Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
The event has about 30 speakers lined up, but is there a Teddy Roosevelt among them, willing to stand up to the monied interests of this new Gilded Age?
Is there anyone willing to take on the likes of Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Medicine and Big Labor? Who has the guts to challenge the energy behemoths, telecommunications giants and act on former president Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings about the growing influence of the military-industrial complex?
The last time we had a Republican president the country stood on the verge of economic collapse and Congress spent nearly $700 billion to bail out the likes of CitiGroup, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, JPMorganChase and insurance giant AIG. Maybe it was the right thing to do at the time, but only because there were so few alternatives. The result was widespread foreclosures and the most painful, prolonged unemployment since the Great Depression. Wall Street bonus money, meanwhile, continued to flow and the gap between the nation’s richest families and the middle class widened.
Little wonder that many see the GOP as the party in Wall Street’s pocket, but in truth the financial services industry – and lots of others – have purchased influence in both parties.
Many Republicans have spent the past several years screaming “Benghazi!!" and “Obamacare!" at the top of their lungs in hopes of scaring the electorate over to their side, but they need to do more to win back the White House.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., may be on to something when he says, “Conservatism will sell, but we can’t be the anti-science party."
They also can’t be the Anti-Government Party, the Homophobia Party, the Fossil Fuel Party or the one that wants to make it harder for minorities to vote or ship immigrants back to whence they came.
At some point they have to demonstrate that they’re in favor of something besides helping rich white people get richer. They have to show that they care about Main Street more than Wall Street, including the poor and elderly.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie this week set out a plan to reform entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. It was an attempt to address issues that, left unresolved, threaten to bankrupt the country. It wasn’t perfect, but it was thoughtful, laden with specifics and fairly courageous, given that Social Security has long been considered the third rail of politics in this country. Is there a Democrat with the guts to meet Republicans halfway on that issue?
A fairer, simpler tax policy ought to be an issue in the Republican wheelhouse, but it has gone nowhere in Congress. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows 60 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats favor overhauling the nation’s tax code, but attempts at reform have fallen victim to congressional gridlock. With an $18 trillion national debt, we’re not a nation that can afford to keep giving away $1.3 trillion in tax breaks every year.
But reforming the tax code and the entitlement system will require both parties to buck some of the same gilded interests that fund elections and exert their influence in the halls of Congress and the White House.
A good place to start would be by reforming a campaign-finance process that many believe is corrupt. To call attention to that issue, a group of activists will march to the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Saturday to raise a ruckus about how the system has been hijacked.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
WASHINGTON (AP) — Most U.S. presidential candidates really don't want to spend nearly two years bowing and scraping to voters and campaign donors.
Most voters sure don't want to hear about the presidential race for anywhere near that long.
Why, then, does it take so loooong to pick a U.S. president? Blame American-style democracy?
Blame the pollsters and consultants who feed off the horse race. Blame the unquenchable thirst for campaign cash. If you're a candidate, blame other candidates for forcing you to get going so early.
Whatever the reason, 20 months out from the November 2016 presidential election, no fewer than two-dozen potential candidates are maneuvering to run and they're already elbowing one another for advantage. Candidates are hiring staff, donors are taking sides, party operatives are digging up dirt on potential opponents and activist groups are holding straw polls of dubious value.
Contrast that with the rest of the world.
Israelis will spend about four months picking their next prime minister. In India, the formal campaign season for national elections was even shorter last year. In Canada, federal elections typically last about five weeks, although political positioning starts earlier.
A look at why this exercise in democracy is so drawn out in the U.S.:
American presidents serve for a set four-year term. Future contenders start planning for the next election years in advance, with no limits on what they can spend in the primaries and often no limits in the general election. That's different from many parliamentary democracies, in which elections may be called without much notice and where there are limits on paid advertising and spending.
The U.S. system is particularly complex. Candidates compete in a maze of state caucuses and primaries to get their party's nominations, then orchestrate summer party nominating conventions before competing head-to-head in the fall general election.
"It's a hard thing to figure out, and it's not something you do quickly," says Tom Rath, a GOP activist in New Hampshire, the first primary state on the political calendar.
Any hope of dominating in the primaries requires months of advance work to lock up supporters in the states. That requires even earlier work to attract key staff and raise the money needed for a strong campaign. This period sometimes is called the invisible primary.
"Campaigns last so long because we have something called the First Amendment, which means that you can't do what other democracies do, which is to say the campaign will only last for five weeks, or that you can't campaign except in the last five weeks and you can't advertise," says former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee in 1988. "If someone wants to start in Iowa six years ahead of time, you can't stop them."
THE HIRED GUNS
It used to be that pollsters and consultants went all-out during campaigns, then took off to do other things during a period of governing before the next election season, says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a longtime observer of politics and author of "The Permanent Campaign and Its Future."
But starting in the 1980s and into the 1990s, he says, "the pollsters and the campaign consultants weren't melting away. They were sticking around."
The end of one election is quickly followed by planning for the next. The midterm congressional elections are seen as an informal kickoff for the presidential race. "It's kind of a symbiotic relationship involving consultants, pollsters and candidates eager to get out ahead of everybody else," says Ornstein.
THE MONEY CHASE
As the cost of U.S. campaigns goes up, the quest for campaign cash — and the desire to impress outside groups flush with their own money — starts earlier and earlier. The private Center for Responsive Politics estimates that candidates, parties and independent interest groups put $2.6 billion into the 2012 presidential race, and $2.8 billion into the 2008 race, when there was no incumbent running. Those numbers compare with $1.9 billion in 2004 and $1.4 billion in 2000.
"Everybody is motivated to move a little bit earlier," says Ornstein. "And the flood of outside money adds to the pressure to have enough inside money that you can at least be credible to get some of that outside money backing you, or to counter it if you don't have it."
Even though candidates often would rather wait to begin a campaign, not a single politician dares risk being left behind. Once one candidate starts moving, others feel compelled to follow. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's declaration in December that he actively would explore the possibility of running injected momentum into the whole Republican field. Bush is visiting Dover, N.H., on Tuesday.
In addition, many candidates opt for a "breakthrough strategy," settling in to a particular state early in hopes of surprising observers by doing well someplace unexpected. "As a consequence, we look ever further out into the future for a set of tea leaves we can trust," says New Hampshire's Rath. "It gets late very quickly in this game."
In the leadoff caucus state of Iowa, Republican activist Doug Gross is ready to do his part.
"We're electing the most powerful person in the world," says Gross, "and we probably ought to at least do a pretty good job interview so we know what we're getting before we vote for them."
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
I would happily share the presentation with you, but I’m not sure of the copyright nature of some of the images used. Instead, I’m just going to present the sixty rules, along with my quick personal thoughts on each rule.
Of course, not everyone will be able to follow each rule all of the time. However, the more you follow these “rules," the better your financial situation will become.
If there is a single fundamental rule of personal finance, it’s this. You have to spend less than you earn and put away that difference for the future so that you can still survive and thrive when you’re older and don’t have the opportunities and energy of today. Without your earnings being greater than your expenses, you simply cannot achieve big financial goals without some sort of miracle – and you should never bet your future on a miracle.
The more credit cards you have, the more chances you have for identity theft and the more chances you have to miss a payment. The more investment accounts you have, the less attention you can give to each one and the more likely it is that you’ll miss a big problem. The more accounts and investments and bills that you have, the more time and energy you have to spend to stay on top of it all and the more likely it is that you’re going to make an error. Simplify. Cancel some of those cards. Roll over some of those investments. Consolidate some of those debts.
Do you ever tell yourself that it’s okay to make a bad spending decision right now because you’ll earn more money down the road? That’s a giant mistake, one you’ll almost always regret for a long, long time. Sure, your future self might have more income, but it’s also fairly likely that your future self will have less income and you’ll find yourself in a really bad situation. Even if your future self is doing well, there are probably going to be other big expenses that you’ll want to deal with at that time, like buying a house.
If you do not have a cash emergency fund just sitting in a savings account at a local bank somewhere, this should be your number one priority. Cash is king for solving all of the problems that life throws at you. Unlike credit, cash is available in situations of credit problems or of identity theft. You can start building an emergency fund by setting up an automatic weekly or monthly transfer from your checking account to your savings, then leaving the savings alone until an emergency beckons.
If you have an emergency fund in hand, you should next focus on eliminating your high interest debt. Set up a simple debt repayment plan by organizing your debts by interest rate, then attempt to make a double payment (or more) on whatever debt has the highest interest rate. Make that double payment every month, then when that debt is gone, add the total amount of that payment to the payment you’re making on the next debt on the list. Keep repeating until your high-interest debts are gone.
Once your high interest debts are out of the way, start saving for retirement. If you haven’t already, open up a 401(k) plan at work and start contributing to that plan. If you don’t have a 401(k) at work, set up your own Roth IRA account, which you can do through virtually any investment house (I use Vanguard). Contributing a few percent of your pay may sound painful, but it will actually end up being a much smaller burden than you expect, one that’s lifted up by the pleasure of knowing that you’re securing your retirement.
Don’t let an insurance salesman fool you. You don’t need much life insurance unless you have dependents (meaning people besides you whose well being directly rely on your income). If you do have dependents, your best bet is to get a term life insurance policy, one that will pay out enough money to care for your dependents in the event of your early passing. All of those other insurance plans offer things that you won’t really need at all and charge you a pretty penny for it.
A budget can be a useful tool for keeping your spending on track, but the most valuable part of budgeting is actually the process of building a budget correctly. How does one do it correctly? You build a budget based on looking at your actual spending over the previous few months. How much do you actually spend a month on food? Entertainment? Utilities? Your car? Get real numbers, not estimates. Dig through your bank statements and credit card statements and figure it out. This process will easily show you the areas where you actually overspend, while just following a “cookie cutter" budget doesn’t show you much of anything.
We all get bills. Some of them aren’t useful at all. Many of them have extra expenses tacked on that we don’t really need. Go through each of your monthly bills with a fine-toothed comb, looking at every line. If you don’t know what the expense is, call up the company and ask to have it removed. If you don’t think you really need that expense, call up the company and ask to have it removed. If you don’t need the bill at all, call up the company and cancel the service. This is a useful thing to do on at least a yearly basis.
Figure out how much you earned last year after taxes, then subtract from that all of the costs of commuting, professional clothes, work-related meals, and other expenses you paid out of pocket. Then, figure out how many hours you worked (including those at home), plus the hours you commuted and attended other business meetings. Divide your after-expenses income by your total hours work to get your true hourly wage. That’s how much you actually sell an hour of your time for.
I find that true hourly wage to be an incredibly valuable number. I use mine as a comparison for almost everything I buy. Let’s say my “true wage" is $10 per hour. If I’m looking at buying a $20 Bluray, I ask myself whether owning this is worth two hours of my life when I could just rent it. If I’m thinking of buying a $1,000 television, I ask myself whether it’s worth 100 hours of my life to have this model when I could have a lesser television instead. It almost always encourages me to ask what I’m really spending my life’s energy to achieve.
Financial media, from magazines like Money and Kiplinger’s to things like CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, are constantly loaded with articles where various “experts" are touting the “hot" stock and investment picks. I ignore all of it. First, those people quite often have a big conflict of interest. Second, the ins and outs of various companies and industries are too complex for an outside stock analyst to know very well, especially considering how much information is hidden from them. Third, if their calls are actually accurate, the company they work for will have already acted on that information anyway, meaning you get (at best) the scraps left behind. Just ignore all of it.
In much the same way, don’t put much value in economic forecasts. Often, those forecasts are dead wrong and even if they’re not, they’re rarely good indicators of what you should be doing with your professional life or your money. Don’t base your personal finance decisions based on what someone predicts will happen in the future, ever. If you’re nervous about the future, then you should be more conservative in the investments you make from now on; that’s about the only change you should ever make in the face of economic forecasts. However, that has more to do with your own personal risk tolerance than any economic forecast.
What is it that you want for your future? It’s a difficult question, but it’s one that can provide incredible motivation and direction for the things you do in your everyday life, encouraging you to take better steps. Do you want a secure early retirement? Do you want to start a business? Do you want to travel around the world? Whatever your goal is, keep it in mind all the time. Fill your life with reminders of your big goal so that you make better choices in line with that goal when it comes to all of those little decisions in your life.
It’s easy to get sold on the “American dream" of home ownership, but if it’s going to jack up your bills, it’s probably not a wise move. You’re better off renting and saving for a big down payment than moving into a home where your bills – mortgage, insurance, property taxes, homeowners association fees, maintenance – will add up to more than the cost of your rent and rental insurance. If you do decide to buy, go low end and move up from there later so that you’re not trapped under the weight of a giant monthly mortgage payment.
Those are the two factors you should think about above all else when it comes to buying a car because they will make an enormous difference in your finances. A reliable and fuel-efficient car will keep your fuel bills and your repair bills low for the entire time that you own it. You can research reliability at your local library by taking a look at reliability data from Consumer Reports; fuel efficiency is easy to find at websites like fueleconomy.gov.
Driving the speed limit saves you in multiple ways. Most cars are engineered to have good fuel efficiency at typical speed limits but their fuel efficiency drops rapidly above that, shedding as much as 1% fuel efficiency for each mile per hour over 65. This article provides lots of details on this phenomenon, but it turns out that slowing down even a little can save you a lot of cash. Furthermore, driving the speed limit drastically reduces the chances of a traffic ticket, which can both be directly expensive and result in insurance inflation. Simply dropping your speed from, say, 70 to 65 only costs you about 4 minutes per hour of driving, but it saves you a surprising amount of cash.
One of the biggest costs to homeowners comes in the form of leaking air. In the winter, warm air leaks out and cold air leaks in, causing the furnace to run more. In the summer, cold air leaks out and warm air leaks in, causing the air conditioner to run more. There are lots of solutions to both problems, but one of the most efficient strategies for both is to just air seal your home, which means that you look for places where air is leaking out of your home and you seal them up. Here’s a great guide to home air sealing.
A neighbor is a person that you can borrow something from instead of having to go to the store. A neighbor is a person who can keep an eye on your property while you’re away. A neighbor is a person who can make an ordinary dinner into an effortless social occasion without any additional cost. A neighbor can be an endless source of useful advice about the local area. Get to know your neighbors and build a relationship with them. Offer to help your neighbors whenever you can – and ask them for help sometimes, too. You’ll build a relationship that will offer tons of value to both of you.
If you owe any debts, it never hurts to look into the possibility of reducing your interest rates on those debts. For credit cards, it’s as easy as simply calling up your credit card company and asking for a reduction. For other bills, such as student loans, a consolidation can lower your interest rate. With your mortgage, a refinancing can reduce your rate dramatically. Lowering interest rates can both reduce your monthly payments and reduce the total amount of interest that you pay over the life of a loan, so any reduction you can get is a good thing for your wallet.
Many people worry about how their children will pay for college. Here’s the thing: you can provide just as much help to them by being completely financially secure as they grow older so they don’t have to worry about you as a financial burden. If you do choose to help, you can usually tap your retirement to help pay for education (though that’s usually not the most financially sound idea, it is a possibility). It’s never bad to save for college, but you should make other things a priority first.
Talk to your children about money starting from the earliest age. Explain to them the virtues of spending less than you earn and not getting yourself into debt. Even more than that, live those lessons in front of your children. Don’t just talk about it, do it. Show them how it’s done in your day to day actions. If you talk about spending less than you earn and then do it in your day to day life, the lessons are much more likely to stick.
When you’re struggling to pull yourself out of a financial hole, it can be very tempting to tap your retirement funds to pay off debts or to make a house down payment. If you can, avoid doing that. Not only do you lose out on years of growth in your finances, it’s also very easy to not adequately restock your retirement after doing this. Tap your retirement if you must, but it should be an avenue of last resort.
Not sure how to invest your money? Unless your goal is a short term one – less than ten years until you empty it out – you should have most of your money in stocks because, over the long term, they tend to offer very good returns. The problem with stocks is that they tend to be very volatile, with lots of short term jumps and falls in value. Hold on and be patient; better yet, just don’t look at the value of your investments if they’re far down the road.
The best way (in my opinion) to invest in the stock market is to buy index funds with low fees. Index funds allow you to buy a small piece of the stock of lots of different companies at once with one single investment. Usually, index funds offer low fees as well (because they don’t cost much to manage), which means more of your investment stays with you rather than being drained off by the investment house.
Individual stock investing is a fool’s game. In order to do it well, it requires a ton of research and a lot of attention, and even then it comes with a lot of risk. Unless you get significant enjoyment out of it and are investing with money that you won’t need in the future, I strongly encourage you to avoid investing in individual stocks.
Most people focus on buying domestic investments – stocks in American companies, American treasury notes, and so on. That’s fine, but it puts you at risk in situations where America’s economy is weaker than the rest of the world. You should diversify at least a little and have some portion of your investments in an index fund made up of international stocks and other international investments such as the Euro and the Chinese yuan.
Unless you have a ton of risk tolerance and your investment goals are far, far down the road, it’s not a bad idea to have at least some of your money in safer things like highly rated bonds and United States treasury notes. These investments are much less volatile than stocks and tend to just slowly raise in value consistently over time.
While the previous four tips are useful ones if you want to invest outside of your retirement account, most people are concerned more about investing within their retirement account. In that case, your best investment option (assuming you don’t want to spend a ton of time studying and rebalancing) is to simply buy a target retirement fund within your retirement account. It essentially automates the tips given above.
If your employer offers matching funds for your 401(k) or 403(b) plan, make absolutely sure you’re contributing enough to get every single dime of those matching funds. Why? They’re free money – and free money is rare in life. It allows you to get a huge immediate return on every dollar that you save for retirement. Not doing this is effectively the same as telling your employer that you don’t want their money and that they should keep it instead.
One big mistake that busy people make is that they don’t have a clear plan for where their meals are coming from during the week, leaving them to improvise on many week nights. That kind of improvisation, where there are no plans for dinner when you get off of work or there are no plans for lunch during the work day, usually ends up with extra expenses in the form of restaurant meals, takeout, and convenience foods. A bit of time spent planning out meals for the week when you have time during the previous weekend can drastically cut your food expenses because you’ll know what you’re having for each meal and can easily handle the necessary preparation.
Your grocery store flyer lists all of the foods that are on sale that week. Use it as the basis for figuring out your meal plan for the upcoming week by starting with those ingredients and using Google to find simple and tasty recipes using those ingredients. Once you have some recipes, make a list of all of the ingredients that you don’t have – that’s your grocery list. Which brings us to…
If you’re ever in a store without some kind of shopping list, you’re probably making a mistake. If you don’t have anything you actually intend to buy there, then you’re hanging out in a place that needlessly drains your wallet. If you do intend to buy some things but don’t have a clear plan for it, you’re going to get sucked into impulse buys, which will also drain your wallet. A shopping list keeps you on focus whenever you’re in a store, which cuts down significantly on those impulsive purchases.
Try as much as you can to cut advertising out of your life. Minimize your time spent reading magazines. Fast forward through commercials – or find other ways to watch television that don’t involve commercials at all such as binge-watching via Netflix. Listen to commercial-free radio like NPR. It’s hard to completely eliminate advertising in modern life, but the less you’re exposed to, the less temptation you have to spend your money on products you don’t need.
Many hobbies have an ongoing upkeep cost. Golf, for example, always requires new balls and more greens fees. Many hobbies require you to constantly buy fresh supplies for making things. While it’s fine to have some hobbies that require an upkeep, try to discover ones that have small upkeeps or none at all. Get into things like geocaching or rock collecting or playing music on an instrument you already have.
Many communities have a thriving community calendar that lists endless meetings, community events, and other things going on around town that you may not even be aware of. Your local library probably has an additional calendar with tons of events, as does meetup.com and the bulletin boards at city hall and the post office and the library. Check all of these things. Try everything that’s free, just to see if it clicks for you. At worst, you’ll learn more about your community at no cost. At best, you’ll make a lot of new friends as well as find activities and clubs you’re interested in, and it’ll still cost you nothing.
Don’t choose a car to impress other people. Don’t choose clothes to impress other people. Don’t choose gadgets to impress other people. Why? Because it won’t really impress them. The only thing that will impress someone about you is you. It’s about how you carry yourself, what ideas you bring to the table, and how you listen and respond to others. Don’t spend a dime on the other stuff.
If you see someone driving an expensive car, don’t use that as an excuse to feel jealous or to tell yourself that you, too, need an expensive car. You don’t. Just because other people choose to buy things or eat at certain restaurants or whatever else people in your life choose to do with their money does not mean you need to do it too. Make choices and spend money on things that build up the things you care about, not the things other people care about.
Having a life full of strong personal and professional relationships will serve you well in every aspect of your life for the rest of your life. The people in your life provide emotional, social, professional, spiritual, mental, and, yes, financial support for almost anything you might want to do. Put in the time and effort to build strong relationships by helping others, listening to what they’re saying, offering support, and being involved with the community.
This may seem overly simple, but it has brought about countless transformations in my life. Once a week, I spend an hour reviewing the week that has gone by as well as thinking ahead to the week that is to come and my long term goals. Am I doing things that are in line with those goals? What are the best things I did this week in terms of where I want to be going? What were the worst things, and why did I do them? How can I avoid doing them in the future? Am I still happy with my big goals? Spend real time thinking about those things every week and you’ll feel a positive transformation in your day to day life.
The lottery is a for-profit enterprise, meaning that the lottery keeps more money than they pay out. That means you’re extremely likely to wind up on the losing end of the stick, paying in more money than you’ll ever get out of the lottery. Don’t do it – it’s a true waste of money. The same thing is true for casino games of chance. If you enjoy playing games, find other distractions.
This goes in line with the suggestion above to find hobbies without an upkeep cost, but it goes further than that. Are you spending your spare time in a way that makes you into a better person? Are you building skills in your spare time? There are plenty of ways to have fun while also building skills or developing as a person, from volunteering or attending religious services to taking career-boosting classes or getting involved in a professional or civic organization.
Almost all of us have a big dream inside. My dream has always been to be a fiction writer because I deeply love telling stories. Whatever your dream is, find a way to fill at least some of your spare time with it. Is there a way to touch on the thing you enjoy so deeply while also making money? Could you make Youtube videos about it, or start a website, or write a Kindle book? Most likely, you could – you just need to make that choice.
The average American watches five hours of television per day. If you can take just half of that time and apply it to other life-enriching activities, not only will you build a better life for yourself – probably one in which your earning potential is significantly increased – but you’ll feel better, too, and have fewer material desires. Don’t give up television programs if you enjoy them, but give up mindless “channel surfing" and find something more fulfilling to do. You’ll probably use less energy and you’ll also likely improve your earnings.
Whenever you’re tempted to splurge on something cheap, simply hold it in your hand for ten seconds and ask yourself honestly whether you need it or not. Actively try to think of reasons why you shouldn’t buy this item. Will it really help you toward your goals? Will you really get enough value out of it to make it worth the cost? Usually, just ten seconds will convince you that you don’t really need the item, and if something still passes the test, feel free to buy it!
What about more expensive items? For more expensive items – and you can draw the line between “cheap" and “expensive" where you please – simply choose to wait thirty days after your first serious impulse before buying the expensive item, provided that it’s not an essential or emergency need. Use that time to do a little research and make sure you actually want or will use the item, and also give it time to just sit there and see if the desire dies down. You’ll find that, more often than not, you won’t want the item after thirty days.
Whenever you’re shopping, choose to make a “first run" at low-end stores: discount grocers, thrift stores, secondhand stores, and so on. Sure, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to pick up everything you want there, but if you can just knock a few items off your list at bargain-basement prices, then it’s going to lower your overall spending by a notable amount. For example, I use Aldi as a “first-run" grocery store when I have a big list, as there are several items I buy there before I go to other stores.
Convenience foods – meaning any food that’s partially or wholly assembled or prepared for you to eat at home – are virtually always overpriced and are usually incredibly unhealthy. You pay for the convenience of those foods, not for the quality of the ingredients or the bang for the buck. There are times when convenience foods can really help out, but find ways to cut back on them. Learn to make simple meals at home and your cost per meal will go down significantly (as will your long term health care costs).
Any substance that you feel compelled to consume that doesn’t fulfill a dietary need is not only an unnecessary expense that’s draining your wallet, but likely damaging to your health as well. Are you feeding an alcohol addiction? Smoking? Soda? Coffee? Do you find it difficult to function without these things? Are you spending money constantly on these things? If you’re nodding your head yes, even reluctantly, it’s a sure sign that you need to cut back on a habit.
One of the most valuable things you can do on the weekends is to make some meals in advance for the coming week or two and store them in the freezer. For example, you might make a batch of breakfast burritos so that you have a quick, tasty, healthy, and inexpensive breakfast for the coming weeks. You might make a quadruple batch of lasagna, eating one for dinner on Sunday and sticking the other three in the freezer. Doing this lets you cook at home (saving money) using bulk ingredients (saving more money) and sets you up for cheap and convenient meals later on (saving even more money).
LED light bulbs have reached the point where they make an almost unnoticeable replacement for ordinary incandescent bulbs. The only difference? They use about 20% as much energy and last twenty times as long. Adding together all of the costs of an incandescent bulb versus an LED bulb, you’ll save more than $100 over the lifetime of the LED bulb as compared to incandescent lighting. No joke.
What items do you regularly put on your grocery lists? Milk? Bread? Eggs? Make a short list of ten or fifteen items that you buy very frequently at grocery stores, then visit different grocers over the course of your next several grocery shopping excursions. Note the price of those items, then add them up. You’ll save money over the long run by shopping at whichever store has the lowest total on those items. However, this is a good thing to check every year or two as stores tend to evolve their pricing schemes and new competitors enter the market.
When your toilet is having problems or your faucet won’t stop dripping, it can be tempting to call a repairman to have him or her just fix the problem. Before you do that, though, give the problem a shot yourself. Look up how to do it online, borrow some tools from a friend, and see what you can do. You might just find that you can fix the problem yourself, saving some cash and building confidence for future repairs. The worst case is that you just have to call in the repairperson anyway.
It’s easy to forget about regular car maintenance. After all, the car starts up every morning and you scarcely have to even think about it. The problem is that neglecting maintenance over the long haul will eventually wear out your car and lead to major problems far sooner than necessary. Your car has a maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual that you can easily follow – it tells you what maintenance is needed at what mileage, making it easy to schedule appointments or, even better, to do it yourself.
Every two PSI that’s missing from your set of tires costs your car 1% in fuel efficiency. Big deal, you say? Many cars are missing as much as eight or ten PSI, resulting in a 5% loss in fuel efficiency. Imagine just losing a gallon of gas for every 20 that you buy. Even worse, an underinflated tire is much more at risk of tearing or suffering other damage, leaving you stranded with a big expense. Keeping it inflated is really easy, too; you just need a few minutes at the “free air" pump at your local gas station to get things right.
Got a gym membership you never use? Cancel it. What about a country club you haven’t been to in years? Drop it. Don’t watch your Netflix subscription? Drop it. Got Amazon Prime but only order stuff once every month or two? Drop it. Subscribed to DailyBurn but rarely exercise? Drop it. Unused subscriptions and memberships do nothing but devour your money month after month.
Leftovers might not sound like the best thing, but they’re free meals and they’re easy to jazz up with a little salt and pepper and maybe a few spices like a dash of Italian seasoning. If you have leftovers after your family dinner or if you’re bringing home a doggy bag from a restaurant, take the extra step to package these leftovers up as convenient individual meals and take one with you to work the next day or the day after, making for a free lunch. If you’re prone to eating out for lunch, get into a routine of this, as well as a routine of making your own lunch at home the night before so that you always have something to take with you for lunch that’s far cheaper than eating at a restaurant each day.
Public transportation can be an incredibly inexpensive way to commute to work, especially if you purchase a long term pass. Many people overlook it for the “freedom" of driving a car, but then rarely do much on their commute other than drive to and from work. If that describes you, try using public transport for a while. It’s often cheaper and faster than the gas and oil and other maintenance costs of running the car, and if you find you can do without that car, you can sell it for some money in your pocket and lose the registration and insurance costs.
If you’re in a long term relationship, being completely open with your partner about your dreams as well as your mistakes is an incredibly powerful way to maintain your focus and continue to make good decisions in life. Spend some time at least once a week talking to your partner about your big goals in life as well as any challenges and mistakes you’re struggling with. Encourage your partner to do the same, and keep any negative emotions in check. Instead, encourage each other to improve and do better and keep that encouragement up throughout the week. This makes a world of difference in every aspect of life.
Happiness comes from within. All the stuff in the world won’t make you happy, but if you’re happy inside, it doesn’t take much of anything to bring you joy. Never, ever buy into the idea that owning something will make you happier than you are right now because it won’t. The only way money can help is by reducing your stress and eventually improving your life options through improved financial security – and you can only get there by being smart with your money.
These rules aren’t hard and fast ultimatums designed to run your life, but little tools that you can use to put yourself on a better financial, professional, and personal track. Feel free to pick and choose among them and find the ones that will work well for you, as each of these can improve one’s situation. If you can, try to apply a lot of them to your life, as the more positive directions you have, the faster your whole life will transform (in a good way).
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Baloney. As academics who study campaigns, we hear this claim all the time. But we also know it’s important to investigate whether data backs it up. We did. And it doesn’t. In fact, there’s a paradox at the heart of American campaign craft. Mountains of rigorous research show that campaigns should be having personal conversations with voters at their doors. But, campaigns spend almost all their money on TV ads — and, every year, most voters say they’ve never had a conversation about the election at their door. What gives?
By far the most effective way to turn out voters is with high-quality, face-to-face conversations that urge them to vote. How do we know? Nearly two decades of rigorous randomized experiments have proven it.
Alan Gerber and Don Green ran the first of these "field experiments" in 1998. The professors randomly assigned voters to receive different inducements to vote: some received postcards, some received phone calls, some received a visit from a canvasser, and some received nothing.
The experiment found that voters called on the phone or sent postcards were not noticeably more likely to vote than those sent nothing. But canvassing was different. Just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls, boosting turnout by a whopping 20 percent (or around 9 percentage points).
The nearly two decades since Gerber and Green’s first experiment have consistently borne out their finding that personal conversations have special political potency. Hundreds of academics and campaigns have tested the impacts of various campaign tactics with randomized field trials. High-quality canvassing operations emerge as consistent vote-winners. On the other hand, impersonal methods have consistently failed to produce cost-effective results, no matter how you slice the data or which populations researchers examine.
Volunteers from the Yes campaign speak with a voter as they canvass for support for the Yes vote in the Pilton area of Edinburgh on September 16, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Given the widely acknowledged importance of a good "ground game," campaigns like to tout statistics that show they’re knocking on huge numbers of doors. These statistics can make their ground games sound quite substantial.
But, in reality, large "knock" numbers often conceal lackluster ground games. Why? Campaign operatives often rush through neighborhoods, hurrying to rack up impressive numbers of "knocks." However, these hurried efforts often fail to reach most voters at all and entail only perfunctory interactions with the voters they do. Campaigns’ ground games can thus sound sizable in terms of "knocks" when they haven’t had any conversations with voters at all.
And, to actually affect voters, research shows that having an actual conversation is crucial. Canvassing seems to work best when voters who don’t care much about politics engage in a genuine conversation about why voting is important. So, when canvassers rush through scripted interactions, just trying to cram their message into voters’ minds, the impacts they leave are minimal — voters might as well have been sitting through a television ad. On the other hand, research has consistently found that authentic interpersonal exchanges usually have sizable impacts.
But facilitating that breed of genuine personal outreach isn’t what many "field" campaigns actually do. Green has seen this in practice. He has found that many canvassing operations have effects "smaller than what we obtained from our initial study or in our follow-up experiments with seasoned groups such as ACORN." But, Green went on to say, "When I'd inquire about the details of these sub-par canvassing efforts, I would often discover that the scripts were awkward or that there was limited attention to training and supervision."
This suggests a picture that should frighten candidates, campaign managers, and donors alike. Even if field operatives have racked up millions of "door knocks," when one looks under the hood of these operations, there often isn’t much reason to believe they’re having many quality conversations with voters at all.
Another reason to doubt campaigns are running good ground games? Voters don’t appear to be seeing them.
A political organization running a field campaign shared data with us that helps quantify just how invisible the ground game is to the very voters supposedly being inundated with it. (The organization requested anonymity when making public their internal research findings.) During October 2014, this organization ran a field campaign in a hotly contested Midwestern gubernatorial race. According to most accounts, this gubernatorial race witnessed the same all-out ground game as other elections this year, and this organization should thus be thought of as only one of many blanketing supportive voters with personal conversations urging them to vote.
What this organization did allows us to critically evaluate how widespread the ground game was — it ran an experiment in which some voters it was targeting were randomly assigned to receive a knock on their door from organization field staffers while others, a "control group," received no contact from the organization (but still received identical efforts from other groups). After the election, this organization conducted an ostensibly unrelated survey in which they asked voters in the two groups what campaign contact they recalled receiving over the last few weeks from any political organization.
The results? The "control" group who received no contact from this organization remembered getting a knock on the door from any campaign only about 21% of the time. But just one conversation at the door from this organization doubled that figure, to over 40%. With just one contact yielding such a large increase, it's hard to believe the ground game in that race reached anything near saturation.
Source: Survey of voters targeted by campaign in midwestern gubernatorial race.
But what about for mail, phone, and television-based appeals? The numbers for these modes show exactly the opposite: voters were saturated. This organization found that around 9 in 10 voters it targeted recalled receiving phone calls, mailers, or seeing TV ads about the same election. The disparity between these numbers and the same figures for field raise questions about the idea that the ground game is already in full swing.
Source: Survey of voters targeted by campaign in Midwestern gubernatorial race in control group who did not receive canvassing.
(Data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study reveal a similar disparity — a majority of Democratic voters in swing states in 2010 and 2012 recall receiving phone and mail contact, but almost no voters recall someone knocking on their door.)
The same disparity between field and other techniques manifests in patterns of campaign spending. A recent investigation by the New York Times provides a window into how SuperPACs spent their dollars over the last three election cycles. The results are puzzling. Over 80% of these groups’ spending went to TV advertising, followed by mail and online advertising to round out about 90% of spending in total. Finally, in a distant fourth, came field work — capturing less than 5% of campaigns’ budgets.
Somehow, many campaigns aren’t managing to spend much more on the most effective form of voter contact than on radio.
But, even though campaigns spend a very large share of their budget on TV ads, the research on the impacts of TV ads doesn’t bear out the idea that they powerfully influence elections:
First, there’s little evidence supporting the idea that TV ads can mobilize voters to turn out. In 2008, Jon Krasno and Green exploited quirks in media market boundaries to measure the impacts of presidential advertising. Ryan Enos and Anthony Fowler have examined the impact of the presidential campaigns' TV ads in a similar manner. The results? Voters who receive the heavy volume of TV advertising associated with presidential campaigns are no more likely to vote than voters who see barely any. When it comes to turning out new voters, there’s not much evidence TV ads are of much use. (One exception is a study by Vavreck and Green on Rock the Vote’s television ads, which found mild effects among young voters.)
There is similarly limited evidence that TV ads have an enduring impact on voters’ attitudes towards candidates. Yes, ask voters how they feel within hours of seeing a TV ad, and we sometimes see evidence that they’ve been swayed. But these effects usually fade quickly. In one study, Seth Hill, James Lo, Lynn Vavreck, and John Zaller examined the impacts of presidential television advertisements and found that their effects disappeared within days at most. Likewise, in a collaboration with the Rick Perry for Governor campaign, Gerber, Green, and James Gimpel and Daron Show found that Perry’s ads had a noticeable immediate effect but left no lasting trace.
Even if TV ads provide fodder for much punditry or look impressive in a focus group, there’s not much reason to believe they have lasting impacts on voters’ views or behavior.
Campaign consultants, like Republican Mike Murphy (left) and Democrat Bob Shrum (right) typically make more when campaigns spend on ads than when they spend on field operations. (Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)
We academics are still scratching our heads about this one. Here, we’ll mention just a few possibilities.
First, managing a canvass operation is difficult and requires considerable recruitment, training, and supervision. It’s a lot easier to write a check to an ad agency or mail firm.
It’s also gotten harder to raise a field army. Decades ago, a rich network of civic organizations — think churches, Elk Lodges, and labor unions — could supply ample volunteers for field work. But, as these organizations’ memberships have flagged, professionally-managed, centralized, DC-based groups with weaker grassroots ties have tended to take their place. As a result, knocking on millions of doors now requires recruiting tens of thousands of temporary field staffers or new volunteers. When faced with a logistical challenge of that scale, it becomes mighty appealing to write a check to an ad firm instead.
There’s also a more cynical possibility — campaign consultants urge campaigns to spend more on ineffective tactics because it boosts their bottom line. Candidates and campaigns rely on consultants’ expertise when allocating precious campaign resources. But many consultants take a cut of ad fees, making a healthy commission when campaigns squander their resources on TV. On the other hand, waging field campaigns tends to be a low margin business and thus prove less financially appealing for consultants to recommend to clients.
As effective as high quality field campaigns are today, they’re likelier to get even better as the research improves. Recent research has shown that the power of personal conversations extend far beyond voter mobilization, and include the potential to build lasting support for marriage equality and abortion. Successful turnout interventions also seem to have lasting impacts on individuals, leading them to become lifelong voters, as well as on their cohabitants. But to take advantage of these innovations, campaigns need to seriously increase their focus on field.
The good news is, the necessary financial resources for waging real ground games are already available — campaigns just have to spend their money right. Consider what would happen if campaigns diverted just some of the money they currently spend on TV towards field. Nearly $1.2 billion was spent on TV ads during the 2014 election cycle, capturing about a third of campaign spending. Imagine if campaigns diverted just 30% of that amount to field, for a $350 million ground game — many times more than the amount campaigns actually spent on field this year. Field operatives can often be hired for about $20 an hour (including overhead) and could have two high-quality 20 minute long conversations with voters every hour, for about $10 per conversation. That all adds up to a staggering reality: campaigns could have had a 20 minute conversation with every single registered voter in a state with a close Senate race — and still afford to blanket the airwaves with ads.
Waging a high-quality ground game isn’t easy — but no one said winning elections was. Before 2016, candidates and campaign consultants need to take a hard look at the science, lest the ground game take a back seat yet again. We may need to knock on their doors, too.
Published on by Jeff McLean
From holiday shopping to family vacations to unexpected car repairs or medical bills, staying ahead of your finances is both an important goal and a constant challenge. We could all use a little help managing and saving our money.
Today we’re going to explore several startups out there that promise to help save you money, curb your spending, and fatten your wallet.
Mint.com, again? Yes, there’s a reason Mint shows up on list after list of financial startups and must-have personal finance tools: It’s free. And it works.
So here are the details, in case you’ve been sleeping under a financial rock.
Mint is a free, Web-based personal finance tool and app which connects to all of your accounts (banking, investments, credit cards etc.). It provides you with graphs, charts, budgets, and other tools to help you assess and understand your spending and budgeting behavior.
The only real question is whether it’s still fair to categorize Mint as a startup. It was founded in 2006 and acquired by Intuit in 2009; today it claims to have over 10 million users.
One of my favorite parts about Mint.com is how it alerts me to fees and makes suggestions on ways to reduce fees. For example, Mint alerted me I was just charged a fee for using an ATM in Tel Aviv yesterday. Shocking, because when speaking with my local credit union back home, they didn’t mention anything about this, and I even made a special visit to the branch to ask about any potential transaction and ATM fees and to ensure my purchases overseas would be approved while I was abroad.
While it’s good practice to regularly review your accounts and statements for errors — admittedly I’m not as disciplined with this as I should be, and I get the feeling most others aren’t either — Mint catches some obvious anomalies and a whole lot more.
While the additional fee was something I suspected might happen, my bank didn’t elude to these international ATM transactions fees, so I will drop them a nice note and discuss it with them upon my return home. Banks are often willing to waive fees like this, so it never hurts to ask (and always remember to be polite).
I’m pleased to say Mint not only highlighted the fee, but went an extra step and recommended opening an account from Schwab to stop paying international ATM fees. The Charles Schwab high-yield checking account has no account minimums and no ATM fees worldwide. I’m not a Schwab account holder (yet), but now it’s on my to-do list. Coincidentally, just a few days ago a friend in Tel Aviv recommended that I open a brokerage account with Schwab — not for the brokerage, but for exactly this reason: free ATM transactions worldwide.
A while back, Mint alerted me to a business checking account I don’t actively use that charged me a $12 inactivity fee every month when I didn’t perform at least five credit or debit card transactions. While these fees may seem minor, they add up, and it’s smart to eliminate and reduce them whenever possible –especially when free alternatives exist (and they usually do).
Trending in: #personalfinance #budgeting
Staying power: Mint.com was acquired for $170 million by Intuit in 2009. Intuit has about 90% of the online accounting market in the U.S. and a market cap of around $25 billion, so it’s not going anywhere. Speaking from personal use, I am fan of Mint.com.
A few weeks ago, I was out to lunch at a popular local restaurant on the square in Madison, Wisconsin. The food and conversation were good, nothing out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t until the following week when I was checking my online bank account that I realized I’d been charged $93.37 by the restaurant. Upon first glance, I thought the charge might have been for a night out on the town, but after checking my calendar I realized my $9 lunch was what the $93 dollar bill was for.
What to do next?
Think of BillGuard as a watchdog for your bills.
BillGuard uses proprietary technology to scan your credit card bills and check them for fraud or incorrect charges, and it will send you alerts you when you have a similar charge to one that other users flagged.
They have an easy-to-use interface — you can connect and sync your accounts in a few keystrokes, and then simply swipe right to confirm a charge and swipe left to flag a charge.
BillGuard was initially free for your first two cards, and then they charged a one-time fee of $9.99 for up to 10 accounts. However, they quickly found out that the market won’t support this, and abandoned the premium accounts.
I’m excited to continue to use BillGuard and hopefully won’t need it too often, but based on the research I’ve done, I think they are a company to keep your eye on and a service worth using.
Trending in: #billpayment #fraudprotection
Staying power: BillGuard just partnered with the credit agency giant Experian (one of the big three), so expect to be hearing a lot more about them in years to come.
Onavo claims to help users get 500% or more usage out of an existing mobile data plan. Beyond compressing data to lighten your 4G load, Onavo’s goal is to help you better understand how much data the apps on your phone are using to allow you to make better informed data decisions and save you money. The app and service are free.
The benefits of Onavo:
If you have an unlimited data plan, consider yourself blessed. Hang on to it at all costs. For the rest of us, there’s Onavo.
Trending in: #phone #mobile #dataplansavings
Staying power: Onavo was started in 2010 and acquired by Facebook in 2013 for more than $150 million. After losing my unlimited data plan a couple years ago (worst mobile phone decision of my life), anything that promises to help keep my data charges in check and delivers on that promise is a keeper.
How do we know if we are getting good financial advice?
Individuals, families, businesses, and investors everywhere struggle to accurately assess the quality of advice they receive, and after watching the financial crisis and high-profile fraudsters like Bernie Madoff wipe out billions in wealth, it’s become tougher and tougher to trust financial advisors.
Much like Zappos sells shoes of all kinds, styles, and sizes, financial advisors are not one size fits all (far from it!). Trusting someone to guide us on our financial decisions is a big deal, and there hasn’t historically been a very good way to decipher good from bad in the financial advisor arena.
Frustrated by the lack of clear information, unbiased advice, and the often unclear lines between sales and sound financial advice, Finom was born.
Finom is an online platform that lets you find, connect with, meet, and hire the best investment adviser for your specific financial situation, investment goals, and personal preferences. You start by filling out an online questionnaire, where Finom learns about your financial situation, investment experience, goals, and what you are looking for in a financial advisor.
And rather than introducing you to friends, which is how many of us find financial advisors, Finom relies on data to help improve your financial advisor search and match you with the right potential advisors.
Many beginner investors struggle to find a financial advisor who will work with someone with a relatively small amount of money, and cite that as a reason for not working with an advisor at all. Finom to the rescue! Along with the other preferences that factor into the process, Finom also matches you with an advisor whose minimum account requirement matches your investing profile.
Is Finom for you? Check out their website to learn more.
Trending in: #investing #financialadvisor
Staying power: If solving a meaningful problem is an accurate gauge of how long a business will be around, then Finom should be around for many years to come if they can continue delivering value to their users.
SmartAsset is a website and app that helps the average person make important financial decisions. They have proprietary financial modeling technology, which allows the company to provide automated, highly personalized advice for what SmartAsset declares are 24 of the most significant life events and financial decisions you may have to face — including student loans, retirement, credit cards, starting a business, and many others.
For instance, looking at the home buying process, SmartAsset offers individual guidance on the following questions in detail:
From retirement planning, to buying a home, to evaluating the cost of going back to school, or starting a family, the SmartAsset platform models decisions and creates interactive graphs, which provide advice and insights to answer your questions.
It’s a helpful tool not just for finding answers to questions, but for identifying the right questions to ask when making one of life’s major financial decisions. They have easy-to-follow interactive guides for you to use and populate with your own info as you go. By logging in, you can save all of your data (for free) and come back to use the site at a later time or to analyze a different financial event.
Trending in: #financialadvice #personalfinance
Staying power: As an information site, there is a lot of very specific value here centered around the 24 life events. As a graduate of Y Combinator with over $7 million raised, there is a good chance SmartAsset will be around for years to come.
Keeping track of your finances takes discipline. There have been times in my life where I’ve made good money, well into six figures, and other times when I made less in a year than I made in a month trading. I can speak from experience: It does not matter how much money you make, very few people enjoy budgeting.
When you make a lot of money, you think, “Hey, what’s the point? I make enough money, I’m fine." When you don’t make a lot of money, it can be painful to crunch numbers and realize you can’t afford to go out to dinner and to the movies on Friday.
Most people don’t like budgeting. It’s the perfect problem to be solved by Level Money.
Level Money analyzes your finances by categorizing them into just a few categories: income, bills, save, and spendable. Its most user-friendly feature is the spendable bubble, which simplifies your finances into one number: spendable money. It’s something everyone can figure out and follow:
The app connects to 70 U.S. banks, which means it can cover over 85% of accounts in the country. I was slightly concerned that Level Money wouldn’t have my local credit union in Madison, Wisconsin, but I was pleased to find out it did.
After linking my accounts, which is secured by Intuit and took only moments, Level Money guided me through its easy-to-use Create My Plan, which helped analyze bills and income and desired savings to create a monthly plan that works for me.
What’s left over after bills and savings gets classified as spendable. The spendable category is then further broken down into spendable money per day, which can help anyone grasp immediately how the Starbucks lattes and late-night Amazon purchases add up (or subtract from our spendable discretionary income).
For users who don’t want to sift through graphs and charts, Level Money simplifies your finances into a couple of bubbles with a focus on just one important thing: how much money you have left to spend.
The most complex graphs and charts won’t help you manage your money and curb your spending if you don’t use them. So for fear of being redundant, Level Money gets two thumbs up for helping you keep tabs on your finances and making it simple to track your spending.
Trending in: #mobile #personalfinance
Staying power: Last year Level Money raised $5 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. Based on my initial feedback (I’ve only been using it a few days), while not as in-depth perhaps as Mint.com, it fills a valuable void in my budgeting process — an easy to read, real-time daily spending budget that I will actually check.
With endless automation for long-term investors and all-inclusive management fees as low as 0.15%, this next finance startup caught my eye.
Betterment is an online investment company that caters to you. They promise to deliver smart, personalized financial advice paired with low fees and a superb customer experience.
Betterment’s automated platform eliminates the complexities and time sink of the traditional investment account, offering free automatic rebalancing and a passive portfolio of 12 different asset classes, customized for your risk tolerance and investment time horizon.
Betterment’s goal is to free up your time for the more important things in life.
Trending in: #retirement #investing
Staying power: To date, Betterment has raised a whopping $45 million in venture funding. That in itself doesn’t make it a sure thing, but Betterment has a lot of offer. Read a more in-depth review of Betterment here.
I admit it. I was smitten by Groupon when they first came on the scene. Half off dining at fancy steakhouses, 60% off massage services, fitness discounts, and other deals I just couldn’t resist.
What I’ve come to realize is that Groupon doesn’t work for me. They try to sell me things that are already available online elsewhere. They play on the psychology of making us think we are getting an excellent deal.
I once bought two copper mugs on Groupon (the deal created an urgency to buy), but I later saw the exact same mugs at the exact same price online and wondered if I’d been played the fool. I’m happy with the mugs, they make a great home for my moscow mules, but it created an awareness of what Groupon is trying to do.
Another reality is that many retailers don’t have a comprehensive strategy to deal with the coupon redemptions and they aren’t prepared to handle the uptick in sales Groupon generates, which can lead to headaches as you try and redeem your Groupons. Sorry, Groupon.
Staying power: Google offered to buy Groupon for $6 billion (yes, with a b) back in 2012. Today Groupon is still valued at almost $5 billion, but they’ve lost their buzz and are not a company I’d recommend to save money.
While a bit of a longshot, trying to compete in a market that Groupon (through Groupon Now) and many others have tried to crack, Hooked is a free mobile app to help you to discover exclusive short-term offers from nearby restaurants on and around college campuses. They launched at University of Texas-Austin, then University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan, and have very quickly grown an impressive user base around college campuses.
Hooked is seeking to create behavior modification in where you dine. Looking for something to eat around you? Check Hooked (offered in limited areas at this point). The app offers you exclusive deals, sometimes up to 40-50% off, usually limited to just a few-hour time window which has already started.
To redeem is simple. Pick a restaurant and deal, and then click the Hooked button to show the cashier your phone before you make your purchase.
Rather than trying to sell you something you redeem at a future date, they are hoping to change where you eat and dine on the fly by using GPS and your location.
Recently we were looking for somewhere to grab a drink here in Madison and I thought, “Hey, let’s checked Hooked." There was an exclusive Hooked promotion that offered 40% off beers at Genna’s Lounge, just a couple of blocks from my house and a few short steps from the state capitol. I remember doing a double take the first time I saw the offer, as it seemed too good to be true, and we were on our way to grab a drink anyway.
Staying power:They are exponentially growing their user base, but we have seen this before (see Groupon above). Their ability to continue to grab market share of both users and retailers will determine whether they are here to stay or another flashy startup that fades into dust. If it can become a destination app to answer the question, “Where should we grab a bite nearby?", then Hooked could be a game changer.
There are a lot of startups out there that claim to save you money. Beware of startups like Groupon who want to save you money by encouraging you to buy things you don’t need.
Above all, be aware of your own personal strengths and weaknesses and select the services that fit your needs by complementing your strengths and compensating for weaknesses.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Pay less for a product or service, and you’ll have more money left over afterwards. Pretty straightforward, right? For some reason, many investors seem to think that this rule doesn’t apply to the field of investing. Big mistake.
A bit of background: Most mutual funds are run by people picking stocks or other investments that they think will earn above-average returns. Index funds, however, are passively managed. That is, they seek only to match (rather than beat) the performance of a given index.
For example, index funds could be used to track the performance of:
The goal of most actively managed funds is to earn a return greater than that of their respective indexes. For example, many actively managed U.S. stock funds seek to outperform the return of the U.S. stock market. After all, if an active fund doesn’t beat its index, then its investors would have been better off in an index fund that simply tracks the market’s return.
Interestingly, most investors actually would be better off in index funds. Why? Because — due to the high costs of active management — the majority of actively managed funds fail to outperform their respective indexes. In fact, according to a study done by Standard and Poors, for the five-year period ending 12/31/11:
Now, lest you think that this particular period was an anomaly, let me assure you: It wasn’t. Standard and Poors has been doing this study since 2002, and each of the studies has shown very similar results. On average, actively managed funds have failed in both up markets and down markets. They’ve failed in both domestic markets and international markets. And they’ve failed in both stock markets and bond markets.
The investments included in a given index are generally published openly, thereby making it easy for an index fund to track its respective index. (All the fund has to do is buy all of the stocks — or other investments — that are included in the index.) As you can imagine, implementing such a strategy can be done at a far lower cost than that charged by the average actively managed fund.
Common sense (and first grade arithmetic) tells us that:
…then the average dollar invested in the stock market over that year must have earned a net return of 7.5%.
Now, what if you had invested in an index fund that sought only to match the market’s return, while incurring minimal expenses of, say, 0.2%? You would have earned a return of 8.8%, and you would have come out ahead of most other investors.
It’s counterintuitive to think that by not attempting to outperform the market, an investor can actually come out above average. But it’s completely true. The math is indisputable. John Bogle (the founder of Vanguard and the creator of the first index fund) refers to this phenomenon as “The Relentless Rules of Humble Arithmetic."
Naturally, many investors are inclined to ask, “Why not invest in an actively managed fund that does beat its index?" In short: because it’s hard — far harder than most would guess — to predict ahead of time which actively managed funds will be the top performers.
Study after study has shown that past performance is not a helpful tool for picking the top performing funds and that your best bet for finding top-performing funds is simply to choose the lowest-cost fund in each asset class (e.g., domestic stocks, international stocks, etc.). This leads to the selection of index funds as the most likely top performers.
If you’re investing in a taxable account (as opposed to a 401(k) or IRA), index funds can help you not only to minimize costs, but to minimize taxes as well. With mutual funds, you pay taxes each year on your share of the capital gains realized within the fund’s portfolio.
Because most active fund managers buy and sell investments so rapidly, a large percentage of the gains end up being short-term capital gains. Because short-term capital gains are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate (as opposed to long-term capital gains, which are currently taxed at a maximum rate of 20%), you’ll end up paying more taxes with actively managed funds than you would with index funds, which typically hold their investments for longer periods of time.
Do not, however, invest in a fund simply because it’s an index fund. Some index funds actually charge expense ratios that are close to — or sometimes even above — those charged by actively managed funds. It’s a good idea to take the time to check a fund’s expense ratio and compare it to the expense ratios of other funds in the same category before investing in it.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to take the time to check, Vanguard’s index funds are generally a good way to go. In most asset classes, if Vanguard isn’t the single lowest cost provider, they’re very close.
Unfortunately, in many investors’ primary retirement account — their 401(k) or 403(b) — they don’t have the option to select any low-cost index funds. If you find yourself in such a situation, my strategy for picking funds would be as follows:
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Totaling more than $111,000,000.00, the 2014 North Carolina Senate contest between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis is the most expensive Senate election in the nation’s history (not adjusted for inflation). As we investigated earlier this week, outside money has been flowing into American politics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.
When candidate and independent spending are combined, 2014 ranks among the most expensive, if not the most expensive, in history. However, understanding campaign spending takes more than a simple examination of total dollars. Spending differences across states can occur for a variety of reasons, including geographic size, population size, and the expense of media markets.
As a result, a more useful metric for understanding the magnitude of campaign activity is spending per voter, and 2014 offers an interesting case: Alaska. This year, Alaska saw a highly competitive Senate race in which both outside groups and candidates spend substantial amounts of money. Alaska ranks 47th in population with just over 700,000 residents and an estimated 503,000 eligible voters. After adjusting spending (both candidate and independent expenditures) for each state's estimated voting eligible population, Alaska's 2014 Senate race, unsurprisingly, ranks as the most expensive in US history.
Alaska originally ranked 6th most expensive in 2014, with about $60 million spent total. But it jumps to first place in dollars spent per voter. Candidates and outside groups spent roughly $120 per voter in Alaska this year, about double the next most-expensive race, Montana 2012, where candidates and outside groups spent $66.5 per voter. By comparison, the $111 million Senate race in North Carolina—with a voting-eligible population of about 6,826,610—equaled only $16.25 per voter. That’s still far above the median spending per race for all three cycles ($7.3 per voter) but certainly serves to put the spending in context.
Relative to 2012 and 2014, in terms of both combined and per-voter spending, 2010 could be considered one of the cheaper cycles for Senate races thus far.
These data lend some support to the observation that, since Citizens (and more recently McCutcheon v. FEC) independent expenditures are quickly outpacing contributions to candidates. But given changes in reporting requirements and limited data, there is still a lot about outside spending we still don’t know.
Published on by Jeff McLean
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last 3 to 12 weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
This post was originally published on Inspiration and Chai.
Bronnie Ware is a writer and songwriter from Australia who spent several years caring for dying people in their homes. She has recently released a full-length book titled 'The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing'. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for. For more information, please visit Bronnie's official website at www.bronnieware.com or her blog at www.inspirationandchai.com.
Published on by Jeff McLean
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and three voters — including a state representative — are challenging a new law that bans ballot photos being posted to social media or otherwise publicized.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Concord, seeks an order barring the state from enforcing the law that took effect Sept. 1.
The lawsuit claims that the three voters are currently under investigation by the state attorney general's office after taking digital photos of their completed primary ballots and posting them to social media.
One of the plaintiffs — Andrew Langlois — wrote in the name of his deceased dog as his choice for the Republican U.S. Senate candidate and posted it to Facebook, saying he was dissatisfied with the official candidates.
Published on by Jeff McLean
About 50 million U.S. consumers spent $3.5 billion in 2010 to buy products that are claimed to protect their identity. But do-it-yourself safeguards are just as effective as paid services, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, a California consulting firm. And self-help costs little to nothing; the paid services cost $120 to $300 annually. Here’s why you don’t need to buy ID-theft protection:
Marketing can be deceptive. Regulators have slapped the ID-protection industry several times for deceptive marketing practices. Last summer, after actions by federal regulators, Capital One and Discover Financial Services agreed to pay a combined $410 million in refunds and penalties related to deceptive marketing of identity protection, credit monitoring, and other services. Prior to that, Affinion, Experian Consumer Direct, and LifeLock had been caught and punished for alleged deceptive marketing practices, such as not adequately disclosing automatic sign-up after “free" trials and promising to prevent ID theft, even though the services don’t actually do that.
The threat is exaggerated. Two-thirds of cases of ID theft reported to the annual National Crime Victimization Survey involve stolen credit cards, not stolen identities. Federal regulations limit your liability, usually to $50 per account, and even that is often waived by card issuers. Add stolen debit cards and check forgery, and existing-account fraud makes up 80 percent of so-called ID theft.
Do it yourself for less. Sign up for free online banking and mobile apps to monitor your checking and credit accounts daily.
New-account fraud is uncommon. The most destructive type of ID theft is having your name, birth date, and Social Security number used to open credit accounts, tap your health insurance, or file a tax return in your name to steal your refund, among other crimes. But less than 1 percent of households experienced that form of ID theft in 2010, according to the Department of Justice.
Want more retirement tips? Visit the Consumer Reports retirement guide.
Credit monitoring is flawed. The core of many ID-protection products is credit monitoring, which looks for fraudulent new accounts on your credit reports. But most e-mail and mobile alerts from those services raise false alarms about routine changes in your file. And if fraud is detected, you might not be “warned" until days, weeks, or months after the fact.
Do it yourself for less. Get free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—by going to annualcreditreport.com. Stagger your requests every four months from one bureau to the next. You’re also entitled to a free credit report from each bureau after you place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit file—which you should do every 90 days if you’ve been notified of a security breach, your wallet has been stolen, or you detect other red flags of ID theft. The alerts prompt lenders to more carefully verify applicants using your ID.
Web scans offer false security. Some services scan online black-market chat rooms for your stolen Social Security number or credit-card numbers. But if crooks are found to have your ID data, you can’t get it back from them.
Do it yourself for less. If your data turn up on a scan, protection companies advise you to place a security freeze on your credit reports. That prevents new creditors from getting access to your file when someone tries to open an account, so they’re more likely to deny a crook’s credit application. But you can freeze your files without paying a service to scan the Web. There’s a small fee for each freeze in most states, unless you’re already a victim of ID theft.
$1 million insurance is overkill. Most services offer up to $1 million in ID-theft insurance. But they don’t pay if your loss is covered by federal consumer protections, your homeowners or renters insurance, or a merchant, which is the norm. The majority of ID-theft victims had zero out-of-pocket loss in 2011, according to Javelin. A minority did lose money—the average was $309 for existing-account fraud and $1,205 for new-account fraud.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Honestly, a lot of younger 20-somethings I’ve spoken with the last few years still have a lot to learn when it comes to money.
Because of that, I thought I’d create a list of 25 things everyone needs to know about money before they turn 25.
Why before age 25? The point is that the earlier you learn this stuff, the more success you’ll have with money throughout your life.
1. Credit cards will make you broke. Two words: stay away!
2. Car payments aren’t a way of life. You can pay for a nice used car with cash and avoid the average $500/month car payment.
3. Budgeting is your best friend. It’s simple: people who make a plan for their money end up winning with money. Related: How to Make a Zero-Based Budget
4. The Joneses are broke. Don’t try and keep up with the Joneses. They might look nice, but they’re in debt up to their eyeballs and one emergency away from financial disaster.
5. It’s okay to say no. If a friend asks you to go on a trip or out to dinner, and you don’t have the money, there’s nothing wrong with saying no. Your friends will understand. And if they don’t, you should find new friends!
6. Your parents will eventually get old. That means you’ll need to have “the conversation" with them about wills and estates before it’s too late.
7. You can be a student without a loan. Part-time jobs, scholarships, grants, more affordable schools—there are many ways to pay for college without debt. Related: 5 Ways to Pay for College Without Loans
8. Retirement matters as much now as it does 30 years from now. Start saving for retirement as early as you can and put compound interest to work for you.
9. Wealth isn’t evil. A lot of people these days like to criticize rich people, but wealth isn’t evil. The Bible never condemns money, only the “love of money."
10. Giving is one of the best things you can do with money. The more you have, the more you can give away to bless others.
11. The tortoise beats the hare every time. When it comes to money, patience will always pay off. Save and pay cash for stuff instead of using debt to “buy" them instantly.
12. Your first job might not be your dream job. See #11. Learn, get experience, and build your career. The corner office might not come right away.
13. Your first house might not be your dream house. Remember, your parents took 20 years to get their house. Don’t expect that level of house right away.
14. You should only get one type of mortgage: a 15-year, fixed-rate. Your monthly payment should be no more than 25% of your take-home pay. Stay away from 30-year mortgages and ARMs no matter what! Related: How to Buy a Home Without Going Broke
15. Marriage is much more difficult when you disagree with your spouse about money. Money fights are going to happen, but it’s extremely important that you agree on the basics of money—like budgeting, no debt, and saving.
16. Be happy with what you have. One word: contentment.
17. You won’t get out of debt until you get mad. To get out of debt, you’ve got to get sick and tired of being in debt. If you sorta, kinda want to get out of debt, you’ll never make it.
18. Personal finance is 80% behavior and only 20% head knowledge. It’s all about behavior change. We all know if we’re being irresponsible with money. But, many times, we go ahead and make bad choices anyway. That’s got to change!
19. Get-rich-quick schemes are good for one thing: making sure you get broke quick. There’s no magic pill to get rich. It takes time and hard work.
20. Your parents weren’t perfect, but they probably knew more than you gave them credit for. The older you get, the smarter your parents get.
21. Never trust a payday lender. Never. Payday lenders are the worst. The worst! They’ll charge you 300% interest with a smile. Related: A Game You'll Never Win: The Payday Loan Trap
22. Don’t travel the world unless you can pay for it. And by “pay for it," I mean don’t use credit!
23. It’s okay to have stuff. Just don’t let your stuff have you. Don’t mess up your priorities and let materialism get the best of you.
24. Your parents’ house is not a bed and breakfast. Move out! By the time you’re 25, you should be long gone from your parents’ house and out on your own. Sure, you might have transitional periods where you stay for a few weeks, but don’t become a boomerang kid.
25. Eating out every night is a really quick way to go broke. You can $10 yourself to the poorhouse if you aren’t careful. The occasional night out is fine, but don’t make it a habit, especially if you’re already in debt.
What are some other things you should know by the time you turn 25?
Rachel Cruze is a seasoned communicator and presenter, helping Americans learn the proper ways to handle money and stay out of debt. Her new book Smart Money Smart Kids, co-authored by her dad Dave Ramsey, released April 2014 and debuted at #1 on the New York Times best-sellers list. You can follow Rachel on Twitter at @RachelCruze, online at rachelcruze.com, or at facebook.com/rachelramseycruze.
Published on by Jeff McLean
By the end of the battle, when totals for every category are added together, Team Red will outspend Team Blue, CRP projects. GOP and conservative-leaning candidates, party committees and outside groups will spend at least $1.92 billion, compared to at least $1.76 billion their rivals on the Democratic and liberal-leaning side will spend.
In several categories — spending by House and Senate campaign committees, and money spent by secretive outside groups – conservative or Republican groups are projected to outdo their more liberal counterparts by a wide margin. Democrats and liberals will hold a slight lead when it comes to House and Senate party committee spending, and in the amount spent overall by outside groups. That lead in outside group spending, however, does not include money that groups spent on certain kinds of ads that didn’t have to be reported to the FEC if they were aired more than two months before the election (or 30 days before a primary); conservative groups appear to have dominated in that category.
The 2010 midterm cost $3.6 billion; this one will run an estimated $333 million more than that. The congressional portion of the 2012 race cost about $3.6 billion as well.
These projections are based on spending totals reported by campaigns and committees and outside groups through June 30 or Aug. 31, depending on the Federal Election Commission filing schedule they follow. A more detailed projection of the total cost of the election, taking into account numbers current through the end of September, will be released by CRP next week. These projections were developed by CRP researchers using models based on the 2010 election cycle. The Center has been projecting the cost of the election in every cycle since 1996.
Outside Money Explosion
As with the 2012 cycle, the explosion in outside money is a dominant theme of this election’s spending story. So far, at least $663.3 million has been spent by outside groups like super PACs and 527s (a figure that is current within the last 48 hours), but CRP’s projections based on the pattern in the 2012 cycle indicate that at least another $233.5 million remains to be spent in the 12 days before Nov. 4; that’s a rate of $19.4 million a day.
Those figures, however, come with a major caveat. Our estimate is based on spending disclosed to the FEC. Again, certain ads don’t have to be reported, and it’s difficult to get a fix on exactly how much they cost. One group that began running these so-called “issue ads" in North Carolina and other states as long ago as late 2013 is Americans for Prosperity, a conservative 501(c)(4) organization under the tax code; AFP, which says it spent tens of millions on such ads, and similar political nonprofits aren’t required to disclose the identities of their donors, either.
Overall, it’s likely that at least $100 million in spending is not being counted, and that money leans distinctly to the right, records filed with the Federal Communications Commission indicate. If that’s an accurate estimate, any advantage the liberal outside spending groups have over conservative ones will be washed away by Election Day.
Outside spending by groups — mostly super PACs — that disclose their donors, on the other hand, is dominated by the left. So far, liberal outside groups that name their donors have logged $197.4 million in reported spending, compared to similar groups on the right that have spent only $132.1 million. By Nov. 4, CRP projects that these liberal groups will spend $270.5 million, and conservative ones will spend just $181.1 million.
Among groups that CRP has deemed as “partially disclosing," meaning that some donors are known but at least some money comes from opaque sources (like secretive nonprofit organizations), the spending shifts heavily in favor of the right. Partially disclosing liberal outside groups have spent $20.5 million, and by Election Day will spend just under $5 million more. Conservative outside groups that partially disclose their donors, however, have already spent $67.6 million and are projected to spend $83.7 million — an additional $16.1 million.
As for groups that hide all of their donors, there is a vast gap between the two sides, and it will not close before Election Day. So far, secretive liberal groups have reported spending $24.6 million, according to their FEC filings, or about a quarter of the $99.5 million spent by their conservative counterparts. By the time the polls close, liberal groups that hide their donors will have spent roughly $3.4 million more (a total of $28 million), while comparable conservative groups are projected to spend $113.6 million.
Democratic candidates are currently being outspent by Republican candidates in both houses of Congress — a trend that CRP projects will continue through Nov. 4.
In the House, Democratic candidates have spent $195.5 million, while Republican candidates have spent $270.9 million — a 58-42 advantage for the GOP. By Election Day, CRP projects, the ratio will be roughly the same, with Democratic candidates spending a total of $426.1 million, which will be dwarfed by the $591.1 million spent by Republican candidates.
In the Senate the ratio is, and will be, closer. Current data shows that Democratic Senate candidates have spent $153.1 million versus $184.8 million spent by Republican Senate hopefuls. CRP researchers project that ratio — 54 percent of all Senate campaign cash being spent by Republicans compared to 45 percent by Democratic candidates — will hold, and Democratic candidates will finish having spent $292.7 million, in contrast to $353.3 million by Republican candidates.
With the rise of outside groups, the national party structures have been undermined to a certain degree. Super PACs and politically-active nonprofits give big donors many more ways to support their preferred party and candidates. That may be one reason why both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committees are projected to spend less than they did four years ago. The DNC has spent $114.8 million so far, lagging behind the RNC’s $125 million, and CRP projects it will spend $155.3 million to the RNC’s projected $169.1 million. In 2010, the DNC spent $228.3 million and the RNC, $215.7 million — significantly more than this time around. For the Democrats, that’s a significant decline from 2010, when the DNC spent $228.3 million. Similarly, the RNC spent $215.7 million in 2010.
The same is not true, though, of the other left-leaning party committees, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Possibly because of President Obama’s vigorous fundraising for those groups, they are projected by CRP to spend a total of $427 million by Election Day. That is the single area where Democrats are projected to have a significant advantage. Republican equivalents — the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee — are projected to spent $330.9 million.
In terms of fundraising, CRP estimates that all parties and committees will combine to raise $4.2 billion, though only $2.3 billion has been raised so far.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Alexandra Stembaugh | On October 23, 2014
In an ideal world elections would be determined by a competition of ideas. But in today’s world, politics in the United States is determined by fundraising, wealth, and access. Regulations stipulating how campaigns can be financed determine who can donate how much in elections and what the money can be used for. Some argue campaign donations should be protected as a form a free speech while others see these donations as giving the wealthy undue political influence. Read on for the history, controversy, and future for campaign finance reforms.
Campaign finance refers to all money raised to support political candidates, organizations, parties, or initiatives in elections. Any successful political campaign typically costs a significant amount of money. Money is needed to cover travel expenses, pay for political consulting, and to communicate with voters. Advertising costs are by far the most significant expense in heated political campaigns.
This fundraising takes a new turn with corporations and wealthy individuals interested in spending as much as possible to support their candidate. At the federal level, campaign finance is regulated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). At lower levels, it is governed by state and local law. Most campaign spending comes from private groups, but qualifying presidential candidates can opt to use public money. Regulation typically takes the form of disclosure, contribution limits, and the limits that come with public financing. The strange array of political terms surrounding campaign finance often makes it hard for people to follow the actual debate.
Watch below for more on how campaign finance works:
Numerous laws and Supreme Court cases have attempted to regulate campaign finance. Typically it is not until a political scandal that there is a push for more stringent regulation in financing.
In 1907 the Tillman Act became the first ever campaign finance law after Theodore Roosevelt faced questions about which corporations funded his campaign in 1904. The Act banned corporate contributions to national campaigns; however, the law lacked any real method of enforcement.
Federal Election Commission Act (FECA)
In 1971 modern campaign finance rules were born. FECA instituted disclosure requirements for federal candidates. The Act was rewritten in 1974 after it surfaced that Richard Nixon used corrupt funds in his re-election campaign. These amendments established a system of regulation and enforcement through the Federal Election Commission. FECA also created new public financing for presidential elections to limit the influence of money. The new law put limits on individual contributions to candidates, contributions to PACs, total campaign expenditures, and spending by individuals or groups to a specific candidate.
The constitutionality of FECA was challenged in the case of Buckley v. Valeo. The Supreme Court upheld the limits on individual donations and disclosure requirements, citing the compelling state interest to prevent corruption. However, the Court stated that the limits on what campaigns and individuals could spend was a violation of the First Amendment. Further, disclosure could only apply to communications expressly advocating for a candidate. There are three key takeaways from the case:
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
In 2002 the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or McCain-Feingold Act, was passed after it came out that wealthy Democratic donors were given special privileges and the Party had illegally accepted foreign money. The Act prohibited corporations and unions from donating directly to candidates. However, it did not regulate 527 organizations. Because of this many soft money activities previously funded by parties were now done by 527 groups.
Watch a musical overview of the history of campaign finance below:
Rules regarding campaign finance continue to change, making many things fair game that were once illegal.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
In a January 2010 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot prohibit corporations and unions from spending money for political purposes. Essentially this allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on campaigns.
In the March 2010 case of Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission, the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously ruled there should be no contribution limit to groups that only make independent, uncoordinated expenditures to a campaign.
These rulings led to the rise of super PACs. Super PACs are known formally as “independent-expenditure only committees" because they cannot make contributions directly to candidates but instead spend on political advocacy independently of campaigns. Unlike regular PACs, these super PACs have no legal limit to the funds they can raise from various groups, provided they are operated correctly.
Watch the story of Citizens United v. FEC below:
McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
In April 2014, a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court struck down caps on what individuals can contribute to federal candidates in any two-year election cycle because they restrict the democratic process and violate the First Amendment.
At the federal level, public funding is available for presidential campaigns. If a candidate agrees to limit his spending according to a formula, the candidate will receive a matching payment for the first $250 of each individual contribution in the primary campaign. Additionally, the candidate receives financing for the national nominating convention and general election campaign. Candidates have to qualify for funding by privately raising $5,000 in at least 20 states. If a candidate refuses matching funds, she is free to spend as much money as she raises privately. In the 2012 election no major candidate opted to take public funds since candidates can typically raise and spend more on their own. The price of a winning election today has made public funding near obsolete.
Many of the Supreme Court justices who ruled on recent campaign finance cases decided that spending money for political purposes is equivalent to free speech and should be protected by the First Amendment. The same reasoning extends to corporations, in citing that corporations are made up of individuals and should enjoy the same political rights as individuals. Those who argue for fewer donation restrictions cite their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Opponents argue the lack of restrictions gives the wealthiest unfair influence over the government. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told Retro Report, “If money is free speech, then the wealthiest people in America are those that get to speak the most freely."
For example, a study by the Sunlight Foundation found that just one percent of the top one percent of the United States population accounted for 28 percent of all disclosed contributions in the 2012 elections. In a statement Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) echoed these findings: “The American people are angry that a billionaire can dole out $3.6 million to influence an election — meanwhile, it would take a full-time minimum wage worker 239 years to make that much money."
Most take issue with the rapid expansion of dark money to organizations under a 501(c)(4) designation by the IRS. 501(c)(4)s are defined as social welfare organizations and are tax-exempt. However, these organizations are allowed to participate in political campaigns so long as their primary purpose is promoting social welfare. Examples of these organizations include the Sierra Club, NAACP, and National Rifle Association.
These organizations do not have to disclose spending on political activity nor the names of donors unless they donate expressly for political advocacy. The use of these organizations for political advocacy has contributed to a sharp rise in outside spending without disclosure. A 2011 report by the Center for Responsive Politics found that since the 2006 midterms, spending from groups that do not disclose donors rose from one percent to 47 percent. Many cite large donations by these groups as a form of legal bribery, with the expectation of political favors following each donation.
Many Democrats in Congress have called for an amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling, but that seems very unlikely to happen. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) proposed an amendment to undo the Citizens United case and instead allow Congress to regulate political money. Numerous Senate Democrats signed on. Harry Reid vowed to bring the measure to the floor, but most agree it has little chance of passing.
Democrats introduced a DISCLOSE Act in 2010, 2012, and again in 2014, which would require organizations that spend $10,000 or more in an election cycle to disclose their expenditures and major donors. Republicans have opposed such bills from the standpoint that they give an unfair advantage to their Democratic opponents. Learn more about the DISCLOSE Act below:
The amount of money spent in elections continues to grow at an alarming rate. The Center for Responsive Politics predicts almost $4 billion will be spent in the 2014 midterm elections, making it the most expensive midterm ever. While the 2010 midterm cost $3.6 billion, 2014 will run an estimated $333 million beyond that. Candidates and parties will spend roughly $2.7 billion, but the explosion of outside money continues to significantly influence the races. Outside groups like super PACs and 527s are expected to spend $900 million on their own. Overall, conservative candidates and groups are projected to outspend liberal candidates and groups by $1.92 billion to $1.76 billion. Expect even more money, especially from outside groups, to come flowing in to the 2016 presidential election.
While there may not be action at the national level, 16 states and more than 500 municipalities have called for a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform. Yet both sides agree getting rid of dark money and enacting reform will not happen any time soon. Little change will happen without a large, Watergate-esque scandal to bring true reform to campaign finance.
Featured image courtesy of [Brendan Hoffman/Public Citizen via Flickr]
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Ben Bernanke delivered a hilarious commencement speech to Princeton undergrads Sunday, in which he laid out 10 life suggestions complete with "Forrest Gump" quotes and even relationship advice.
1) "Don't be afraid to let the drama play out." Nodding to Forrest Gump's "life is like a box of chocolates," Bernanke remarked: "Life is amazingly unpredictable; any 22-year-old who thinks they know where they will be in 10 years, much less in 30, is simply lacking imagination."
He offered up a case study from his own life. "A dozen years ago I was minding my own business teaching Economics 101 in Alexander Hall and trying to think of good excuses for avoiding faculty meetings. Then I got a phone call..."
2) Focus on becoming a better human being: "If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won't bring you much satisfaction."
3) Those who are luckiest also have the greatest responsibility: "As the Gospel of Luke says (and I am sure my rabbi will forgive me for quoting the New Testament in a good cause): 'From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded."
He gave the Biblical quote an academic spin. "Kind of grading on the curve, you might say."
4) Effort matters: "I think most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe, and educate their families are deserving of greater respect -- and help, if necessary -- than many people who are superficially more successful," Bernanke said. "They're more fun to have a beer with, too."
5) Most policymakers are trying to do the right thing: "The greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas. Public service isn't easy. But, in the end, if you are inclined in that direction, it is a worthy and challenging pursuit."
6) On economics: "Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much."
7) Money isn't everything: "I'm not going to tell you that money doesn't matter, because you wouldn't believe me anyway," Bernanke quipped.
"If you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end."
8) Don't be afraid to fail: "Nobody likes to fail but failure is an essential part of life and of learning. If your uniform isn't dirty, you haven't been in the game."
9) On choosing a partner: "Remember that physical beauty is evolution's way of assuring us that the other person doesn't have too many intestinal parasites. Don't get me wrong, I am all for beauty, romance, and sexual attraction --where would Hollywood and Madison Avenue be without them? But while important, those are not the only things to look for in a partner."
"Speaking as somebody who has been happily married for 35 years, I can't imagine any choice more consequential for a lifelong journey than the choice of a traveling companion."
10) "Call your mom and dad once in a while:" "A time will come when you will want your own grown-up, busy, hyper-successful children to call you," said Bernanke, who has two adult children. "Also, remember who paid your tuition to Princeton."
The Fed chairman ended with a battle cry: "Congratulations, graduates. Give 'em hell!"
Published on by Jeff McLean
I’ve read countless articles about what successful people do on their weekends. Do you want to know the secret? It’s the same thing that they do every other day. As Aristotle said,“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
Here are 12 weekend habits of highly successful people:
This Disney CEO is not the only executive claiming to rise at 4:30 every morning. Successful people do not stay in bed until 2 p.m. on a Sunday. Or even 11 a.m. Research shows that our brains are sharpest two and a half to four hours after waking. Get up early on a weekend and you’ve got a head start on the rest of the world.
Apparently, this founding father asked himself every morning, “What good shall I do today?" Successful people know the importance of even daily goals — the weekends are no exception. Sure, they can be a time for (planned and purposeful) rejuvenation, but you don’t have to be President to know that general slacking off is not an option.
Multi-tasking is so 2005. It may be tempting to maximize your weekend productivity by running on the treadmill while calling your mother and trolling your newsfeed, but successful people know that this just reduces efficiency and effectiveness. Instead, be present for each single activity. Ferris recommends a maximum of two goals or tasks per day to ensure productivity and accomplishments align.
Vogue’s editor-in-chief commits to playing tennis for one hour every day. And she’s not the only big-shot making time for exercise. Richard Branson stays active with kite surfing and India’s fourth-richest billionaire is a serial marathon runner. Successful people know the importance of an active body for an active mind — weekends included. If nothing else, it will also counteract that glass of wine and cheese platter from Saturday night.
“Things don’t have to change the world to be important." Weekends are the time to remind yourself of the forgotten little things — to keep your work-life harmony (the new ‘balance’) in check and reset if needed. Spending time with your friends, children or partner might not directly increase profits that day or propel you into the limelight, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Even the current US President famously makes time to sit down for dinner with his family.
He may be considered the most successful investor of the 20th century, but in his “spare" time Buffett likes to play the ukulele. Successful people are often interesting people — and their hobbies have a lot to do with that. Sure, golfing on Saturdays can be a great way to network and source business opportunities. But, even solo hobbies — knitting like Meryl Streep or oil painting like George W. Bush — can aid success through fostering creativity and relieving stress.
Forbes’ most powerful celebrity of 2013 still finds time to sit in stillness for 20 minutes — twice a day! This once-best-kept secret of the yogis is now common knowledge. Even the corporate world is acknowledging the benefits of meditation and mindfulness for reducing stress, improving productivity, facilitating creativity and maintaining general well-being. The weekends can often be busier than week days with attempting to cram in chores, exercise, family commitments, social engagements and more into a 48-hour period. The most successful people take daily time out for stillness, weekends included. They don’t call it a meditation “practice" for nothing.
We’ve all done it — posted a tastefully filtered snap of our weekend antics or checked in on social media to elicit “likes" and envy from our friends/followers (#bragging). Enter, the era of FOMO (fear of missing out). On weekends, we’re even more prone to FOMO. But the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media (and, you guessed it, the sister to Facebook’s creator) says people should be focusing on JOMO (the joy of missing out) — the mantra that “there is nowhere I’d rather be than exactly where I am." Successful people are often competitive, high achievers by nature — practicing an attitude of gratitude and resisting social-media-induced FOMO is key for a happy weekend. And isn’t happiness the real marker of success?
The founder of Microsoft famously said, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure." Reflection should be a daily practice but the weekends are a perfect opportunity to step back and reflect on the lessons of the previous week and to make improvements for the next. Author of “The Happiness Project," Gretchen Rubin, suggests starting a “one sentence journal" to encourage daily reflection. Make Saturday or Sunday your day to flick back through the week’s entries!
This billionaire entrepreneur says that “it is amazing how focusing your mind on issues like health, poverty, conservation and climate change can help to re-energize your thinking in other areas." Successful people agree with Anne Frank: “No one has ever become poor from giving." Tom Corley studied the rich for five years before writing his book “Wealthy Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals." He found that 73% of wealthy people volunteer for five or more hours per month. Nothing helps put things in perspective and reduce stress more than helping those less fortunate. Weekends are a great time to get involved in local and community volunteer events.
The Twitter and Square co-founder is notorious for 16-hour work days from Monday to Friday but says, “Saturday I take off. I hike. And then Sunday is reflections, feedback, strategy and getting ready for the rest of the week." Forget Sunday blues, let’s call it “Sort-Your-Life-Out Sunday." Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend," says successful people know that weekends are actually the secret weapon in professional success: “You need to hit Monday ready to go."
He’s made an empire as a highly successful rap artist and entrepreneur, and the secret is right there in his lyrics: “You can want success all you want, but to get it, you can’t falter. You can’t slip. You can’t sleep. One eye open, for real, and forever." (Decoded) Jay Z didn’t become worth $520 million by only wanting it five out of seven days of the week. If you want to eventually spend your weekends on a luxury yacht in the Caribbean with Beyoncé, unrelenting grit and persistence might just get you there. Well, we can always dream, right?
It’s settled then. Success is a 24/7 lifestyle choice — weekends included!
Featured photo credit: Flickr – Richard Branson via flickr.com
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Published on by Jeff McLean
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Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
By Flore Vasseur (Dixville Notch, NH)
Star law professor destined for the Supreme Court, Lawrence Lessig has launched a crusade against the influence of money in Washington. To fight this corruption undermining American democracy, this inside man left his brilliant career and comfort zone to wake up his country’s conscience.
An icy rain is falling on Dixville Notch, 18 miles, from the Canadian border. On this January 11, 2014, in the rounded hills of the Appalachians, the mountains of New Hampshire ooze a muddy mixture of ice and snow. The Balsam Grand Resort, an imposing structure of wood and concrete by a dark lake, looks like the hotel from the horror movie The Shining.
Only in America
The Balsams Grand is closed up for renovation and Dixville Notch left for deserted. Every four years since 1960, this ghostly place becomes the stage of the first scene of the presidential election. Shortly after midnight, CNN and Fox News cameras take over the ballroom to report the results of the very first primary elections. A handful of voters, the dozen or so residents of the village, cast their ballots for the Republican and Democratic candidates. They are the vote locally, they set the tone nationally. Since 1960 they have rarely been wrong.
In a rainy parking lot a quarter of a mile from the hotel, Lawrence Lessig grits his teeth. Clear blue eyes behind thin-framed glasses, his broad forehead and delicate scholar’s hands are hidden underneath a big, green poncho. The Furman Professor of Law and Leadership and director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University adjusts his ice cleats, cursing himself.
At the age of 52, he is about to leave the well-trodden path that would have propelled him from a sterling academic career to a Supreme Court Judge position. Lectures, conferences, books, to make his case heard the star professor has exhausted all the traditional means. All that’s left is walking. A good three-hour drive from Boston, from his family, his classes and students, miles away from his Washington acquaintances, he is launching the New Hampshire Rebellion, his crusade against the corrupting influence of money in politics.
Struggling against the icy rain, Lawrence Lessig can barely manage a smile for the twenty-odd people who answered the call posted on his blog eight weeks prior. His improvised army of walkers comes from all over the country. Wearing Gore-Tex, carrying walking sticks, they are ready to brave the cold, the snow. Their doubts.
They are retired lawyers, computer developers, free-software and Constitutional reform activists, former Marines. There is a firefighter and his father, a couple of psychotherapists, unemployed people and cyberpunks all bundled in hats and caps. They met up the night before at the initial rallying point, the Boston Express bus station. Up until then, they had only exchanged emails, sharing their motivations, skills and what they can contribute: drive one of the vehicles, prepare hot coffee, treat blisters and cramps. Or simply walk.
Shedding the masks
Between a vending machine and a plastic palm tree, Rick, Kevin, Chris, Cailin, Bruce, Mark and Mary shared a brief hello, then stood in silence. Some considered going back home. Few words were said. They all came with their own baggage, their reasons to walk. Now they are all here, between 27 and 78 years old, from different backgrounds. No two are alike; they don’t know what to expect. They are ready for adventure, all eyes on Larry Lessig.
A little hunched, he greets each person individually. They have been listening to him for years. He knows American history and Washington like the back of his hand. He knows the rules of the game. To tear off the masks we wear, he must first take off the various hats he dons as a brilliant lecturer, powerful lawyer, messiah of Internet freedom. And be ready to lead.
Larry Lessig is a UFO on the American intellectual scene. He is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike, influential in Silicon Valley and Wall Street. He is the “the Elvis of Cyberlaw" Steven Levy wrote in 1993 in Wired magazine. He may not play guitar but he is The King of his discipline. A thorn in the side of culture and entertainment dinosaurs, from Microsoft to Disney, Lessig revolutionized copyright policy with the concept of free licensing and creative commons.
Seven years ago he abandoned his favorite topic to speak out against the almighty dollar in Washington and the much-needed renewal of democracy. In his opinion, no significant reform – on the environment, financial regulation, gun control or education, is possible as long as campaign finance remains the same. Money provides access, access yields influence, influence determines decisions. Ideas, promises don’t matter. In 96% of cases, election outcomes are a function of money. Members of congress spend between 30 and 70% of their time fundraising. “It becomes a constant obsession. They only listen to their donors, become hyper-sensitive to their demands" Lessig explains.
Invisible and implacable lobbies are rotting away the foundations of democracy. The people, the general interest and public debate are given a back seat. “No one, no morality can resist the amounts at stake. It’s as if you opened the doors of an airplane at high altitude, the human body just explodes. We need politicians to pass the necessary reforms to put a stop to it.". The government has lost its way in wars against terrorism. The enemy is within. House of cards.
To challenge Washington, do you have to be crazy desperate?
As a speaker, Larry Lessig is an aesthete. His polished presentations are timed down to the second, each word carefully weighed. He is naturally reserved and discreet, would easily become taciturn. But give him a microphone and his chest puffs up, his voice and his eyes harden. He fills conference halls without making any effort to please. A masterful lawyer with an education in philosophy, economics and law, a sometime poet protected by his brilliant academic background, he is an intellectual figure flown first class around the world.
He has advised Republicans and Democrats alike. He campaigned for Barack Obama, a former colleague at the University of Chicago, before accusing him of selling out. On many occasions, he thought he had found his champion. Before long, they all disappointed him. Larry Lessig has been looking for his place. He considered becoming a congressman to reform the system from the inside. He launched countless initiatives. Projects, speeches and honors piled up. Despite his talent, his network and his reasoning, he never really managed to make change happen.
The rain beats down harder and colors everything gray. The morning light never comes. Japhet, 6 feet 2 inches of kindness and common sense, hands out fluorescent orange vests. A handsome guy with a bright white smile, he gives basic instructions: “walk in single file, watch out for the snow plow, be careful of the rain it will freeze you to the bone, don’t leave anyone behind, and watch out for each other". Japhet takes on the role of the solid, helpful boy scout. In the middle of the parking lot, he unrolls a banner for the New Hampshire Rebellion. The walkers gather behind it; Larry Lessig kneels, no smile on his face. Snapshot number 1, this is becoming real. They now have to leave this no-man’s land for adventure and the 185 miles to go. To challenge Washington by walking with an army of unknown volunteers in the middle of winter, do you have to be crazy or desperate?
Aaron Swartz, The Internet’s Own Boy
Silently, Larry Lessig leaves the parking lot that is more like a skating rink. This is the beginning of a new life, in ice cleats, in contact, with no books or lecterns to hide behind. Under his green poncho, his skinny legs are swallowed up by a pair of dark jeans. His black polo with the letters “Aaron Swartz" on it is like a hair shirt. More than just the start of this walk, January 11, 2014 is a day of mourning. And if he’s crazy today, it’s from grief.
Without warning, eyes fixed on the frozen pavement, the Harvard professor crosses the road, muttering “Now I am scared!" He remembers the words of a drunken customer in the motel the night before “You’re going out on our roads without any kind of protection? You’re all going to die!" Larry Lessig is driven by his quest for meaningfulness. He is fighting his own pessimism. But what about fear? Is it an accident he is worried about, or adventure and the metamorphosis that should come with it? Will he have the strength to carry the other walkers when he isn’t even sure that his own legs will carry him? Will he have the strength to talk to them when he can’t find his words this morning? Who is he really: a member of the elite or a rebel? Star professor or a messiah in cleats?
He reaches the other side of the road and turns to look back; no one has followed. He’s annoyed but at who? Will they slow him down or has he already forgotten them? He motions with his head; the walkers join him for the first stage, 12 miles in the rain. Leaving for the front, putting your body on the line is never without sadness, violence and sacrifice. It creates a rift. Strange beginnings: the New Hampshire Rebellion starts off like a funeral procession, family at the front. That day, he wants to walk ahead alone, alone with the shadow of Aaron.
When they met, Aaron Swartz was a 14 year-old kid who had just created the RSS feed format. He had just read Larry Lessig’s “Code Is Law". For Aaron, Lessig was one of the few adults who understood the political significance of the Internet, and he had come to tell him that. Lessig saw a boy in “grown-up" T-shirts who lugged a backpack loaded with his computer, charger and hard drives everywhere he went. Lessig was already living in his own bubble filled with brilliant minds. With just a few words Aaron Swartz, this barely 5’ tall kid, had cracked it; Lessig had just met a wise man in a child’s body.
Despite the age difference between them, 26 years, Larry and Aaron became inseparable. Did they provide each other relief from the feeling of never being fully understood? They shared a passion for books, a vibrant desire to understand and explain the world. Larry Lessig had an idea; Aaron Swartz made it possible.
They completed each other. Together, in 1999 they created the Creative Commons licensing platform that broke the intellectual property codes and made free culture on the internet possible. Aaron “accidentally" made a fortune at the age of 19 when he sold his first start-up to Condé Nast. He joined and then brusquely left the media group after just a few weeks, crying tears of boredom in the bathroom. He didn’t fit in at Stanford either. On a bench in Berlin in 2007, he convinced Larry Lessig to dedicate himself to ending endemic corruption in Washington. He realized before anyone else did the fatal, systemic effects it had on freedom of speech. It seems he was part of all his mentor’s projects, fought his battles with and for him. In fact, it was Aaron who guided Lessig.
“Hackers for right, we are one down."
Larry Lessig saw his friend grow and mature, earn a million, become an activist. He loved him like a son, listened to him like a teacher, protected him like a jewel. He helped him fight depression, loneliness, the awful trial that pitted him against the American government after he downloaded millions of files from servers at MIT, then his wonderland. “Aaron was dangerous, not because he stole credit cards, blocked government sites or got his hands on confidential information. He was dangerous because he wanted to change the world by setting the Internet free" Lessig repeats, his voice cracking as he says his friend’s name.
Ruined by a two-year trial, haunted by what seemed like the inevitable verdict, Aaron Swartz hanged himself at the age of 26, shocking the web community. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, tweeted: “Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep." And Larry Lessig, the adult who had been his friend and confidant, who had watched the child grow into a man, didn’t see it coming.
He resurfaced a few weeks later in Long Beach, on the TED stage where he gave one of his most compelling speeches. He explained, his face expressionless for 18 minutes, how their ideas and technologies to “make life better" wouldn’t do any good as long as nothing was being done to free political decision making from the clutches of big money.
His TED talk reached a million views online. Lessig went back to his role of father to three young children and to his work in order not to slip into the deep end, battling the feeling of guilt at not having done enough. Of having failed Aaron. To distract himself and escape he accepted a few invitations, like the one from the Bilderberg group, Mecca of the West’s 0.001%. He kept a low profile, stayed shut up in his room, at a loss for how to understand it all. Everywhere he went was painful, because he was in pain. He had lost a son and the world a genius. A double loss.
Like an orphan on the roads of New Hampshire
As the anniversary of Aaron’s death approached, Lessig thought about walking somewhere, in the cold, braving the elements. He wanted to face mourning head on and alone. He hoped he could reconnect with some part of his friend, stop time. To keep from giving up on his plan, he shared it. He could have told his “friends" from Silicon Valley or Washington, used his impressive Rolodex. Instead he called Japhet, whom he had spotted in 2007 campaigning for John Edwards. Before anyone else, Lessig confided in him his desire for rebellion.
Japhet jumped at the chance to transform mourning into a political act. Lessig should walk, but he should walk for something. “Blood, sweat and tears – America is made of myths, conquests and sacrifices", the young man said enthusiastically. Its history had been written by impossible heroes like Lessig, and through speeches like his. What was missing was an unexpected and significant venue: New Hampshire, its key role in the electoral process and its independent spirit were the perfect fit.
In minutes, they had drawn up a plan: walk 185 miles through the state north to south, in the cold and the wind. But to really wake up the rebellious souls sleeping there, they needed icons. Larry and Japhet immediately thought of Doris Haddock, better known as “Granny D", a symbol of New Hampshire’s independent mindset. At age 88, she started a campaign against the influence of money in politics. She began by canvasing her neighborhood wearing a “Campaign Finance Reform" sign on her bone-thin back, puzzling her family and neighbors. They stopped laughing on January 1, 1999, when she left Los Angeles, alone and on foot, heading for Washington. Along the way, local residents gave the feisty woman food and shelter. Yet she had to faint from heat exhaustion in Death Valley before the media paid any attention.
After surviving 18 months of thirst, heat and snow, she was greeted by 2200 people in DC. The great-grandmother of 16 ran for Congress in 2004, at the age of 94. When she died at 100, former president Jimmy Carter declared “the issue with Granny D is that she made us all look like fossils."
Larry and Japhet had their narrative: the New Hampshire Rebellion would start on the anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz, the child of the internet, who committed suicide because he felt so misunderstood. It would end on the birthday of “Granny D", the incarnation of a relentlessly disobedient America. Aaron Swartz and “Granny D", two resilient minds who fought tirelessly against the culture of resignation, representing two key generations with enormous electoral weight: the retired people with nothing to lose; and the youth with, potentially, everything to gain.
To run the operation, they called on Jeff, a Top Gun-looking 30-something who headed one of Larry Lessig’s citizenship mobilization projects. He brought intimate knowledge of the geographical and political topography of New Hampshire. Together they traced out the itinerary, finding motels or volunteers who could provide the walkers with a place to sleep. They identified the difficult sections of the route, convinced local figures to organize public speeches, collected $15,000 and found a team to film the march.
To write History, you have to master it. A week from the start date they called Szelena, a tall, young Hungarian-American woman. Lessig had hired her when she graduated from Harvard to help him with his research and projects. Japhet and Szelena had known and worked with Aaron Swartz. All three witnessed the despair his death left Lessig with. In order to face the unknown, Larry Lessig surrounded himself with new blood, enthusiasm, benevolence. Protection. They answered the call, embraced the opportunity, made his cause theirs. Larry Lessig wanted to walk against corruption and for Aaron, for whom he was almost like a second father. But on the New Hampshire roads, he is the orphan.
America at its best
The New Hampshire Rebellion starts in a desolate landscape. For safety reasons volunteers walk in pairs. Walking takes things back to a human level and a pace, enabling eyes, head and mind to lift skyward when rain and cold allow. From day one, Greg is struggling, lagging behind. His age, 65, and his old army equipment weigh him down. He tries to hide his pain behind his military man’s tough face. He has always led, like in Vietnam when he brought back his platoon. Now, betrayed by his exhausted body, he finally gives up and climbs into Dan’s van.
The trailer becomes a refuge with hot coffee, shelter, a seat, an encouraging word or just a smile. The lockers are packed with jars of peanut butter, bread, organic cereal bars, apples, mandarin oranges, small tubs of hummus and moleskin for blisters. Around the dining table, walkers with bad shoes display their battered feet. To create bonds within a group, start by showing your little wounds. Before sharing bigger ones?
At dusk, the walkers arrive in Errol, a New England village split down the middle by Route 26. Not far from the snowmobile museum, between the hardware store and the church, stand the town’s diner and its sole motel, re-opened for the occasion. The walkers share rooms. Larry Lessig keeps his distance. It is his only privilege. He sleeps alone with his pain when he has exhausted all other excuses. When there are no more blog posts to make, no more speeches to write, no more children, back home, to comfort.
Japhet sighs with relief. Nobody got hypothermia, or was mown down by the enormous trucks loaded with logs from Canada. The New Hampshire Rebellion welcomes anyone and covers all costs. An accident, an injury, and the beautiful story of the Harvard professor on a crusade against corruption collapses. Tonight, everyone gets a hot shower, a proper meal and a clean bed. Now they only have to repeat this fourteen times, for fourteen days.
The smell of bacon frying, brightly lit signs, sugar and ketchup on the table: the Errol diner is America at its best. Conversation starts to flow with the first shared beers and miles. Behind an unruffled mask, Larry Lessig is fuming. To end this first day, he wanted to show the documentary dedicated to the memory of Aaron Swartz, The Internet’s Own Boy. It was a way for him to thank the walkers, and to share his pain. Computer, DVD, speakers, projector, he had everything prepared in a backpack he forgot in the trunk of his car, at the Boston Express bus station.
“Here you go, hon’!"
The chicken served up looks like an old sponge and the egg yolks glow with a fluorescent tinge. “This is poison" grumbles Lessig as he reads the menu. When he started combatting corruption, he changed his lifestyle – no more junk food, very little meat or bread, lots of vegetables and almonds by the handful. Everything brings him back to his favorite topic. Everything is intertwined. Food in the United States is, he says, a classic case of Washington bowing to lobbies. And it’s a catastrophe: condemned to eat junk food, the population is suffering from type 2 diabetes from childhood .
In seven years of fighting corruption, Lessig has lost a lot of weight and looks five years younger. It seems he has not updated his wardrobe. His oversized clothes serve as a reminder to himself . He has witnessed it often in the leaders he advises or becomes friends with; it is so easy, so human, to be corrupted. But right now he is starving and devours his salad with no dressing, ordering another straight away.
Quick and easy, Debby the waitress dances from table to table. In honor of the group, she is wearing a new sweater. When she learns why they’re walking, she doubles the portions. In her tightly fitting jeans, she doesn’t look her age, 65. She is a tough cookie, used to hard winters and isolation; she knows that in January 2016, the “new crop of Washington puppets" will come to court New Hampshire, to her diner even. At churches and Sunday barbecues they will listen to residents, answer their questions, sleep in the local motels, have a beer and catch up on local events. And carefully take notes. During his last campaign, Obama made 20 trips to New Hampshire.
“Voters here have a lot of political weight. New Hampshire makes history, it determines the major campaign topics" says Japhet. “If residents here get involved, money in Washington could become THE topic for the next presidential elections." Lessig wants them to pressure candidates with the only significant question: “How are you going to end the system of corruption in Washington?"
With her smoker’s voice, Debby sets down each platter with a “Here you do, hon’!" Kevin, Greg and Rick are over 70. They are prepared to walk miles every day. Heads held high, but with kind eyes, they won’t give an inch. “You guy are fantastic" she adds, smiling.
Greg, the Veteran and Kevin, the Draft-Dodger
Leading absolute strangers down icy roads in the middle of winter comes with risks and surprises. Japhet spends his time trying to anticipate problems. On the evening of the first day, Lessig officially opens the debate, saying “96% of our fellow citizens feel that Congress is useless. 91% think that they can’t do anything about it. I want you to help me find and mobilize that 5%." Glancing at Greg, the Vietnam Veteran who was lagging behind, he adds “we aren’t here as individuals, but as a group. This walk isn’t a competition, what matters is getting through it, together."
They are all in the same boat now, they each tell their story in a few words. Lessig’s face changes; the Harvard professor is no longer among strangers, or even the wackos he was worried he would attract, but individuals, real people with their own anger and frustrations. Like Lessig, they do not buy the status quo. With him, they might do something out of it.
They don’t believe in the rotting corpse that traditional politics has become. They feel marginalized, hemmed in, left out. They’ve come seeking courage, a purpose. The youngest among them meet experience, the older ones find energy. They arrived alone, twelve hours later, they are a community. They have all been looking for a way to become involved, again or for the first time. “There has to be a way out of this cycle, something we can do" exclaims Oliver, a self-declared anarchist who earned his stripes in Tompkins Square, Manhattan in the 1990s; “September 11th shut up all the activists. We became apathetic. They used the culture of fear to manipulate us. Personally, this is the first time I’ve been able to move past that."
To hear them tell it, the New Hampshire Rebellion is the place where they can just “be". This test of will through 185 miles in the cold is a path to dignity. The cleats are useful, but, like Lessig, they must let down the masks they hide behind. Get rid of the lies they have lived with. Starting with their country. Is it because they have been through war, that blind spot in the American Way of Life? They easily agree, their country and its “myth of progress and freedom is a huge scam."
Greg, the Vietnam veteran, talks about his deep-rooted anger upon returning home: “America should be something other than the argument about good that covers up the reality of evil". He came back from war with a case of PTSD that he thought was dead and buried, until the death of Aaron Swartz – “I didn’t know that boy, but that day, my PTSD came back. I knew something serious had happened, that it was serious." He dedicates his walk to him and cites Slovenian philosopher Slajov Zizeck, “We no longer have the words to express how screwed we are. We have lost our capacity to be vulnerable. It has come back to haunt us."
With his cowboy physique, his sun-weathered skin, clear, bright eyes in his haughtily held head, Kevin is the most impressive member of the group. While they are all shivering in their high-tech fleece gear, he walks strong in a faded denim shirt. At the age of 63, and not a day softer, he blazes the trail from the fifth day. The road is his daily bread. He feels no need to shout his anger to the skies.
A war resister in the Vietnam War, Kevin spent 20 months in prison with the Berrigan brothers, two major figures of the anti-war movement; “Jail was my education." Once out, he decided to live on the fringes of “society", making a living at odd jobs and practicing civil disobedience. As a pacifist, he joined the Plowshare Movement, the Berrigan brothers’ movement against nuclear weapons, and learned about “climate science" for 20 years. If he Had not made those choices, he “never would have had access to the truth, the beauty of humanity and the grave decline of our system." For him, Obama’s failure at the Copenhagen climate summit “is worse than Nixon’s decision to bomb Vietnam." His hatred for America’s wars today - “We must stop killing people" he says, is as strong as his love for his fellow citizens. “I’m sorry that they have been so misled, but I love them."
Greg contemplates him, embracing the lesson learnt here: “Kevin and I made opposite choices. I don’t regret anything, but frankly, I fought in Vietnam and look how much trouble I have today, all messed up with Agent Orange! Kevin ignored the call of the flag, and look how he’s trucking along. Now I get it Silence is powerful."
Ending up in text books
Michael’s life too was turned around by war. Now 30, he admits he enlisted to escape his fate; “I was a failure. My wife was cheating on me, my father was dying, I couldn’t quit drugs. The army had a field day with me." He stayed eight months as a military nurse in Afghanistan. When he came back to the US in 2008, he was worried about falling back into his drug habit and so, he kept himself constantly busy with a mix of different therapies. He used the GI Bill to go back to college where he began analyzing the subprime crisis because at the time, “nobody knew what had happened. It was time I started thinking for myself; the Army breaks that habit. That’s their goal."
When the first tents of the Occupy movement began popping up in Providence, Rhode Island, his home, he became one of the pillars of the camp; “I’m from a Catholic family, this movement taught me the values of the Left." As winter approached, he negotiated the dismantling of the camp in exchange for building a homeless shelter. “People held it against me. From then on, I didn’t do anything, I was petrified." Battered and disillusioned, Michael spiraled downward, until the death of Aaron Swartz, whom he followed on Reddit; “I was afraid I would never get involved again. I was looking for the right opportunity because I know when I get into something, it becomes my life."
During the 15 days of the New Hampshire Rebellion, Michael fights his demons. One day, the man who as a kid “drew in school to keep from being bored" makes a fabulous portrait of Granny D. The next day, his is talkative and helps everyone carry their bags. The day after, he is silent and dozes in the front of the van, wondering if he should leave.
Jacob, a video game developer, met Michael in the Occupy Providence camp. Cailin, a pretty Brooklynite with bleached blond hair who works with autistic children also joined the Occupy movement. They loved the energy, the non-violent action and the collective decision making process, at least at the beginning. But they hated that nothing came of it. The New Hampshire Rebellion learns from Occupy and the Tea Party movement. What it brings is clear objectives and tangible actions.
Rudolph and Mary, both retired lawyers, also signed on for this adventure. They lived abroad for years; on the walk they are rarely apart, take few breaks and chalk up the miles without complaining. This is their first experience with activism.
Allan, 65 years old, convinced his son Jonathan, a firefighter in San Diego, to walk with him. Father and son both have an athletic build, and they share an openness and concern for their country. Allan sits on the board of directors of Coalition for Open Democracy in New Hampshire. Like Rick and Dick, both retired, he has long advocated for more transparence and integrity in politics.
His son Jonathan immediately becomes a key man on the walk. He has been designated the expedition nurse because he clearly has a way with moleskin. Although he came dragging his feet, he confides on the morning of Day 3: “I dreamt last night that what we’re doing will end up in text books".
A few of the more reserved walkers, like Bruce, are excited to be out in the natural world; he says “Walking is contemplative, it lets you dream and think for yourself. I so needed that. It was time I got out of my car, that I stop."
Others, like Alex, a thirty-something mathematician who dreams of working for the FBI white-collar crime department, set up a walk schedule based on discussions they want to have: “It’s so rare to have time to meet someone and learn everything about a totally new field."
If not us then who?
On the road they talk about themselves, Quantum Accounting, social networks, Obamacare, the US’s role in Afghanistan, manipulation, Hollywood’s power, life in the woods, climate issues. “Our days are filled with conversations that will connect us forever" remarks Kevin, the quiet one.
As the sun returns, the atmosphere lightens. The walkers are moved by the sight of a bald eagle, the United States’ national emblem. Lessig remarks ironically “this magnificent raptor kills the majority of birds, just like our country; we are a world problem". Everything comes back to the urgent need to reinvent their country. “Every generation has amended the constitution, except ours" laments Mike. “We need to reinvent the myth of progress." Greg adds. Larry Lessig’s question comes up again and again – “If not us, then who?"
At the end of the first week, Jonathan the firefighter and his father are all smiles on the front page of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. The galvanized walkers are floating. That’s fortunate: a blizzard is on the way and the temperature has plummeted 30 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few hours. With the arctic blast, they take a vote to see who will walk with Lessig and who will travel some of the stages in cars. Rigid with cramps but with his inner circle watching over him, the Harvard professor is quiet and unstoppable. The New Hampshire Rebellion continues with and without him. Lessig gets to practice one his favorite disciplines, in the field, real time and unfiltered: “Leadership is not about what you say, it’s about what you do. It’s like with children."
The miles pass. Whether they came for Lessig’s reputation, in memory of Granny D’s or Aaron Swartz’s work, the walkers deal with and cure their feeling of hopelessness. The New Hampshire Rebellion is not only a personal combat with physical limits, but with resignation and cynicism. It was a challenge and a reality check, it has become an enchanted time out.
They leave the White Mountains and enter suburban areas. The local media are impressed by this unlikely group, walking single-file along the road carrying political signs. Cars honk, people roll down their windows and wave. Encouragement comes from all sides. “It’s moving to see in people’s eyes that you can actually change things," exclaims Rudolph.
The meditative long walk by the frozen lakes is over; now it is mobilization time. A cup of coffee glued to her hand, Szelena films volunteers’ stories and recruits them to do telephone outreach The table in the trailer becomes a call center. A list of phone numbers and emails has been purchased and fundraising targets set. The walkers are fine-tuning their pitch, gathering signatures for their petitions and talking to people on the street. Szelena is trying desperately to find an internet signal so she can send the footage shot by the film director embedded in the adventure. Larry Lessig, the untouchable intellectual, goes door to door, stuffing trash he picks up along the road into a plastic bag; he doesn’t want to “miss any opportunity to clean things up." At every stopover, Jeff makes sure the venue for the evening’s speech is ready.
The pain of arriving
As they walk south, the evenings spent by the fireplace in mountain lodges give way to talks with local figures and elected officials, like the Senator from Maryland or one of the founders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. The song We Walk, written by Colin Mutchler, one of the first artists to adopt the Creative Commons model, is sung like a mantra. On the road, in the snow, as they march into towns, in the morning as they leave or on the steps of the New Hampshire capitol building, they sing the words “We walk with love for our country/ To honor our grannies and sons / We walk for an end to corruption / Till the will of the people is done"
The days pass, the fast-approaching end begins to feel painful. Larry Lessig finally manages to share the documentary on Aaron Swartz, after getting it from his car halfway along the route. It kills the atmosphere; “I made a mistake" he admits later, “The movie is too powerful to watch with a group."
Kevin, Michael and Greg leave before the last day, afraid of showing too much emotion. For once in his life, Lessig misses a speech, the last one, in a church in Nashua with the final point of arrival. Overwhelmed by his oldest son’s arrival on the trail, he forgets to thank the hundreds of walkers who protected him and symbolically carried him through the march, meeting him eye to eye and matching him step for step.
Why walk? For salvation. Larry Lessig got on the road with what he had: his infinite sorrow for the loss of Aaron Swartz, his acute view of what is at stake, his anger at his peers, his love for his country, his admiration for those who overcome their weaknesses.
Why keep walking? For the community that has emerged, for the adventure shared. The New Hampshire Rebellion is a starting point, the beginning of a journey. This summer, there will be other marches, everywhere around the country.
Singer Gilberto Gill recorded his own remix of We Walk and gave it back to the movement. Kevin has started a climate march from Los Angeles to Washington. Bruce, who meditated the whole walk with his face in the clouds, is running for a senate seat in Massachusetts. “The question isn’t ‘why am I here?’ but rather ‘why isn’t everybody here?’" comments Alex, the future FBI white-collar crime investigator.
What makes destiny? After looking for the answer in other people, Larry Lessig left his ranks. Walking along the blacktop, he hid his emotions, walking fast, working late, speaking little. The inventor of free licensing wants to create something useful, collaborative. Meaningful.
Behind his austere appearance, Lessig is a Pirate Captain 2.0. He wants to, he will, hack Washington. On the roads of New Hampshire, he came a long way and changed. It shows in the beard he doesn’t want to shave off just yet, in his constant desire to be on the road, in his expansive gestures, the return of his smile, the illuminated look in his eyes. In many ways, Larry Lessig got fresh air himself and made more fresh air out there for others. As he said to the walkers in an email a few weeks after the march, “And now where are my friends?".
Flore can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was initially published in the June 2014 issue of in French Revue 21. The direct link can be found HERE.
This article is attributed under Creative Commons licensing.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Tom Glaisyer is the program director of the Informed Participation Initiative at the Democracy Fund. Kelly Born is a Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation, where she works on both Special Projects and the Madison Initiative, and Jonathan Kartt works in Programs & Evaluation for the Rita Allen Foundation.
How will voters find information in 2014?
For those who care about US democracy, this question is front and center in a world where both the structure of the news media and the channels through which voters get information are in flux. In the not too distant past, voters received most of their information about candidates and ballot measures through mass market dailies and TV or radio—places where the message was mediated by gatekeepers. The only opportunity to directly communicate with voters was through paid advertising or in-person contact. Nowadays, candidates have limitless options to directly reach voters – even television, when delivered via satellite, permits hyper targeting of political advertising messages.
But it’s not just campaigns that are exploiting these new digital opportunities—a host of (mostly new) organizations, non-profit and for-profit, are seeking not to win a vote, but to inform voters about their options.
It’s an exciting time for the field. Abroad, websites that match voters to policy positions held by parties, so-called voting advice applications, have seen significant adoption. In Germany, for example, Wahl-o-Mat was queried 13.2M times in 2013—not bad when you consider there are only 80M people in the country. In the US, we have encountered dozens of similar sites such as Vote411, ethePeople and Project VoteSmart.
The digitization of data permits an increasing amount of contextual information to be added to what was previously just a thumbnail sketch of a candidate or issue. For example, information on candidates or ballot initiatives can now be combined with “rules of the road" on where and when to vote, and what materials to bring. This digital “plumbing" is often under-appreciated—Google’s Civic Information API provide a way to lookup polling places in 2014 and listed the candidates on the ballot. It builds on data from the PEW Charitable Trust’s Voting Information Project and augments a recently developed iOS app.
Recognizing the possibilities in this emerging ecosystem of voter information, the Hewlett Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Democracy Fund partnered to explore the dozens of voter information websites that have developed in the last few years. We examined a number of dimensions:
This wide variety of activity left us with lots of questions: whether and how to support this field, who to partner with, and on what kinds of projects? We have begun to explore these questions, and will discuss our early work on this topic in a follow-up post next week.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Whether you’re swayed by the academic theories against active investing – or just the abundant proof showing most fund managers demonstrably fail to beat the market – the case for index investing is overwhelming.
No wonder the lucrative active fund industry has been battling indexing since the latter was introduced in the 1970s.
Jack Bogle, who as the founder of Vanguard group did so much to popularise index funds, even saw his competition decry passive investing as un-American!
It didn’t work.
Today Vanguard is one of the largest managers in the world by assets under management (although crucially, with its low-cost index funds it makes much lower margins on those assets than its more active rivals).
Fidelity, another big player in index funds, is also high up the rankings.
Yet despite the success of Vanguard, Fidelity, and iShares here in the UK (which is now owned by the giant Blackrock), overall active investing still has a bigger market share than passive investing.
That seems incredible, if you just consider the evidence we’ve seen in this video series from Sensible Investing.
Clearly still more people need to be hear the somewhat counterintuitive case for index funds, as outlined in the next video.
It features loads of different voices, ranging from John Redwood MP to Merryn Somerset-Webb to Monevator favourite Larry Swedroe:
As the video points out, none other than market-beater extraordinaire Warren Buffett has repeatedly made the case for index funds.
Buffett famously said:
“When the dumb investor realises how dumb he is and buys an index fund, he becomes smarter than the smartest investors."
Just think about it.
One of the world’s greatest active investors – one of the few with any kind of long-term record of success, let alone Buffett’s 60-year streak – is effectively telling you not to bother even trying when it comes to active investing.
It’s a bit like Jamie Oliver telling you to keep out of the kitchen, for your own sake.
I believe that for all his folksy sayings about being greedy when others are fearful and so on, Warren Buffett – an investing genius – knows just how hard it is for most people to beat the market.
Tens of thousands of the world’s smartest and best-paid people still try every day. Most fail after costs.
Will you really do better than them?
If you want to invest actively for some other reason (I pick stocks myself) then fair enough.
But don’t do it because you think you’re the next Warren Buffett, or because you think it’ll be easy to beat all the other wannabe Buffetts out there.
The chances are you won’t even beat Buffett’s best bet – a cheap index fund.
Check out the rest of the videos in this series so far.
Thanks for reading! Monevator is a simply spiffing blog about making, saving, and investing money. Please do check out some of the best articles or follow our posts via Facebook, Twitter, email or RSS.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Editor's Note: This blog post is part of The Primaries Project series, where veteran political journalists Jill Lawrence and Walter Shapiro, along with scholars in Governance Studies and the Campaign Finance Institute, examine the congressional primaries and ask what they reveal about the future of each political party and the future of American politics.
A great deal of attention has been paid to the existence of independent expenditure groups and to the billionaires who fund them. The Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, right wing billionaires in politics, and Tom Steyer, the newest left wing billionaire in politics, seem to have had nearly as much ink spilled on them as have the candidates and causes they endorse. And no wonder. Americans are fascinated and worried about the question Darrell West poses in the second chapter of his new book Billionaires, “Can rich dudes buy an election?"
Tracking the sources and amounts of money in post Citizens United elections is a full time and complex job. Our hats go off to the Campaign Finance Institute who has recently completed the most extensive study ever of the role of independent expenditures in primary elections. Michael Malbin, Founding Director of the Center and author of the upcoming report on this year’s primaries, shows us just how big these groups, often funded by billionaires, have gotten. In research focusing on independent spending in the 2014 congressional primaries, Malbin points out that in the 15 House races with the most independent expenditure money ($500,000 +) these expenditures counted for 76% as much as the candidates own campaign money. In Senate races, the independent expenditures accounted for 44% as much as the candidates own money. Even the candidates themselves are worried about this trend since it often seems that outside groups can swamp a candidate’s own message.
Malbin also shows us why it is so hard to figure out what’s going on in an individual election. Only 49 of the 281 organizations that were around in the 2012 cycle spending money on behalf of congressional primary candidates were also around in 2014. That means that there were 232 new and different groups playing in 2014, posing challenges for the journalists and academics trying to track them.
The Campaign Finance Institute, however, has data on all these organizations from 2012 and 2014. They have categorized them by ideology and, as the following chart shows, there are some interesting developments. For instance, while conservative independent expenditure groups remain the biggest spenders in the 2014 congressional primaries, their overall proportion of independent expenditures is down from 2012. That year, conservative groups spent $40.5 million, nearly three quarters of total independent expenditures, compared to $9.3 million or 17 percent of total expenditures for Democrats. In 2014, conservative groups upped their spending to $56.8 million, but their overall share of independent expenditures fell to 68% as liberal groups doubled their spending and increased their percentage of the total to 23%.
Even more surprising is the change in spending patterns within the Republican Party. As the following table shows, this really was the year when the establishment fought back. In 2012 anti-establishment spending by independent expenditure groups in congressional primaries constituted 59% of all such expenditures while spending by independent expenditure groups on behalf of establishment Republicans was only 36% of the total. In two years, those numbers flipped. In 2014, with control of the Senate at stake, the establishment mobilized independent expenditure groups which spent 55% of all the money spent by such groups while the anti-establishment groups spent only 37%.
There’s something for everyone in these findings. For the Democrats who have been on the defensive for much of this year but who have gotten through a primary season with few internal divisions, the increase in spending on their behalf and the sense that they will be able to run a good ground game in the key states where it really counts is a plus.
For the Republicans, the heavy spending by establishment groups has paid off in that they haven’t let weak candidates slip into the general election contest. They are probably as strong as they can be going into the fall campaign.
Published on by Jeff McLean
There's not necessarily a trick to earning a lot.
Despite what a number of scam artists and sketchy emails would lead you to believe, accumulating wealth is inherently time-consuming and difficult, taking most people years and decades to do. But that's not to say that there aren't qualities or traits that can be identified in those who are successful making a lot of money. If we can imitate them, we'll be better off when it comes to our own pursuit of wealth. (See also: The 10 Kinds of People Who Get Rich — And How They Do It)
They say (or at least someone did) that if you want to be good at something, find somebody who already is good at that thing and imitate them. Since imitation is the highest form of flattery, it's as good a place to start as any. Let's dissect the rich.
How do you approach your work day or the hours that you put into making money? Do you count down the hours until it's time to go home?
If you view your work day as a block of time where you engage and then get to punch out to go do whatever you want, you're not doing one of the most basic things that high earners do. Being content and excited about what you do means you're perfectly fine to spend a lot of time on it. It might even mean that you work long past 5 p.m. or whenever you "punch out" without even realizing it.
The late Steve Jobs said, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do."
It's perhaps one of the most easily identifiable attributes of those who earn a lot. Whatever they do, it's almost always easy to see that they love and are passionate about what they're doing. That's not to say that you can't or shouldn't do other work that helps lead to or sustain something you're passionate about. But if you don't ultimately pursue work in something that you love, the climb to wealth is always going to be uphill.
Regardless of your schedule, following the template of those who make a lot of money requires you to go in early and stay late. Especially if your work is measured in output instead of hours.
While we're on the subject… Most jobs pay you based on the amount of hours you spend working, whatever type of work that might be. Not only can that be demotivating, but it actually gives people the incentive to work less since their pay per hour doesn't change. If you can be in a situation where your pay is more closely correlated with what you accomplish, instead of the amount of time you spend working it it, you'll be far more motivated and focused on that work — and you'll earn more as a result.
Moving beyond your current constrictions requires that you take a step that isn't just theoretical. People who accumulate wealth are able to do this because they construct a practical and attainable list of goals that helps them get from where they are to where they want to go. Small goals and practical steps will, in a sense, create a road map that leads to your ultimate goal of a more well-funded bank account.
Building wealth is as much related to what you save as it is to what you spend.
Those who don't know how to manage the money they already have are going to have a difficult time using it to earn more. Take the time to educate yourself on personal finance or even go the extra mile and take a class so that you can learn how to handle the money you have coming in. In the long run, it's going to be more valuable to you than a bigger paycheck. (See also: Saving Money Is Easy If You Set the Right Goals)
Those who are able to focus on getting good or experienced in something specific, that goes beyond broad categories like sales, education, or IT, are often going to be more successful and sought out. They've set themselves apart from the crowded realm of their profession and become a specialist with credentials that go beyond ambiguous titles.
Self-motivation is one of the most important traits of wealth-building individuals. In fact, every job opening that exists is there because someone took the initiative to motivate themselves, start a company, and continue to work and push that company forward until they became big enough to hire someone. Be the self-motivator instead of the person sending in their resume hoping for a response.
In your pursuit of wealth, you're going to fall short and face setbacks. You're also going to face an incredible amount of boredom and mental exhaustion with what you're doing. Because if you're focused and committed to growing a business or pursuing a certain career path, chances are good that you're going to be doing a lot of the same thing every single day. That's going to get boring and tiring.
People who can push through the boredom and avoid letting it impact the quality of their work or heaven forbid, cause them to switch career paths in the hope of finding something more exciting, have a better chance at making a lot of money.
So while Steve Jobs above advised us to do what we love, he also advised us to stick with it: "I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance."
You should always be aware that there are situations where it's good to spend or invest in what you're doing. Thus, it's not always wise to save your money and refuse to spend. If a business can spend several hundred dollars on computers that improve their productivity on a daily basis for the foreseeable future, that's a situation where they would lose money by not spending it. Avoid being penny wise and pound foolish to give your business, career, or idea a better chance at succeeding.
One of the best things you can do for yourself as both a person and a professional is to network with people in your field. It doesn't have to benefit you monetarily, because even a friendly acquaintance, email, Twitter follow, or business transaction can give you a lane into an area of opportunity that you would never have had otherwise. Take the time to network and get to know those working in the same field as you or even competing with you. It's almost always a good thing and a worthwhile use of your time.
Cross posted from wisebread.com
Published on by Jeff McLean
e’re often asked: Is it better to invest a big lump sum of money all at once, or to to drip-feed your cash into the market?
And there happens to be an easy answer…
Statistically you’re more likely to boost your returns by going all in at once.
A Vanguard paper titled Dollar-cost Averaging Just Means Taking Risk Later found that lump sum investing beat drip-feeding around two-thirds of the time in the UK and US.
This was true across multiple decades and asset allocations – because more often than not equities and bonds trump the returns from cash.
Here’s a snapshot of Vanguard’s findings:
Many other studies have shown the same thing.
The logic is simple. Equities beat cash. Bonds beat cash. (Eventually!)
Equities and bonds are riskier asset classes than cash and investors can expect to be rewarded for bearing that risk. Historically this has come to pass. Over most time periods your investments will therefore beat your bank account.
So the sooner your money is cast into the market, the more likely it is to benefit from the greater potential of equities and bonds to grow.
Indeed, the longer you spend drip-feeding (or pound-cost averaging1), the more likely it is that you will pay for your caution as your cash returns are outshone by the fizzing fireworks of equities.
Wait – what about that one third of the time when drip-feeding wins?
Well, you’ll be glad you chose to drip-feed if the market relentlessly falls over the course of your 12 easy installments. This way every time you buy a punnet of equities, you’re buying them at a cheaper rate than the last time.
You’ll also be glad if, in a parallel universe, you’d have been that shell-shocked investor who threw in your whole £200,000 lot at once and then watched it shrink in a bear market crash like Lake Chad in the face of a population explosion.
So the real question is not about returns. It is could you handle it if luck was against you and your inheritance or bonus or compensation payout – your one life-changing windfall – got vaporised by 50% in a matter of months?
It’s monkey in the mirror time again and drip-feed investing works because it helps prevent that person from going nuts.
Many first-time investors hang around the edge of the investing pool, unable to dive in.
I know I did.
I couldn’t bear the thought of watching my maiden punt lose – even though my rational brain knew that it didn’t matter because I was committed to investing for the long term.
Every piece of bad news heightened my dithering because, well, if I waited a bit longer then maybe I could buy a little cheaper… but really I just didn’t want to see my money tank.
It was an inauspicious start for a guy who doesn’t believe you can time the markets.
It’s precisely because we can’t predict the markets that drip-feeding is a useful psychological tool.
We can gather all the opinions we like, check out the P/E ratios and fret about geopolitics, but that kind of rune-reading is little better than superstition. It might salve a troubled mind but it makes no difference to the outcome – which is decided by a game of chance.
Drip-feeding breaks the brain-jam because it promises to cushion risk adverse investors against the (less likely) downside. If the market moves against us early on, then at least we’re not fully exposed, and later drips will buy more shares at a cheaper price.
So drip-feeding (aka pound-cost averaging) is useful, but it’s useful as a psychological crutch, not because it’s likely to boost returns. It isn’t.
If you think drip-feeding is the best way forward for you, there are various methods to try. You might consider investing equal installments over:
Or else put in half now and half over the next six months.
Passive investing writer Rick Ferri also has some interesting ideas on drip-feeding techniques, including favouring pound-cost averaging if your cash heap is worth more than 20% of your current wealth.
Remember, the potential difference in outcomes between lump sum investing and pound-cost averaging is the performance of the market versus cash over your drip-feeding period.
We saw that according to Vanguard’s paper, the lump sum approach wins two times out of three.
But by how much? Well:
In the United States, 12-month dollar cost averaging led to an average ending portfolio value of $2,395,824, while lump sum investing led to an average ending value of $2,450,264, or 2.3% more.
The results were similar in the United Kingdom and Australia: UK investors [who chose lump sum investing] would have ended with 2.2% more and Australian investors with 1.3% more, on average.
Personally, if I doubted my risk tolerance then I’d choose the technique that was more likely to keep me in the game, rather than stretch for 2.2% upside.
That’s because the worst outcome is panicking in the face of a bear market, selling at the bottom, and then being scared off investing for life.
Take it steady,
Published on by Jeff McLean
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." – Albert Einstein
Are you struggling to figure out your career path? Still not sure what the HECK you’re meant to do in life?
Whether you can’t decide on a major or you’ve changed careers three times, it can be hard to stay motivated if you don’t know what you’re working toward. But, I’m sure it’s not for lack of trying – you just can’t narrow down your options to the right path, right?
So, my advice? Figure out what you’re passionately curious about.
What keeps you up at night (in a good way!)? What do you want to learn more about more than anything else? If you were stuck doing one thing for the rest of your life, what would never get old? Once you narrow this down, build a plan around it so you CAN do it for the rest of your life.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Here we are, at the height of the political season. The season where we are bombarded with repeated commercials and advertisements promoting various political groups and politicians, and the season when our mailboxes are filled to the brim with expensive, glossy mailers telling us why we should support so-and-so and not such-and-such.
This is not only frustrating and irritating and a colossal waste of money, but a much deeper and troubling trend is occurring. Turns out, this troubling trend, and your packed mailbox, only represents the tip of an oncoming perfect storm.
Let us look at why we haven't seen any real movement when it comes to simplifying our tax code. The reason is that our tax code is not only used as a revenue stream for government but also as a revenue stream for political fund-raising. By keeping the tax code complicated, politicians can maintain loopholes, deductions, credits, subsidies and contracts, which benefit the funders' interest instead of the public interest.
Let's now look at free markets, which are essential to a well-functioning economic system. As long as private money and special interests remain in the business of campaign funding, it is impossible for small businesses to compete fairly in a free-market system where the larger competing entities can afford to contribute to political candidates. This influence grants these larger entities special treatment that small businesses simply cannot afford to buy. This, therefore, distorts the free market — a market that will remain distorted as long as money in politics gives the biggest players a path to big influence in Washington. Therefore, if you are looking to see why our free-market system no longer operates the way it should, look no further than the root problem of our privately-paid-for campaign financing system.
After the Great Depression, Congress passed a law known as the Glass-Steagall Act. This act effectively put a wall between the investment banks and the commercial banks. Thereby, if Wall Street ran into trouble, retail Main Street investors would be insulated. This worked for over 60 years. Then, in 1999, Congress repealed Glass-Steagall. So why would Congress overturn a law that had been working for so many years? As it turns out, members of Congress who voted to overturn Glass-Steagall received twice as much from the financial sector, who had an interest in overturning the law, than did the members of Congress who opposed the repeal. Many who have studied this case believe that had Glass-Steagall never been overturned, we would not have faced the financial meltdown of 2008. Again, by outsourcing the way we finance campaigns, it is clear that we have found the root of the problem.
The business model of our current political system is now rooted in dividing the public around "wedge" issues. These are the issues that well-compensated political operatives get paid to exploit. These issues represent the few major differences that divide us and generally are not among the top issues that the vast majority of the public cares most about. So why do it? Turns out that one thing these political operatives know works is that by focusing on these divisive wedge issues they increase contributions from their base. This is the business model of political division and, unfortunately, it is working. Looking for proof? The approval ratings for Congress now generally falls in the teens and single digits. At the same time, re-election of incumbents consistently runs at about 90 percent. Or how about this, members of Congress spend anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of their time raising money.
The public has every reason to be skeptical and disenchanted by our current political system. Why wouldn't we be? It makes sense that wherever and whenever the presence of money is in place, we are skeptical. It would be like your doctor recommending a certain drug based on how much they receive in compensation for prescribing that drug.
Our political system should not work this way — and it is, once again, money, and the ensuing corruption that follows money, that is to blame. There are myriad possible solutions that exist to address the problem of money in politics. But we cannot implement solutions while the politicians remain gatekeepers. After all, what is more powerful than money? Answer: You, the citizen; the voter. I invite you to join with the N.H. Rebellion as we unite around this root problem in a nonpartisan way. New Hampshire has the opportunity to lead the nation and fix this root problem. But we can only do so with your help, so please join the N.H. Rebellion.
Jeff McLean is the director of the N.H. Rebellion, a nonpartisan grass-roots movement established to engage the public around the root problem of money in our political system. To learn more, please visit nhrebellion.org. Jeff can be reached at email@example.com
An excellent point of view commentary that is right-on. Jeff -- write on.
People need to know the unfortunate power of money from special interests over our government right now. And that we can change it, as Granny D. taught us: "The Power Of One."
Knowing where the money comes from for politicians, whether they be Democrats or Republicans -- and WHY -- is important for all of us.
And each one of us has the power to make that money meaningless, and to stop it.
@Jim Splaine Karl Rove amongst other pols learned THAT lesson the hardway in 2012
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Think Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton.
Warren Buffett is not in this crowd (thank goodness!).
He is widely considered to be the most successful investor of all time. He is one of the very wealthiest people in the world – often THE wealthiest, depending on stock market valuations.
He has gotten to where he is by being a brilliant and insightful investor.
Like me, he wasn’t born into money, and he didn’t sign a fat contract for a book, a movie, a TV show or a record deal. (Note: I did sign a contract for my book deal, but I assure it wasn’t fat. Far from it. Haha…)
He did it the old fashioned way, which in today’s world seems almost radical.
In fact, there is nothing fancy or unusual at all about Warren Buffett – other than his phenomenal success.
That, and his overwhelming common sense, are the reason why so many people study his life and follow his lessons. And that’s why you should to.
Though he came from humble beginnings, Buffett is today the chairman, chief executive officer, and the largest shareholder of the multinational conglomerate holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.
His advice and pronouncements have become legendary, earning him the nickname “The Oracle of Omaha."
What are some of the lessons that we can learn from this “oracle“?
“Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.“ – Warren Buffet
What makes it impossible to say that you are never going to lose money, is that it would mean that you would never take the calculated risks that are necessary to make money in the first place. But that’s the whole point – taking calculated risks.
Buffett doesn’t take wild chances. He has specific criteria in regard to any business that he will invest in, and this method keeps him from entering blind speculations.
If you use the never lose money mantra as a foundational strategy, it will have a positive effect on everything you will do, whether it has to do with a business or with investing. Many of the lessons that will follow will outline exactly how Buffett avoids losing money in the first place.
“I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.“ – Warren Buffet
Despite being perhaps the most successful investor in stock market history, Warren Buffett never actually bets on stocks, at least not the way that most investors and even fund managers do.
Buffett looks not at the performance of a given stock, but at the performance of the underlying business. This is critical, because a strong underlying business means that an investment will almost always payoff, at least sooner or later.
The reason why most investors fail to follow Buffett’s advice in this regard is because it requires a lot more work. You actually have to research the individual companies, and have a keen understanding of their business and how well they are faring against the competition. Market sentiment of the company’s stock has little to do with it.
“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.“ – Warren Buffet
When you look at the companies that Buffett either owns individually, or through Berkshire Hathaway, they’re all long-term investments. Buffett will buy stocks and hold onto them – not for years – but for decades. As long as the business is strong, the investment will payoff. Buffett’s track record, and the size of his portfolios, are testaments to the success of this strategy.
There are a lot more people in the financial markets then there is understanding of those markets. For this reason, people hold their investments through mutual funds, or pay for the services of investment advisers. Buffett holds that there is no substitute for getting involved in your investments.
Whether your investments succeed or fail will be completely on your shoulders, and not on those of your investment advisor. He maintains a policy of learning all about an investment and taking complete charge of how you go about managing it. In addition to being a solid strategy, this is also the only way that a novice investor learns to be an expert.
If you look at the most successful people in almost any endeavor, you will typically see that they are people who live the life. That is, they live a lifestyle that is consistent with their level of success. This often leads to more than a little bit of lifestyle inflation, which helps explain how so many super successful people end up in a bankruptcy, and eventually, even the poor house.
Warren Buffett has done an outstanding job of keeping his ego in check when it comes to his lifestyle. It can even be said that he uses the same value principles for investments that he does in managing his own personal finances. For example, Buffett still lives in the same five-bedroom stucco house be purchased in Omaha Nebraska in 1957 for $31,500.
It’s certainly a nice enough house, but it doesn’t come close to the palaces that people who are nowhere near as wealthy as Buffett tend to live in. There is a strong message in that arrangement.
One of Buffett’s hallmark investment strategies is a investing in quality. This means that he invests in companies that have well-known, well-regarded products that add value to the consumer and the economy. The companies he inverts money in are usually household names, which is to say that they have both strong market penetration and brand recognition.
Many less successful investors are drawn to companies and industries that they know little or nothing about. They assume that the less they know, the more likely it is that the investment will be a success, as though it will succeed based on some unexplained mystery factor. Quality – not mystery – makes a company a long-term winning investment.
We can think of buying value as buying quality – when it goes on sale. This is part and parcel of Buffet’s never-lose-money strategy. Simply put, Buffett never pays full price for anything, including the investments that populate his portfolios.
He does this by buying companies that are selling at a discount to their real value. This strategy is more commonly referred to as value investing, which is the practice of buying stock in companies that are undervalued compared to other companies in their industry, as well as to the general market.
Buffet has this down to a science. He looks at the fundamentals of a company – it’s earnings, revenue, price-earnings ratio, return on equity and dividend yield, among other metrics – then he compares them to the same metrics in competing companies. If the company is generally strong compared to the competition, but the stock price is well below them, it becomes an investment candidate.
One thing that is immediately obvious about Buffett is that you’ll never see him running with the herd. That means no “Nifty Fifty" stocks, no hot stock of the year investments – and nothing that even hints at being trendy.
As an example, Buffett has publicly stated that he avoids buying stock in new social media, like Facebook and Google, citing the difficulty in determining their value and how they will fare in the future.
We can also bet that participating in fads would get in the way of investing in quality and value on a long-term basis. If it’s one thing Buffett is, it’s consistent.
“We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.“ – Warren Buffet
I just said that you will never see Warren Buffett running with the herd, and this one of the best examples. His investment philosophy is simple – buy when everyone else is selling (be greedy), and sell when everyone else is buying (be fearful). This is consistent with the Wall Street saying (that few investors ever follow), the crowd is usually wrong.
This strategy is very consistent with Buffets strategy of buying value. If you buy when everyone else is selling, you will be able to get positions in strong companies for a lot less than you would pay when the market is running strong and everyone is buying.
By the same token, if you wait to sell your losing positions until the market is particularly strong, you will minimize your losses. In some cases, you might even recover a profit.
Most investors have great difficulty mastering this concept. Once the stock starts rising, they tend to hold on to it under the assumption that will continue to do so. But in Buffets world, a losing position is a losing position, regardless of where the stock price is at.
“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing “ – Warren Buffet
Buffets way to wealth is actually a very risky one by conventional standards. He doesn’t invest heavily in safe assets like bonds and treasury bills. He invests primarily in stocks. But stocks are not nearly as risky as people tend think – as long as you know what you’re doing. And Buffet clearly does.
Buffet is able to eliminate most of the risk associated with stocks, by buying them cheaply enough that the speculation – and high prices – are completely squeezed out. Most of the positions that Buffet takes have nowhere to go but up. That is the result of buying after everyone else has sold out their positions.
In Buffets world, you would be buying heavily after a market crash, and keeping your powder dry when a bull market has been around for a few years.
“When a management with a reputation of brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.“ – Warren Buffet
While many investment analysts tend to focus on a company’s numbers, market position, specific assets, and even public sentiment, Buffett looks more closely at management. Every one of those tangible metrics can change in the future, substantially weakening a company. But the caliber of management represents the future of the business. With the right people at the helm, the business will grow and prosper no matter what challenges it may face.
Just as Buffett avoids fads, he also tends to stick with what he knows when it comes to making investment decisions. In Buffett’s world, you have no business putting money into companies and industries that you know nothing about. Buffett’s billions came from the fact that he invested in businesses that he knew well.
The businesses that he does buy into also tend to be more basic in concept. As we saw in an earlier specific example, Buffett avoids buying into social media companies, since they are virtually new business concepts and not readily measurable. He favors easy to understand concepts like Coca-Cola and insurance.
“Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction. “ – Warren Buffet
There are a small number of investors on Wall Street who are making a lot of money in exotic investments, such as derivatives. Buffett avoids all such investment schemes, preferring to keep his investments basic. It once again gets back to the concept of investing in what it is that you know and understand.
Just as Warren Buffett lifestyle is incredibly simple considering his stature in the world, he also does his best to avoid the spotlight.
Sure, he’s a regular in giving an opinion on economic and public policy, but he avoids the outrageous behavior that has become symptomatic of the ultra-successful. But the success that he has is determined by the success of his business, rather than on his participation in out-of-the-box activities, or inflammatory public comments, designed mostly to draw attention.
We can probably guess that this low-profile existence makes it easier to focus on Buffett’s business at hand. After all, if you’re running around acting wild and making divisive comments, you won’t need to be spending a lot of time on rear-guard strategies to cover your tracks.
Even if you are not into investing, you can take all of these lessons from Warren Buffett’s life and apply them to your life and business, and with positive results.
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
Published on by Jeff McLean
These are literally old school. posted on Aug. 11, 2014, at 9:56 a.m.
Published on by Jeff McLean
I wish I could have done things differently, but that’s water under the bridge now. There’s nothing I can do to change the many ways that I messed up back then.
Instead, what I can do is focus on today. I have three children who are growing up faster than I can sometimes believe. I have a surprisingly large audience of readers at this website.
All I can really do is share the things I wish I had understood then.
Sure, my kids will probably shrug off a lot of this stuff, as will you. However, if even one or two of these things had taken root in my life when I was freshly out of college, I would have found myself on a decidedly different path and, for most of my twenties and thirties, a much better path.
Here are eleven things I wish I knew on graduation day.
If you even consider for a second what other people will think when you’re choosing what car to buy, what gadget to purchase, what clothes to wear, and so on, you’re wasting that second. They’re not going to notice and they’re not going to care.
The only time other people even notice such things is when they’ve already noticed other things about you, usually your cleanliness/hygiene or your personality. If you stand out with those factors in a positive way, they’ll find good things in other factors about you. If you stand out in a negative way, they’ll nitpick.
Why don’t they notice as much as you think they do? It’s called the spotlight effect. Other people are as worried about themselves as you are, thus they don’t notice other people very much at all.
If you want to actually stand out in a positive way, here are two things you can do.
First, be clean and presentable. Never go out without showering and brushing your hair and teeth and applying some deodorant and wearing clean clothes. You don’t have to wear nice clothes – honestly, most people won’t notice or care – but make sure they’re clean and not completely falling apart.
Second, have a positive and outgoing personality. This is something you can actively work on. My suggestion is to pick up a copy (or an audiobook) of How to Win Friends and Influence People and listen to it during your commute, then put the things suggested in that book into practice.
Notice that neither of those things involve buying gadgets or shiny cars or new clothes. Why? Spending money on stuff doesn’t help you very much at all in terms of building new friendships or professional relationships.
I was twenty three years old the day I started my first post-graduation job. Let’s say, hypothetically, I was pointed at a retirement age of 68. That gives me 45 years to save, right?
One of the smart things I did at that time was contribute just enough to retirement to get my full employer’s match – but one of the dumb things I did was choose to not contribute more than that. Here’s why.
Let’s say I put away $5,000 during that first year, when I was 23. By the time I am 68, that $5,000 transforms into $105,000. (This – and the other examples – assumes a stock market that returns a steady 7% a year, which is the long term projection going forward.)
Now, let’s say I waited until I was 33 to put that $5,000 away. I mean, I might want to live my twenties out without worrying about retirement. At age 68, that $5,000 has only transformed into $53,000. In fact, I would have to put away $9,700 that year to make it worth $105,000 at my retirement age of 68.
What if I waited until I was 43? I might want to be married and have a house before I start worrying about retirement, right? If I waited that long, at age 68, that $5,000 will have only grown into $27,000. To get $105,000 at retirement age, I would have to sock away $19,000.
It only gets worse going forward.
Every single dime you can afford to put into retirement as soon as you graduate – or even before, if it’s possible – will mean that you have a lot smaller burden going forward. The power of compound interest is incredible, and it’s never more powerful than when you’re young.
In 2003, Sarah and I shopped around for a place to live. We looked at a bunch of them, ranging from some rather nice places that cost more than $1,000 per month to some very tiny places with a very small rent.
We ended up choosing one of the very small places, mostly due to location (and our inability to come up with a big deposit), and it was one of the few financially smart moves we made during that time.
This seems obvious, right? If you rent a smaller place, the rent will be lower, thus you’ll have more money in your checking account and less money in the hands of the property owners.
That’s just the first piece of the equation, though.
For another, a smaller living space gives you more options in terms of location. It is much easier to find a tiny apartment close to your job, for example, or close to public transportation. If you’re restricting yourself only to larger places, those options are closed off to you.
The big reason, though, is that the smaller your space, the fewer possessions you can accumulate. You don’t have the space to buy a lot of stuff, so you’re not going to buy a lot of stuff. Space becomes a major part of your purchasing decisions.
This ties into the next point…
During the summer of 1998, I moved into an apartment with several friends out of my dorm room. All of my possessions fit into a backpack and two plastic tubs.
A year later, I moved to another apartment with a different friend. Again, I managed to fit all of my possessions into two plastic tubs and a backpack.
Both of those times, I was able to completely move within an hour or two, fitting all of my possessions into the trunk and backseat of a friends’ car. I was perfectly happy with what I owned at that time.
Flash forward to 2007. When we moved that time, it required a moving truck rental and was a multi-day process. It was far more expensive in terms of money, time, and energy.
Even worse, the sheer quantity of stuff made the move intimidating. It was that resistance to the task of moving that convinced us to stay put for at least a year longer than we probably should have. This enabled the landlord to be rather pushy with the policies and threaten to raise our rent at least once because the sheer quantity of our stuff left us resistant to moving.
In fact, for a short while, we had to utilize a storage locker for our extra stuff, adding to our expense.
If I were back in my college days – where I could fit all of my stuff into a couple of boxes – I could have easily moved across the country. I could have shipped the two tubs via UPS, jumped on a plane, and been settled in a completely different area in a day or two. If the rent or living situation became difficult, I could easily move, too.
There’s one more huge factor here that I haven’t mentioned – all of that stuff costs money. When you acquire a possession, you’ve usually spent some money on that possession, money that will be very hard to recover because most items lose some of their value the moment you open them.
Even more than that, the more possessions you have, the less time you can spend using each one. It’s not a big deal to spend $50 on something that you use over and over again, but if you have lots of items, you’re either not using a lot of them at all or not using any of them very much. In either case, you’re wasting money.
The solution is simple: just avoid buying stuff whenever you can. Minimize your possessions. Focus on experiences instead. You’ll be glad you did.
My first post-graduation apartment featured a public transportation stop right outside of my front door. I literally had to walk about twenty five steps from my apartment door to be sitting at a bus stop.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t own a car then. Unfortunately, after we moved, I found myself quite far from public transportation, making it unreasonable to rely on it for transportation.
Thus, our new apartment had an additional expense. It required us to buy a car, one that we didn’t need before. This meant car payments. This meant fuel costs. This meant more insurance.
One of the advantages of not having many possessions is that you have much more flexibility in terms of where you live. This means you have a much better chance of finding a place near public transportation, which means that you don’t have to incur the cost of owning a car.
Yes, eventually, you’ll probably want one. However, the longer you can go without owning one, the longer you have to devote that saved money into saving up to buy a car with cash (avoiding that debt) or paying down your student loans rapidly.
Obviously, cooking your own meals is a real money saver. Even when you compare a full meal from the dollar menu to the home-cooked version, making meals at home is usually cheaper. If you compare almost any non-dollar-menu restaurant, you’ll find that cooking at home just blows all of it out of the water.
The reason people don’t cook at home is convenience and the perception that food eaten at a restaurant is tastier.
However, there’s a real trick here – experience. The more experienced you are in the kitchen, the easier it becomes to prepare something really tasty and get it on the table reasonably quickly.
Ten years ago, I made a disaster out of frying an egg. Today, I can make a pretty good eggs Benedict in about ten minutes. Ten years ago, I messed up almost everything I touched. Today, I can make pretty much anything in any cookbook.
All you have to do is go into the kitchen and start trying to make things. Sure, your first few attempts are going to be bad, but you learn from them and you get better and better. You begin to identify visually when you should pull the eggs off of the heat. You begin to know intuitively how long a grilled cheese sandwich should stay on one side before flipping it. You start to know just how to season chili without even consulting a recipe and knowing how it will affect the flavor if you alter different ingredients.
It just takes practice. It’s not particularly hard. It just takes a willingness to try and then try again.
Once you have that, it becomes easier to cook at home most of the time. The only time we ever eat out any more is when we are traveling, whether it’s a day trip to another town or a longer vacation, or when we have guests who want to eat out.
This ends up providing a much lower monthly food bill for you while also making you far less afraid and far more adaptable in the kitchen.
Before long, you’ll move into a “meal plan"-centric grocery shopping system, which will save you even more money (and time, too).
This is something you can start before you even leave school, but it’s something everyone should engage in as soon as they graduate. You need to build more income streams than just your primary job.
What do I mean by “income streams"? I mean any activity you spend time on that will eventually generate income for you.
Making Youtube videos is an income stream. Writing a blog is an income stream. Doing freelance work in your field in your spare time is an income stream. Reselling collectibles is an income stream. Teaching a class is an income stream. Those are just a few examples of the thousands of possibilities out there.
The key is that you turn your spare time into something that can earn money for you, whether now or later. Even better, you work on building two or three avenues for income.
If you love your career and want to advance in it, start a blog related to your career. Record Youtube videos related to your career. Write ebooks for the Kindle Store related to your career. Then pop on Twitter, get involved in the conversation, and promote it a little bit. Not only will this earn income, it helps build your professional standing.
If you have dreams that are far away from your career, do things related to those dreams. Do freelance work related to that passion, or do online creative work related to it. It can often lead to more opportunities in those other areas.
Most of these things cost very little money to start – they just require time and willingness to work.
You might not be used to shopping at secondhand stores and at discount grocers. It’s time to get used to it.
The trick with shopping at discount stores is to recognize that quite a few of the things they have on their shelves are exactly the same as you would find at other stores. The only difference is that their prices are lower.
For example, the exact same loaf of bread at our local discount store (Fareway) is about $1 per loaf cheaper than at the most popular store (Hy-Vee). A very similar loaf is about $1.50 cheaper at Aldi than Hy-Vee.
This type of comparison is true for almost every food item you can name. A discount grocer will have the same thing at a lower price than the popular well-advertised grocer in the area.
For other items, like clothing, start your shopping at secondhand shops and, in the spring and summer, at yard sales and garage sales. You can often find new and nearly-new items of all kinds, from blenders to dishes and from shirts to irons, at Goodwill or another secondhand shop.
If you don’t find what you want, that’s perfectly okay. Shop elsewhere. Just make your first stop at a discount grocer or a secondhand shop and see what they have that matches your needs.
If you’re freshly out of college, chances are you’re renting your place of residence. Whether it’s an apartment or a house, you’re most likely just a person living in a residence that someone else owns where you simply pay them for the privilege of staying there for a while.
Not owning the house doesn’t free you from costs in a disaster, though. If the building burns down, you lose all of your possessions. If there’s a robbery, you lose your possessions. If there’s a flood, you lose your possessions.
If you have anything of value in your apartment or rented home, you really need renters insurance. There’s a good chance that renters insurance will save your cookie at some point, because there’s a pretty good chance that at least one of these disasters will happen.
For me, the disaster happened in about 2005 when there was a sewage backup into our apartment. Yep, raw sewage. It happened while I was at work and it ruined several pieces of furniture and many, many books.
I didn’t have renters insurance. All of that stuff went in the trash and I got no compensation. The landlord gave me a month’s rent for free (basically to be nice), but when I contacted a lawyer, the lawyer basically said I wouldn’t have much of a case.
If I had simply had renters insurance, all of that lost stuff would have been compensated (minus the deductible). It was a dumb mistake to let my insurance lapse, one that I regret.
There are times when it seems like everything fun to do costs money. All of the interesting clubs and restaurants and activities all come with a fee attached – and it’s often a hefty fee.
The problem is that, when you’re new to an area (as you often are when you’re freshly out of college), the multitude of activities available in that area aren’t clear to you. The first ones you hear about are the ones that are well-advertised because they pay for marketing … and, eventually, the customers pay, too.
In truth, there are very few areas in the country that do not feature a multitude of free things to do – more than you’ll ever have time to enjoy. Within a ten mile radius of my home, there are countless bike trails, sports clubs of all kinds, state parks, book clubs, concerts, community organizations of all kinds… I can’t even hope to list all of the stuff. All of it is free.
When I first moved here, I wasn’t aware of any of it. I was basically convinced you had to drive to Des Moines for entertainment. Now? I have more stuff to do within walking distance without paying a dime than I have time to explore it.
How did I find all of this stuff? I just used a number of useful resources.
For starters, I studied my city’s website – and the websites of surrounding communities. They provided me lists of community organizations, a calendar of upcoming events, and lots of other pointers.
I also checked out my city’s parks and recreation department – and the parks and rec departments of surrounding cities. They manage many sports leagues, recreational facilities, classes, and many other things that are either free or available for a really low cost.
After that, I hit the library. I snagged one of their brochures and checked out their bulletin boards. It turns out that there are a number of book clubs in our area, as well as free concerts and presentations on tons of different topics. The library also offers up mountains of free books, DVDs, CDs, and a surprising amount of other equipment, too. All free.
I also checked out the bulletin boards at city hall and at the post office, where people post information about all kinds of community events and new clubs and other things going on.
I also hit Meetup.com and see what I can find within a certain radius of my home. I’ve found three different groups that I now participate in thanks to Meetup.
These steps will uncover more free (and very low cost) things to do near you than you’ll ever have time to explore. You can sift through these choices and discard most of them and still have more options than you can ever explore.
There’s no reason to shell out cash just to have fun, no matter what your definition of “fun" is.
You may have signed up for it when you were in college, like I did. I signed up for my first card in order to get a free t-shirt, for example. That first credit card seems full of opportunity. It likely has a credit limit of $500 or $1,000 on it – you can buy all kinds of stuff!
Here’s the thing they don’t really tell you. If you buy something on a credit card and then just make the minimum payments thereafter, you’re at least doubling the cost of that purchase – and possibly tripling it or more.
Let’s say you get a $1,000 credit limit and charge it up to the max buying video games or clothes or whatever it is you like. After that, you’re faced with a credit card bill that’s difficult to pay off. You can only afford to swing the minimum payment each month after covering rent and your electric bill and so on.
Let’s assume that your credit card calculates minimum payments in the typical way – your interest for that month plus 1% of the balance with a minimum monthly payment of, say, $15.
If that credit card has a 20% interest rate – and that’s actually a good rate if you’re getting your first card in college – you’ll be making payments for 117 months and you’ll be paying a total of $1,056.70 in interest. In other words, you’ll have to pay back more than double the amount you borrowed. Your $100 dress actually cost you more than $200. Your $50 video game now costs you more than $100.
Now, let’s say it has a 32.99% rate – the rate my first credit card had. In that case, you’ll be making payments for 140 months – that’s more than ten years – and your total interest will be $1,980.68. You’ll have to pay back just a hair shy of triple what you borrowed. Your $100 dress costs you $300. Your $50 video game costs you $150.
That’s why credit cards are incredibly painful. The only situation in which credit cards can be a good thing is if you’re in a situation where you can pay off the balance in full each month. If that sounds impossible to you, then you shouldn’t have a credit card. It will cost you far more money and likely produce far more negative impact on your credit score than you’ll ever want.
I spent my money in countless foolish ways when I was first starting out. I don’t even want to calculate the money I lost to that first car, those poor grocery buying habits, those first stupid credit cards, and many other dumb moves that I could have easily avoided without giving up much of anything enjoyable in my life.
All I can do now is hand those mistakes – and what I learned from them – over to those who are just now entering that stage in life, so that they can perhaps make better choices and not find themselves in their late twenties and early thirties standing at the edge of a financial cliff.
The post Eleven Things I Wish I Understood About Personal Finance Before Starting Out appeared first on The Simple Dollar.
Published on by Jeff McLean