Trish and Stan take an Intrepid Sailing Voyage

P1000139

January 10, 2015

Trish’s Caribbean Report

Part I: This is island life.

I’m sitting under a couple of coconut palms, in a rattan chair, a view of the ocean in the distance. There are black and yellow butterflies on the red hibiscus flowers, and a lizard is watching me. In the tree beyond the terrace, I hear small yellow birds arguing noisily. I’m drinking a Carib beer and it’s barely 1 pm.

We’re in an Airbnb villa in the East End of Tortola for the next few days. A few hours ago, we got off of a 44’ catamaran which we shared for a week (a WEEK!) with 6 people we’d never met before:

Davide, from Milano, Mike, an Australian studying in Wisconsin, Yelena, from Croatia, now working in Phoenix, Karen and Mitch, both from the SF Bay area, and skipper Dean, originally from Dorset, England.

Everyone was roughly half our age. A good group, but we weren’t in charge of the sailing – Dean was, we just helped.

(The lizard is still staring at me. Not sure what it expects-)

We sailed from island to island, snorkeled often, went scuba diving, hiked up mountains, told stories over rum drinks in thatched restaurants, hoisted sails, picked up moorings, dropped anchor, and did most of the cooking ourselves on board.

P1000089

We visited Trellis Bay, Beef Island, Norman Island, Peter Island, even stayed overnight off Marina Cay – many of the same names I remember from the trip in 1960.

The winds were strong at times, and we were glad someone else was in charge of the boat. But it gave us a good start on our sailing adventure – Stan steered, we all helped reef sails and ran around in dinghies.

I was amazed at how many other boats are in the marinas – it’s like a National Park on Memorial Day Weekend. Every popular marina is full.

But in bays where you have to anchor, or where there’s no bar, it’s pretty empty.

Out in the water, too, there is little traffic, but most people want a “good” spot for the best restaurants and bars. There is some serious partying going on out there, although our group was pretty relaxed and low-key.

By the end of the week, our clothes were salty and used, the trash was full and the water tanks empty, towels refused to dry anymore, we had bruises from bumping into boat parts as we hurtled along in high winds, and we managed to eat all the food and drink all the rum.

Everyone else has to head home to work today and back to “real life” – we get to stay.

Going back to the beginning:

The first 2-3 days, we stayed in St.Thomas. It’s hopping, and crowded and busy and up to 4 cruise ships dock on a day. Some of those cruise ships carry as many as 7500 passengers. (!) Yikes.

My favorite place was an old hotel on the beach called the “Island Beachcomber”, where Mom and Dad had regular rooms when Xanadu was built. An aging but graceful property. With good memories. Still, ready to leave and get sailing after 2-3 days.

Took the ferry over to Road Town, Tortola, more relaxed but still busy. Did I mention I found a scorpion in the bathroom sink?

The West End is more chic, our area is pretty local, goats and chickens running around, potholes and small roadside tire repair shops, no glitz. So we’ll spend a couple days here to catch up on emails, do laundry, recharge camera batteries and begin to actually study our sailing books. The week on the boat went so quickly! Amazing.

DSC01798

Part II: Learning to Sail.

January 15 – 5 pm. After 2 days of “Keelboat” We are bruised, and sore, and tired, but – we actually did it!

I think both of us were pretty nervous about the whole thing – and justifiably so.

It was physically demanding, out there on the “high seas”, winds 20-25 knots, waves, and us in a simple little 24’ boat, heeling like crazy, water nearly reaching the edge of the boat, no idea what we are supposed to be doing.

Our instructor was a young Swede named Tim, who usually races big professional carbon-fiber boats, so he was perfectly at home, while I was in a fair panic about holding the rudder, bouncing up and down and all around.

Stan and I hoisted the sails, climbing up on the cabin trunk, manned the sheets, the tiller, tacked and jibed and tacked again, each time scrambling from one side of the boat to the other, ducking under the boom, did 180’s and PIW (person in water) rescues – and we actually retrieved the fender (the fake man overboard) each time!

I didn’t think it could be done.

We rounded buoys, aimed for islands, and we would figure out how to get there, and what we needed to do. It was up to us to set the course and take the necessary actions.

We docked at the fuel dock, on sail only, left the pier backwards, sailed (without an engine) between the mega catamarans – without incident, navigated the harbor entrance coming and going several times, avoided several high-speed ferries and a tanker, and a number of motoring yachts. We even brought the sailboat back and moored it beside another one, coming up perfectly parallel before we tied ours to it.

We attached and raised the sails, took them down, and did all the necessary knots in the sails.

And now – we are physically and mentally beat. What a workout! I mean, even just climbing in and out of these boats takes some thinking for us.

I was a bit worried before we started – we both were. Were we up to this? There were NO small sailboats out between the islands, much less one with a 60 and 65 year old learning to sail.

Even this morning, we discussed it – we were both pretty apprehensive after Day 1. But, like with scuba diving, I knew Day 2 would be better. And it was. So last night, we were pretty beat.

We met the instructor on the 36’ boat this morning – to learn how to use the winches – I thought: Yikes! How can Stan and I EVER hope to control this massive piece of equipment? All by ourselves? And not kill ourselves and others in the process?

But the day went well, and we did a LOT.

Tim gave us a pretty thorough workout. Of course, he’s 28, fit, and he’s been sailing since he was 7. He has no idea how clueless we are. And how hard it is for us. He just stands up in the steeply heeling boat, at what seems to us to be a death-defying 45 degree angle, calmly talking, while we are desperately trying to hold onto something and not fall out of the boat. Wow.

I am rather proud of us.

DSC01749

We tacked back and forth thru the marina, on sail alone, in our small motor-less comparatively tiny boat – thru all these mega yachts and mega catamarans, incredible wealth on display – and were able to find our way thru them, as crowded as they were, without hitting anything.

That part was really easier than I expected.

It was the heavy wind and waves and heeling that made me uncomfortable at first. But soon I realized that the waves mean little – it is all a question of wind. I didn’t know that.

And knowing who has the right of way and how to avoid other boats, what you’re supposed to do when 2 vessels come close to each other.

We met situations – and Tim would let us figure out how to get out of them on our own. How to de-tangle a twisted jib, how to recover from a missed tack and an uncontrolled jibe. We did a LOT. When we said good-bye to Tim, we were sweaty and salty and exhausted.

And so now we’re “home”, after negotiating the Tortola traffic, driving on the narrow roads, left- hand side, with the wheel on the American side, with crazies passing us on hairpin turns, up and down mountains, and having to maneuver, only an inch to spare, mirrors pulled in, thru the steep jungle road past another car, just to get to our place. *whew*

Stan is icing down his bruises (they are rather stellar, blue-violet and red-violet, and huge-) and I’m off to a hot shower. Then a glass (probably we’ll finish the bottle) of rose from Provence (a find in the chandlery) and we’ll be in bed by 9, as usual.

Tomorrow we take our sailing exam.

Here’s the weird part:

The exam is only required for people who want to charter boats. (We hope to get our International License, which gives us the option to charter in other countries.)

However:

If you BUY a boat – even a huge, 72’ mega-yacht with all the fancy instruments, gadgets and trimmings – there is no licensing requirement to drive the thing. You can get out there and just – GO.

This is a rather scary thought.

20150115_142547

There are a LOT of boats here. Mostly docked in a marina.

What happens is – someone buys a boat, and leases it back to a company as a charter, so they can count it as a business. This helps defray their cost, and they can write their own vacation off as a “business” expense.

So a lot of these boats are charters. Most people come down for just a week or two a year, if that. They bring some of their friends, but they’re not in practice. So they just motor along, and never even put up their sails! They don’t really know how to sail.

It’s more of a huge “party barge” – for a good vacation. (And it is!)

So when we sailed – with sail only – into the fuel dock, we got all sorts of cheers from the guys with mega yachts who had used their motors to get in there. They wouldn’t have been able to do what we did.

The world is a funny place.

 

A note from jlcollinsnh:

The above report came to me as emails from my pal Trish. The photos are also hers.

Close readers of this blog will remember her as one of the two who kidnapped me back in the mid-1970s while I was riding my bicycle around Ireland. She and Wolfgang, her then accomplice and now ex-husband, grabbed me out of my comfortable B&B in Dingle, stuffed me into the back of their VW Bug and hauled me up to Galway. Much pub crawling, music listening and hay-loft sleeping ensued, until they finally kicked me loose to make my own way back to my bicycle.

We have, of course, been friends ever since.

She has lived and worked all over the world, including Iran where they fled the revolution with the clothes on their backs to Germany and on to Liberia where they arrived the day of the revolution there to soldiers with automatic weapons milling about their house.

It was in Africa that she learned to fly and then…

…well then there is simply too much more adventure to recount here.

Fortunately, she has written a book:

It is filled with her stories and gorgeously illustrated with her own rather stunning watercolors. If you read closely, you’ll even find one or two that concern me.

Or you can check out some of her work here.

So, understanding all this, it is no surprise that she and Stan are now learning to sail with an eye on buying and living on a boat that they might very well sail around the world.

Pesimist:optomist quote

Posted in Guest Posts, Travels | 7 Responses

2014 Annual Louis Rukeyser Memorial Market Prediction Contest results, and my forecast for 2015

Just about this time two years ago I published a bit of satire titled How to be a Stock Market Guru and get on MSNBC. In it I mocked the idea that anyone can predict the short-term market and laughed at those who claim they can. Just as one of my financial heroes, Louis Rukeyser, used to do on his weekly TV program Wall Street Week.

Rukeyser

Louis Rukeyser

Every January Rukeyser would have his impeccably credentialed guests predict the market’s high, low and close for the year.  I forget his exact line, but after the predictions were in he’d say something like, “…with the understanding that even these exalted experts could be wrong, there you have it.”  And he’d wink knowingly into the camera.

Come the following December 31st he’d salute those few who’d come closest and chide the many goats.

The key thing his program and its parade of guests taught me is that, at any given time, some expert is predicting any possible future that could conceivably happen.  Since all bases are covered, someone is bound to be right.  When they are, their good luck will be interpreted as wisdom and insight.  If their prediction happened to be dramatic enough, it could also lead to fame and fortune. But it is all nonsense.

Sadly, Mr. Rukeyser passed away in 2006 and the current generation of investors is left without his insights and wisdom

But in that post, in his honor and his lighthearted spirit, I introduced the jlcolllinsnh.com 1st Annual Louis Rukeyser Memorial Market Prediction Contest. 

Then, after all this emphasizing of how silly such predictions are, I went and won the damn thing myself. At least on the high and close picks. In fact, my prediction for the 2013 high, at 1825, was a scant 24 points off the actual high of 1849. Doesn’t get much more precise than that. Or lucky. But even that wouldn’t have been good enough to win this time.

In the comments last January ~40 of you readers chimed in with your own predictions for 2014. Shortly I’ll share the winners and, of course, chide a few of you goats. So far, no one has equaled my first year feat of winning two of the three categories, although as you’ll see two of our winners came very close.

OK. So how did the market, as measured by the S&P 500, do in 2014 and how close did I come?

S&P 500 2014:

  • High: 2091 reached on December 29th
  • Low: 1742 reached on February 3rd
  • Close: 2059 on December 31st

jlcollinsnh said:

  • High: 2218, off by 127 points
  • Low: 1806, off by 64 points
  • Close: 2125, off by 66 points

Pretty impressive for a guy who doesn’t believe predicting the market is possible. But not nearly impressive enough to win even one of our categories this year.

So, who among my readers had the audacity to best me at my own game? Turns out there were several, but the best of the best are….

For the High:

Pura Vida Nick took the honors for his prediction of 2084 for the high, missing it by a scant 7 points.

His closing prediction of 2029 was also remarkably close to the actual close of 2059, but not close enough to win.

In his comment, he observed: “My crystal ball simply says I may get lucky, and that’s the only reason I would win anything.” Your becoming humility has served you well, Sir!

For the Low:

The very first commentor last year, Reepekg, takes the low crown with his prediction of 1735, also just 7 points off.

Of course, Reepekg cheated by using owl pellets to help select his winning number:

“I cracked open some owl pellets and divined…”

But then he has a history of using unfair tactics:

“It all started when I won a stock market game run by a major newspaper (beating 5 investment experts) at age 15 by picking companies that most closely resembled the names of girls I dated or had crushes on.”

Even so, he turned out to be way too pessimistic on his high of 1986 and close of 1937. Owl pellets and girls’ names can only take you so far.

For the Close: 

We had a three way tie. Each predicting 2050, just nine points off, were RW, Chris K and dude. 

RW consulted “…the tea leaves because my crystal ball is a bit cloudy after New Year’s eve.” Unfortunately, those tea leaves didn’t help him on his high of 2180, which was 89 points too optimistic and they led him to expect a “crop failure or a digital breakdown” which he said would drive the market down to 1680. 62 points too low.

RW also has the distinction of coming within a 1-point whisker of beating me for the high in the 2013 contest.

In picking his 2050 winning close number, Chris K said:

“No reason why I picked this other than I think the housing and automobile sales will continue to climb (thus giving everyone much more confidence)…” Indeed both housing and car sales improved, but that didn’t help with Chris’s 2197 high (off 106) or his 1648 low (off 94).

dude actually provided serious analisis for his winning closing prediction of 2050:

“IMF and others have been consistent in their predictions for 3% (or more) growth for the U.S. for 2014. Jobs numbers showing steady improvement. Bringing earnings up will keep P/E ratio in line with prices and make stocks still the place to be. U.S. oil production making us a stronger economy (if at the expense of our environment). Election year means the idiots in Congress will not toy with the economy this year. Obamacare gains traction and actually begins to spur entrepreneurialism as smart people in big companies strike out on their own without worrying about losing their health care. Wall Street will take profits here and there making for a few dips, but overall, the market continues its upward trend.”

He also came within 21 points of the high with his call of 2070. Even his 1680 low, while off by 62, beat my own by 2 points.

At the time, I replied:

“Dude! Your analysis makes such perfect sense your predictions are almost sure to be wrong!”

Turns out I was the one who was wrong. Thanks for spoiling my plans for mocking you this year, dude.

But just to show there are no hard feelings, we’re going to use your High prediction as the tie breaker and declare you the winner in this three way for closing.

Still, that’s the problem with round numbers, guys. If only one of you had showed a little gumption and come in at 2051. We can all learn a lesson from Fat Chance whose closing prediction was 2088.24. Now that’s precise. Wrong, but precise.

Fat Chance also tried to persuade me to end the contest early with his December 26 plea in the comments on last year’s post:

“Can you end the contest 2 days early? I am really, really close…..” How insulting! He didn’t even offer a bribe, so of course not.

How close was he?

  • High: 2100, off by only 9 points and off only 2 points from our winner.
  • Low: 1830, off a dismal 88.
  • Close: 2088, off 29

Well within bribing distance! He did, however, redeem himself with a great movie recommendation: Wolf of Wall Street

OK, enough of that. Let’s get on with chiding the goats!

goats

Poor goats. Always on the edge.

We’ll start with the Big Losers…

Carnac called for a close of 1585, missing it by 474 points for the worst call of all in that category. 1585 was also his call for the low, but fully five people did even more poorly in their lows. In posting his predictions, Carnac said, “Why? No idea…”

No idea, indeed! Still, he redeemed himself somewhat with his call for a high of 2133, only 42 off the mark.

Reekwind was our biggest, and wrongest, pessimist calling for a low of 1311, off the mark by a whopping 431. Thankfully.

He was also way too optimistic, with a 2380 prediction. But, like Fat Chance, his 2100 call for the close almost put him in the winner’s circle.

That’s quite a range and, as he said at the start: “I’m expecting a more volatile year…”

Last year, Rob Diesel was our overall winner. His 2013 high came in at #3, his low at #1 and his close at #2. Very impressive and nobody this year came even close to that overall performance. But this year? This year, not so much…

This year Rob is our biggest, and wrongest, optimist calling for a high of 2613, off the mark by a whopping 522. Wouldda been nice though!

He also posted the second worst performance in the closing category with his 2483 prediction, off by 424. Fortunately, his 1632 low missed by only 110, saving him from a clean sweep in the goats placing. Still, it’s enough to crown Rob our biggest loser!

Better luck in 2015, Rob!

Speaking of last year….

Shilpan came in second for predicting the low and third for the close. Amazingly, as with last year, his low of 1720 is again good enough for second place, off only 22 points. But his high and close, off 149 and 121 respectively, are only mid-pack this year. As he said: “I still have no crystal ball and believe that a monkey can do a better job of picking numbers than I on any given day.”

Not sure, but he might be calling you winners monkeys….

The Mad Fientist proved again this year that you can be a wicked smart financial blogger and still suck at predicting the market. While his high only missed by 61, his low was off by 140 and his close of 1757 missed by 302! I’m sure he is celebrating that mistake on the close with the rest of us.

Estate attorney Prob8 is a regular commentator around here and has become our resident death-taxes-probate-estate planning resource. He even has a guest post on the subject. Last year his predictions failed miserably. This year he said:
“My market predictor must need new batteries. Having now replaced said batteries, here is what my market predictor predicts:

High: 2125
Low: 1813
Year End: 2071

“If this thing doesn’t work this year I’m throwing it out and calling Martha Stewart.”

Mmmm. Missed by 34, 71 and 12. Not good enough to win in this very competitive year, but impressive none-the-less. Martha Stewart couldn’t have done any better. (And if you think you can, Martha, give it a try this year!)

The New Mexico Lobo expressed shock last year at what seemed to be unfounded and rampant optimism run amuck. His pessimistic predictions went on to earn him the title of biggest loser in the 2013 contest.

Posting under a new name, “George Hahn,” this year he said, ‘I hope that I can hold on to my coveted crown!!” and went on to predict:

  • High: 2032
  • Low: 1478
  • Close: 1663

Off by 59, 264 and 396. You’re still a big loser, Mr. Hahn. Just not the biggest this year.

Rummaging thru some more of last year’s comments and predictions, we also have….

Linda who told us: “From the outstanding results of the stock market this year, we can predict that the only way it can go is up in 2014! Everyone and their grandmother will be piling into the stock market anticipating the juicy inevitable returns, which will take it up by at least 20% at the high.”

Solid premise, even if we only got to an ~11% gain. That’s just half what you promised, Linda!

earlyretirementsg declared “I totally don’t believe in market prediction…” and then went on to make his anyway. Unfortunately, they were wrong. Although in calling for 1700 on the low, he got to within 42 points.

Dave @ The New York told us: “I’m pretty sure I’ll get this right through osmosis as the NYSE is in right here with me in NYC!”  And then went on to get it wrong. The closest he got was his 2117 call on the close, off by 58.

Frankies Girl “spent most of this year reading lots of blogs and learning what I could…” and then got it wrong. Perhaps more reading? Still, her 1777 low was only off 35, crushing Dave who has the NYSE right in his back yard!

Adam W. “…killed a chicken and spread its insides around. They formed a stock graph that clearly showed that the year was going to end down.” Wrong, but at least he tells us the chicken was delicious.

Anyways, Enjoy proved overly optimistic with his call for 2325 on the close.

“Why? Mostly because this New Year’s Eve I drunkenly argued that 2013 was the greatest year in the history of the world and that 2014 will be also be the greatest year in history.”

Surprise! Alcohol does not an accurate market prediction make.

OutBy54 confidently told us “A short term correction is inevitable during 2014.” Easy call, that. A short-term correction happens at least once most every year. Not this year! But then, as he confided, he “only spent 30 seconds thinking about it.” We got what we paid for….

“Inevitable.” I said in reply. “Now that’s the kind of mockable word usage I was hoping to see in these predictions….My hope, for mocking purposes, is that you’re dead wrong.” Wishes do come true!

Mark had “No real logic, just throwing some numbers out there.” They were the wrong numbers as it happens. But not as wrong as those of some claiming to use logic.

Ralph was also “Just throwing out numbers” that also happened to be wrong. But really, that’s all any of us are doing, Ralph just admits it!

also put “…my hat…in the ring, with minimum thinking involved.” Good to know coming up with the wrong answers doesn’t have to take much thought. Still, m is already bugging me in comments from last year as to when this post declaring his/her failure will appear. Here you go m: Your validation as a loser has arrived!

Mrs EconoWiser relied on “A little stock fairy” to give her the wrong predictions. Damn fairies.

jkenny said “Definitely feel like the market’s going to lose it’s head of steam by year end, but I felt that way in 2013 too. Could I have been wronger?!” Maybe not wronger, but wrong again none-the-less.

Jeremy of Go Curry Cracker fame said “Since I want the stock market to crash this year so I can move our bond position into stocks, I expect the stock market will do nothing but go up. This is pure science.”

Right on target and his 2089 close was only 30 points too optimistic. Better (worse?) luck in 2015, Jeremy!

Dave Schmidt whined:This is a very difficult prediction to make since I cancelled cable and I never hear any financial news or predictions these days.” And then went on to make some of the better predictions:

  • High: 2213, off by 122 (OK, this one’s not so good…)
  • Low: 1719, off by 23
  • Close: 2071, off by 12

Seems avoiding the financial news doesn’t hurt!

smedleyb complained in his comment/prediction last year about my having called him “completely wrong” in his predictions for the year before. Then he went on to say:

“A nearly 20% swoon lower in early spring puts the kibosh on this unrelenting bull. The market spends the year trading in a range as contradictory crosscurrents like higher incomes, improving confidence collide with rising rates and the resurgence of ‘fear,’ conspicuously absent from this market for the greater part of a year.”

And I get to say, “completely wrong” again!

Interestingly, his call of 2050 for the high would have tied him as one of the winners had only he made that his call for the close. Instead, he told us to expect 1800 at year’s end.

Maybe this year, smedley.

Think you can do better?

In the comments below post up your predictions for the S&P 500. Tell us the high, low and where it will close come December 31, 2015. And put in a line or two as to why so I’ll have something to mock you with when you fail.

All in good fun, of course, and knowing this is all just so much nonsense.

That right there is the difference from us here at jlcollinsnh and all those TV talking heads. While we’re all making predictions, unlike them, around here we know we’re just talking out our…

…hats.

For those of you who were wrong this year, there’s no reason you might not redeem yourself for 2015 if you’ve the courage to try once more. We’ll be waiting to mock you yet again if you fail. Heh.

For those who did well, let’s see you do it again. As Rob Diesel learned, mocking your failure will be even sweeter!

Don’t feel bad. In all likelihood, you’ll get to mock me too. Here are my 2015 predictions:

  • High: 2533
  • Low: 1812
  • Dec. 31st, 2015: 2471

Last year, when I made my calls, I was already planning to predict a down year for 2015. I figured this bull market, in which we’ve been basking, would be ready to pack it in. In fact, I didn’t really expect it to last thru 2014.

But here we are and, as we enter the new year, the economic recovery this rising market has been predicting seems to be here and getting stronger. My guess is the momentum will keep rolling and we’ll see an even better year than last. If I’m right, this will take the bull into its seventh year.

Along the way, I think we’ll also finally get a real correction in the 10-15% range, most likely in the first half. But I don’t expect it will last long.

Gee, reading that it almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about and really can divine the future. Don’t you believe it. And certainly don’t take any of this too seriously.  My crystal ball is just as cloudy as everybody else’s. My owl pellets are just as moldy.

I’m certainly not changing my investment allocation and strategy based on any of this nonsense and you shouldn’t either.  As Mr. Rukeyser would gleefully point out, past results are no indication of future performance and even I can be wrong. As I’d point out, I most often am. We’ll see come next New Year’s Eve.

Finally, thanks for your readership and support of this blog!

Happy new year

May Your 2015 be Healthy, Happy, Prosperous, Free and filled with Joy!

And on your journey remember:

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

                                                                               Jack Canfield

Posted in Money, Stock Investing Series | 67 Responses

Happy Holidays!

hatchetfish

If there’s life on other planets, ever wonder how bizarre it might be?

Certainly not as bizarre as these very real life-forms on this very strange world…

Earth -- this way sign

So: Is Earth’s Life Unique in the Universe?

As for us, we are off to Los Angeles for the holidays. We’ll visit some family and, after a year, I get to take a group of jlcollinsnh readers at Dreamworks up on their offer to visit and take an insider’s tour. Very exciting! Plus I’ll be doing my first ever reader meet-ups while out there. Then I’ll get to head back East by rail for my first ever transcontinental (LA-Boston) train trip.

But before all that I want to wish all my readers, regardless of where in the galaxy (or which galaxy for that matter) you may be:

A Joyous Holiday Season

and 

a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

Until next year, here are some random cool things that have caught my eye….

Are you about to be engaged? Congratulations! Now read these before you buy the ring:

A Brilliant Illusion

Have you ever tried to sell a Diamond?

I wish I had.

On the other hand, I’m glad I’ll never take this walk on Christ the Redeemer. Yikes.

itchy feet

Itchy Feet and an interview with Malachi Rempen

Garden video

The Garden, a video

paris street art

Paris Street Art

house in cliff

40 Very Cool Places in the World — The number I’ve visited: O

oakleykansas

Flatlands

Growing Pennies  — The next time you are negotiating your salary, offer them this deal: One penny a day, doubled each day.

Stop putting your money in the mattress

How much is $100 worth in your state?

gargolyal

What’s up with Gargoyles?

mag on painting

Magazine covers superimposed on classic art

sculpture cloths pin

Scluptue vanishing

Sculpture tripping

And more cool sculptures 

two-ocean-creek-4[2]

Two Oceans Creek: The branch to the left ultimately drains into the Atlantic and to the right, the Pacific.

House in moat

flooding-houses

People having a worse day than you

Finally, we’ve all seen videos of stunts gone horribly wrong. Here’s ~5 minutes of how cool it is when they go right:

People are Awesome

OK, Halloween is past, but it’s not to soon to think about your pumpkin plans for next year:

pumpkin-carving-by-ray-villafane-studios-9

More cool carvings

 Vintage Cars from between the 1900s and 1920s (6)

Vintage cars from 1900-1920

Dumpster living

Dumpster Living

weirdest-buildings-35

Weird Buildings

Finally, I’ll leave you with these seriously cool photos:

Best pics-KHellouin_funbest pics-lake on cliffBest pics-scottish_blackface_sheep_3_900

Here’s More

Posted in Random cool things that catch my eye | 16 Responses

Micro-Lending with Kiva

Kiva woman

She looks like a good risk to me.

For the past few months I’ve had $1500 burning a hole in my pocket.

Back in August I was working on a project helping a friend with her business. I had forgotten we had agreed on a $1500 fee until, as I was headed to the airport, she pressed a check into my hand. Perhaps this is why I’ve considered it “found” money ever since.

As such, and not having any other plans for it, I set to figure out something interesting to do with it.

I considered squandering it on something absolutely frivolous. But this goes against my nature and so I lack imagination along these lines.

I considered buying something we want and/or need. But, truth be told, we don’t want or need much and we are more interested in getting rid of stuff than acquiring more.

I considered giving it away, but we have a funded system already in place for that.

I considered, this being the Christmas season, converting it into 75 twenty-dollar bills and handing them out at the local shelter or soup kitchen. That could be interesting and fun, but would likely land me on the local evening TV news. Bleech.

So I gradually forgot about it. Floating about in our checking account, it seemed destined for covering the most pedestrian of expenses.

Then a bit of fortunate serendipity brought an old post David had written last December on The New York Budget about his experience with Kiva and micro-finance lending.

Micro-finance lending is a concept I came across a few years back and it has always intrigued me.

microfinance-pyramid

In many parts of the world, one of the key obstacles to rising out of poverty is the lack of access to affordable capital. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to start and/or grow a business.

Those of us living in the developed world tend to think of the key to financial success as a job. Indeed, we have come to think of access to jobs as a right. But in the developing world, not only is there no such right, such jobs are few and far between. Livings are made not by paychecks, but by hustle. You buy a box and some polish and shine shoes. You buy a cow and sell milk, or a chicken and sell eggs.

Of course, this takes capital. But not much, and this is where Kiva comes in. Using Field Partners around the world, Kiva connects lenders with borrowers. Their website provides profiles of the people looking to borrow and the amount they need. As a lender, you can provide as much or as little of any given loan as you choose. It only takes $25 to start.

In the comments on David’s post, I asked if he was still enthusiastic about his participation with Kiva a year on. He confirmed that he was. I then turned to Charity Navigator: Kiva for a bit of due diligence. Very impressive scores:

  • Overall: 98.76 (out of 100) for a top rating of 4-stars
  • Financial: 98.26 (out of 100)
  • Accountability: 100 (out of 100)

The next step was a fun tour around the world looking at the profiles and in the process getting a brief and fascinating insight into many lives. When the dust settled, we had made 16 loans, two for $50 each that completed the fund raising for those borrowers and the rest in $100 chunks. Here’s a sample:

  • In Palestine: To Kahadejeh to help repair her tractor.
  • In Tanzania: To Beatrice to help her buy used clothing for resale.
  • In Mongolia: To Bayarsaikhan to help him buy two cows.
  • In Tajikistan: To Sitora to help her pay for tuition.
  • In Philippines: To Cirila for organic fertilizer to help restore the soil she farms.
  • In Sierra Leone: To Hawanatu to help her buy stock for her grocery store.
  • In Nigeria: To Philibus Maigemu so he can afford to store the maize he grows for better prices later.

As you can see, we were fairly eclectic in our choice of country, gender and loan need. But you can sort your own search however you please.

Now here’s what I think is really cool about all this. Since these are loans, the money gets paid back. Kiva maintains a status report of all your loans and their payment schedule. As payments are made you can choose to have your money returned or you can re-lend it. Your money can help make the world a better place over and over and over again. That’s our plan.

If you have a financial mind like I do, you are probably wondering about default rates and currency risk. Here you go:

  • Default rate: ~1.11%
  • Loss to currency exchange risk: ~0.09%

Plus, according to Charity Navigator, the IRS accepts donations to Kiva as tax-deductible. But, as Greg points out in the comments below, this refers to donations made to Kiva to cover their operating expenses and not any micro-loans you make thru the site.

So if you’ve got some extra dough burning a hole in you pocket, and you know you do, click on this Kiva link and sign up.

Yep, this is an affiliate link, but not for jlcollinsnh. I figure since David brought this all to my attention, he deserves the link. When you sign up he’ll get a $25 credit in his Kiva account, which he has pledged to promptly lend out. It will help him reach his goal of having a loan in every country they offer.

If it went to me, my imagination just might kick in and the next thing you know I’d be squandering it on…

ice ball molds japan-ice-565

…a nice $1800 set of Japanese Ice Ball Molds

Addendum 1:

Several concerns about Kiva have been raised in the comments below. There are basically four:

1. Does the money you lend actually go to the individuals you chose?

2. Why is 34% the average of fees and interest charged by Kiva’s Field Partners?

3. Is Kiva, and micro-lending, charity?

4. Given the high rates of inflation in many of the countries where money is lent, how is it that lenders typically see their dollar-based loans paid back in full in dollars?

In the comments below you’ll find some lively discussion regarding these, including responses from Kiva and my take.

Addendum 2: 

Also in the comments, with an excellent Executive Summary, reader Gerrald introduces us to a micro-lending alternative: Zidisha

`

`

Updates:

Chautauqua in Ecuador February 7-14, 2015

We still have a few open spots so it’s not to late if you care to join us. Here’s the link to the registration page. But registration will close on December 20th, so if you plan to attend you’ll not want to put it off.

If you want to know more about what this is all about:

LA meet-ups: 

Looks like we’ll have two reader meet-ups and I’ll be visiting a group at Dreamworks:

  • Reader Meeting 1: Garden Grove lunch December 27, 2014
  • Reader Meeting 2: Glendale lunch January 3, 2015
  • Dreamworks: January 2, 2015

The Dreamworks event is private, but if you’d like to join either of the other two let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the organizers.

Hope to see you in Ecuador or California or someplace else down the road a piece!

Posted in Life, Money | 62 Responses

Chautauqua February 7-14, 2015: Escape from Winter

chautauqua-abilene-350

We’ve already missed this one in Abilene, 1929

Courtesy of Daily Yonder

If you have read this blog for long, or any of my Chautauqua posts, you know that for the last couple of years each Fall we have taken a small group to Ecuador for a week of adventure and conversation surrounding life, freedom, happiness and investing. We call it a Chautauqua, an old Native American word that Robert M. Pirsig, the author of  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,”  translates loosely as

“…an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.”

Both times now we’ve attracted an incredibly diverse and fascinating group of people. Almost everyone has described it as one of the (if not the) best weeks of their lives. To give you a flavor of what goes on, here’s my recap of the last one: Lighting Strikes Again.

chau nick 1

Hacienda Cusin

Photo by Nick, Chautauqua alumni 2014

We all know that, in reading blogs like this one, we are walking the path less traveled and frequently not understood by those in our daily lives. But for this one week we get to be surrounded by others who “get it.” The fact we get to do this in a stunning beautiful country while staying  at Hacienda Cusin, a gorgeous old estate and monastery built in the Andes mountains in 1602, still leaves me a bit slack-jawed.

And this time I also get to escape, if only for a week, a bit of the sometimes brutal New Hampshire winter. WooHoo!

As before, we’ll have four speakers:

Cheryl Reed

Cheryl Reed is the owner and founder of Above the Clouds Retreats and one of the most relentlessly happy people I’ve ever met. Here’s a story:

The son of her farm worker borrows her truck and promptly rolls it. Her response to this very poor young man: “There are three responsible parties for this. You, who rolled the truck. I, for letting you take it. God, for permitting it to happen. You will pay a third of the cost (bartered in his labor as he had no money), I will pay for a third and I will see what I can do about getting the final third from God.”

This delivered with a smile, a wink and a laugh. Clearly, Cheryl is someone I can learn from. Maybe you can, too. Her talk is Following Your Bliss.

paula pant

Paula Pant is a journalist, globetrotter, entrepreneur, investor who has traveled to 32 countries. She’s her own boss and lives on her own terms, and she’s figured out how to live and work anytime, anywhere in the world. She writes the wonderful and wonderfully named blog Afford Anything

Her talk is Three Rebellious Roads to Financial IndependenceIf you’re ready, Paula can teach you how to shatter limits and maximize your life.

I’m proud to call her a friend.

tyler lewke

Tyler Lewke is new to me. So new, in fact, this is the only picture of him I could find. Here’s what Paula has to say about him:

“…a rebel who blogs at the crossroads between capitalism and spirituality. He’s a corporate CEO who believes that “loving kindness … creates profit.” He’s the offspring between a genius scientist and a hippie (literally and symbolically), he hasn’t had an employer since age 17, and he blogs daily about the intersection between “hard core capitalism” and “contemplative service to others.” Tyler will speak about finding sustainable happiness in work and life.”

OK, I’m intrigued! How about you? Looking forward to meeting and hanging out with you, Tyler!

JLC

Then, of course, there’s me.

Here at jlcollinsnh we discuss mostly why you need F-you money and how to grow yours. In our conversations, Cheryl and I agree that money for the sake of money is almost completely uninteresting. But it is a wonderful tool. Financial independence allows greater freedom and range in the pursuit of happiness. That’s why my topic at the Chautauqua will be How to Harness the World’s Most Powerful Wealth Building Tool.

So these are your speakers and hosts. But unlike many events, we won’t be just getting up, giving our talks and disappearing. We’ll be hanging out with you all week. This is part of what makes these Chautauquas so special for us and for the attendees.

You’ll also have a chance to select two of us for private one-on-one-sessions. Each will be an hour-long and you’ll have a chance to discuss whatever issues are most pressing for you. To have time for these is one key reason why we limit attendance. While we’ll try to accommodate everybody’s first and second choices, slots will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. So if you want me, or if you want to be sure not to get stuck with me, you’ll want to sign up early.

We’ll also be exploring a bit of Ecuador together. We’ll:

Speaking of giving back, as with every Chautauqua, a full 10% of all profits will go to the The Project One Corner.

You’ll also have free time to visit the famous Otavalo Market, horseback ride, tour a rose plantation, paraglide, hike the mountains or just chill out at the Hacienda.

For more insights check out Paula’s excellent post. I especially like her take on who should come and, importantly, who should NOT come.

And Tyler’s: Ready for Adventure?

If you decide you should, and I hope you do, here is the registration page.

As before, attendance is limited. In the past we’ve been able to accommodate 25 attendees. But because Hacienda Cusin is in demand we were unfortunately not able to secure as many rooms as before. This means we’ll only be able to accommodate ~15-20 attendees, depending on how many room-sharing couples sign up. So this will be an even more intimate gathering.

Notes:

Los Angeles

December 26 – January 4 I plan to be in Los Angeles. I’ve never done a “reader meet-up” before, but I think it would be great fun. Maybe a small group of us meet for lunch and hang out for awhile? If you are interested let me know and, of course, I’ll need a volunteer(s) to select a venue and organize it.

LA update: Looks like we’ll have two reader meet-ups and I’ll be visiting a group at Dreamworks:

Reader Meeting 1: Garden Grove lunch 12/27
Reader Meeting 2: Glendale lunch 1/3
Dreamworks: 1/2

T&N

If you read my post Tuft & Needle: A better path to sleep and have an interest, you’ll want to read the Addendum just added to it.

Posted in Chautauqua | 17 Responses

Stocks — Part XXVII: Why I Don’t Like Dollar Cost Averaging

pile of money

At some point in your life you may find yourself in the happy dilemma of having a large chunk of cash to invest. An inheritance perhaps, or maybe money from the sale of another asset. Whatever the source, investing it all at once will seem a scary thing as we discussed in Part XVIII.

If the market is in one of its raging bull phases and setting new records each day, it will seem wildly overpriced. If it is plunging, you’ll be afraid to invest not knowing how much further it will fall. You risk wringing your hands waiting for some clarity and, as you should know by now, that will never come.

The most commonly recommended solution is to “dollar cost average” (DCA)  your way slowly into the market. The idea being, should the market tank, you will have spared yourself some pain. I’m not a fan of this strategy and will explain why shortly, but first let’s look at exactly what dollar cost averaging is.

When you dollar cost average into an investment you take your chunk of money, divide it into equal parts and then invest those parts at specific times over an extended period.

Let’s suppose you have $120,000 and you want to invest in VTSAX, the total stock market index fund we’ve been discussing throughout this Series. Now having read this far in it, you know the market is volatile. It can and sometimes does plunge dramatically. And you know, therefore, this could happen the day after you invest your $120,000. While unlikely, that would make for a very miserable day indeed. So instead of investing all at once you decide to DCA and thus eliminate this risk. Here’s how it works.

First you select a time period over which to deploy your $120,000, let’s say the next 12 months. Then you divide your money by 12 and each month you invest $10,000. That way, if the market plunges right after your first investment you’ll have 11 more investing periods that might perform better. Sounds great, right?

This does eliminate the risk of investing all at once, but the problem is that it only works as long as the market drops and the average cost of your shares over the 12 month investing period remains on average below the cost of the shares the day you started. Should the market rise, you’ll come out behind. You are, basically, trading one risk (the market drops after you buy) with another (the market continues to rise while you DCA meaning you’ll pay more for your shares). So which risk is more likely?

Assuming you were paying attention while reading the earlier Series posts, you know that the market always goes up but it is a wild ride and no one can predict what it will do in any given day, week, month or year. The other thing to know is that it goes up more often than it goes down. Consider that between 1970 and 2013, the market was up 33 out of 43 years. That’s 77% of the time.

At this point you are probably beginning to see why I’m not a DCA fan, but let’s list the reasons anyway:

  1. By dollar cost averaging you are betting that the market will drop, saving yourself some pain. For any given year the odds of this happening are only ~23%.
  2. But the market is about 77% more likely to rise, in which case you will have spared yourself some gain. With each new invested portion you’ll be paying more for your shares.
  3. When you DCA you are basically saying the market is too high to invest all at once. In other words, you have strayed into the murky world of market timing. Which, as we’ve discussed before, is a loser’s game.
  4. DCA alters your asset allocation strategy. Suppose you had $100,000 and your allocation was 50% stocks, 25% bonds and 25% real estate equity in an investment house. Now you decide to sell the house, planning to invest the $25,000 from it into your stocks for a 75/25 stock/bond allocation. If you decide to DCA, your real allocation in the beginning is not your 75/25  target. It is 50/25/25: 50% stocks, 25% bonds and 25% in cash.  You are holding an outsized allocation of cash sitting on the sideline waiting to be deployed. That’s OK if that’s your allocation strategy. If it’s not you need to understand that, in choosing to DCA, you’ve changed your allocation in a deep and fundamental way.
  5. Unlike stocks, the cash you have waiting to invest is not earning dividends. For example, VTSAX pays ~2% in dividends.
  6. Your cash should earn some interest, but with rates being under 1% and inflation running at around 3%, each year your cash effectively loses ~2%. Combined with the dividends not collected (Point #5) that’s a 4% drag on your returns.
  7. When choosing to DCA, you must also chose the time horizon. Since the market tends to rise over time, if you chose a long horizon (say, over a year) you increase the risk of paying more for your shares while you are investing. If you chose a shorter period of time, you reduce the value of using DCA in the first place.
  8. Finally, once you reach the end of your DCA period and are fully invested, you run the same risk of the market plunging the day after you are done.

What to do instead?

 path middle-path1-1024x561

Well, if you’ve followed the strategies outlined in Part VI, you already know whether you are in the wealth accumulation or wealth preservation phase.

If you are in the wealth accumulation phase you are aggressively investing a large percentage of your income. In a sense, this regular investing from your monthly income is a form of unavoidable dollar cost averaging and it does serve to smooth the ride. The big difference is you’ll be doing it for many years or even decades to come.

But you are putting your money to work as soon as you get it in order to have it working for you as long as possible. I’d do the same with any lump sum that came my way.

If you are in the wealth preservation stage, you have an asset allocation that includes bonds to smooth the ride. In this case, invest your lump sum according to your allocation and let that allocation mitigate the risk.

If you are just too nervous to follow this advice and the thought of the market dropping shortly after you invest your money will keep you up at night, go ahead and DCA. It won’t be the end of the world.

But it will also mean that you’ve adjusted your investing to your psychology rather than the other way around.

Posted in Stock Investing Series | 55 Responses

Jack Bogle and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

jack-bogle

Jack Bogle 

Jack Bogle on why he started Vanguard

Above is a picture of Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, the creator of the modern low-cost index fund and my personal hero. If you aspire to be wealthy and financially independent, he should be yours as well.

Before Mr. Bogle the financial industry was set up almost exclusively to enrich those selling financial products at the expense of the customers. It mostly still is.

Then Mr. Bogle came along and exposed industry stock-picking and advice as worthless at best, harmful at worst and always an expensive drag on the growth of your wealth. Not surprisingly, Wall Street howled in protest and vilified him relentlessly.

Mr. Bogle responded by creating the first S&P 500 index fund. The wails and gnashing of teeth continued even as Bogle’s new fund went on to prove his theories in the real world:

The best performance over time is achieved by buying and holding all stocks in a low-cost index fund. Stock picking, and the actively managed funds that employ it, are fated to fall behind, dragged down even further by their higher fees. So rare is the active manager who can actually outperform over time, the few that do become famous house-hold names:  Buffett, Lynch, Price.

As the years rolled on and the evidence piled ever higher, Mr. Bogle’s critics began to soften their voices; mostly I’d guess because they had begun to sound pretty silly. Other fund companies, realizing that their customers were becoming ever less willing to accept high fees for questionable performance, even began to offer their own index funds in an effort to keep them from walking out the door. Personally I’ve never believed their hearts were in it, and for that reason my money stays at Vanguard.

Almost everyday now I get an email or a comment on this blog thanking me for the investing information I provide, especially in the Stock Series. I’m deeply honored by this and such messages are deeply motivating. But everything here has it’s roots in the work Mr. Bogle has done and it is he who has provided the essential tools we need to most efficiently and quickly reach financial independence. If I’ve provided a flickering candle to light the way, his work has been a white-hot sun.

So, if you are one of the many readers who have written to me in thanks, or if you haven’t but have felt you’ve found benefit here, I ask you to join me in making possible a honor that my personal hero and our collective financial saint, Mr. Bogle, truly deserves:

Presidential Medal

The Presidential Medal of Freedom

The fact that Mr. Bogle is being considered for this honor was recently brought to my attention by my pal Gouri, who I met and got to know at this year’s Chautauqua.* If you want to join in this effort, Gouri’s email to me below tells you how:

As you probably know, Boglehead leaders submitted a letter nominating Bogle for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian honors:

http://www.bogleheads.org/blog/john-bogle-nomination-for-the-presidential-medal-of-freedom/

Given that Jack is 85, has had at least six heart attacks and one heart transplant, time is precious to have him receive the honor in his lifetime.

Please consider sending a personal card, letter, postcard or email via White House website, however simple or detailed, to President Obama to help nudge the cause forward:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Alternate address per http://topic-finder.com/finance/investing/general/37524-john-bogle-presidential-medal-of-freedom.html :

Executive Office of the President
The White House
ATTN: Executive Clerk’s Office
Washington, DC 20502

 Thank you, Gouri, for bringing this to my attention and thank you in advance to those of you who chose to help. I gather that the decision will be made in the next 30 days or so, so if you are going to do it, please do it now.

The truth is, my guess is that the unpretentious, clear-minded, straight shooting Jack Bogle doesn’t give a rat’s ass about receiving this award. If you click on the link below his photo above you’ll see the list of those he’s already received is extensive. But he deserves it nonetheless and his receiving it will send an important message to an industry that sorely needs to hear it and, perhaps, to those investors yet to see the light.

 

 

*Speaking of the Chautauqua, this seems a good place to share with you an advance notice that the next will be held February 7-14, 2015. I’ll be formally announcing it sometime later this month, but most of the details are already up on the Above the Clouds website. We plan for this one to be even smaller and more intimate than the last: 15 or 20 people.

We’ll have two new speakers and I’ll get to escape a bit of the NH winter. Depending on where you live, maybe you too!

Posted in Life, Money | 27 Responses

Tuft & Needle: A better path to sleep

 Mansion6

About a decade ago and roughly a mile from where I lived at the time there was a mansion on a hill. As I don’t much care about mansions I don’t recall many of the details. I do remember a huge pool in the center of the house with columns running along the sides and reaching up to the glass ceiling far above and the various courtyards that the sprawling building wrapped around. These I remember because they were where the party was held.

Hundreds of people attended this annual event. The man who owned the house invited all his friends, all his employes and, to avoid complaint, all the neighbors. That last was how we made the cut.

The fine liquors flowed and the food was wildly diverse. Both were relentlessly replenished and each courtyard held a different live band. Indeed, the best Blues I’ve ever heard was in one of those courtyards here in New Hampshire. And I grew up in Chicago.

It was the kind of party Gatsby would have thrown if Gatsby had had, you know, real money.

I got to know our host fairly well over the years. He made his money in many and various enterprises and unfortunately one of these involved buying and bulldozing the 150 acres of woods behind my house. This land had been logged by the earliest settlers who then tried to farm the rocky soil, building beautiful stone walls in their vain attempts to clear the fields. Eventually they gave up and the forest returned. When hiking it I was always trespassing, of course.

I enjoyed it mostly in late Fall, Winter and early Spring when the bugs were gone and the low, marshy spots were frozen. The dog and I would wander about, inspecting the old hunter’s blinds and the two shot-up derelict cars from the 1940s. It was hilly terrain and there was a lovely little pond tucked into a ravine. Chunks of granite stuck up out of the ground here and there and a couple of these made fine spots to sit, rest and enjoy a cigar. Only once did I ever see anyone else back there.

By the time his crews had finished, the hills were leveled, the pond drained, the derelict cars hauled off and not even the granite outcroppings remained. I couldn’t identify a single landmark I’d once known. In their place was a nice flat suburban subdivision with winding roads named after his daughters and million-dollar houses on the rise.

But his real money was made selling mattresses. He owned a chain of retail stores for that purpose. Because I knew him, I got to know just how incredibly profitable selling “discount” mattresses is. Because he tore down “my” forest, when I needed one I bought from his competitor. I still paid too much.

I paid too much partially because his competitor enjoyed the same handsome markups and partially because I bought a high quality mattress. This quality assessment I based on the fact that it was expensive and fancy.

I was willing to pay for expensive and fancy because I don’t sleep well. Most folks chalk this up to the likelihood that I have a bad conscience. Could be.

Unfortunately, the expensive and fancy new mattress did nothing for my conscience or my insomnia. In fact, we had it replaced three times.

Each time they sent out a Mattress Inspector. Did you know there were such things as Mattress Inspectors? I didn’t.

Anyway, each time the inspector came to our home, took careful measurements, sent in his report and shortly thereafter we received a new mattress. Seems it would have been cheaper just to send out the replacements without the inspector but then, what do I know?

This was all very odd as presumably the inspector found the mattress defective and yet each replacement was exactly the same. Finally we gave up and just chose to live with it, looking forward to the time when we could justify replacing it. Hopefully with a better choice.

As it happens, earlier this year I was planning to do just that. Not a task I was looking forward to. Then, in the summer, I received an email from Daehee Park.

T&N founders on bed

Mr. Park and his partner John-Thomas Marino

Operating this blog I get lots of emails trying to entice me into featuring some product or another so as to pawn it off you. It takes me about 3 seconds to hit the delete button. I was a breathe away from doing the same with Mr. Park’s.

But something made me pause. I read it more carefully and decided to respond. Among other things I said:

“So my first question is, do you really read my blog and has it really helped in launching your business? I’d ask that you take a moment to tell me how and what you like about it, just so I know this isn’t a spam email.”

I figured this would chase him away. But instead I got a reply that said in part:

“I originally came across your blog through a link/comment over at Mr. Money Mustache.

“Following your advice, especially the Stock Series, I got my personal savings plan in order while bootstrapping Tuft & Needle. I opened a Roth IRA for the first time and set up a 401k plan for the company. I took your portfolio advice and selected the recommended low-cost Vanguard funds (mainly VTSAX). It was tough getting it going while committing resources to a startup, but I’m glad I developed the ritual and habit early on.

“My favorite and most useful post, which I also refer our team members to is this one: http://jlcollinsnh.com/2011/06/08/how-i-failed-my-daughter-and-a-simple-path-to-wealth/

Then, being the astute businessman he clearly is, he went on to tell me a bit more about his company:

“Back in 2012, my co-founder JT and I left the software technology industry in Silicon Valley and launched Tuft & Needle with $6,000 of our own savings. We’ve grown quite a bit since then. We’re now 15 team members and we did over $1MM in sales in the first quarter of 2014.

“…we are trying to a) cut out the middleman markups and b) put the customer experience first.”

It didn’t take long for me to start thinking of these guys as the Republic Wireless of the mattress space. That is, a way to buy a better mattress at a lower cost and not have to do business with the guy who ripped up “my” forest. Not that I’m one to hold a grudge.

So I began my due diligence. Anyone who reads this blog knows I value simplicity and here the T&N folks score big.

You chose what thickness you want (5″ or 10″) and you chose what size you need. That’s it. You’re done.

I also value, well, value. Depending on size, your T&N mattress will cost you between $250 and $750. That’s right. You can’t pay more than $750 even for their biggest, thickest king size mattress. Shipping is, as it always should be in my opinion, free.

Didn’t take long before my personal order was in: 10″ Queen. $600. To put that price in perspective, my same-sized fancy mattress from the “discount” store in 2007 cost $1299.

It arrived, as promised, on the appointed day. When I got home I expected to find a large rectangle waiting to be unpacked. Instead it was a more compact, but still large, cylinder. That’s interesting, I thought.

This cylinder was tightly wrapped in plastic and as I carefully cut this away the mattress, which had been very tightly rolled and bound, began to inflate. “Inflate” is really the wrong word. It wasn’t actually being pumped up with air or anything. But that’s what it looked like. That, or some monster breaking free of it’s bonds.

Mmmm, I thought, this can’t be good; as much fun as it is to watch.

I don’t like air mattresses and I couldn’t get the whole inflate concept out of my head. But I shouldn’t have worried.

In short order it expanded (ah, that’s the better word) to it’s full size and has proved comfortably firm. And, importantly, when I move or my wife does, the movement isn’t transferred across to the other person.

I’ll let you go to their very cool website for the details of how these mattresses are made and why they perform so well. But I will say one of the best things is that these guys aren’t just middle-men. They custom manufacture their products to their own specifications.

T&N crafting_0065

 So, we’ve been sleeping on our T&N mattress for a couple of months now and we remain thoroughly impressed. I doubt we’ll need another for many years to come, but when we do this is where we’ll return.

Ok, let’s see. What else?  Well…

…They offer a 30 day trial and a 7-year warranty. I can’t speak to either of those because there is no way I’m letting them have mine back. But I do like the attitude reflected in what they say about it:

“Contact us if you’d like to make a return so that we may begin our hassle-free process for a full refund.”

…They don’t pick up and dispose of your old mattress. This initially concerned me but at their suggestion we contacted The Salvation Army and the problem was solved easily enough and in a way that benefited somebody else.

…They don’t sell box springs. But we already had ours. Plus, if I were buying a bed frame again I’d get a platform style. It’s that whole simplicity ethic again. Box springs really are silly extra things.

That’s about it.

So if you need a mattress, and I can’t imagine you’ve read this far if you don’t, this is the place I use.

I like the company. I like their product,  I like their prices,  I like their service, I like their style, I like their business ethic and approach and I like them.

That’s why Tuft & Needle is only the third company ever, along with Betterment and Republic Wireless, I’ve accepted as an affiliate. For me each is a big step and one I’m slow to take.


If you click on the ad directly above, it will take you to that really cool website I mentioned earlier. There you’ll find lots more information and you can begin your own due diligence.

Then, if you decide to buy (and by way of full disclosure) this blog will earn a small commission. Your price is the same regardless.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, as nice as it is, my new T&N mattress has not cured my insomnia. But, I’m a whole lot more comfortable now staring thru the darkness at the ceiling.

 

 

Addendum, November 21, 2014: 

T&N recently announced a new version of their mattress incorporating a new type of foam. Responding to a question about their recent price increase (I’ve now updated the prices in the post) in the comments below, Evan Maridou explains:

Evan here from Tuft & Needle. I head up our customer experience and operations teams.

Thanks for raising this concern. We’re all about transparency as a company so here we go! I apologize in advance as this is an incredible amount of information. We just want to be as honest as possible and give you all of the details (something we should have been more proactive about in the first place.)

This past Tuesday, we started shipping a new version of our mattress. We’ve been working over the past year to develop a new type of foam. For years, the industry has had the same three options in foam: Memory Foam, Latex Foam and Poly Foam.

Before Tuesday, we used poly foam. All three have their pros and cons. And for years, mattress companies have tried to layer them on top of each other to realize the benefits of each. It honestly just doesn’t work.

While we used our poly foam, we heard a few complaints from customers. Not many, but they kept us awake at night none the less. So we set out to address these.

The new foam we’ve created is truly unique. We partnered with some of the best manufacturers in the United States and created it from scratch. We’re not big fans of gimmicky names but I can tell you that we are the only place that offers this new formulation.

The biggest innovation in the foam is that it is more comfortable for more people. If you have our current foam and find it comfortable, this foam wouldn’t feel like much of an improvement. But for anyone in the past who has returned our foam for being too firm or too soft, we’ve devised a way to provide different levels of comfort to different individuals. We’re now able to set the firmness for individuals of any weight, independent of each other.

The new foam also has a new technology we call localized bounce. Memory foam is great in that you won’t feel your partner moving around. The downside is that it feels like quick sand when you try to roll over. Our new foam is both responsive and pressure relieving. It’s like that old commercial where someone would put a wine glass on the bed and drop a bowling bowl on the other-side and the glass wouldn’t move. The only problem was the bowling bowl wouldn’t bounce. On our foam, it will.

The final innovation is better pressure relief. Again, for owners of our current foam who find it comfortable, they’re not missing out by not owning the new foam. But for the customers who chose to return their mattresses for being too firm, they would likely find our new foam to be extremely comfortable.

There are only two downsides to this foam. It’s heavier and it costs A LOT more to make. The heavier piece doesn’t have an impact on the consumer, except that the box it ships in is slightly heavier to lift when you first move it in. After that, it won’t have any impact on comfort. It’s also no heavier than a traditional mattress. It is heavier than our previous version though.

We’re using this foam on the top 30% of the mattress. Using it all the way through would cost way too much and does absolutely nothing for comfort (The same way a box spring has little to no impact on comfort level). Just how much more expensive is this new foam? It’s three times the cost of the old foam we were using.

The good news is that foam is only part of the cost of our mattress, and in this case, only 30%, of part of that cost, has increased in price by 3x. This is where you saw price increases of up to 25%

John Lynch also made a good point that our King Size mattress price increased more than the rest, up to 25%. The reason for this is the increase in weight was most profound on our king size mattress. FedEx (and UPS) charge us based on three factors when shipping a mattress. How much it weighs, how much space (cubic volume) it occupies and how far it travels. The king size mattresses now cost more to ship than our old king size mattresses. And the increase in price related to shipping was much more expensive for the King size mattresses than the rest.

All of this is a long way of saying that our price increase only reflects our increased cost for making this new product.

Some people might argue that this is still our fault for not setting our prices with enough cushion in the first place to handle increasing costs of manufacturing. Or that if we were developing this product over the course of the year, we could have slowly introduced price increases over time.

We whole-heartedly disagree. One of our core values as a company is to charge fair and transparent pricing. It would be completely unfair (in our opinion) to charge our customers a higher price before this new product arrived. We wanted to ensure that only those individuals who got our new foam, paid a higher price.

So to address your specific concerns, we’ve operated our company with the same margin since we started. It’s modest and is enough to cover our costs, pay our employees competitive wages, manufacture in America and continue to innovative on our product.

Our goal was never to create the cheapest product. It was to create a product of superior value. We’re not blind to the fact that this was a significant price increase. That being said, our goal from day one has been to make the best mattress in the world, at a fair price. We truly believe that this new version is a major step in reaching that goal.

We back all of this up with our 30 day return policy. You can return the mattress for any reason at absolutely no cost to you. No questions asked.

Next week, we will also be announcing that we are increasing our warranty to 10 years. This will apply to new as well as existing customers. We stand behind the quality of our mattress and are always looking for ways to increase the value we provide to consumers.

I hope this helps provide some clarity on why we chose to increase our prices. We really do appreciate your feedback and if we’re putting ourselves in your shoes, we agree these price increases are a bit shocking. We apologize for not being more in front of this and explaining all of this reasoning to our customers in the first place. With the information available, your conclusions were fair and warranted.

If you have any other questions, we’re always standing by. You can email myself or our cofounders and we’d be happy to discuss it in more detail. [email protected][email protected]or [email protected].

I said it before but I want to re-iterate that we’re grateful for your feedback. Our customers have called us out before (why are your products $299 and not $300) and we’re only better because of it.

Cheers!

Posted in Stuff I recommend | 58 Responses

Nightmare on Wall Street: Will the Blood Bath Continue?

nightmare_by_jflaxman-d71ifma

Nightmare on the Wall (Street)

Courtesy of jflaxman

The headline for today’s (Saturday, Oct 18th) post I ripped off from a major financial media outlet. I’m so ashamed.

It was the actual headline from a piece they put up this past week to describe the market action on Wall Street. They should be even more ashamed.

Yikes! Nightmares and Blood Baths. Oh, my.

So what actually happened? Well, let’s see.

The market, as measured by the S&P 500, stood at ~1908 at the opening bell on Monday October 13th. This was already down ~100 points, or 5% from it’s all time high of ~2008 a couple of weeks back.

By Wednesday it had dropped to ~1823, triggering the “Blood Bath” headline and many more like it. That was another 4.5% drop, bringing the total loss from that all-time high to ~9.2%. Not quite the 10% that defines a market “correction” — a common and healthy event.

Also not quite enough to make it worth my trouble to rebalance my allocation and pick up some now cheaper shares. Even if I had been quick enough to do so.

And quick you’d have needed to be. Thursday and Friday brought the S&P back up to ~1887, trimming the loss from the all-time high to a meager 6%. Oh, well. Maybe next week.

So what to make of such a headline?

Well, perhaps the author has never actually seen a financial nightmare or blood bath and so mistook this week’s little blip for one. Or maybe the dramatic Halloween themed phrasing was simply too sweet to resist. Or maybe it is no more than the media’s relentless need for attention; a scary new costume to wear for the day.

But if the financial media is in such a tizzy over this not quite correction, imagine the panic if we get a real one. Or a Bear (-20%). Or an actual market crash of 40%+. With “nightmare” and “blood bath” already used up, it’s gonna be tough to write headlines for those.

Of course it is all too silly. Sensible people know we’ll all be dead of Ebola before the month’s end.

Meanwhile, here at jlcollinsnh.com we had an actual nightmare. After getting steadily more and more glitchy over the last several weeks, the blog crashed and burned. I won’t bore you with details, but the issues were major and tough to resolve.

Fortunately, I had gotten an excellent response to my Help Wanted post. As it happens, I was in conversation with my new personal hero, Lucas, when the blog fully ground to a halt. He jumped in and after two days of almost non-stop effort the site is back and the issues mostly resolved.

My apologies if you tried to log on this week and found it either completely down or painfully slow. It should be all better now with just a couple of formatting issues yet to be repaired.

If you tried to leave a comment this week, please check to see if it made it through. One of the issues was the blog got slammed with a huge volume of spam. We were dumping it overboard by the bucket full and buried in the tens of thousands might have been yours. Please post it again.

Also, if you’ve posted a question bear with me. Not having access to the blog for the better part of the week, and all the time this has taken, has me behind. But I’ll get there.

The really cool thing to come out of this has been the chance to connect with some great people, like Lucas, who so value what happens here they stepped up to volunteer their help and ideas. More than I can possibly use.

My thanks to those of you who have already helped and to those still standing by, ready and able. It has been an honor to connect with each of you and a relief to know you have my back.

In addition to the technical support needed to solve these immediate issues, I now have access to still more cool ideas and the talent to implement them.

One change you’ll already notice is the ads that had been in the right hand column are gone. The banner ad at the top and the square ad imbedded in some posts, like this one, are from Google Adsense. I have no control over what companies and products appear. But if you choose to click on them and poke around on their sites, this blog earns a few bucks to keep the lights on.

The other source of light-keeping-on revenue around here are the affiliate partners. These are companies and products I do choose. You can tell which ones, because I write a full post about them describing why I endorse them. But this is tough. There is very little out there I think enough of to recommend to you.

So far, I’ve only found two: Betterment and Republic Wireless. If you click on the links in those posts, and then chose to buy from or do business with those companies, the blog earns a commission.

I’m excited that I have finally found a third and hope to have a post up about them shortly. You won’t believe what the product is, but I’m already very happily using it myself.

Oh, and if you are wondering why I don’t have an affiliate relationship with Vanguard, it is simply because they don’t have them. Maybe someday…

In addition to the changes with the ads, shortly you’ll be seeing some new features in that column. There might even be a new theme and design in the works. Plus I’ve got a folder full of post ideas waiting for me to make the time. So stick around and keep a sharp eye.

IMG_20141011_145753542_HDR

While Wall Street is having self-induced nightmares and the blog has gone thru some real ones, Mrs. jlcollinsnh and I have been out and about enjoying the New Hampshire Fall.

IMG_20141011_145743147-1024x575

I hope the world and life is as beautiful where you are!

Update –Monday October 20: The market closed today at 1904, down 4 points from where it stood at the beginning of last week — the week of nightmares and bloodbaths. That’s down .002%. You can’t make this stuff up.

Update 2 — Revenue spike: Since putting up this post I’ve noticed a spike in ad revenue. This is odd because, as I mentioned above, the Skyscraper ad that used to appear in the sidebar has been eliminated. I did this for a cleaner look and I fully expected, and was prepared to accept, a drop in revenue as a result. The only conclusion is that some of you have chosen to support the blog by clicking into the remaining ads. To those who have, I thank you!

Update –Friday October 31: Today the market closed at a record 2018, just 12 trading days since dropping to the low of 1823 that triggered the Bloodbath headline. Happy Halloween!

Posted in Money | 39 Responses

Help Wanted

help-wanted-pony-express

Pony Express

When I launched this blog back in the good old days, I barely knew what a blog was. I had heard the term but I had never actually seen one. I joke that the first blog post I ever read was the first post I ever wrote. If it is funny it is because it is true.

In that Spring of 2011 I was writing some letters to my daughter concerning a few financial things I thought she should know but that she wasn’t yet ready or willing to hear. These were my insurance against the possibility that should I not be around if and when the time came, she’d still be able to access what I had to say.

I shared these with a business friend who suggested other friends and family members might find them useful. He suggested the blog and pointed me to WordPress. This is why it is titled jlcollinsnh.com; I wanted these people to know it was me. I never dreamed it would have a broader audience. For that matter, I had no idea there were other financial blogs out there, most with clever and descriptive names.

After about a year, thanks in large part to this guest post Mr. MM asked me to write, the readership here began to explode. The blog now has an international audience and generates ~100,000 pages views a month from ~35,000 unique visitors. I’m told this is pretty good.

I’m not sure about that, but what I do know is that keeping it up and running has become increasingly more expensive and complex. Last Spring, for instance, it crashed and burned – finally going off-line completely. By imposing on the generosity of my blogging friends and Mrs. jlcollinsnh, who is far more temperamentally suited than I in dealing with this stuff, we finally realized we needed a more robust hosting service, picked one and got the site migrated.

Mainly because we really didn’t know what we were doing or how to do it, it was a bloody nightmare. It felt like God telling me my blogging days had run their course, and I very nearly shut the doors. But cooler heads prevailed.

I’m glad they did. Almost every day I get emails or comments from readers telling me how valuable the information here has been for them. The praise is almost embarrassing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit to it being very gratifying. Motivating, too. Perhaps more than anything I’ve ever done, with this blog I have the feeling of contributing in a positive way.

The blog has also introduced me to many new and fascinating friends and their ideas. It has allowed me to help create cool new events like the Chautauquas and to attend cool events created by others like FinCon.

So I have reason to want to continue with it. But the problems have not gone away and the expenses are growing.

Over the past week the blog has again begun to have some operating issues and, at the suggestion of Synthesis (my new host since last Spring), I just updated to their more powerful (and costly) service. However, there are still snags and they have given me a list of plugin changes, upgrades and deletions they suggest. Plus WordPress is nagging me to upgrade to 4.0.

I’m very reluctant to take these steps because, in the past, one change leads to something else not working creating a snowball effect that has me sitting on the window ledge. I’m clearly going to need help.

Who better to ask than the smartest people in the world: The readers of this blog.

help-wanted $10

If you have the technical expertise and believe in the mission of this blog (and that last is very important to me), please read on. Here’s what I think I need:

1. Technical WordPress support. Keeping the blog updated and the plugins current and optimal.

2. Design help. Making the blog as appealing, simple, useful and easy to read and navigate as possible.

3. Technical interface with Synthesis, either directly or helping me understand how to work with them effectively.

4. Help to better monetize the blog. As I mentioned, the costs of operating it are rising. While I’ve added Adsense and have a couple of affiliate programs with Betterment and Republic Wireless, I don’t really understand how these things work and how they might work better for me. Or if there are other options that might work better still.

This is further complicated by the fact there are many ways to monetize that don’t serve my readers and which I am therefore unwilling to adopt. Here the reader will always come first and anyone wanting to help in this regard should be on board with this ethic.

5. Other important stuff I’m not experienced enough to know I need.

I don’t expect, or even want, only one person to do all this.

In addition to technical expertise I’m looking for people who sweat the details, take the time to understand what is being asked and who are great communicators. People who respond promptly, are dead reliable and who do what they say they will when they say they will. It’s a lot to ask for the little tasks this blog needs, but that’s why I’m only interested in people who deeply understand and value what I’m trying to do here.

If you think you’d like to help, send me an email: [email protected]

In it tell me who you are, what you can do, how I can know you can do it, why you want to, why I can trust you and why we’ll have fun working together. Also, how working with you would work. Be sure the subject line reads: Help Wanted: name of what you can help with

Thanks!

 

Addendum: Forum

Another thing I’d like to do is to create a forum here, like that on MMM but smaller and more focused. I’d see it taking the place of Ask JLCollins and as a way for readers to interact and help each-other. I’d join in as needed and as I had time.

But I’d need someone who knows how to create such a thing and volunteer moderators.  Any takers? If so, shoot me an email to address in the post with — Help Wanted: Forum — in the subject line.

Posted in business, Life | 43 Responses