Things I Like

Groceries & Retail:

  • Costco
    • We get 2% cash back through our executive membership. Executive membership costs $120 vs the normal $60, but we spend more than enough to pay for the entire $120 membership fee, let alone the $60 executive premium ($60/0.02=$3k to break even on executive upgrade; $6k to break even on entire membership). If you become an executive member and don’t get at least $60 back, you can ask them to refund the difference. This is by far my favorite store on the planet.
      • Here’s my tutorial on how to shop like a pro there (link).
  • Amazon:
    • What we don’t buy at Costco we get at Amazon. Amazon pricing is very dynamic and volatile. If you can be patient, set a price alert at Camel Camel Camel and have them email you when the price drops. I’ve saved at least a grand using this tool over the years.
    • You can share prime benefits with one other adult. Fine print here and here.
      • The catch is that the credit card of the secondary credit card user will be available as a payment option to the primary account holder. Amazon does this to prevent random strangers from sharing account benefits. However, purchase history, account login, etc. remain as if you had a single account.

Tech stuff:

  • Favorite Chrome plugins:
    • uBlock Origin ad blocker (link).
    • Sound Control Plus (link).
      • Enables me to listen to endless Pandora and mutes the adds for me.
    • Lastpass (link).
      • Free password manager with 2-step authentication enabled. Not the most user friendly.
  • RSS Readers:
    • Since Google Reader bit the dust, I’ve used feedly.com. Here’s my tutorial on how to do so (link). Being able to efficiently use RSS feeds is a superpower you’d be crazy not to utilize.

Phones:

  • For the past decade, we’ve paid no more than $1/month per phone. I document how we do so here: https://frugalprofessor.com/phones
    • We recently transitioned to Xfinity mobile. It’s $12/month for Unlimited talk/text up to 5 lines. The catch is $12/GB per data so simply use wifi and enjoy a fantastic plan on Verizon’s network. My review is here (link).

Internet:

  • You don’t need super fast internet. You need a decent router placed in an unobstructed centralized location. We have a Google Onhub Router which has some nice parental control features (i.e. no internet past 9pm for kids).
  • For a 5-year period in grad school we had 2Mbps internet. 2Mbps was sufficient for remote access to my school computers for research, VOIP, videoconferencing, and streaming 720p video. In other words, 2Mbps is good enough for most people.

Insurance:

  • I use Geico for car insurance, but shop around.
  • I use Esurance for homeowner’s insurance, but shop around. Quotes on our annual premiums ranged from $600-$2600/year for the same coverage. I could not believe it.
  • Self insurance through high deductible plans is the way to go. I don’t carry comprehensive insurance on my sedan. I carry high deductible insurance on our van. We carry very high deductible ($10k) on homeowner’s insurance.

Investing:

  • Vanguard is the pioneer in low-cost investing, but other firms have responded by offering low-cost funds. As a result, Fidelity, Schwab, etc. have competitively priced index funds that can compete fine with Vanguard’s. You really can’t go wrong with any of these brokerages, provided you chose a low-cost index fund. For a domestic index fund, expect to pay about 0.05% in fees. For an international index fund, expect to pay about 0.15% in fees.
  • DIY investment strategy:
    • Three Fund Portfolio.
    • Or pick a target retirement fund (link) and forget about it (though these often times have slightly higher fees which is why I avoid them).

Books:

  • If You Can. Summary: Be frugal and invest in index funds for the long run. It’s really, really, really well written. Read it. It’s short (14 pages). Do it now. Reread it until you understand the meaning of every paragraph. Each paragraph is packed with meaning and intent.)
  • Little Book of Common Sense Investing. Summary: Invest in index funds for the long run.
  • Millionaire Next Door. Summary: Millionaires are frugal.
  • Richest man in Babylon. Summary: Educate yourself, spend little, invest wisely.
  • Life‑Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Summary: Simplify your life by keeping only those possessions in life that bring you joy.
  • My “book”, which is a brain dump on how to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes over your lifetime.

Blogs:

Podcasts (Podcasts make your brain grow):

Credit Cards:

Banking:

  • For years I banked with Ally and was relatively happy with them, though I grew tired of the 6/month transaction limit. I have since moved all of my banking to Fidelity and love it: https://frugalprofessor.com/cash-management/
    • I keep $5 in a checking account at a local credit union in the rare event that I need to deposit cash (which is subsequently transferred to Fidelity).

Identity protection:

  • Paying for credit monitoring is a mistake. The much better, and secure, option is to place credit freezes on your accounts through all three credit bureaus. Here are the links to do so:
  • Get rid pre-approved credit card solicitations in the mail (link).

Travel:

  • We’ve had great success with VRBO and Home Away for reasonably priced vacation rentals. We recently went to Disneyworld and had a great stay in a VRBO property inside of Disneyworld’s property.

Air Travel:

Online Money Management:

  • Personal Capital
    • Note that if you sign up for Personal Capital, they will call you and ask if you want to use their financial planners for a 1% fee. To avoid bothersome calls, I give them a phone number I don’t check and an email address I don’t use.
    • If you sign up with the above link, both you and I get a $20 amazon credit.
    • While I love their tools, I’m convinced they give overpriced and crappy financial advice.
      • A friend of mine signed up for their advising services as part of a free advising trial they offer and I was appalled at the asset allocation they dumped him into. They put him in dozens of individual securities rather than simple index funds. To unwind the dozens of positions, my friend had to incur non-trivial capital gains taxes. This is insanity.

Kid Stuff:

Blogging:

  • When I first started blogging, I used Bluehost. They were fine but the performance wasn’t great and the renewal price was steep (intro offer of $3/month went to renewal price of $8/month). A few years into blogging I transitioned to a $5/month DigitalOcean VPS droplet, which gives me 25GB of SSD storage and 1GB of RAM. At the time of this writing, Linode and Vultr are similarly-priced competitors worth checking out as well. They are all pretty similar from what I understand. Dealing with a VPS is a bit intimidating at the beginning, but the one-click WordPress installation does the heavy lifting. Since transitioning from Bluehost to DigitalOcean, my load times were reduced by more than 50%.
    • A warning about DigitalOcean: you’re on your own. You have to maintain your own backups, etc. If the site crashes, it’s on you to fix it.
    • Even with the above caveat, I’d recommend first time bloggers to start with the VPS. The hardest part for me, by FAR, was learning how to migrate an existing site from Bluehost to DigitalOcean and not botching the transferring of the DNS, wp-admin, etc. Had I started from day 1 on the VPS, life would have been much simpler.
  • I use a free Cloudflare CDN because self-instruction told me to do so. Seems like a smart idea. Easy enough to implement.
  • I use the GeneratePress theme and love it.
  • I use Google Domains for domain name registration. $12/year with privacy included. I love the simple interface.
  • I paid a one-time $50 for the premium version of the WP Fastest Cache plugin. I like it.
  • I use the free version of Smush to compress images. I should probably compress before uploading to WordPress but am generally too lazy to do so.

Clothing:

  • Best dress shirt on the planet for a skinny dude (link). The Milano cut is a great fit for skinny/athletic dudes. Iron free, of course. I buy them on Black Friday / Cyber Monday for something like $50/piece. Horrible, I know, but better than the alternative of wearing a sumo outfit every day. I went though hell trying to find the perfect dress shirt. Costco is among the many stores that failed me.
  • These are my go-to dress pants (link). No iron. Nice.
  • The most comfortable pair of shoes I’ve ever worn (link). I wear these daily.

Totally Random Misc:

  • We use bidets (link). I’m baffled that we don’t use these things in the U.S. We have the Luxe Bidet Neo 185 model, but they all seem pretty similar.
  • Two of my daughters wear these Miraflex frames (link). They are a life saver. When my oldest got her first pair of glasses, she broke two pairs within the first week (head-to-head collisions with siblings). A week later a friend told us about Miraflex frames, and we’ve been fanatical customers ever since. The model we’ve had for years is the rectangular “new baby” model, which comes in a variety of sizes and colors. We’d be lost, and much poorer, without these glasses.
    • We also tried these frames from Zenni Optical which is also great cheaper option for those with very young kids. Same basic idea as Miraflex at a fraction of the cost. Something like $35 shipped for us (link).
  • Decades ago a dentist recommended a particular flossing tool to me and I love it (link). I’ve tried others and this is my favorite. Here’s a horrifically boring video of the product, but it gives you a glimpse of it in action (link).
    • Speaking of dental hygene, I like this water pick a lot (link). It has measurably improved our gum health.
      • The sink version is what we use several times a day because it’s a lot less cumbersome than hopping in the shower every time you need to floss.
  • I use a minimalist rubber-band wallet (link). Perfect for carrying the few cards I need: driver’s license, credit card, etc.
  • ReelGood is a website that allows for cross-platform searching of movies available and allows you to apply filters such as a minimum IMDB filter of 8.0.
  • We have used an electric pressure cooker for about a decade now (link). We primarily cook black beans or lentils in the thing. Dry black beans and brown rice cost nothing, and this is one of things we do to keep our food costs low.
  • We do a lot of dishes (a load a day) and for the longest time we would systematically sort utensils and dump them into the corresponding drawer. Then I had an epiphany that we should dump them all in a cup like this one from Ikea. Who knows why it took me over 30 years to figure out this life hack.

 

YouTube Channels:

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that YouTube is the future of streaming entertainment, easily surpassing network television and maybe even paid streaming platforms (Netflix/Hulu/etc). Here’s a list of YouTube channels I follow:

  •  Climbing/Outdoor:
    • Adam Ondra
      • Best climber in the world. Super high production value.
    • Mediocre Ameature
      • Some dudes based out of Orem UT who do some pretty adventurous stuff. Probably my favorite YouTube channel.
    • Beau Miles
      • A really adventurous Australian dude who documents his crazy adventures.
    • How Not to Highline
      • A dude who tests climbing gear to failure.
  • Exploring Alternatives
    • Really high production value channel that interviews people living alternative lifestyles (i.e. those not living in McMansions).
  • Last Week Tonight
    • John Oliver is brilliant.
  • Mark Rober
    • Former NASA/Apple mechanical engineer who makes videos about extreme science experiments. He graduated from my undergrad ME program about a year ahead of me.
  • Rob Greenfield
    • Earth loving hippie dude who I find to be pretty entertaining and educational.
  • Flying:
    • Mike Patey
    • SoCal Flying Monkey
      • A father of two based out of LA who got a pilot’s license and takes his family on fun excursions. It makes me irrationally want to buy a plane. A colleague of mine did this. I thought he was crazy until I watched this channel.
    • Trent Palmer
      • A professional drone pilot based out of Carson City NV who flies planes for fun.
  • Kid stuff:
    • Jelle’s Marble Runs
      • Pretty intricate marble racing with hilarious commentary. My kids love this channel. I first learned about this channel through John Oliver when he announced that This Week Tonight was becoming their first sponsor.
    • Dude Perfect
      • Five dudes from Texas who produce hilarious content for kids. I resented them for about a year because I was envious of their jobs, but I’ve grown past that. I’ve proposed some brothers in law to start a channel called “brother in law perfect” but nobody has taken me up on the offer and quit their day jobs yet.

 

 

Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/

Step 1: Be frugal

I love this brilliant SNL video (link). If I could improve upon this brilliant video at all, I’d say the path to wealth accumulation not only to “not buy stuff you can’t afford” but also to “not buy stuff you CAN afford.”

Frugality is the most important factor in accumulating wealth, not income. No matter how much you earn, you can always spend more of it. However, if you’re frugal you can save on pretty much any level of income.

When my family of 7 was making $25-$30k during graduate school, we still managed so save well over $10k per year. Now that we make substantially more, we continue to live like we’re poor college students.

Why do we do this? Because we’re happy living on nothing. This, by far, is our most valuable asset. If I could give anyone any advice it would be to learn to be happy with less. Resources like The Minimalists and this Anti-Clutter Book make a compelling point that we’ll actually be happier with less stuff.

I think that most of us underestimate what goes into generating $1 of consumption – let’s say a candy bar. In order to buy the candy bar, I need to have $1.08 in cash if the sales tax is 8% in my state. In order to have $1.08 in cash, I need to have earned well more than $1.08 due to federal, state, and payroll taxes. If my federal income tax rate is 20%, my state income tax rate is 5%, and my payroll tax rate is 7.6%, my combined tax rate is 32.6%. Thus, in order to buy a $1 candy bar, I need to generate $1.60 in pre-tax income (1*(1+8%) / (1-(20%+5%+7.6%))).

Reducing your expenditures by $1 will increase your net worth by $1, which is the same increase in net worth generated by earning an extra $1.60 in income. Likewise, if you can decrease your expenditures by $10,000, you will be just as rich as if you had earned an extra $16,000.

Frugality is multiplicative. Reducing your expenditures has substantially more effect on your net worth than changing your income the equivalent amount.

Permanently reducing recurring expenditures is the best way to generate lasting wealth. Recurring expenses include rent/mortgage, car expenses, insurance, cell phones, TV service, groceries, etc. If you can optimize these recurring expenses, you will be well on your path to wealth accumulation.

Most people unsuccessfully chase wealth by aspiring to higher paying jobs. Unfortunately, high taxes, lifestyle creep, and high stress accompany higher paying jobs leaving the individual with an ulcer and no increase in wealth.

Here’s a brief summary of what our family does to save money (and thus accumulate wealth), in a roughly decreasing order of importance:

  • Live in a low cost of living area
  • Avoid debt like the plague
  • Be tax savvy (more on that in Step 2: Minimize your tax burden)
  • Shop at Costco/Sams/Amazon almost exclusively
  • Live close to work
  • Bike to work
  • Eat at home for pretty much every meal (Very rarely do we go to restaurants)
  • Avoid cell phone plans (We do free cell phones + google voice + OBI for free VOIP home phones. More info: https://frugalprofessor.com/phones/)
  • Go without cable TV
  • Self-insure with high deductible plans for car, health, and home
  • Get 2% cash back on every credit card purchase
  • Use $15/month 2mbps internet through TWC
  • Stash unused cash in money market funds

Here’s a related post if you want more ideas on how to save money: https://frugalprofessor.com/frugal-analogs/

Most people find budgeting to be a useful tool. Since I don’t like to spend money, budgeting has never been necessary for me. Nonetheless, we’ll be sharing our monthly expenditures to show how dumb-simple this is.

Links to other steps in series:

 

Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/

Start Here – The recipe for wealth accumulation

**** I wrote the below series of posts three years ago. I think all three posts are now much better summarized by this “book” that I started last year (but haven’t finished). You may download the ~60 page draft pdf here. ***

 

Given how taboo talking about money is, many of us are financially illiterate – we have no idea how to save, how to invest, etc. This illiteracy is problematic and needs to change.

My own financial illiteracy was evident when I was hired as an intern by a Fortune 25 company during my undergrad. During orientation, some HR woman was yapping about a 401k. I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, so I opted out of the 401k. I figured, “I’m a poor college student why should I care about investing in retirement, which is 45 years away? I need the money now.”

It turns out that my company matched 75% on contributions up to 8% of my salary. In other words, I threw away 6% of my salary because I didn’t exploit the company match. In hindsight I realized that even if I had needed the money during my undergrad, I could have taken an early withdrawal on the 401k and paid the penalty and still been way better off.

It was this experience which prompted me to learn more about personal finance. Over a decade later, I’ve devoured every blog and book I could get my hands on.

Fortunately, anyone can master their finances. It does not require a PhD or a high IQ. With a bit of guidance, practically anyone in the U.S. can be a millionaire.

The recipe to generating wealth is dumb simple, as I’ll document thoroughly in this blog:

 

Following the above advice, I will regularly update our journey here:

 

Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/

About me

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I’m married with 5 kids. My wife is a stay-at-home mother, though she taught elementary school for a year before putting her career on ice for a couple decades until the kids are older (maybe after they graduate high school?).

I spent 5 years getting an undergrad degree in mechanical engineering. I then spent 4 years at a Fortune 25 company doing grunt engineering work. I was surrounded by grey-haired people who had been doing the same thing for their entire careers. Convinced I would rather kill myself than rot in cubicle hell for the next 40 years, I plotted my exit. First, I tested the waters by temporarily leaving my well-paying job (I was making $90k/year when I left) to pursue an MBA while on educational leave. Emboldened by my positive experience outside of cubicle hell, I took the plunge into 5 more years of school. It was brutal, but miraculously our family survived.

Thus far, we’ve accumulated wealth the old-fashioned way with frugality. I haven’t tracked our net worth religiously to prior to starting the blog, but here’s a rough timeline of our income & net worth.

  • Mid twenties.
    • Earned $15k/year in income working as teacher’s assistant + random summer jobs before graduating.
    • Finished our undergrad degrees.
    • At graduation, our net worth was $10k ($0 debt).
    • Took first job paying $56k/year.
  • Late twenties.
    • Got several raises and earned $90k/year before leaving on educational leave.
    • Started & completed MBA.
    • Net worth $100k ($0 debt).
  • Early thirties.
    • Took 5 years earning PhD, during which I earned $25k-$30k/year.
  • Mid thirties.
    • Completed twelfth year of college with net worth of $225k ($0 debt).
    • Took job paying $200k/year.
    • Bought first home for $400k with 20% down payment funded by Roth IRAs.

Our goal is to be financially independent in our mid-forties with ~$1.5M in investments (producing $45k/year in income in perpetuity at a 3% withdrawal rate). Let’s see how this goes, huh? It’s not as impressive as some of my blogging counterparts (Mr. Money Mustache, etc) who retired at 30, but with five kids and 12 years of college under my belt, I didn’t necessarily take the fastest path towards financial independence.

I created this blog to document our journey and illustrate how dumb-simple the process is. Hopefully someone will get use out of it.

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Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/