“THERE IS A VERY fine line between ‘hobby’ and ‘mental illness’,” according to humorist Dave Barry.
Some years ago, we had a weekend place—a cabin on acreage—which we greatly enjoyed, even if it did come with challenges. One thing I especially enjoyed: taking the kids on nighttime walks to see how many critters we could spot. That led to an interest in flashlights, and I collected a bunch of them. That, in turn, led to a keen interest in pocketknives.
I HATE DEBT. A very happy day was when we paid off the mortgage. I’d rather walk on broken glass than pay a penny of interest on my credit cards. But there have been a few exceptions to my usual rule, all involving car purchases.
The first was many years ago when I reached what I thought was an all-cash deal on a new car. The salesman surprised me when he offered the same price with 0% financing.
IN MY CALLOW YOUTH, I would sometimes travel northeast from Austin, Texas, on Highway 79. It was a peaceful and somewhat lonely drive as I passed through various sleepy little towns, with the railroad track paralleling the highway to my right. The sound of the occasional train whistle was the perfect musical accompaniment.
One of the first towns I’d get to was Rockdale, which was best known for having a big Alcoa aluminum factory.
WHEN I WAS A KID in the late 1950s, if a toy was stamped “Made in Japan,” it meant it was cheap and poorly made. A decade or so later, that label began to mean something entirely different: If you wanted a top-notch TV, you were considering a Sony. If you were shopping for the most reliable car, Toyota, Datsun (later renamed Nissan) and Honda were on your list.
There’s a parallel today with China,
I’M 69 YEARS OLD and so have spent most of my life dealing with people—and businesses—in person. That said, I’ve loved and greatly benefited from the internet revolution and appreciate its marvels in a way that only a person who lived in the “before” period can. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and about how important it is—or isn’t—to have face-to-face relationships with the people I do business with.
For many years,
A FEW DAYS AGO, I drove up to a JP Morgan Chase ATM to make a cash withdrawal. The infernal machine not only wouldn’t spit out the cash or a receipt, but also it was a struggle even to get my card back. I parked and went inside, expecting a quick resolution.
The teller told me that she could see on her computer that my account was dinged for the cash withdrawal. But she also told me that the ATMs are managed by a third-party vendor,
AS JULY BEGAN, there was happy news for Chase Freedom Visa cardholders like me: One of the categories for 5% rewards this quarter is grocery stores. We spend a lot on groceries, which means I’ll get a nice cash reward from Chase.
I’m a big believer in credit card cash rewards for two reasons. First, of course, there’s the reward money. The second reason is psychological: Credit card companies are notorious for the outrageous interest and fees they exact from anyone who doesn’t pay off every nickel every month,
HERE AT HUMBLEDOLLAR and in many other places, this point has been made: The best investment portfolio isn’t the one that’s theoretically or empirically superior. Rather, it’s the one that lets you sleep at night.
What I’ve found, as far as my portfolio goes, is that the necessary prerequisite for a good night’s sleep is one thing above all else: an oversized cash reserve. By that, I mean a cash hoard that can handle not only the most likely contingencies,
WE INCREASINGLY DO business with gigantic impersonal companies: banks, insurers, credit card issuers, cable and phone companies, utilities, and huge retailers like Amazon, Home Depot and Walmart. Often, we deal with them at a distance—by phone, mail, and especially online or via email.
When disputes or problems arise, we’re typically forced to contact their so-called customer service departments, which are often sorely lacking in service. Even before getting to a human, we have to run the gauntlet of an annoying robot,
I’M A DINOSAUR. Not only do I prepare my own tax return with no help from an accountant or tax preparer, but also I do it by hand. Yep, that’s right—no TurboTax or other computer program.
I really can’t use the computer programs because I often attach an oddball form or two that they don’t offer. On top of that, I always add “annotations” to parts of my return. These additional explanatory notes may be helpful to the IRS.
AH, A SECOND HOME—a fond dream for so many. While we try to justify a weekend house as a “good investment,” they’re often bought to fulfill some emotional need.
For some, it’s a beach house. For others, it’s a mountain getaway. But for me, it’s always been a place in the country. I’m an introvert. The prospect of getting away from crowds and noise to a secluded place of peace and quiet is my ideal.
ONCE UPON A TIME, I thought it was a little unseemly to pay a lot of attention to costs. My father grew up in a farm family with little money. He was the first to attend college and, indeed, went on to law school from there. He did well in his profession and, when I was growing up, we lived a comfortable—though far from luxurious—life.
Maybe because he’d spent his youth worried about money,
WHY DO I AVOID individual stocks today? I’ve previously written about the big loss on a broker-recommended stock that led me to manage my own investments.
That loss, however, didn’t deter me. In my early days as a do-it-yourself investor, I mainly bought mutual funds, albeit too many of the high-fee actively managed variety. But I still had an interest in picking individual stocks.
In fact, it was part of my investing heritage. My father had always invested in individual stocks.
IN AN EARLIER article, I wrote about a catastrophic stock market loss that taught me—the hard way—about the benefits of diversification and the importance of managing my own investments. That loss derailed our plans to build a large and expensive home in the hills overlooking Austin, Texas.
We were heartbroken at the time. This had been our dream for several years. But it’s funny how life works out sometimes—and it may have been the best thing that ever happened to us.
THIS IS THE STORY of a bitter life lesson that taught me two things: the desirability of managing my own investments and the perils of putting almost all my eggs in one basket.
In the late 1980s—and early in our marriage—my wife and I were busy raising four kids, while also managing two demanding careers. Our dream was to build a beautiful house on a large wooded lot that we owned in the hills west of Austin,