Why I Like to Buy Used Cars

Driving my last car along the beach on South Padre Island on a beautiful morning

Happy Monday, folks! As I mentioned on Friday, I bought a car last week. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to be peppering in some posts about that process – both my general philosophy/methodology and how this latest purchase played out. Today I’m going to talk about why I like to buy used cars. The biggest reason to buy a used car versus a new one is obviously cost. But if you do it right, you can go beyond that and follow my core financial philosophy of keeping costs down WITHOUT sacrificing quality. When you think about cars, you want to think about the total cost per year. That includes, and typically in this order from largest to smallest, depreciation, gas, insurance, and maintenance/repairs.

Depreciation is your largest, most important cost. And the larger your acquisition cost, the more you’re going to pay in depreciation in most cases. But the depreciation curve almost always behaves in a fairly predictable way. For example, a typical $40k car will lose about $20k of its value in five years. But in the next five years, it will probably only lose another $10k. And in the next five, probably only $5k. Obviously different years, makes, models, etc depreciate differently. But that is the general pattern.

My favorite way to exploit this is to buy cars at about the five year mark, drive them another five to ten years, and take good care of them. You can usually still find one that age with 50k miles or less on it and with today’s cars, assuming the previous owner has taken care of a car reasonably well, that is basically the same as new. Just about any car, besides the crappy brands I simply don’t advise you to buy at all (I posted about the best and worst brands here), is going to go around 200k miles if it’s maintained decently and not driven excessively hard. And furthermore, I’ve done very little besides regular maintenance on vehicles with 50-150k miles on them. So to me, that is the range I want to own a vehicle for. By buying and selling when I do, instead of paying roughly $30k over 100k relatively trouble free miles for that $40k car, I pay half that for the same.

So by taking advantage of the differences between the depreciation cost curve and the maintenance/repair cost curve, I save a ton of money and get to drive essentially the same cars I otherwise would. But in order for that to work, I have to be very confident I’m starting with a good car. That requires first doing the proper research and then knowing and identifying the signs of a car that has been taken care of versus a car that hasn’t been. I’ll get into that plenty more before my series of car posts is complete. But that’s enough for today. Stay tuned for more of these posts and I’ll work my way through the entire process. And get your week off to a great start!

This Week, A Little About Time Management, and a Small Change to this Blog

There has been precious little time for visiting places like Jerry’s Dome lately.

Happy Friday! You may have noticed I didn’t post on Wednesday this week as I had planned to. That’s because I haven’t had as much time available as usual, which isn’t much anyway (more on that in a minute), because I spent a few days of this week test driving cars and ultimately buying one. With that fiasco behind me, I will return to regular posting again next week. And I will post about that experience and some new things I learned about car buying in the coming weeks.

That said, going forward, I’m going to be posting twice a week instead of three times. My plan is to do it on Monday every week and then again one other day. I may try out different ones over time and choose a particular one to stick to if I notice it working better than the other possibilities. I am enjoying what I’m doing with this blog and I’m certainly going to follow through on my commitment to see it through for at least one full year. However, my life has gotten significantly busier over the last several months. Please note that I’m not complaining; I choose how I spend my time according to my goals and desires. But I’ve been struggling to keep up lately and finally I’ve had to accept that it’s because of simple math.

My job has evolved and now involves significantly more time and travel than it had earlier this year. I figure I’m putting in 60-70 hours a week now – roughly 10-12 hours per weekday and about that many total over a typical weekend. I’m doing my best to dedicate adequate time to my new hobby of learning to fly, which involves attending ground school once a week, reading every day, watching videos, and of course the flying lessons themselves. That’s about another 10 hours a week. My 10 hours a week in the gym (including time spent in the sauna after some of my workouts) are non-negotiable and I feel that’s the bare minimum I’d like to spend there. I spend about twenty minutes a day working on learning Spanish and at least maintaining my current level in German, which adds roughly 2 hours a week. For those keeping score at home, that’s 82-92 hours per week that are already accounted for on what I consider to be essential activities. Given that it takes me about 9 hours to attain my goal of 7.5 hours of sleep on a good night and that sleep is crucial to health so also non-negotiable, that leaves me with 13 to 23 hours per week to do literally anything I haven’t already mentioned – social activities, writing for this blog, you name it.

Simply put, I’m scraping the upper limits of what is possible for me without making sacrifices I believe would hurt me in the long run. I’m passionate about everything I’m doing and I don’t want to give any of it up. But that only leaves me with two options. One, I can find ways to be more efficient. That pursuit is already a regular part of my life and unfortunately, while I’m obviously not 100% efficient, I don’t think there is a lot to be gained in that area either. Two, I can make some cuts. There are occasionally opportunities to ease back on the work time, although that’s already accounted for in the range I used. Aside from that, any savings has to come from much smaller sources and thus, in much smaller amounts. And to add up to a meaningful difference, there need to be several of those small amounts which means nothing non-essential can be held sacred. Each post I write for this blog takes roughly an hour. And while I’m enjoying doing it, I’ve decided to re-purpose one of those three hours. I will give it a try and see how it goes for a while and adjust as necessary from there.

Is this a lengthy explanation? Sure. But in addition to wanting to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing, I thought tallying up my weekly hours was an interesting exercise that might inspire someone to try something similar and figure out something imporant. Have a great Friday and weekend, Everyone!

What I Do About Medical Expenses

I’m going to reuse this picture because I can’t think of a better way to caption “What I Do About Medical Expenses.”

Happy Tuesday, folks! I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day. As for me, I made a point of NOT laboring and instead, I enjoyed some relaxation time. I’ve been going very hard lately so I was due for some. Anyway, today I’m going to talk about medical expenses. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $900 in this category. Keep in mind that I don’t include health insurance in this number since I already accounted for it in my insurance category. Most of the spending that brought that average up was in 2018 when I spent months in physical therapy working through a herniated disc in my back. I’m very lucky to have good insurance, but that $50 copay per appointment still added up over time. I also sprained my ankle, making it a very unlucky health year for me. I’ve decided to write this particular post in list form for a change of pace. So here are my tips for saving on medical expenses, in no particular order (although the first one is definitely the most important and you can probably already guess what it is).

  • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

There is no better way to save on medical expenses than to avoid getting sick. This means investing time, effort, and occasionally money consistently. There is a reason this is one of the first posts I wrote on this blog. In a good year, I spend little or nothing in this potentially very dangerous category. And that is no accident.

  • Understand how your insurance and the medical billing system works and mitigate things as much as possible.

Learn about how deductibles, copays, out of pocket max, etc operate and pay attention to them. Occasionally you can do yourself a favor here. For example, if you need something done and the timing is flexible, you haven’t met your deductible yet this year, and you’re close to the end of the year, wait until next year. That way, you’re giving yourself a better chance to meet next year’s deductible rather than simply throwing the spending away on this year’s, which you won’t meet anyway.

Make sure you know something is covered BEFORE you get the service done. As a young lad of nineteen, I had my wisdom teeth removed, foolishly assuming my insurance would cover it. Later, when a bill for a few thousand dollars showed up, I ultimately learned that it did not – at least not in the particular way I had it done. I don’t remember the details now. But as a kid that age, that was a tough financial hit. More on that later.

Also, understand that medical billing is a very inexact science and that it’s done by humans, who do make mistakes. Pay attention to what’s on your bill and if something doesn’t look right, call and find out what’s going on. You will definitely encounter some of the “it’s them, not us” game between doctor’s offices and your health insurer, but every now and again, you can get something resolved and avoid paying for something you shouldn’t have to. Plus, in the process, you will gain a valuable understanding of a system that intimidates a ton of people.

  • Use your life experience to your advantage and apply what I call the 1-2 week rule.

Back in the days when insurance that covered basically everything was commonplace, I would go to the doctor for basically anything that came up – a minor rash, a cold that lasted a little longer than usual, a strange pain in my knee, etc. But somewhere along the line, I noticed a pattern. More often than not, the outcome seemed to be “give it a week or two and come back if it hasn’t improved.” And those doctors usually knew what they were doing since in most cases, no return visit was necessary. Fast forward to today, when many people have to pay at least $25 for an office visit and some have to pay the entire cost, and my approach has evolved. As long as something doesn’t seem serious (I use a combination of feel, past experience, and Dr Google to make that determination), I just self impose that week or two. Whatever the issue is, it almost always goes away – no copay necessary.

  • If you don’t have insurance, there are work arounds.

Most service providers have a cash price, and if you don’t have insurance, you should ask for it. From what I’ve heard, there is some leeway, especially if you’re going to pay up front. And here is a gem on the prescription side: www.goodrx.com. If you’re not familiar with it, give it a try and thank me later. I have no clue how it works, but somehow it does. I’ve even successfully used it when I had minimalist insurance through a very cheap employer that had a deductible on prescription coverage. One other thing. Remember my wisdom teeth mishap from earlier? I didn’t have a few thousand bucks laying around back then. But the doctor’s office was happy to set up a payment plan for me and six painful months later, the lesson had been paid for in full. They didn’t even charge interest, which I thought was very decent of them. From what I’ve heard, this willingness to set up no cost payment plans is common practice.

  • As usual, Costco can help.

If you haven’t heard, Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand is both awesome and incredibly cheap. Since moving to Texas, I suddenly have allergy issues in the spring and the fall. It’s just one of those things. But their nasal spray works wonders for me – and costs about the same for five bottles (enough to get me through probably a decade or so) as the name brand does for one. And this is just one of many, many examples. I would go so far as to say that area of the store is the most underrated of all. Oh. And with most regular household stuff like ibuprofen or that allergy medication I just mentioned, you can pretty much ignore the expiration dates. Sure, the effectiveness may go down slightly over time, but not to a noticeable degree in my experience. I have an entire bathroom closet full of expired stuff that always gets the job done when needed.

There is only one magic bullet with medical expenses: prevention. And it isn’t actually magic; it requires work and discipline. Beyond that, anything else is going to cost money. But there are ways to keep things from getting out of hand. Hopefully there is an idea or two in this post that will help you. I hope your short week is off to a great start and I’ll be back with my regularly scheduled Wednesday post tomorrow.

Why You Want to Make the Big Bucks

Plenty of money in Dallas. And such a great skyline too. Too bad I could only capture little pieces of it in any of my very amateur pictures.

Happy Friday! This is the follow up post to Wednesday’s. In that one, I talked about the downsides to having a high paying job. Today, I’m going to end the week on a positive note by talking about the opposite. It may seem a little ridiculous to write a post about reasons someone would want a high paying job. But I’m going to try to stay away from the obvious and go into the aspects someone who hasn’t had the experience might not think of. Let’s get this going.

  • You will face huge challenges that will force you to grow in ways you may never have otherwise.

I’m talking about great big, existential challenges here. As in how do I make something happen over an extended period of time that my employer claims to want (and bases my pay and continued employment on) but seems to do everything in its power to prevent from happening? This may sound like a negative, and on its face, it is. But nothing worth having comes easily. In this case, you’re stepping up to face some things that have the potential to break you, and often will come close to doing just that. However, if you’re up to the challenge, you will come away with something far better than money. In my mind, there is no greater reward than going into every subsequent life experience being able to look back at the incredible things you’ve been able to accomplish against the odds and knowing that there is very little on this planet that can stop you when you’re at your best.

  • You will learn how to deal with people more effectively than you ever would have thought possible.

We’ve all met those difficult people in life. You know, the ones that make you wish you never had to interact with them in any way. The ones who have you thinking “his poor wife!” The higher you rise in your career, the more difficult personalities you’re going to encounter. The upper echelons, at least in the business world, are mostly populated by people who were just too stubborn of assholes to allow anyone to stop them from getting there. The egos are enormous and manipulation, bullying, threatening, belittling, etc are all everyday tactics. These are people who don’t have to worry about HR since they often own their own companies or are the most powerful people in them if they don’t. Avoiding these people is not an option. And neither is failing to get results while dealing with them. For a while, you will hate it. Then, one day, you will wake up and realize that there is almost nothing left in this world that can intimidate you. The hotter the fire, the tougher the resulting metal that was forged in it.

  • You will make tons of powerful friends.

When I started out in my career, networking was always a dirty word in my mind. This was mostly because I knew very few people who could do anything for me, which made it feel like all I could do was beg for help. Not a fun feeling. But once you’re in the club of people who eat, sleep, and breathe work, most of your interactions are with people who control all kinds of different decisions – both within your company and in others. Just like in any other job, you naturally make friends, and enemies, in the process of your day to day activities. And suddenly, networking is easy.

  • You, yourself, will become powerful.

Most of us spent at least the first several years of our careers feeling trapped in dead end situations. In my case, no matter how hard I worked, it didn’t seem like it made any difference. But over time, if you’re highly capable and you work hard, it does. And one day, probably sooner than you would have expected, you find yourself in a position where almost everything you do makes a difference. And while that comes with a ton of risk and responsibility, it’s also a pretty nice feeling at times to look at a situation and realize that you made it happen through sheer force of will.

  • You will enjoy yourself at work – at least some of the time.

One of the reasons I ultimately decided not to go to law school is that law is an incredibly competitive industry where about half the people simply don’t make it and eighty hour work weeks are pretty much the norm. At the time, I couldn’t fathom working that much or that hard. But fast forward less than a decade and here I am working in the incredibly competitive finance industry, where a high percentage of people don’t make it and I’m basically working most of the time I’m awake. If you’re not already in it, that may sound like a nightmare. It certainly did to me. But somewhere along the line, I think I realized that I could either have a mediocre, unsatisfying career or I could put everything I had into a good one. Sometimes people manage to find that sweet spot in between the two, but those situations are pretty rare and typically don’t last. Our economy is just too competitive now and where there is inefficiency, it will usually be discovered and destroyed – one way or another. Going “all in” is the only option I found that allowed me to truly make an impact. And in that way, I feel I gained something rather than lost it. Instead of spending forty hours a week doing something that feels pointless and barely pays the bills, I’m spending significantly more hours than that, but I’m doing meaningful work and the bills are not a concern at all. Of course, that last part also has a lot to do with keeping lifestyle inflation in check. Don’t ever forget that you can outspend any income.

  • When you become valuable to a company, the way it spends money on and around you changes.

I still remember when I was booking my first flight in my current job. I was talking to my then new boss about a couple of possible options. One was cheaper than the other, but involved a layover. “Don’t forget the value of your time,” he told me. And it’s true. If you think about what the company pays me in a typical hour, it doesn’t make sense for me to spend a significant part of my day sitting at some airport in Detroit or some other God forsaken hellhole because the airfare was a hundred bucks cheaper. And it doesn’t stop there. Customers need to be entertained and the only rule I was ever given was to “use your judgment.” Lunches, dinners, football games, golf outings, etc are regular parts of my working life now. My recent college graduate self wouldn’t have believed the expense reports I routinely turn in today. Obviously, I do try to keep things within reason. After all, we’re running a business. But even with the company and the industry going through a very difficult time, no one has suggested cutting these kinds of expenses. They understand that if that needs to happen, we may as well just close the doors because if we don’t make our customers feel great about doing business with us, someone else will.

I think that in a lot of areas of life, you really do get what you put in. A high paying job is definitely not for everyone, because you will have no choice but to make it your top priority in everything you do. I went into that and several other drawbacks in Wednesday’s post because I think it is very important to understand the reality of what you’re getting into. But if you’re willing to pay the very high cost, a high paying job will at least give you a lot back in return. I don’t know how long I will dedicate my life to working this way. But the good news is that as time goes on, because of the work I’ve already done and the way I’ve managed my money, I should have an ever widening range of options available to me. Have a wonderful weekend!

Why You Don’t Want to Make the Big Bucks

Sure, these guys make a lot of money. But they have to take enormous risks and literally mortgage their health, both physical and mental, for the remainder of their lives to do it. And those are just some of the obvious costs.

I don’t want to send the wrong message. I’ve chosen the path I’m on, I take full responsibility for it, and knowing what I know now, there is a good chance I would still do it again. But if you’re frustrated with your income, I want to pull back the curtain and give you a taste of what it really costs to make six figures and up. I don’t want to trivialize your situation. I spent years of my life in circumstances of scarcity to the point where I still struggle with strange personality quirks that are probably rooted in those experiences. I don’t want to go back there. So in the interest of presenting both sides as fairly as I can, I’m going to write a second post to follow this one called “Why You Want to Make the Big Bucks.” But today, we’re looking at why you wouldn’t want to. Here are my reasons, in no particular order.

  • You will have very few friends at work.

Sure, people might act friendly to your face. But nothing happens in a vacuum these days. They may not know the exact amount you make, but they know it’s a lot more than they do. And jealousy can definitely make people treat you differently. You may even have people trying to take you out in an attempt to get what you have for themselves. Additionally, in order to survive in a very high income position, you have to do unpopular things. If you’re in management, you will have to fire people, you will have to tell people NO all the time, and you will have to choose between options that seem terrible to everyone below you while ignoring the options they prefer because they simply aren’t feasible. If you’re in sales, you will have to fight for your deals. Hard. You can do all you want to try to maintain a relationship with an office employee. But when he is standing between you and payday, you’re going to roll over him or go over his head. If you don’t, you not only won’t make money, but you’ll eventually be fired for lack of production. Having more power may appear to give you more options. But once you have it, you realize that those options are limited by factors people on the outside rarely see.

  • You will have a difficult time knowing if you have friends at all.

I have some wealthy friends who you would never think have more money than anyone else. If you were to meet one of them in a day to day situation, you’d see someone driving a normal car, wearing normal clothes, living in a normal house, etc. This isn’t just an effort to save money, or even to live modestly out of personal preference. It’s also an effort to hide. Lottery winners and sports heroes often don’t have that option and that is one reason so many of them wind up broke. They’re human beings just like anyone else, and they want to have normal relationships in their lives. But bad actors know that and they work their way in, taking advantage of any trust that is placed in them. Of course, there is a big difference between Adrian Peterson, who everyone knows has (or had) tens of millions to his name, and someone who has a mere one or two million in the bank. But the concept works similarly for both. Is that new girlfriend with you because she likes you and enjoys spending time with you, or is it because she can smell a payday if she can only get herself married, pregnant, etc? You want to trust her. But it is very difficult to know if you should. Often you won’t find out for sure until it’s too late.  

  • You will have a huge target on your back.

Like most companies in our industry, my employer has been under serious financial stress recently. Cost cutting has become necessary. And guess what? Firing highly compensated employees is a much quicker method of accomplishing that than firing low or average paid ones. I’m not saying people in the latter group will never lose their jobs. But if you make a lot of money and you’re not an elite level performer, you’re definitely the low hanging fruit. Even some of our most successful sales people are feeling the heat now.

  • You will be in high demand…until you’re not.

I wrote about how a lot fewer people than you think make big money just last week. That means that especially within a particular industry, most people near the top will at least be aware of each other. If you’re fired, word will get out quickly along with all sorts of rumors and theories about why it happened. If you want to move to a different company, you will probably wind up working with people you know from the past. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing. But in a world where even the nicest people have to do some pretty ugly things to get to the top, it is bad more often than it’s good. And if you lose your job as a result of your industry tanking, it’s going to be very difficult to find another one because the other companies that could best utilize your skillset probably aren’t hiring. There are plenty of those people in my life right now, whether they’ve been fired or are just at the point where they feel a switch is their best option.

  • You will be expected to give absolutely everything you have and it will never be enough.

There is no clocking out when you make six figures. You can’t really even go on vacation. You would basically just be working from home, except from a different place. If you have a family, friends, or other personal commitments, they will come second more often than not. The other option is to find another job. And remember, you’re a highly compensated employee. So when you succeed, well, of course you did. That’s what we pay you for and frankly, you still should have somehow done better. And when you don’t, you’re crucified – whether it was a result of factors under your control or not. Simply put, you’re paid to win, that’s expected, and anything less is a failure even if you did the best job you possibly could have.

  • You will make a lot less money than you think.

Political pandering aside, the reality is that unless you’re part of a small fraction of the top 1% of income earners, you don’t have access to most of the accounting tricks that allow the truly rich to avoid some of their tax liability. And even if you are, the numbers don’t lie. In 2016, the top 1% of income earners made just shy of 20% of income in the US, but paid nearly 40% of the taxes. For the top 10% of earners, those numbers were about 50% and 70%, respectively. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% made almost 12% of the income, but paid only 3% of the taxes. Keep in mind that these statistics are just for federal income taxes. Making a lot of money is very expensive just about anywhere the government is involved. Long story short, the more you make on paper, the less of your income is actually yours.

When people talk about money, they tend to focus on the benefits and ignore most of the costs. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as they say, but things are never quite as easy or wonderful when you make the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and view them objectively. Like I said at the beginning of the post, my personal verdict is that I’ll take the money – at least for now. But everything has its cost. Plenty of people would be capable of making very high incomes, but they choose not to make the sacrifices required. And that’s fine – perhaps even admirable. There are definitely more important things in life than money and the higher you go on the income ladder, the less of any of them you tend to have. The most effective decisions in life are made when all costs and benefits are factored in. If I’ve given you a window into the costs of something very few people actually get to personally experience, then I accomplished my goal with this post. And it isn’t all bad by any means. Stay tuned…

How I Saved $35 on a Recent Purchase and Some Other Odds and Ends

Now if that isn’t one of the stupidest things I’ve seen in a while – think about it… – Spotted in a hotel room I recently stayed in while hustling my ass off as described in this post

Happy Monday, ya’ll! I decided to take a break from my Annual Expenses series of posts as the concept was feeling a little stale. I’ll probably pick it back up next week. But for today, I want to tell you about a recent purchase, give you a general update, and do one other thing I had said I would but forgot about until now. Let’s get to it!

Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a trend where “deals” pop up when I’m looking at my online accounts with different banks. Usually, it’s in the form of “spend x dollars at a particular store, get a y dollar reward.” I haven’t messed with them until now because I’ve been busy, the offers usually didn’t apply to anything I particularly wanted to buy, and the dollar amounts didn’t entice me to do things differently. But recently, I saw one with American Express that changed all that: spend $25 at an office supply store, get a $5 reward. Toner cartridges for my printer cost way more than that and I have to replace them every pretty routinely, so I went to the local Office Depot. The cartridge I needed seemed a little pricier than usual at $90, so I checked online. The first option I saw was $60 – and interestingly enough, it was at Officedepot.com! I asked one of the clerks if they would price match their website, it turned out they would, and just like that, I had saved $30. Tack on the $5 from the good people at American Express and the cartridge was $35 off.

The lessons here are pretty obvious, but bear repeating as a reminder. First, keep your eyes open for easy opportunities. It took me less than thirty seconds to read over the Amex offer, come up with a plan to take advantage of it, and click it. Second, a price is not set in stone. It was a little shocking in this case that Office Depot’s brick and mortar location was substantially more expensive than its website (and no, the online price did not say it was a “sale price”), but even when it’s someone else’s website, a lot of stores will price match now since if they don’t, they will probably fall victim to “showrooming.” Third, regardless of the situation, it never hurts to ask and you can’t get what you don’t ask for. ‘Nuff said.

My current career situation could be described as “frustrated and angry, but opportunistic.” In the throes of panic mode, my employer is making life incredibly difficult for those of us out in the field with a seemingly impossible double standard. Their words say “we want tons and tons of business.” Their actions say “we’re not going to let you do any business unless we absolutely have to.” And some other actions have already made it clear that “if you don’t do tons and tons of business, you’re fired.” It seems infuriatingly disingenuous, particularly when you consider that numerous firings have already happened and not one of the people left employed appears to be safe. But then you remember that these management guys are likely facing similarly impossible double standards that have been set by the guys above them and the whole thing just kind of becomes a shared nightmare for all.

The only thing that’s certain is that it’s time to put up or shut up. As a result, I’ve been busting ass like never before and thankfully, succeeding like never before in spite of terrible market conditions. In fact, not only have I become one of the higher performers in the entire country, but of the handful of people who have been hired in my division over the last five years or so, I’m literally the only one left standing. I’m damn proud of that, even as I feel for those who didn’t make it. There are two ways to look at this situation. Sure, it’s difficult and in many cases unfair. But life hasn’t been fair since the kid in preschool took the toy from you without asking, you pushed him, and the teacher only saw the second part. Or even before that when one kid was born into almost unimaginable wealth and opportunity in the US by world standards, while another was born into almost guaranteed poverty.

Bottom line, there is opportunity in everything, even when things look extremely bleak. I do my share of bitching, no doubt. I need to work on not letting things phase me as much. But at the end of the day, I’m the guy who’s out there in all out attack mode when many others are retreating. I may go down swinging anyway, but that’s virtually guaranteed if I don’t try. In the mean time, I’m making more money than ever and building on what had already been a pretty promising career. This terrible period could be the one that takes me from pretty successful to extremely successful. Someone has to come out on top, right? As many people who have gone on to give the best performances of their lives have said, why not me, why not now?

Like it or not, few entities have more data on us and our finances than the credit bureaus. We can either waste our time being angry about that, which will change nothing, or we can use the opportunity to indulge our inner data geeks and glean some valuable insights.  Recently, someone from Experian emailed me about a post on their blog. It is a comparison of mortgage debt held by different generations and since typing the word “millennial” is basically page view gold, it of course approaches the topic from that perspective. I think the data is presented in some pretty interesting ways. Of course, if you go to their blog, they’re hoping you will click on something else and buy something. But the post is free. And full disclosure, I’m not getting anything from linking to it other than to help a fellow blogger out. Check it out here.

That’s all for today, folks. Have a great Monday and an even better week!

My Best Efforts to Keep the Insurance Industry From Robbing Me Blind

This expense is one dragon even I cannot slay.

Happy Monday, ya’ll! Here is the latest post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, you can check it out here. I’ve been going into detail on one category each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $3000 per year on insurance. To be honest, this category makes me sick since I don’t like betting against myself and have literally never received even close to what I’ve paid in premiums. Not one single year. There is a lot to discuss on this since it includes three subcategories: auto, homeowner/renter, and health/dental. And it is a highly variable expense category since insurance is based on personal factors. But I believe a minimal annual expense would be about $2000. And this is a great topic to go into since my annual auto/renter policy renews in early October and I’m going to be shopping around to try to get just a little bit closer to a reasonable amount – if that is even possible anymore.

I’ll start with health insurance since it is the most important. I’m very fortunate to have a solid plan through my employer that has a very low required contribution of less than $1000 total per year – and that’s pretax. Our dental insurance is less generous and as a result, I even went without it one year. But dentist appointments seem to be much more expensive than they are in the Midwest – about $300 on average versus about half that – so I got back on it. Anyway, admittedly, my minimum annual insurance number above requires an employee friendly setup because if I didn’t have that, it appears I would be paying about $4k total per year for fairly minimal individual health coverage. However, I would then have the advantage of being eligible to contribute to an HSA (health savings account), assuming I chose the right plan. An HSA is the add on you want. A FSA (flexible spending account) is only useful for those who have medical expenses that are both high AND predictable. Unlike an HSA, which is basically a bank account you own (but can only use for medical expenses), a FSA is a tax advantaged, but “use it or lose it” account. So only contribute what you KNOW you will spend or you could easily lose money instead of saving any.

The key with health insurance is really to stay as healthy as possible. It’s not going to be cheap no matter what you do, but if you have high medical costs, it’s going to be a lot worse. This is one of the reasons I said investing in your health is the best investment you could possibly make in one of my very first posts on this blog. This is also one of those areas where you’re going to pay through the nose for having kids, but that’s a whole other topic. Long story short on health insurance, go through your employer if they offer a decent plan and live the healthiest life you can so you can use it as little as possible. Frankly, if this industry doesn’t see dramatic changes over the next decade or so, this country is going to be bankrupt. So I don’t know how in depth it even pays to go into this. It is simply going to be a moving target for a while.

On auto insurance, I’m paying a bit over $1500 a year for a single vehicle, which makes me sick given that I paid just over half that much for two in Wisconsin (and not much more than that for three when I was married). But you only have to spend a day on Houston’s roads to see that the drivers here more than justify that difference. Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin haven’t been much better in my experience, so it’s possible that sky high insurance costs are simply a Texas thing and a well justified one at that. Anyway, nearly half of that is for collision, which you should only have if your vehicle is objectively worth at least $10k in my opinion, and the rest is for liability, comprehensive, and so forth. I have a 100/300 policy and I’m actually likely to increase that and add umbrella coverage in the near future since as my net worth skyrockets, so does my potential loss if I somehow hit one of these aristocrats who drive $400k Bentleys in an area with roads that are about one step above a war zone. And it wouldn’t even need to be a car that expensive. Sending someone to the hospital could cost far more than that very quickly, especially if they sue. And if it’s major, that’s probably more likely than not. It’s a calculation you need to make for yourself. If the vast majority of your assets are in retirement assets, which are typically protected in the event of bankruptcy, then you can probably afford to gamble a little by having the state minimum level of required liability coverage. However, if the opposite is true, then you’re probably going to have to pay for higher coverage limits as I do and be thankful that it’s necessary.

As far as saving on auto insurance, there are at least some things you can do. First and foremost, have good credit and a clean driving record. If you get a ticket, fight it. The ticket itself may only cost a hundred or two, but the increased insurance premiums could cost more than that on an annual basis for five years or more. Some states are better than others for this. I know people in states where they’ve been able to lawyer up and get out of anything and everything up to and including alcohol related stuff. In other states, it’s not even worth trying. Do your research and find out which your state is and act accordingly.

Definitely shop around with your policy. The rule of thumb is to do it every other year, but with as much as I’m paying, I’m doing it every single year until further notice. Loyalty definitely doesn’t seem to be rewarded at all as most insurers raise your rates each and every year now. About the only exception I’m aware of is USAA. If you are eligible to do business with them, thank your lucky stars and do so! I’ve heard nothing but good things. I’ve also heard good things about Amica, although every time I’ve gotten a quote from them it’s been way out of the ballpark so who knows. But most insurance companies are the same basic “charge sky high premiums, then forget your wallet when it comes time to pay the bill” scams operations.

At least by shopping around, you know you’re not getting totally screwed. Ask for the longest term you can get (usually it’s either a year or six months) since if you don’t, you’re effectively financing your annual premium and the interest rate is not low. Also, you can raise your deductibles to the max. Usually it’s only $1000 though, which limits the premium difference it makes. My attitude is that most accidents involve replacing a bumper, which is going to cost about $1000. I’m not going to make a claim and send my premiums into the stratosphere so the insurance company will hem and haw and finally grudgingly pay out five hundred bucks. No thanks. So I’d be paying the first thousand regardless in the event of a serious accident.

That’s another thing to keep in mind with insurance. Don’t make a claim if you don’t have to. Much like with buying extended warranties, you are extremely unlikely to come out ahead in the long run. If you do, you’re one of the lucky (although also extremely unlucky in another way of thinking) few. Think about it. If the insurance company (and warranties are sold by them as well) pays out more than it takes in, it goes out of business. So in most cases, you’re going to have to fight for every dollar. If the scope of the situation gets big, make sure the insurance company knows you will involve an attorney if you need to. And don’t be afraid to follow through with that either. Someone needs to keep the bastards honest. 

I saved the least important type of insurance for last, at least if you’re a renter. Most renters insurance I’ve ever had has included roughly $30k for personal property, which is enough for almost any apartment dweller, and has cost about a hundred bucks a year – yes, even in the insurance hell that is Houston. Usually I just get it as an add on with whatever auto insurance company I’m going with that year. Of course, it is much more significant if you are getting homeowners insurance since you’re insuring the exterior of the building as well. And if you live in a hurricane area like Houston, suck it up and pay for the flood insurance. In case you haven’t been paying attention for many years now, new storms “make history” on a very regular basis. Don’t assume you are safe just because the flooding didn’t reach your area in the past. People have literally lost their homes for doing exactly that.

If it hasn’t come through in the tone of this post, I fucking hate insurance. It is one of the only industries besides politics that makes finance look ethically upstanding. I get that there are problem customers like in anything else, but for the vast majority of us, this is going to amount to decades and decades of donating money to for profit entities. But if you keep an eye on them, both when making sure you’re paying a competitive premium, and when actually making claims, you can at least keep the bleeding from turning into hemorrhaging.

Sorry For the Lack of Posts This Week

I know I’ve been a little quiet. If I were Elon Musk, I would tell you I’m currently in “production hell.” However, I’m not an eccentric billionaire doing all I can to change the world. I’m just your garden variety finance guy working as hard as I can to mitigate the damage of the early, but already devastating stages of our latest and long overdue recession while also trying to somehow continue to find and close new business, run my growing side business, continue my flying lessons, and do what I can to be there for some very dear friends who are going through some difficult times in their lives. These are all such high priorities that I’m not willing to compromise on any of them. So it has been all I can do to keep up this week and I’ve chosen to let this blog slip over losing sleep or letting my workout schedule be affected.

However, I’m going to do all I can to get back on top of everything this weekend and free up some time to get back to my regular posting schedule next week. For anyone who has been following my blog, I appreciate your interest and patience during this chaotic time. I’ve committed myself to keeping this blog going for at least a full year and I have no intention of going back on that. See ya’ll soon!