Financial Update – Feb 2019

Another month, another update. A few random comments.

Good Reads/Listens/Watches

  • About Time (link).
    • I really enjoyed this movie. I had never heard of it before. Found via Justwatch.
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor (link).
    • Awesome documentary about Mr. Rogers. Worth watching.
    • Others I’ve talked to think the movie is too slow. I’m convinced that millennials do not have the attention span to sit through this movie.
  • Fyre (link).
    • A few years back, I vaguely remember hearing about a music festival on a Caribbean island featuring Blink 182, a band which brings back fond memories of my freshman year of college.
    • It turns out that the festival never materialized and was a complete scam.
    • The documentary really highlights the power (and stupidity) of social media, “influencers” (a term I heretofore vow to never use again for the rest of my life), and branding.
    • The movie is really a microcosm of social media. It seems to me that social media is most often used in the following manner: 1.) To trick others into thinking that you are richer/happier/having more fun than you really are. 2.) To fool yourself into thinking that you are inadequate because you are not as rich/happy/having as much fun as others.
      • The brilliance of Fyre was that it successfully preyed on the inadequacies created by social media. The tragedy of Fyre is that it was an utter scam.
      • The documentary made me hate social media, marketing, and branding even more (a tall order since I already loathe these things).
  • My Money Blog on mortality (link).
    • It’s morbid to think about, but there is a fairly high chance we’ll be dead in 20 years and a 100% chance we’ll be dead in 20 years + a few more. The takeaway for me is to be proactive in how I design the remaining years on earth.
      • For me, this involves continuing to optimize my finances to give me the freedom to accomplish what I want. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, naysayers will say that I’ve squirreled away for years for nothing. The reality is that I don’t feel deprived today. Further, the decades of squirreling away will provide a larger nest egg for the surviving members of my family, so I really don’t see a downside to it.
        • I think the biggest superpower we all can achieve in life is to learn to be happy on less. It’s win-win-win-win-win. Better for our bank accounts, our stress levels, our happiness, the environment, etc.
  • Bogleheads on Investing Podcast (link).
    • It’s pretty good for people who like geeking out about index funds & investing.
    • If you don’t care to geek out about index funds, I wouldn’t recommend the podcast.
    • Bogle was interviewed in the inaugural episode a few months before his death. It’s worth listening to.
  • I discovered Bill Gates’ blog the other day via his interesting AMA on Reddit. Here’s his latest post (link). Definitely worthy of adding to the RSS feed. I love reading his thoughts about the world and about his efforts to improve the lives of billions.
  • Thoughts on trade-offs (money vs life experiences) from Thoughts from Inside the Box (Google employee who famously lives in moving truck in google parking lot) (link).
  • Mr Money Mustached on Fictional Cyclocroft Biking Town & Reality (link).
  • The Finance Buff on healthcare (link).
  • Free Solo won an Oscar for best documentary. I still like Dawn Wall better. Both are worth watching.
  • Fritz (from Retirement Manifsto) on Einstein’s Theory of Happiness (link).
  • Econtalk podcast on the placebo effect (link).
    • I need to start taking sugar pills to trick my body into being healthier, smarter, etc.
  • This Humans of New York post made me laugh (link).
    • I can painfully relate to his social ineptitude which pretty much summarizes my courtship of Mrs Frugal Professor.
  • WSJ opinion piece highlighting the increasing obsolescence of the way medicine is practiced (link).
    • I don’t agree with the author’s conclusions, but there are some interesting points he makes.


  • My kids participated in a sterilized version of Valentine’s day at school in which no candy was exchanged. The same sterilization occurs for other holidays. Halloween? No candy, costumes, or parties.
    • In my humble opinion, Valentine’s day should be cancelled (for kids) if there is no candy involved. My kids disagreed and insisted on giving out overpriced valentines anyway. It was a source of heated debate in our house this month; a debate which I lost handily.
    • No candy at Valentine’s day reminds me of this “no dairy” Brian Regan skit (link).
      • “And no more happiness”
  • It was really, really cold. It has snowed a lot. We are on the verge of losing our sanity.
  • Mrs Frugal Professor has been complaining a lot lately about body aches. After a lot of troubleshooting, she is attributing these pains in part to our 14 year old mattress. After hours of research and testing, she converged on a $3500 “Purple 4” mattress. It pains my soul to write the words “$3500” and “mattress” in the same sentence, but laying on that thing in a store felt like laying on a cloud. Seeing the pain that this non-frugal purchase would have inflicted on me, my wife took pity on me and accepted my proposal to purchase a $500 mattress from Costco instead. So we picked it up, put it on the roof of our minivan, then held on to it as we drove it home (0.25 miles) at 5mph in around 0°F weather. Suffice it to say that our (gloved) hands were cold after that ordeal. Fortunately, the mattress made it home safely. Unfortunately, my wife thought that it felt like sleeping on concrete so we were forced to take it back (still unopened in the plastic). So that’s where the mattress saga stands today.
    • The horror of a $3500 mattress purchase perhaps making it onto this frugality blog has disciplined us to look further into alternative solutions.
      • I think we may be converging on this $700 foam mattress from Costco (link)….

I noticed a faculty member had this on their laptop during a meeting. If you’re a math nerd, you may appreciate it. The minute or two I spent deciphering it were of the most productive uses of time I’ve ever spent in a meeting in my life.

Depressing daily forecast as you start your morning bike commute.


Even more depressing 10-day forecast….. It’s amazing how warm 20°F feels after several weeks straight of 0°ish weather. I took my son on a bike ride to Costco the evening of the 27th. It was close to zero degrees outside. It turned out to be a mistake. Hopefully my son isn’t emotionally scarred for life….

The pedestrian underpass flooded & froze over. The studded snow tires are working.

blank blank


blankThis is what happens when our kids are cooped up all winter long; WE ARE LOSING OUR SANITY!!!!


This month’s finances

  • The good:
    • No catastrophes.
  • The bad/abnormal:
    • The 5.25% cash back at Costco is working well (via Costco Cash Cards), but we have an inventory of about $500 in unused cards, leading to the false impression that we’ve spent too much on groceries this month.
      • Going forward, given that our gas spending will now happen via Costco Cash cards, I’ll lose the ability to track future Costco gas spending. It will now be lumped into grocery spending. I don’t care enough about that to fix it. Same thing for our many Costco pizzas per month.
    • $437 in allergy shot payments.

Full version is downloadable here (link).



  1. I lazily approximate home value as my historical purchase price.
  2. I have a 15Y mortgage which results in much larger principal payments than a 30Y mortgage. Since principal payments are simply transfers from one pocket (assets) to another (debt reduction), I treat such cash flows as savings.
  3. ~$0 cell phones described here.
  4. All expenditures at Costco & Walmart are classified as “Food at home” for simplicity (even if it’s laundry detergent, clothing, medicine, toys, etc).
  5. Nobody knows the perfect asset allocation. Just pick one and run with it. Use a target date retirement fund as a benchmark if you want some guidance (link).
  6. My low portfolio expense ratio is the primary reason why I don’t hold target-date funds, which have expense ratios anywhere from 0.16% to 1%. I can achieve a much lower expense ratio on my own due to Admiral shares, etc. And it’s not hard. Plus, a DIY portfolio allows one to tax-loss-harvest more easily.
  7. ETF’s are slightly more annoying to hold relative to index funds. With ETF’s, you must deal with bid-ask spreads as well as the inability to buy partial shares. With a simple index fund, you don’t have to deal with either of these issues. Bogleheads discussion here (link).
  8. I continue to own VTSAX rather than FZROX and in my taxable brokerage account because it is more tax efficient due to lower capital gains distributions. Bogleheads discussion here (link).
  9. The one blight in my expense ratio analysis is my 529 plan. The underlying Vanguard fund is almost free to hold (0.02%), but the high administrative fees bring the total cost of holding the fund to 0.29%. I abhor fees and would likely avoid 529 plans if I didn’t get to deduct up to $10k of contributions per year on my state return, saving myself $700/year in state income taxes.
  10. CA’s 529 plan has the lowest expense ratio US equity index fund of any in the US. I’d have 100% of my money here if not for the state tax deduction I receive in my own state.
  11. I own one share of Berkshire Hathaway (B Class) for the sole purpose of getting 4 free tickets/year to Berkshire’s annual meeting.
  12. I bought 100 shares MoviePass for $0.0127/share to be able to tell my students that I held a stock that went to zero. So far, the stock price stubbornly remains above zero.

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19 thoughts on “Financial Update – Feb 2019”

  1. After a bit of research, we pulled the trigger on a Tuft and Needle foam mattress. I would recommend. Order online at Lowe’s, find a coupon and stack discount gift cards with Raise, etc.

  2. We just replaced our 11 year old bed and couldn’t be happier. $259 for a well reviewed 5200+ reviews @ 4.5/5 stars 12″ King mattress shipped. It appears that price does not relate proportionally to quality in the memory foam mattress realm! It appears that money spent on marketing affects price more than anything. Spa Sensations by Zinus 12″ Theratouch Memory Foam Mattress

    • I really appreciate the feedback. Thanks for the input! The reviews look tempting. I’ll see if the wife buys into it….

  3. Have you consider the amount of time you will sleep on the mattress..?! You would hopefully spend around 1/3 of your life laying on the thing, which can help justify the investment.

    I have issues with pillows…they never seem to last

    • These thoughts have gone through my mind as well. But I also spend around 95% of my life wearing socks and can’t justify paying $3500 on them. The tradeoff I’m making with this purchase, as with all purchases, is to maximize value by maximizing marginal benefit divided by the marginal cost. In the case of the mattress, I’m trying to figure out what the marginal benefit is of a $3500 mattress relative to a $500 mattress (does the marginal benefit exceed the marginal cost of $3k). But, overall, I’m sympathetic to the idea of not cheaping out on a mattress given that it will affect the quality of my life in a non-trivial way for at least 10 years.

  4. You could try to test run a few using an Oura ring, but that would probably be a huge pain dealing with 30 day trail refunds/etc. plus you would have to splurge on a $300 ring to track your sleep

    • I just watched a video on the Oura ring. Do you have one? Looks pretty slick. Any advantage over a fitbit?

      I’d like a way to track my sleep & activity in a regular manner.

      My wife says that the two nights sleeping on the Costco mattress were like sleeping on concrete, she didn’t sleep much, and that she woke up feeling like death. Luckily(?), it was bad enough that a fitness tracker wouldn’t have helped contribute to the assessment at all.

      • Nope, but I might buy one next time I want to reward myself or am down enough to think buying stuff will make me happy. I’ve never used a fitbit but my background is in exercise/health so I know how critical sleep is for every aspect of life and many podcasts seem to say the Oura is legit – sure they are probably compensated somehow to say that but I think Dr. Peter Attia might be one of the early investors of Oura and he seems to really know his stuff…

        If you get bored and want to really dig deep I think there’s a few interviews with the founders on bullet proof radio and maybe a few other podcasts (joe rogan maybe?!):

        Two great books that really helped me in the bedroom are Why We Sleep and The Circadian Code, I used to think it was caffeine, but when I started controlling exposure to blue light and I found within a few days it was hard for me to not fall asleep. Took awhile to get to the point I slept deep (I think..) all night.

        We splurged on a tempur-pedic after we signed our mortgage a year or so ago, and after laying on it nearly non stop the past few days with the flu I am very thankful for it. (just reading your blog and writing these replies has made me feel better about the purchase back when. Muchas gracias!) We shopped around and even went to a special store while out of town to check out a Casper but ended up splurging on it, I think my wife liked it the most of everything we laid on at a few different stores and all of my digging online seemed to point to the idea it might be the best for sleeping cool which was a big thing for me

        I used to work as a mover back when during undergrad, and noticed everyone with a tempur-pedic was in love. I remember one guy said his friend got him one as a gag gift for his 40th and he said it was the best gift he ever got! lol

        • Thanks for the Oura & book info. Sleep is definitely underrated.

          I’m glad that my wife’s bed suffering has benefited someone, even for something as trivial as helping someone feel better about going large on a former mattress purchase. I’ve also heard good things about tempur-pedic. Perhaps our date night tonight will be continued mattress shopping. There is nothing more romantic in the world than laying on beds while high-pressure salesmen hover over you!

          With few exceptions (i.e. backpacking), I sleep like a rock. My problem is not that I can’t sleep well, it’s that I’m too stupid to go to bed on time. No amount of mattress science can compensate for my stupidity. I just need to be more disciplined.

          • Suffering isn’t all bad, it’s shown there is an issue to resolve – luckily it seems something simple (get a new mattress) not something serious that could be …..

            The circadian code book might really benefit; some of the info thrown around might be the kick in the pants to be disciplined with your sleep hygiene. Personally, I do feel like I have a lot more energy and focus since getting my schedule in better rhythm, though I would of loved to have Oura data from pre/post. That ring fascinates me but just seems like an excessive purchase I can’t get on board with, yet…

          • I’m a fan of kicks in the pants when they induce me to corrective action, so thanks for the recommendation!

  5. I watched both Free Solo and The Dawn Wall after you recommended them. I also liked The Dawn Wall much better. Free Solo has backing from National Geographic and it was shown in more theaters for more days. Maybe that explains the win.

    • Glad to hear you liked Dawn Wall. It’s a great movie. Hopefully I didn’t waste your time with Free Solo. Not my favorite, but I thought it was still worth watching. I liked Meru as much as Dawn Wall. It’s an incredible movie if you haven’t seen it. It’s on Amazon Prime now:

  6. D** is literally crying right now to go back to you guys after watching E**** (or who we thought was her) catch some SERIOUS air on that snow hill jump you guys made.
    Glad to see you don’t still have them riding barnyard animals 😉

    • It was a fun day. Unfortunately, most of February was too cold for the kids to go outside. We’ve kind of been losing our minds.


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