## Federal Income Tax Calculator

I’ve developed a tool that can be used for tax planning purposes. In order to make decisions like how much to work, how much to save in a 401(k), etc, you have to know what your effective marginal tax rate is. Unfortunately the tax code is so complex that knowing one’s effective marginal tax rate requires … Read more

## Step 3: Invest the savings wisely

To get to Step 3, we’ve first learned to be frugal in Step 1, which will generate savings for us. In Step 2, we’ve learned to maximize our savings by minimizing our tax burden using tax-deferred accounts like 401k’s, etc. In Step 3, we’ll learn what to do with the piles of money in our 401k’s, etc.

For reasons discussed in Step 2, you should accumulate a lot of money in tax-deferred accounts like 401k’s, 457’s, 403b’s, 401a’s, and IRA’s. These fancy numbers are nothing more than labels on the outside of a bucket where you are storing your money. Inside each bucket is a pile of cash.

Piles of cash are generally not good investments since inflation erode their value from the pile at a rate of 2-3% per year. As a result, you will want to invest in something that beats inflation.

Investors will usually chose to invest this cash in stocks, which is the literal ownership of a company. If I buy 1 share of Apple stock, currently priced at \$99.89, I’m buying a portion of this company and am entitled to future profits of the company which are paid out in the form of dividends and share repurchases. Apple has 5.48B shares outstanding, so buying 1 share will entitle you to 1/5,480,000,000 of the company’s profits.

Alternatively, you can buy corporate or government bonds, which is simply loaning a company or government money for a specified interest rate.

The most important equation for investors is the following:

Real Return = Market Return – Inflation – Investment Management Fees – Taxes

Let’s break this down one term at a time.

• Real Return: This corresponds to the growth in purchasing power of your money over time. If you achieve a real return of 5% over 1 year, you will be able to buy the equivalent of 5% more stuff 1 year from now than you can today. If you could buy 1 candy bar before, in a year you can buy 1.05 candy bars after a real return of 5%, after taking inflation, etc. into consideration.
• Market Return: If you were to invest in every company in the U.S., you’d get the “market return.” Apple is the biggest company in the world, so it would make sense to hold more weight of Apple in your portfolio than Joe’s Taco Stand, but if you want true exposure to the entire U.S. economy, you’d want to down a sliver of ownership in Joe’s Taco Stand as well. This “market return” is the aggregate performance of the stock market and it’s essentially impossible to beat it through stock picking or market timing. The sooner you learn this lesson, the richer you will be.
• Inflation: \$1 in cash today is worth less than \$1 cash in the future due to inflation. Prices rise over time, eroding the purchasing power of cash. Historically this runs in the neighborhood of 2-3%.
• Investment Management Fees: If you hire a financial planner, they’ll charge you a 1% assets-under management fee regardless of their performance. If you adhere to the advice on this blog, will want to avoid them like the plague. Further, if you invest in actively managed mutual funds, you’ll face fund management fees of 1% per year or so. Why does this matter? Let’s look at our equation and assume a market return of 6%, inflation of 3% and ignore taxes for now. This gives us a Real Return = 6% – 3% – Investment Management Fees. If Investment Management Fees are 0, the Real Return would be 3%. If instead, I used a financial planner and actively managed mutual funds, my Real Return = 6% – 3% – (1% financial planner fee + 1% active mutual fund fee) = 1%. Again, Investment Management Fees are one of the two things you can control (the other being taxes), and you can make huge mistakes here. By having my fees be 2%/year, my Real Returns plummeted from 3% to 1%, a reduction of 66% in the potential growth of my investments.
• Taxes: When you buy a stock for \$100 and sell it for \$150, you incur a capital gains tax. The \$100 purchase price is known as the “cost basis” – simply what you bought it for. When you sell it for \$150, you incur a \$50 capital gain, since the sales price of \$150 is \$50 higher than the \$100 purchase price. Capital gains rates are published here. As of the time of this writing, they range from 0%-20%, depending on your income level, but for most people will be 15%. Given that taxes cause a performance drag on the investment, it’s best to avoid them. To avoid them, the investor in the above example could simply have deferred the selling of the stock, and thus pushed the capital gains tax down the road. If your money is in a tax advantaged 401k, 401a, 457, 403b, or IRA, you can ignore capital gains and dividends taxes. However, if your money is in a taxable brokerage account, you’ll need to pay special attention to taxes.

What are index funds and why they will be your best friend:

You can’t beat the market. Hundreds of research studies have concluded this. As a result, the best thing you can do to maximize your real returns is to manage the two levers in the above equation that you can control: Investment Management Fees and Taxes. To minimize Investment Management Fees, simply avoid financial planners. Also, avoid actively managed mutual funds. Actively managed mutual funds pay an investment adviser a healthy salary to try to beat the market. This is a fool’s errand, and time and time again, research shows that actively managed fund managers underperform the market. Jack Bogle founded Vanguard decades ago with this simple fact in mind. He set out to design a product that captured the market return at a rock-bottom investment management fee. This product is known as an Index Fund, and it simply tracks the market at rock-bottom fees.

With one index fund, such as the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX), you own the entire U.S. economy for a cost of 0.04% per year (as shown by the “expense ratio” listed here). If you have \$100k invested in this fund at Vanguard, it will only cost you \$40/year in management fees. This is an unbelievable technological breakthrough that has enabled normal Joe Shmoe’s like you can me to capture the returns of the U.S. economy for essentially \$0 management fees. What does this fund invest in? Thousands of companies, in proportion to their size. Here are the largest holdings in the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund per the link above:

Month-end ten largest holdings
(15.4% of total net assets) as of 06/30/2016
1 Apple Inc.
2 Alphabet Inc.
3 Exxon Mobil Corp.
4 Microsoft Corp.
5 Johnson & Johnson
6 General Electric Co.
7 Amazon.com Inc.
8 Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
9 AT&T Inc.

As far as what mutual funds to invest in, I’d recommend one of two routes:

Option 1.) Invest 100% of every penny you have saved in a target retirement fund offered by Vanguard (or Fidelity or Schwab). With these funds, you simply select your retirement year, say 2050, and invest every penny into these funds. Gradually these funds become less risky over time and invest more in more in bonds, which historically have had lower volatilies.  These target retirement funds have fees around 0.16%/year (link) and achieve such low expenses by simply investing directly into index funds for you (link). These target retirement funds only invest in 4 funds. For example, the 2050 retirement fund has the following allocation:

1 Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares 54.3%
2 Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Investor Shares 35.8%
3 Vanguard Total Bond Market II Index Fund Investor Shares* 6.9%
4 Vanguard Total International Bond Index Fund Investor Shares 3.0%

Option 2.) Option 2 is investing directly into the underlying funds yourself and capturing a slightly lower expense ratio by exploiting the lower expense ratio of Vanguard’s Admiral Shares. The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares has an expense ratio of 0.16%, whereas the Admiral Shares version of the same fund costs 0.05%/year in fees. You only need \$10k to purchase the admiral shares on your own outside of the target retirement fund, so it’s a relatively low hurdle to clear.

Option #2 is what I do personally. The downside of Option #2 is that the investor has to decide what percent to allocate to the U.S. fund vs the International fund vs the Bond fund, etc. If anyone claims to know the optimal portfolio allocation, they’re blowing hot air at you. Nobody knows what is optimal. Not even Vanguard’s Target Retirement Funds know what’s optimal. They’re taking a guess, but it’s just a guess.

Going forward I’ll share my portfolio holdings. As of today, I’m 70% U.S. Equity, 30% International Equity, but I don’t claim this is any better or worse than the Target Retirement allocation. It’s just a guess. And it’s not even a very good guess. I’ve sold a bunch of stocks recently to purchase a home so I haven’t even given much thought into how I should reallocate. But the current mix seems to be reasonable enough for me that I’m fine.

Disclaimers:

• You will lose your shirt in the stock market. In 2008 I lost a good \$50k or so, which was a lot of money to me at the time. It hurt. A lot. Losing money in real life is a lot harder than it is to hypothetically lose money. But I rode it out and it’s all fine.
• Markets are extremely volatile over the short-term. However, you’re not investing for the short-term. You’re investing for the long term over the next several decades. As a result, day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month swings in stock prices should be  irrelevant to you. Ignore the financial press like CNBC and stock market pundits who spout nonsense. Ignoring financial news will make you a much happier and wealthier investor.
• Don’t try to time the market. Like trying to beat the market through picking of stocks, trying to time the peaks and troughs of the market is also a fool’s errand. Avoid this by simply investing your accumulated savings gradually over time and avoid selling unless you really have to (like I just did to buy a home).

So that rounds up the series on how to accumulate wealth and be a millionaire. Stay tuned for our financial updates in the future as we follow these dumb-simple steps to achieve financial independence.

Links to other steps in series:

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

## Step 2: Minimize your tax burden

***** The below blog post is a bit stale now, as it was written before the massive tax law change of 2018. If you want my latest and greatest thoughts on the tax code, you can find them in this pdf here. *****

*** The following post was written based on 2015 tax numbers (standard deduction, personal exemption, etc). The mechanics are still sound, though the actual numbers will now be slightly off. ***

Taxes in the U.S. are complicated. They seem like a huge black box, but here’s a brief summary that should capture most of what you need to know.

Step 1: Calculate taxable income

What you first need to understand is that all U.S. tax calculations are based on something called taxable income. Taxable income is pretty easily computed, and the equation is shown below. It’s equal to your wages minus your pre-tax contributions (such as healthcare premiums, retirement contributions, etc.) minus your standard or itemized deductions (more on this below) minus personal exemptions (simply \$4,000 times the number of people at home).

Gross Income

— Pre-tax payroll deductions (401k, healthcare premiums, etc.)

— Standard or Itemized Deduction (See below)

— Personal Exemptions (\$4,000 * number of people in home)

= Taxable Income

Standard or Itemized Deduction

In the U.S., you get to deduct a certain dollar amount from your taxable income. This occurs in one of two ways: 1.) Standard Deduction or 2.) Itemized Deduction.

1.) Standard Deduction (70% of American’s fall under this category)

If you’re married filing jointly, the standard deduction is \$12,600 for married households filing jointly (half that if single) in 2016.

2.) Itemized Deduction (30% of American’s fall under this category)

If you have itemized deductions in excess of \$12,600, then it makes sense to itemize. Popular items to deduce are: mortgage interest, property taxes, state income tax, charitable contributions, and healthcare expenses. But be careful of the economic interpretation here. If I pay \$13,000 in mortgage interest in a given year, I may think I’m getting a good deal because it’s deductible. But remember that you were getting a \$12,600 deduction for free even if you didn’t have a mortgage. So by paying \$13,000/year in mortgage interest only reduces your taxable income by \$400 over the standard deduction.

Let’s plug in some numbers to make this more tractable. Say I make \$100k in a year, contribute \$10k to a 401k and \$10k in pre-tax insurance premiums. Let’s say I also take the standard deduction and am married with 5 kids at home.

Taxable income = \$100k – \$10k – \$10k – \$12.6k – \$28k = \$39.4k.

Let’s cross-check using Turbotax’s Taxcaster Tool (link, though they also have apps for Android & Apple).

Unfortunately the tool doesn’t have a spot for pre-tax payroll deductions like 401k’s or healthcare premiums, so we have to subtract those out manually. Our income after 401k and healthcare premiums is \$100k-\$10k-\$10k = \$80k. This is the number we put into Turbotax as “Your Income.” After we input the \$80k into Turbotax, it computes the taxable income as \$39.4k, just as we had predicted above. Note the \$12,600 standard deduction was claimed automatically as were the \$28k in personal exemptions (7 people at home * \$4k per person).

To illustrate the point of standard vs itemized deduction, note what happens to the “Total Deductions” line as I modify the mortgage interest. Let’s input \$13k in mortgage interest to be consistent with the example mentioned previously.

Note that the standard deduction of \$12,600 is no longer used, and instead has been replaced by the itemized deduction of \$13,000. Again, in this scenario, \$13,000 of mortgage interest only reduces our taxable income by \$400 more than the standard deduction.

For the remainder of the post, I’ll revert to the standard deduction with taxable income of \$39,400 as shown above.

Step 2: Calculate Taxes Owed

In the U.S., we have a progressive tax system. What this means is that the more money you make, the higher rate each dollar is taxed.

What this looks like in practice is like this (link):

So now that I have \$39,400 in taxable income, we simply have to look at the above tables to find out how much we owe in taxes.

Since we’re married filing jointly, the table says that the first \$18,450 in income is taxed at 10%, resulting in \$1,845 in taxes. This leaves us with \$20,950 (\$39,400-\$18,450) to be taxed at higher brackets. Since our taxable income does not exceed the 15% bracket (which caps out at \$74,900), all of the remaining \$20,950 will be taxed at 15%, resulting in an additional \$3,142.50 in taxes owed. Summing the two gets us to \$4,987.50 (\$1,845+\$3,142.50).

Does this number check with Taxcaster? Yes. Taxcaster computes taxes owed as \$4,991. The few dollar difference is due to the fact that the IRS technically computes taxes with a look-up table rather than by actual math as we just used. This is a relic of the past that remains operable to this day.

So are we done yet? Unfortunately not. We still need to reduce our taxes with tax credits. Here’s what Turbotax says about tax credits:

Your allowable credits, including any and all child tax credits, American Opportunity Tax and Lifetime Learning credits, Child Care Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Credits reduce your tax bill dollar for dollar.

In my case, the Child Tax Credit is calculated as \$1,000 * the number of kids at home, which is 5, resulting in a \$5,000 Child Tax Credit. This credit begins to phase out at \$110,000 in taxable income at a rate of 5% (if I had \$111,000 in taxable income, then my Child Tax Credit would be reduced by \$50 to \$4,950). This credit is refundable, meaning that it if it is greater than the taxes owed I will receive a refund. My tax credit is \$5,000, and with taxes owed of \$4,987.50 I would actually receive a refund of \$12.50 in this scenario on \$100k in income. Note that this refund isn’t simply the returning of taxes I’ve paid into the government during the year. In Turtbotax I set the amount of taxes we’ve already paid to \$0. This is a tax credit.

So in this example, I hope to have conveyed the following:

• You can actually compute your taxes. Once you understand the mechanics, you’ll see how you can benefit from the system.
• Don’t get fooled into thinking that itemizing is that much better than the standard deduction.
• The U.S. tax code is progressive. Lower levels of taxable income are taxed at low rates, and high levels of taxable income are taxed at higher rates. The first \$18,450 per year in taxable income are always taxed at 10% for all people (even Warren Buffet). The next chunk is taxed at 15% and so on.
• Tax credits, particularly with kids, are complicated. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are pretty difficult to understand. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to talk about all of the details.
• It pays to lower your taxable income. You can do so by having lots of kids (like I’ve done), but the much easier way of doing so is by maxing out employer sponsored retirement plans like 401k’s.

How I use the above knowledge to manage my tax liabilities

During your working years, the name of the game is tax deferral. In retirement, I plan to spend around \$45k/year. Recall that \$12,600 of this is tax free due to the standard deduction. Recall that another \$8,000 is tax-free due to personal exemptions. The two combined bring my taxable income to \$25k/year in retirement. \$25k/year in taxable income is taxed at a very low rate (as shown by the tax tables above), so my main objective during my working years is to reduce my taxable income. Here’s how I’m doing so.

Gross income: \$200k

— \$9k 401a (max allowed by my employer)

— \$18k 403b (max allowed by IRS)

— \$18k 457 (max allowed by IRS)

— \$6.75k HSA (max allowed by IRS)

— \$12.6k Standard Deduction

— \$28k Personal Exemptions (\$4,000 * number of people in home)

= \$104.65k Taxable income

My income is too high to benefit from a deductible traditional IRA, but if it were lower I’d further reduce my taxable income by \$11k/year (\$5.5k/person/year).

Now that we understand the tax code a little bit, here’s a tool that I put together which should be helpful for tax planning purposes: https://frugalprofessor.com/updated-tax-calculator/

Links to other steps in series:

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

## 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:
• Enables me to listen to endless Pandora and mutes the adds for me.
• 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:

• My current strategy:
• My prior strategy:
• 4% Gas + 3% Travel & Dining with Costco Citi Visa.
• 2% on all else using:
• Fidelity 2% Visa Card is a no-nonsense 2% cash back Visa that is the perfect card for Costco users (better than Costco’s). This is my workhorse card that I’ve had for about a decade now. The cash back is distributed to a fidelity brokerage account and can be easily withdrawn.
• Alternatively, the Citi 2% Mastercard is a 2% cash back Mastercard that is great.
• Best Credit Card & Bank Sign-Up Bonuses

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 deviated from the above advice and signed up for their advising services anyway. I was appalled at the asset allocation they dumped him into. They dumped 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.
• Yodlee & Mint are decent substitutes but PC really excels in its investment analytics.

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.
• Casio G-Schock, solar, atomic, simple, indestructible.
• The atomic features is particularly helpful on new year’s eve, when I loudly count down my own atomic time that is fifteen seconds ahead of the TV broadcast countdown.
• The non-solar non-atomic version is here for about half price (link). I’ve owned a few of these before I upgraded to the solar version. Having had both, I’d recommend the solar & atomic. They are great features.
• 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.
• Innova “factory second” disc golf discs here (link).
• Buy 10 and get 20% off. Free shipping over \$75. Works out to \$8.80/disc for their top-tier “champion” plastic.
• This is a pretty handy tool to compare flight paths of different discs (link). You may filter by manufacturer.
• There are surely many free and great disc golf courses by your house. Google “disc golf near me” to find out where. Such a fun an addictive hobby, particularly with a good group of friends. I prefer this a million times to real golf, a sport I grew up playing.

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:
• 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. Probably my second favorite YouTube channel.
• 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
• 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.

The above is a 90-minute lecture I share with my students every year. Perhaps you may find it helpful.

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)
• 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.