but he writes about wealth creation anyway! Shaun’s motto is “Make wealth, not money,” which fits quite nicely with where he wants to be in life. Find out more by visiting his blog where he’ll show you how to design a wealthy life.

Posted in Credit Card Debt, Debt Elimination | 1 Comment