Financial Update – July 2023

Another month, another update. A few random comments.

Good Reads/Listens/Watches

  • Steve Levitt (re)interviews Sal Khan on People I Mostly Admire (link).
    • Guy Raz interviews Sal Khan on How I Built This (link).
  • The Finance Buff on:
    • Using Fidelity as a bank (link).
      • I’m still a fan of using the Fidelity brokerage account as my primary account with the CMA used solely for ATM reimbursements as described in this post.
    • Securing your email with YubiKey (link).
  • Mr Money Mustache on the book The Comfort Crisis (link).
    • I checked the book out from the library and have enjoyed the first few chapters.


  • We went on a road trip to UT, WY, and CO.
  • I dragged my family on a backpacking trip to WY.
    • We were originally planning on a 3-night trip (with the requisite truckload of food), but aborted after the first night because of mosquitoes. We were well-prepared with mosquito nets and spray. However, we were unprepared for the psychological trauma of being constantly bombarded by mosquitoes. So we left paradise two days earlier than we intended.
      • I’m no stranger to mosquitoes, but this was a horror show.
    • Our city-slicker family brought our city-slicker dog. She loved every minute of unleashed wandering and hunting in the wilderness. Seeing her in her element was a highlight of the trip.
    • Over the two days, we put in just shy of 15 miles. I couldn’t be happier with how well the kiddos did. It was remarkable how little complaining I heard — none that I recall — despite the relatively demoralizing mosquito situation. Even more remarkable was the fact that they didn’t fight with each other for those two days, until the nanosecond we reached our minivan.
    • I hope this becomes a regular-ish tradition. I guess we’ll see if that happens….
  • My grad-school buddy and I embarked on a rather adventurous climbing trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.
    • We climbed the Sharkstooth (link).
    • The approach was pretty hellish. It entailed a 5-mile approach from the parking lot, an overnight bivy (sleeping under a rock at 11,000 ft with no tent), endless boulder hopping, and some sketchy snowfield traverses. But the climbing was easy (thanks to us taking the path of least resistance), the weather was fantastic, and the scenery was unreal.
      • Here’s a photo sphere pic I took of the scenery about a mile short of our bivy spot (link).
      • To say that I didn’t sleep terribly well while wedged under a giant boulder spooning my loudly snoring grad-school friend would be putting things generously.
        • I had about 7-inches of clearance between my head and the boulder above me.  I smacked my head into it once while adjusting sleeping positions.
        • I had a mild claustrophobia-induced panic attack while adding a layer of clothing in the middle of the night. My buddy had gotten up for a urination break, so I seized the opportunity to add a layer on since I was cold. Lazily, I put on my long underwear layer on top of my sun hoody layer, which made me feel like I was suffocating while wedged under the giant boulder. I fixed my mistake after kicking my (then-returned) buddy out of his spot again so I could change, since there was zero ability to change clothes while wedged under a rock in a sleeping bag.
        • There was a pretty impressive rockslide in the middle of the night somewhere in our valley. Since I was awake before the rockslide, it wasn’t particularly alarming. However, it startled my sleeping buddy quite a bit.
        • It was my first time using a “wag bag.” Coming back to civilization makes you appreciate the marvelous comforts of modern life, like toilets and running water. I swear that outdoor suffering is the antidote to first-world complacency (hence the MMM post & accompanying book). Toilets are a miracle!!!!
    • Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold climbed this peak in 2020 in a single push in addition to over a dozen more peaks:
      • Here’s a fantastic Reel Rock documentary on their achievement (video 1, video 2).
      • Here’s an Alpinist article with their Sharkstooth summit as the leading image (link).
      • I have so much respect for those two….
  • After (psychologically) limping home from that difficult climbing trip to RMNP, my buddy and I enjoyed a glorious meal at Chipotle in Loveland, CO. Despite compulsively checking my phone while waiting in line, I overheard the customer ahead of me ordering a mysterious “double wrapped” burrito. Intrigued, when it was my turn to order I asked the employee about this mysterious option. The teenager happily divulged the following well-kept secret. Customers can ask for double of everything on a burrito — except the meat — and it doesn’t cost anything more. Two tortillas, double the rice, double the beans, etc. It sounded too good to be true, but I had to give it a try. To my great surprise, the employee warmed two tortillas, arranged them in the shape of a Venn diagram, then proceeded to construct the largest burrito I’ve ever eaten at Chipotle. It was one of the highlights of my life. I have since replicated this at another Chipotle in another state, so I’m 2/2.
  • Walking in the woods was an enjoyable endeavor. I’d like to do more of it before I’m dead.

At one point in our many-thousand mile drive, unfrugal dog revolted and sat on an already occupied human seat. Laughter ensued. Our fully-loaded Sienna performed flawlessly despite bottoming out a few times on rocky terrain in WY. Thank goodness.


*** UTAH ***

Family reunion. Deer Valley, UT.

Stewart Falls, Provo, UT.

Stewart Falls again.

Rock Canyon, Provo, UT. FC1 giving it a go.

FC5 reaching the top.

FC3 this time.

FC2 with FC1 on the belay.

Mrs FP giving it a go.

FC1 again.

blankMt Timpanogos at sunset.


*** WYOMING ***

Beautiful, beautiful Wyoming. The mosquito nets came out at the trailhead and didn’t come off until we were back in the car.

FC3 with unfrugal dog, who was living her best life.

Stream crossings were fun. FC2 ended up with wet feet in both crossings. If you look closely, that’s her hiking pole drifting away to the left.

Damn, damn mosquitoes. The picture doesn’t remotely begin to capture the density of the mosquitoes. I had to kill about 30 mosquitoes that made it into my tent before going to bed.

They were all absolute troopers, but FC1 happily carried FC4’s pack for most of the trip. I carried FC5’s for most of the trip.


FC5 leaping.

FC3 managed to catch a fish in one of the few moments of relative reprieve from the mosquitoes.

Victorious post-hike selfie. I was so proud of those kids.





*** COLORADO ***blank
Approaching our bivy site in Sharktooth, RMNP, CO. Sharkstooth is the one that looks like a shark’s tooth on the top left. My buddy borrowed the Virga 2 pack and it worked great.

Our home for a few hours. Quaint, isn’t it? A few columbines in the foreground.

Where I laid down and mostly didn’t sleep. Whacking my head hurt a bit.

Feeling small in the Rockies.

Last pitch or two; I forget.

Cresting the summit.

Sliding back down.

View on our way back down. Happy to have made it back safely. It was quite the adventure.





FC4 at JV Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, CA.

FC4 and me at Castle Rock, Santa Cruz Mountains, Los Gatos, CA.


This Month’s Finances

The ever-temperamental market has been kind as of late, but with a four-to-six decade investing horizon ahead of me, I try not to get too worked up over such things (either good or bad). This is easier said than done, of course. The last chart in the financial update illustrates that our portfolio has almost fully recovered from the recent downturn.

Our spending is trending up through a combination of actual + lifestyle inflation. With our lagged 12-month spending hitting an all time high of $90k this month, that puts us at exactly double the federal poverty level for a family of 7. I’d say we’re living a fulfilling and comfortable life with that level of spending.

I’ve been asking myself a lot lately on how we can use more of our growing resources to improve our already (very) good lives. And more often than not I cannot think of a single thing (or experience or service) we could buy that would materially increase our happiness. That said, I’m a fan of travel and certainly hope to continue dragging my kids to new places.

The older I get, I find myself worrying a lot less about money and a lot more about time. I feel fortunate to have chosen a career that provides some flexibility in my time, particularly over the summers. We’re all going to be dead in a metaphorical blink of an eye, so why not try to live a life worth living? Why not design a life that minimizes the amount of our precious time having to file TPS reports?

  • The good:
    • Still employed.
  • The bad/abnormal:
    • ~$1k in gear purchases for backpacking trip.
      • We bought six of the Granite Gear Virga 2 packs for ~$72/piece. I couldn’t be happier with this minimalist pack. Currently selling at Steep and Cheap for $82 (link).
        • The “Regular” size fit my family better than the “Short” size.
      • We purchased 4 pairs of Solomon Speedcross’ this month (link).
        • 3 of us already owned them, so all 7 of us hiked in these.
        • These are my favorite outdoor shoe. Perfect for hiking, backpacking, frisbee golf, trail running, climbing approaches, etc.
        • Depending on your tolerance for ugly colors, you can get them at a decent discount using the above link.

Full version downloadable here (link).




  1. Fidelity unambiguously has the best HSA on the market. $0 admin fees + cheap investment options (e.g. FZROX, FZILX, FSKAX, etc).
  2. I lazily approximate home value as my historical purchase price.
  3. 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.
  4. ~$0 cell phones described here.
  5. All expenditures at Costco & Walmart are classified as “Food at home” for simplicity (even if it’s laundry detergent, clothing, medicine, toys, etc).
  6. 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). If you prefer to DIY (as I do), then a three-fund portfolio is great (link).
  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, and it’s trivially easy to manage. Further, a DIY portfolio allows one to tax-loss-harvest more easily. Lastly, a DIY portfolio can help avoid the dreaded cap gains distributions caused by a fund-of-funds (e.g. Vanguard Target funds in Dec 2021).
  8. 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 (Fidelity now offers fractional shares). With a simple index fund, you don’t have to deal with either of these issues. Bogleheads discussion here (link).
  9. I hold VTSAX in my taxable brokerage account because its tax efficiency (no cap gains distributions thanks to its patented technique).
  10. CA’s 529 plan has the lowest expense ratio US equity index fund of any in the US (link). I’d have 100% of our 529 money there if not for the state tax deduction we receive in our own state.
  11. My Collective Investment Trust (CIT) version of Vanguard’s Total Int’l Stock Index has a 0.059% expense ratio, yet produces 0.15% of “tax alpha” due to reduced foreign tax withholdings. Vanguard implemented this change around 2019. Therefore, I report the effective expense ratio of negative 0.091% for this holding (=0.059%-0.15%). The “tax alpha” shows up in the performance differential in the fact sheets here (CIT vs MF) and is more thoroughly explained here. Unfortunately, this 0.15% of “tax alpha” is not available in the mutual fund version.

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15 thoughts on “Financial Update – July 2023”

  1. I read the comfort crisis at the beach a week or two ago and loved it! I’ve been enjoying loaded walks for a month or two to help control blood pressure (I’ve never enjoyed doing cardio but I don’t mind walking) and eventually may splurge on a stupid expensive ruck sack and weights (health is our greatest wealth) to added some loaded steps between the parking garage and my office and randomly around campus in addition to the 30-60 minute walks I’ve been taking on non-lifting days

    • Glad you liked the book! I’m looking forward to finishing it.

      I’ve seen really fit people at a nearby park with those weighted vests on. It looks intense. We inadvertently “rucked” ~40 lbs too much food on our recent WY backpacking trip. It turns out our kids ate significantly less than I was thinking, plus we cut the trip short by several days.

      Time in nature is the best medicine I’m aware of.

    • Time will tell how my kids remember this trip. Hopefully they’ll remember the good. That’s how it always goes for me. The bad parts fade away, leaving only the good parts.

  2. I was thinking about Fidelity brokerage after I read TFB’s post. Good to know you use it as well. I follow the same CC strategy as you(using Bofa credit cards with bonus to maximize rewards). Is fidelity bill pay as good as BOA’s? My BOA bill pay is very good when I use eBill and Autopay features to pay in full for CC. It debits the right amount at the right time. All automated. Can we do this for BOA’s credit card from Fidelity bill pay?

    • I loathe BoA’s online interface. I wasted about 30 minutes of my life this weekend setting up autopay on a new BoA card (our 8th) because they had changed their system and their online instructions were incorrect. I had to call to resolve.

      On the other hand, I’ve never had any issue whatsoever using Fidelity bill pay. The interface is intuitive and it works well. I’m enjoying the 5% money market rates and the auto-liquidation of funds upon any withdrawal.

      If memory serves me well, Fidelity doesn’t auto-liquidate the bills sent through bill pay until the paper check is deposited by the recipient, which is pretty nice. A few more pennies in interest earned.

  3. Ok. Good to know. BOA has this nice eBill feature that allows you to pay the full amount based on how much you spent the previous month. Hopefully Fidelity has the same feature. If not, I can always set up a auto debit from the CC issuer. On a side note, I already have 3 CC with BOA. Do you know what is the max # of cards I can have with them?

    • Not sure what the max # of BoA cards. A few years ago on Reddit, someone was claiming to have 30 cards or so (one for each MLB team) for the purpose of collecting the sign-up bonuses. I suspect they’ve clamped down on that.

      As far as paying BoA CC bills with Fidelity goes, it’s super easy. I “pull” Fidelity money using BoA’s bill pay service, so it automatically pays in full each month — same as you currently do. You’d simply change the “from” account within BoA’s site to your Fidelity account.

      • BOA UI is horrible. I am unable to add Fidelity account as an ‘external’ account. It says ‘coming’ soon. This after I spend 10 minutes providing all the information. If the feature is not available, the should just disable the option rather than allowing it and then saying it is not available.

        • BoA’s website makes me want to die every time I log in. Worst I’ve dealt with by a large margin. Luckily, I never have to log in once Autopay is set up. It takes some work, though….

          This is what it looks like after its configured properly (for my wife’s account): link

          • Thank you for the screenshot. Very helpful. But to pick the Fidelity from the drop down, you have to add it first right? Did you have any issues with adding Fidelity brokerage as an external account? I am trying to add the fidelity brokerage using the “Manage accounts from other banks” option under “Pay and Transfer menu (second from left) and it would not allow me. Thanks again for the screenshot. Any insights on how you added Fidelity brokerage is appreciated.

          • Quick update. After I entered the comment below, I want to try it again, and now I got a new UI and it allowed me now. It is now pending verification. All it needed was your magic touch :-). Thanks again!

  4. Awesome pictures! Looks like a fun filled month. We also took a July trip to SD/WY and got in about 48 miles of hiking in 2 weeks. It was really a fun change of scenery and I was especially proud of our 6 year old.
    I forgot all about Steep and Cheap! I used to keep a dedicated browser window open on my computer in grad school for this site alone…I may revert back to that now :\
    I also agree that I’m starting to think more about time than money. Early 40’s is sobering 🙂
    I have “The Comfort Crisis” on hold from our library and am looking forward to reading it.
    Thanks for the post!

    • Glad you had a good trip to SD/WY. I haven’t explored much of SD but hope to do so in the near future. WY is just amazing.

      Steep and Cheap is great! I’ve gotten a bunch of climbing gear from there. They’ve treated me well.

      Hope you enjoy the book as much as I am.


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