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Travel

That Time I Went on a Podcast!

by on March 23, 2017

Hey everybody! My recent podcast with Jessica Moorhouse went live. Because I’m my own worst self critic, I actually only listened to the intro and outro, so you’ll have to just give it a listen and let me know what you thought of it?

I had a lot of fun chatting with Jessica, despite the awkwardness of unfiltered speaking into a mic vs. many edits of writing on a page. I hope there’s something actionable or at least somewhat entertaining in the nearly 30 minutes of podcast.

Some of the recent blog posts that Jessica linked in the show notes are far more stream of consciousness than what I’ve written in the past. New readers might have more interest in the posts on my Real Estate Windfall and the convoluted history of my Roth IRA

 

Episode 99: Listener Series – How to Budget for a Road Trip Across America

Life Travel

Nomadic Leisure Doesn’t Work For Me.

by on March 21, 2017

Some comments on my recent post mentioned that maybe what I really needed was a career change rather than a mini retirement. I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but the lack of work is not really an issue in my day-to-day happiness. I would definitely prefer not to work….of course I don’t have enough $$$ to last the rest of my life, so at some point I will need to work. I definitely do, however, feel like I have a social duty to be productive and not be lazy.

I definitely do have some psychological barriers with an early retirement though. Personally knowing people who have medical issues that would never allow them to retire early makes me feel pretty crummy about my own early retirement prospects. Mostly because if I chose to retire early today, it would be entirely a decision for leisure and self indulgence rather than something more noble, such as spending more time with dependent children or taking care of an ailing parent, or curing cancer or whatever the hell most early retirees do with their time. Financial independence is a lifestyle choice that enables one to make the decision to be a dual stay at home household, and for that reason, I think everybody really should pursue it, because why not? How can you end up worse off by being financially secure?

Here’s the problem with the nomadic life for me. It’s sort of at odds with what an ideal permanent early retirement vision looks like. This is more of a gap year experience type of life choice, where I’ve specifically earmarked time for travel.

And I love that I have the opportunity to do it. But the time and $$ I spend on traveling diverts me from other long term life goals. Being fiscally conservative, if I spend $6,000 today to for the awesome experience of traveling the ocean for two months on a cargo freighter, it’d be great, but that’s $6k that I have to replace with some form of work in the future. The working more part doesn’t sound very fun. Even though I rationally know it’s inevitable.

I’m learning that feeling like I’m part of a community is something that I’d very much like to experience. So, I’ve targeted a career path that allows me to feel part of a work family and less of an office drone. We’ll have to see how that goes if I do get the privilege of being hired on that very different career path.

I haven’t really felt part of a community in the seven years since college. When I was working, I spent my most productive hours at work. And I spent many hours not at work thinking about work. I’ve “retired” from my previous career and company and I still think about work. Work can very easily consume you even when you’re not there.

It’s definitely interesting to learn that my ideal early retirement vision is not a nomadic life, but a more stationary life, perhaps with shorter bursts of travel contained within. I thought I was being so clever about doing travel during a time where I don’t have to simultaneously pay rent…but there’s a lot to be said about having a home to go back to and not the feelings of the mysterious unknown future.

My ideal early retirement might include the likes of going back to using my actual degree and playing percussion in a local volunteer orchestra or guitar in a local jazz orchestra. And perhaps being on the board of directors f0r an orchestra. I can’t commit to either of those things while I’m traveling and didn’t want to commit the time to such things while I was working. Of course, these aren’t life goals that need to happen in the next year or the next 5 years. I’m still on track to hit FI in roughly may 2025, right around my 40th birthday.

One of the things about travel, what I’ve enjoyed about travel in the past, was the people that I traveled with. Driving around by myself is missing that key component of getting to know other travelers and exploring with them. I’m very independent at home, I’m finding that being super independent as a traveler isn’t something that I particularly enjoy. But, there’s not really an easy solution to that.

Staying here in ABQ is a nice deviation from the perpetual nomadicism, but it’s still a very temporary feeling. Today, I got to watch the sunset over the mountains in the distance from the couch in my trailer, it was a pretty awesome moment. And not something I could have experienced if I was working in an office in Southern California. And, of course, it had no monetary cost.

Tomorrow, I plan to go to a UNM Lobos baseball game in the afternoon, I couldn’t do that if I was working in SoCal (or working in NM). It’s fantastic to be able to have those life experiences “off schedule”.  I love being able to do things during the hours when people are working because there are less crowds and less traffic. It doesn’t do much for the loneliness factor though.

Funnily enough, there’s a 25 year old woman from Houston doing an optometry externship also staying at this AirBNB, and she’d love to do some exploring with me…but she has to go to work during the week. And they aren’t even paying her to be a full time worker. It’s such a blessing that i can just do whatever and not limit my ABQ exploration time to the weekends like she is doing. That’s awesome for me.

I guess I have the age-old conundrum: My friends can’t afford to travel with me, so I can either go by myself, or I can just not go. For the longest time, the choice was to not go. I think that shifting the mindset to early retirement as a single person would be really challenging for me because I would have to make extra effort for that external human connection. If you have a spouse, at least there’s someone else around some of the time.

Eventually, I decided to stop waiting around for other people to travel with. Unfortunately, this travel experience might not be as much of a success as the other travel adventures on a social level, but the road trip is still very young!

I definitely think that psychologically, a permanent retirement would be a lot easier on me to adapt to. There would be less thought to the financial ramifications of the decision to retire and the associated spending decisions, because I would know that I have enough and wouldn’t be wondering when I might be going back to add to my stash.

2017 has pretty much been an epic fail in “not thinking about money”. Though my portfolio balance is coincidentally much higher than i anticipated. Knowing that I don’t have enough to never work again under reasonable circumstances, though, that’s going to be in the back of my mind and with some of my frugal tendencies, it’s become a bit of challenge to part with $$. And that’s unfortunate.

So, in summary, my problem with traveling isn’t necessarily that I’m not working and that somehow working would make me a happier person, and my problem with my previous job wasn’t necessarily that I hated working, and thought that not working would make me happier. I just didn’t particularly enjoy living in the location that my job was in. Though I am realizing that I definitely took a few things for granted. And, with traveling, this maybe just isn’t the perfectly optimized way for me to travel. But that’s okay, I’m making the best of it and still having more fun than working.

I’ll definitely need to figure out a way to explore different locales that doesn’t leave me exhausted from going too fast, but also doesn’t leave me feeling bored from going too slow. Unfortunately, you can’t choose your early retirement destination from reading web descriptions.

Also of note, The DAF that is invested in Fidelity’s Total Stock Market Fund is still crushing it. I put $17k in November and it’s still worth over $17,700 today. I decided to distribute another grant. Love free $$$ for charity.

Travel

3 Weeks Of No Work

by on March 20, 2017

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since my final day of work. It feels like a while ago. I’ll confess to logging into my Web Mail out of curiosity during some periods of boredom. 😀

Here’s what I learned:

I can pretty much live the same routine anywhere. Now granted, my own place with my own kitchen, freezer and refrigerator makes it easier to be efficient with my meals, but as long as I have a wifi connection, I’m golden. I don’t have any air conditioning in this 1950’s Schult trailer, but I haven’t needed any either. The final few months of work, I would spend my down time at home goofing off in the internet, blogging, with some night hikes thrown in. Not much has changed except I’m doing my walking and wandering during the day. I was more or less a hermit, replacing social activities with blogging…which you think would be less expensive, but considering I paid for a logo and blog coaching, and a financial bloggers conference (Hotel For FinCon cost nearly as much as 4 weeks here!), probably not.

I’m learning something that I suspected before I ever left my previous residence: Nomadic solo travel is exhausting. It’s just not for me. Which makes me thrilled that I’ve been able to stay here in Albuquerque for 10 days now, and another 18 to go. Today, I explored Madrid. Not Madrid, Spain, but Madrid, New Mexico.

Madrid, NM

It’s an old western mining town smack in the middle of a New Mexican two-lane state highway # 14. The road is also called the turquoise trail, which connects Albuquerque to Santa Fe. I had lunch at a bar top at an outdoor restaurant called The Hollar, which has a menu self described as “southwest meets deep south”. It was delicious and probably my least healthy meal of the trip so far. It was interesting to hear the servers talk about “a normal day in Madrid”.  I wonder what it would be like to live in such a town. The population on Wikipedia is only 149. Fun fact: The ending of Wild Hogs was filmed in Madrid.

It’s probably less than an hour from both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, so it’s not like it’s totally in the boondocks, but there did not seem to be a whole lot to do in town. And I bet in winter it’s very isolating and frigid, at an elevation of 6,000 ft.  Other than the main road, all of the other streets said “private road, no parking” which made me think there wasn’t much else there besides what I saw, except for some residential houses..

The Hollar

The town even had an old school soda fountain. Of course, I had a root beer float, despite having just finished “Chicken Biscuits” which were two biscuits with fried chicken and prisciutto….with chips and salsa. Odd pairing, but none of the other “sides” sounded appetizing to me. 😀

 

Soda Fountain

 

I’ve never seen a “Don’t drink the water” sign in America before, maybe that is something we take for granted! And hey, if you’re ever in Madrid, NM, here’s the wifi password.

Don't Drink The Water

It’s ironic that before I left on this trip, I didn’t think I’d be planning any additional long term stays, and I thought for sure I wouldn’t actually spend “every night in Albuquerque” when I was here, but why not? Why spend more $$$ to travel around when there’s plenty to see here and already I have a paid for bed? Not opposed to an overnight elsewhere, but I feel like I’ve still barely scratched the surface on Albuquerque.

Tomorrow, I will be checking out the Balloon Museum, and coincidentally, another old school soda fountain. 😀

I’m stoked to spend extensive time in Southern Utah, as well, because there’s so much around there. After that? Hopefully I’ll have a better idea re: the timeline of beginning my next career. Knowing the answer to that question would allow me to plan an adventure (perhaps abroad) during a finite period of time, which I think I prefer vs. the open-ended nature of what this started as.

Before I embarked on that multi-day drive from CA to NM, my longest road trip by myself was a couple of hours. I’m glad I just went for it, instead of not doing it because I thought I don’t like driving, but I’m also glad that I hedged the possibility of not being a fan of solo long distance driving by booking a long term stay very early. It worked out so much better than I would have ever anticipated.

 

Til next time….

Life

Accomplish One Thing Per Day

by on March 17, 2017

Since embarking on what was once deemed a “pretend retirement”, I’ve had a goal of accomplishing one task per day. One thing I disliked about some of my travel adventures in the past was that I would feel incredibly rushed which quickly led to exhaustion. I believe it might have been the Groovies where I first read about the idea of accomplishing one major task per day in retirement?

Travel

Slow Travel – Overrated or Worth it?

by on March 13, 2017

I’ve been in Albuquerque for three days now. The slow pace is definitely different than any sort of travel I’ve done before. I’ve explored by foot within a mile or so in each direction from my accommodation and have located my various low cost food options….I’m definitely eating less healthy than I was at home. (Burger King, Subway, and New Mexico’s own Lotaburger…the latter definitely being my preference of the three. And of course, they are all in different directions.) And I found a yummy pizza place if i want to walk 30 blocks or so. Balancing those low cost choices with the fun new restaurants and the pendulum definitely has trended towards the more spendy places, but that’s okay, as I have no other major expenses.

The house I’m staying in is pretty cool. You have to use a match to light the stove. It’s a big property, there’s a couple hammocks. Breakfast is included but I’m not sure that I’ll be partaking in the Chocolate croissant every morning for the next 25-ish days. (It’s quite tasty though!) There’s an adorable dog and a few cats here. I’m meeting tons of travelers who are passing through. It’s a fun spot to be. I think there’s definitely enough in the greater Albuquerque region for me to stay occupied for the next 25 days, but I’ve also enjoyed not having to do much driving after 5 days on the road. Yesterday, I checked out the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Natural History (Science) Museum. Today, I checked out the Nuclear History/Science Museum and the Pueblo Cultural Center. I’m sure I could duplicate the museum experience with internet research, but it’s fun seeing the displays and also nice to support the local area…and get out of the New Mexico sun. I had no idea that during WW2, the Navajos used their native language to encrypt military messages. That’s pretty cool.

I got a haircut and picked up some new shoes today. Believe it or not, Payless Shoes actually has inexpensive shoes, but they’re all made in China. Maybe all shoes are made in China now? My current shows are kind of falling apart, so I just picked a pair that sort of fit good enough. Don’t really have any great expectations for them to last forever. I usually buy my shoes on Amazon, but I ordered some right before I left, they didn’t fit, and I didn’t have time to find something else. I haven’t been writing because there’s not a whole lot to say.

So…slow travel. Yeah. I think that after Utah, I won’t be doing another long tourism stay like this in someone’s home. It’s a fun environment, but it’s obvious to me that I’m living in somebody else’s home. I feel like I don’t want to just sit around this person’s house all day, which is good for tourism, but not for relaxation. Which I guess shouldn’t be a shocker because I am in fact living in somebody else’s home. Would a month long stay in a motel be better? I’m not sure.

I did a 1 night AirBNB in Gallup, NM and I think I definitely prefer the motel experience for a short term stay where I’m just passing through.  With a motel in some town off the interstate, I can most likely check in to my room early. With AirBNB, I had to wait for the host to get home from work. In the New Mexico dessert, having already been sunburned, I had to blow $$$ on seeing a movie just to get out of the sun for a few hours.

Tomorrow, I have a dental cleaning, and the next day I have a skype appointment. I’m planning to go to a University of New Mexico baseball game next week. I might go to an Albuquerque Isotopes game, too, but their season starts right before I head over to Utah. There’s several free and inexpensive UNM music concerts that I might check out over the next few weeks. I definitely have no shortage of things that I could be seeing or doing, but it’s also possible that I could be spending Thurs-Sun of the next few weeks glued to watching March Madness on streaming.

I definitely plan on going up to Santa Fe via the scenic byway one of these days, and doing some more sightseeing here in Albuquerque. It’s definitely nice to be able to do 1 or 2 museums per day rather than cram all of them because I have to go back to work in a few days.

Its very possible that I will head back to SoCal after Southern Utah so that I can spend my birthday with my family. After that? Who knows.

I guess I didn’t really answer the subject question. Maybe next time…

Travel

Days 2 & 3 – Flagstaff, Grand Canyon

by on March 9, 2017

Coming into Flagstaff, I was reminded of one of the things that I hate in regards to driving even more than the aforementioned sunrise, sunset and darkness…driving in cities. You wouldn’t think that Flagstaff is this huge urban city, but my intended lunch spot was in the historic downtown with essentially nothing but street parking. I’d see some parking lots, but they would say “for ____ customer’s only”. I later learned that I could have parked at the train station for free for a couple hours. Oh well. I ended up abandoning those initial lunch plans and found a Whole Foods. I thought I was being “frugal” by picking up a couple chicken legs to have for dinner in addition to my slice of pizza lunch. While my first night at a Best Western had a mini fridge, Motel 6 did not….so I had a big lunch. Ha. Of course, I can’t complain too much, the Motel 6 was dirt cheap at $40/night. I’m told the Motel 6 can easily be double that in summer. Motel 6 also did not provide WiFi or, shockingly, shampoo. I’m glad I happened to pack a travel sized shampoo.

I ended up heading over to the Lowell Observatory on my first afternoon in Flagstaff. It was pretty quick to see everything they had going on during the day, it probably would have been better to go at night to look at the stars through their telescopes. I have no idea why WordPress rotated the below image.

Lowell Observatory

My second day in Flagstaff was entirely a Grand Canyon tour. I’m glad I booked a tour as I probably would not have been able to see all of what I saw on my own in the allotted time.

Grand Canyon

Unfortunately, I also got some sunburns, despite being dressed like I’m possibly in Alaskan summer? I also had the pleasure of going to the local Super Walmart for some aloe vera lotion. Based on the above photo, it’s probably not a shocker to learn that I’m sunburned on my nose and neck. Whoops.

That Grand Canyon tour wore me out. It might just be the three days straight of being on the road whether as a driver or a passenger. I’m very much looking forward to staying in one spot for a while after Friday. My Grand Canyon guide was awesome and he gave me lots of tips for the other parks that I plan on seeing in the next couple months. He mentioned that when it snows in Flagstaff, everything shuts down. It sounds like you can get by as a winter wimp in Flagstaff. I missed the snow by just one week apparently. Their summers are a lot more mild than Phoenix. I wouldn’t mind spending more time in Flagstaff. The bummer is that there aren’t too many hotels in the historic downtown area, but you can uber in for cheap, I would imagine. I should have done that myself, but after a long day of driving and/or exploring, I just want to chill out. What’s interesting about Flagstaff is that the sales tax is 11%, this is absolutely massive compared to the 7.75% i’m used to paying in California.

Did I mention that gasoline is dirt cheap once you get outside of California? Pretty sure I paid $3.09/gallon when I filled up before leaving…fun fact about gasoline, I saw this truck stop gas station from the interstate about 5 miles before Kingman, AZ. It was $2.39/gallon for 87 unleaded….as I kept driving along Route 66 to get back on the interstate, there was a “Canada Mart” which was at $2.19/gallon. The Chevron that was closest to the interstate at the next exit was $2.59/gallon. It’s shocking how much variance there is. Again, sorry for the rotated image, when I uploaded to WordPress, it rotated for some reason. I am currently connected through a Mobile Hotspot, but I don’t know why that would cause the photos to rotate.

Gasoline

Til next time….

Travel

Day 1 – (Almost) Adios California

by on March 7, 2017

My first day of driving is done!

I planned this thing out so that I wouldn’t have any super long driving days. I left my home at around 9 am and checked into my first hotel in Needles, California before 2 pm.

The good news is that I’m not at all tired from the driving. I have three things I hate in regards to driving: driving during sunrise, driving during sunset and driving in the dark. It sounds like I could easily add a few more hours to a driving day in the future.

The things I “forgot” at home are: full size shampoo, bath towel (I wanted to bring my own as many motels give really thin towels and i have no idea the quality of towels in someone’s house), and my external hard drive. The external hard drive is no big deal as the only thing it has not on my laptop is my music collection…which is backed up in the cloud on Amazon Music, so as long as I have wifi, I have music. Kind of annoyed that I “forgot” the towel and shampoo, but I’ll get over it. Those are both easily purchased on the road if needed.

After Needles, I have a 200 mile drive to Flagstaff, and then, after Flagstaff, I have a 185 mile drive from Flagstaff to Gallup, NM (though I’ll stop at Petrified Forest National Park along the way) and finally, a 135 mile drive from Gallup to Albuquerque. Today was 233 miles…and so it was the longest drive of the lot on the way to New Mexico.

I stopped for lunch at the second ever Del Taco in Barstow. The first one opened in Yermo, but it closed down, and this one is now the oldest active Del Taco’s. The internet says they use fresher ingredients than a normal franchise, but who knows. I had two Barstow tacos (beef, lettuce, cheese, tomato) and 1 Barstow soft chicken taco (chicken, lettuce, cheese tomato, with a ranchy sauce). The chicken tasted better than any Del Taco or Taco Bell chicken that I’ve had before, but the beef tasted typical. Maybe the portions of beef were larger than a normal Del Taco portion? I’ve been spoiled by the authentic Mexican taco shops that are all over SoCal, especially in my most recent city of residence. So, I would say skip unless you really like Americanized Mexican food.

There were some nice views of the snow-capped mountains along I-15. Once I got onto I-40 though, there was not much of a view to speak of. Funny to see an interstate with only two lanes in each direction, I-15, I-5 and I-10 in Southern California have far more than 2 lanes in each direction.

I did notice the sign that said 2600 ish miles to Wilmington, North Carolina on I-40. It was entertaining trying to find radio stations as I moved in and out of range of various towers.

I did get stuck in a bit of a tourist trap for dinner. There was a Subway that was very walkable from my motel that I could have easily eaten at for 1/3 the price, but…there was also the Wagon Wheel across the street. I’d say the food tasted at least 3x better than anything at Subway, so at least the more expensive food was more worthy. I was disappointed to learn that the menu prices on their website must be a few years old as everything on the menu was more pricey. 🙁

Wagon Wheel

Travel

How I Packed For An Open Ended Road Trip

by on March 6, 2017

You might be wondering how one packs for a road trip of an indeterminate length. I think most “minimalists” would just pack a small bag and be done with it.

I, on the other hand, will do whatever I can to avoid excess laundry time. Especially while I’m traveling! Because I have one 28-night stay and one 30-night stay in the next 65 days, I have packed accordingly:

Life

My First Day Off Work

by on March 2, 2017
Laptop

I didn’t have to go to work yesterday.

I have to be honest that I haven’t felt much inspiration with this blog lately. I’ve been questioning how much I want to throw out to the world, quietly removing posts left and right. If you notice any broken links, definitely let me know through the contact form. I’m not sure what I will do with this blog going forward. I think that the money will be less of a focus. Mostly because I don’t want to adopt the “I don’t want to disappoint my readers” train of thought to influence my spending decisions. I’m naturally a low spender enough as it is. So if you’re here primarily as a financial voyeur, you might not enjoy the blog going forward. And that’s okay. I’ll still write about money when I’m feeling inspired to.

Investing Money Taxes

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Adds Muni Opt Out & CA Muni Option!

by on February 27, 2017
Money

I recently came across the press release that that Schwab was creating Schwab Intelligent Advisory, a new platform that gives folks access to a human advisor for 28bps (maximum fee of $3,600 per year) which utilizes the Schwab Intelligent Portfolios strategies. The minimum asset level for the human advisor option is $25,000, The 28 bps fee on that is $70 per year which I would say is very reasonable depending on the types of high level questions you could expect your advisor to be able to answer. This is obviously to compete with the success that Vanguard has had with their personal adviser service (30bps, minimum balance: $50,000). It would be great if this Schwab decision encourages Vanguard to drop their minimum to $25,000 so that more folks can utilize Vanguard’s hybrid robo service.

I decided to check out the allocations that Schwab was currently offering. My biggest complaint about the robo-advisers over the years, most notably Betterment and Wealthfront, has been that their robots just lazily put everybody into Tax Exempt Bonds in a taxable account after taking the questionnaire. Even people in low tax brackets who shouldn’t be in tax exempt bonds, and even people in California who should be in California muni bonds.

Schwab’s robot has now given investors these options that I’ve been railing on about. I don’t remember this being an option when Schwab originally launched their  robo product. This is a game changer in the robo-adviser space and I’m frankly surprised that it hasn’t received more press.

Schwab Muni's

 

Of course, Schwab’s product is by no means perfect. They have the dreaded “cash drag”. And the more conservative you make your portfolio, the more cash they put in it. As interest rates go up, you have to assume that Schwab’s cash account is always going to be less lucrative than an online bank or credit union that has minimal overhead. You also have several tiny positions. I manipulated the questionnaire and the most conservative option (with muni’s) is as follows. Are all these tiny percentage exposures to sub-asset classes going to make a difference in the portfolio? It’s hard to know.

Schwab conservative

 

Don’t want the muni bonds? Then it looks like this. Credit to Schwab for splitting up the typical aggregate bond index fund into treasuries, corporates and securitized bonds. In many states, such as California, treasury bonds are not taxed at the state level. But if you have treasuries inside of an aggregate bond index, you have to pay tax on all of the dividends that are produced out of that fund. So, if you’re in a low tax bracket that doesn’t warrant municipal bonds, holding your treasuries separately from corporates and mortgages is a very intelligent tax decision that any robot should make….

Schwab conservative no muni

 

If you’re curious, the most aggressive option is this. It’s definitely a big tilt towards Schwab’s “fundamental index” strategies.

Schwab aggressive

 

Finally, it’s worth noting that Schwab has an “income portfolio” model which uses a broad domestic and international dividend stock index funds rather than the tiny allocations to the various indexes that are shown in the portfolio above. It’s certainly not perfect, but it sounds a lot better than the snake oil that a lot of folks get sold in the financial industry.

Schwab income no muni

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