Financial Update – July 2018

Another month, another update. A few random comments.

Good Reads/Listens/Watches

  • Really enjoyed this ChooseFI interview with Jillian from Montana Money Adventures (link).
    • I like the annual goal-setting that she and her husband do. I particularly like the concept of deliberately cutting unnecessary things from your life in an attempt to achieve what you truly desire. Absent deliberate and painful purging of our homes & our schedules, are lives become full of things that don’t matter to us.
  • Reader Joey at Money & Megabytes shot me a few questions, which I responded to in a Q&A (link).
  • Stumbled across the blog of a twenty-something computer engineer in the heart of silicon valley who has lived in a moving truck for the past three years (link).
    • I love reading the thoughts of contrarians.


  • Learned of the JackBox Party Packs, a great series of games. I purchased for my PC laptop via Fanatical & Steam, but it’s also available on a host of different platforms (Xbox, PS, Nintendo Switch, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, etc). The platform would ideally plug into a TV, then up to 8 players can play the games in the audience using their phones. It’s brilliantly implemented.
    • My favorite games have been:
    • The games go on sale regularly. We purchased for 60% off during some Steam Sale. I don’t know how I’ve lived without these games.
    • Be warned that family friendly filters are only available on Party Packs 2+.
    • Our kids ages 6+ love these games. We’ve played them for dozens of hours already.
    • If this sounds interesting to you, I’d ease into these games by first purchasing the $10 Drawful 2, preferably when it goes on sale for 50% off.
  • Spent time in Utah and Colorado. I’m floored at how beautiful Utah is. Even though I lived in UT for 7 years, living in multiple states full of cornfields for the last 7 years made the Utah views all the more impressive. Wow. I drove 400 miles along the entire state (from Pocatello, ID to St George, UT) on I-15 which hugs the Uintas for the entirety of the state. Incredible.
  • Went on annual pilgrimage to the top of Utah Olympic Park in Park City to partake in the free ninja course up there. Our first visit was last year and we had the absolute time of our lives there. It was probably the highlight of our trip last year. After hiking for close to an hour to get up the mountain, we were crushed to find out that the ninja course had been transitioned to a paid exhibit. $15/person, with tickets for sale at the base of the mountain we had just hiked up. We were under a time crunch and unable to make the hike down to purchase the tickets, so we had to head home empty-handed. My kids were distraught. Many tears were shed. I promised to make it up to them by taking to them to a ninja gym in SLC. We went to Obstacle Warrior Kids in Sandy, which was fun. It set us back $50 (ouch), but it hopefully restored my kids faith in me. Another disappointment from the Olympic Park: I was hoping to do deep water solo rock climbing in the pool there, but the exhibit was closed. Bummer. Despite the disappointments, we got to see incredible athletes catapult themselves into the air, do acrobatics, then land into either pools or inflatable landing pads (like you see at a birthday party, only the size of my neighborhood).
  • Partook in many simple joys of life over our family reunions. Most of the activities we did were free. Kayaking. Swimming. Biking. Playing board games. Hiking. Kicking a football at a park. Playing Spikeball (looks like a gimmick but is super fun). A fulfilled life is doing simple things with people you care about. But most people are stuck in the rut of the 9-5 to fuel their insatiable consumerism and are unable to step back and enjoy the beauties of life. I’d love to simplify my life to allow me to enjoy more of the simple joys.

Bear Lake. Gorgeous.

Beautiful Utah (12k ft peaks in the distance) with frugal bro. This was my first experience on an e-bike. I don’t know that I’ve had a bigger smile on my face in my life than when I hopped on this ebike and effortlessly cruised up a massive hill going 20mph. Apparently the property behind us is owned by Karl Malone.

Another highlight of the trip: frisbee catching into the pool. Played this for hours.





blankReenacting the swinging rope scene from Greatest Showman during a family reunion talent show. Coincidental, since I am often mistaken for Zac Efron in real life….especially with my shirt off.

blankThis is the madness that is my life. Kids lost their sanity driving through Wyoming. That jimmy-rigged Ipad holder (jimmy-rigged with rubber bands since we lost the original springs to the locking mechanism), which attaches to my headrest, is of the best investments I’ve ever made. Converts an iPad into a car entertainment center (especially when coupled with Bluetooth) for a few bucks. We saved a few thousand dollars by doing this in lieu of purchasing a fancy entertainment system for our car. A half decade into this setup and it still works flawlessly.

blankWe dupe our younger kids into eating healthy food by claiming that it will make their muscles grow bigger. Our older kids are less convinced by such lies.

blank2 mile hike. 1k foot elevation gain over 1 mile. Pretty miserable but were rewarded with a nice view and ice cream afterward.

blankSt George, UT. 115°F outside. Hot enough to melt your face off.

blankEach year, our family comes up with a family motto. The family motto this year is: “We rejoice in mediocrity.” We came up with that theme to let our kids know that they shouldn’t get discouraged when they’re not the best at something. Here we are rejoicing in our 4th place finish at a pinewood derby race at a family reunion.

blankPark City 4th of July parade.

blankPark City alpine slides.

Awkwardly posed family portrait. It’s this picture which makes me slightly regret my wardrobe being comprised almost entirely of this Adidas t-shirt.


Classic midwest sunset while playing ultimate. Massive grain elevator. Train tracks. Big sky. Beautiful sunset. Not a bad way of passing an hour or two.

Witnessed an autonomous robot lawn mower in my neighborhood and was amazed. It was like I had traveled to the year 3000. Perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my life.

This month’s finances

  • The good:
    • Filled up remainder of 529, the last remaining tax-advantaged account to fill up this year.
    • Since tax-advantaged accounts are completely filled up, I started filling taxable accounts.
  • The bad/abnormal:
    • $4k property tax payment for the second half of 2017. Arg.
    • $1.1k in healthcare expenses trying to identify source of stomach pain for a member of the frugal professor clan. As of today, the suspected culprit is a gallbladder.
    • $450 in home maintenance.

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 a faster rate of repayment. The true cost of the mortgage should exclude repayment of principal, which I show above.
  3. Crappy $20 internet (3mpbs/1mbps) and ~$0 cell phones as described here.
  4. All expenditures at Costco & Walmart are classified as “Food at home” for simplicity (even if it’s laundry detergent, clothing, 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. I prefer Vanguard funds but my employer offers Fidelity instead.
  7. 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.
  8. ETF’s are a pain to own relative to holding index funds directly. You have to 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. I am currently invested in VTI b/c it’s $10/year cheaper than VTSAX in my Saturna HSA.
  9. The only other administrative cost not captured by my expense ratios is a $19/year administrative fee for my HSA at Saturna Capital ($15 per transaction + 4*$1/dividend reinvestment).
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. I own one share of Berkshire Hathaway (B Class) for the sole purpose of 4 free tickets/year to Berkshire’s annual meeting. Incorrectly classified as US stock index because it is a trivial holding and because it essentially is a US stock index.

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6 thoughts on “Financial Update – July 2018”

  1. Your trip looks epic! Is it bad I’m jealous you got to play frisbee catching for hours?

    Having the time and bandwidth to enjoy the daily simple things is what makes the pursuit of FI so enjoyable, knowing once FI I’ll be able to enjoy even more of the simple things.

    • Thanks Jim. Was a good trip indeed. Playing jumping frisbee catch into the pool is certainly among the top highlights.

      I recently went through the thought exercise with a friend of what the perfect day would entail. If I’m not mistaken, Montana Money Adventures discusses this in that ChooseFI podcast. In any regard, my perfect day doesn’t entail any consumerism. Just time with family in nature + learning for free in public libraries. Thinking vividly about that optimal day was incredibly motivating and exciting.

  2. Read your entire “rough draft”. Really enjoyed it. I do think some of the “equations” may appear intimidating to a newbie. Instead of using all the letters, parenthesis and latin symbols, maybe just use the simple words each one represents. If your targeted audience are graduate students in finance who are used to seeing equations like this, it’s probably no big deal. If it’s an “average” college grad starting their life off, I think these equations appear overly complicated, which then make something very simple like personal finance seem overly complicated. I know you didn’t ask for a review, but I figured I would give you some feed back to consider, as I hope you continue forward with your book.

    • J. I really appreciate the feedback. I agree that the math symbols can easily be substituted for words without any loss of information. I’ll make that change.

      I don’t believe I’ve seen anything out there that conveys this information and I believe it would be a huge help to young students/adults as they start their careers. I wrote it to my former self who was clueless about finances & the real world.

      Thanks again for the pep talk to finish. Perhaps I’ll find the time to do so. What you read was composed in three days. Perhaps I’ll spend three more days to finish it.


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