Five short anecdotes about money

What a long, strange couple of months it’s been for me. On the blog, things have been quiet. Behind the scenes, I’ve been as busy as I’ve ever been.

The good news is that this busy-ness will (eventually) lead to a number of interesting articles. I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work, for instance, and have some thoughts on it. I’ve been thinking about the concept of “no speed limits”. Shocking but true: I’m going to write an article about my primary credit card. And I’ve been reading and writing a lot about “doing nothing”.

Today, though, I want to clear my head (and my inbox) by sharing five short financial anecdotes.

In the past month, I’ve had probably twenty deep discussions about personal finance and personal values. While some of these conversations lead to bigger things (like the three articles I mentioned above), most don’t. But they still produce intertesting concepts and ideas. They sometimes lead me to make changes.

Here are a five money-related topics that don’t (yet) warrant articles of their own, but which I still find interesting (and worth sharing).

Going with Google

During my ten days in Portugal for the FI chautauqua, cell phone service was a common topic of conversation. Some folks didn’t have any. Others were paying a small fortune just to get a tiny bit of data from their provider.

There were two types of people who didn’t have any trouble with their cell service in Portugal: those who use T-Mobile and those who use Google FI.

“What’s Google FI?” I asked. I’d never heard of it.

“It’s Google’s cell service,” Owen said. “It’s cheap and has lots of features, but you can’t use it with Apple phones.”

“Actually, you can,” Bill said.

“But the website says it doesn’t work with iPhones,” said Owen.

“The website is wrong,” said Bill. “I’ve been using it with my iPhone for months with no problems — even here in Portugal.” He showed us his phone and explained how much he liked Google FI.

“I’ll look into,” I said. And I did. Here’s what I learned:

  • Kim and I currently spend $117 (plus taxes and fees) for our shared T-Mobile plan. This gives us a limited amount of high-speed data (although plenty for normal needs), plus service for my Apple Watch. (When the watch dies, I don’t plan to replace it, so eventually that’ll save us ten bucks per month.)
  • If we were to move to Google FI, it’d cost us $120 per month (plus taxes and fees). That’s roughly the same price, obviously, with no real advantages. (We’d have access to more high-speed data, although we rarely need that. Plus, we’d get Google One, whatever that is.) And it doesn’t include service for my watch.

My conclusion? For T-Mobile customers like us, moving to Google FI doesn’t make much sense. But I suspect many people ought to consider their service.

Meanwhile, we’ve been struggling with our wireless network here at home. Although Apple no longer makes wireless networking equipment, our network is built with routers from when they did sell the stuff. Some of these routers are now a decade old (or possibly older). We have four of them.

For whatever reason, our network is constantly going down. It’s frustrating. It’s quite common that three of the routers will be up while a fourth will arbitrarily decide to stop working for a few days. (And when we changed the network name last spring? Nightmare!)

While visiting MMM HQ last weekend, I noticed that Pete uses the Google Mesh system to provide service in his co-working space. “Do you like it?” I asked. “I’ve heard other people rave about Google Mesh, but I don’t know anything about it.”

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Totally trouble-free.” So, I’ve ordered a starter set of Google Mesh devices. They’ll arrive tomorrow. I have high hopes that this will cure our wifi headaches.

Taming the Email Beast

After returning from my nineteen-day trip to Portugal, Wisconsin, and southern California, my email inboxes were swamped. (I have five separate gmail accounts. Crazy, right?)

Naturally, I complained about the situation on Facebook. My friend Charlotte sent me a private message: “Do you have time to hop on a video call?” she asked. “I’ll show you a way to tame your email.”

Charlotte spent twenty minutes walking me through an email system she recently adopted. It effectively divides your gmail inbox — and yes, you have to be using gmail — into five different inboxes, each of which is themed. Once a day, you tackle your main inbox, routing messages to sub-inboxes. Then, when you have time, you work through the other inboxes.

This is a minor change to the way I do things (and admittedly it mostly delays messages to later), but it’s effective.

I send myself email twenty times each week. It’s my note-taking system. It’s how I offload things from my brain. This is great…except that my inboxes tend to get flooded with book recommendations, article ideas, and reminders of upcoming events. It’s a mess. Using this system, I can still send myself messages, but I’m now able to flag these messages so they’re routed to the appropriate sub-inbox.

I’ve been following Charlotte’s advice for two weeks now, and I like it. It hasn’t solved my email woe, but it’s mitigated the problem substantially.

My inbox

Dozens of Credit Cards

Last weekend, Kim and I flew to Colorado to celebrate the birthday of a certain mustachioed friend. While there, I had several memorable conversations.

For instance, I chatted with Amy from Go With Less about how she and her husband play the credit-card game. They have an insane number of cards — 34? 43? I can’t remember the exact count — and over three million credit-card points.

While our conversation touched on topics like manufactured spending (a concept that blows my mind and angers card issuers), I was more interested in how and why Tim and Amy juggle dozens of credit cards. Doesn’t this hurt their credit score? Turns out: No. Because they pay bills on time and never cancel cards, they have nearly perfect credit.

Here’s a video in which they address this topic:

I wanted to ask Tim and Amy more about their crazy credit-card fueled lifestyle, but I didn’t have the chance. I look forward to picking their brains more in the future, though.

Health Shares for the Non-Religious

Last weekend, I also had a conversation with Ben, who famously gets his cars for free. Ben is super smart and doesn’t accept the status quo. He’s always looking for ways to challenge the system in order to make the most of his money.

Lately, he’s been doing this with healthcare.

For many people who have retired early, health insurance is thorny issue. It’s expensive. Take my case, for example. I pay $403 per month for shitty coverage. This year, I’ve met my $7900 out-of-pocket max, which means I’ll have spent $12,736 (plus co-pays and prescriptions) when the dust settles. I hate the U.S. healthcare system. It’s insane.

Well, Ben too thinks it’s insane. Rather than complain about it, though, he’s been seeking creating solutions.

“Have you looked at health-sharing ministries?” Ben asked me on Sunday morning. “They can be a great way to cut costs.”

“I have,” I said. “But they all require a statement of faith, which I’m not able to give.”

“I had the same problem,” Ben said, “so I searched for alternatives. I found Sedera. It’s basically the same as a health-share ministry. You still have to agree to abide by certain principles, but they’re not based on a religion.”

“Is it affordable?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m paying $200 per month per person for my wife, my daughter, and myself.”

“That’s not bad,” I said.

“But here’s the thing,” Ben said. “Sedera is designed to work with a direct primary care physician.”

“A what?” I said.

“A direct primary care physician is just what it sounds like. It’s a doctor that you work with directly without a third-party intermediary. That means the doctor bills you directly, not an insurance company. When you combine this with a health-sharing program like Sedera, it’s a cost-effective alternative to traditional insurance.”

“Kim and I have an appointment to talk with an insurance broker next week,” I said. “I’ll have to look into this as an alternative.”

“Do it,” Ben said. “You won’t regret it.”

Downgrading My Motorcycle

Lastly, here’s a topic that comes from several different conversations and a lot of soul-searching on my part.

When Kim and I started dating, I was surprised to learn that she was a motorcycle enthusiast. After she bought her father’s bike from him, I decided to learn to ride myself.

I started with a low-power Honda Rebel, which was perfect for my needs. Then, a couple of years ago, I made an impulse purchase: I upgraded to a Harley-Davidson Street 750. The new bike gave me the power to keep up with Kim on long trips. (The little Rebel was always falling behind on the highway.)

Turns out, though, that for day-to-day riding, I wish I had my Rebel. Kim and I don’t make many long trips — about one per year. And when we do, I’m fine falling behind. I’d rather have a quick and easy bike for running errands or zipping downtown. My Street 750 is not the right bike for this. It takes a long time to gear up and get the Harley ready to go.

I’ve spent the past year trying to figure out my best move. I’ve talked with a lot of friends and considered several options. Do I just stick it out with the motorcycle I have? Do I buy a new Rebel? Do I do something else?

After much thought and contemplation, I’ve decided that my best plan for the motorcycle situation is three-fold:

  • Sell the Street 750. Use the proceeds to purchase two replacements.
  • Buy a (used?) scooter to use for errands and running downtown. Kim plans to sell her motorcycle, so long trips are no longer an issue. I want something quick and easy to ride. I want to be able to get on the bike and go.
  • Buy an electric bike for use around home. I already own a bike, but as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t ride it. For one, I am fat. For another, we are surrounded by hills. MMM has urged me to look into Rad Power electric bikes.

Making this move — which likely won’t happen until the spring, when people are looking for motorcycles — is much more aligned with my values and lifestyle. Currently, my motorcycle mostly gathers dust. I ride it maybe 1000 miles per year. I’d ride the scooter more often, and the electric bike would get me out slicing through these hills for exercise!

What about you? What financial conversations have you been having with your friends? What minor money moves are you making in your life?

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