Schimmy’s guide to personal finance

So I think about personal finance a bit more than most people, which you can tell if you look through the archives on this blog. Because of this, sometimes people ask me for advice, and instead of copy-pasting the same email over and over again, I’m just going to link to this post:

First, there’s a mindset

Which I think is more important than anything else. That is:

  1. Humility in being able to beat the market / everyone else with little training
  2. Frugality in a good way / resisting consumerism
  3. Automation / beating your own stupid monkey brain

For #1, there’s A random walk down wall street. You probably don’t actually need to read the book, main point: even the pros can’t beat the market, you should instead invest in low-fee index funds as that will do just as well. Mutual funds = big ripoff. Wealthfront and Ramit’s book pull heavily from this idea.

For #2, there’s Mr Money Mustache (he’s a former software engineer!) Check out some of what he’s written. Just generally when you increase your standard of living, you are happier for a bit but then it becomes the new normal. Research suggests you should spend money on experiences, not stuff.

For #3 Ramit’s “I will teach you to be rich” is decent. Focuses on using psychology and the options available (401k, etc) to get you to do the right things without thinking about it. Mostly follow the ‘automate everything’ instructions.

But you’re also really interested in what to do with the cash:

If you read above, there are some things you should not do, including:

  • Mutual funds
  • Day trading
  • Leaving it in a savings account

Instead you should:

  • Invest mostly in low-cost index funds
  • Put as much as you can in a Roth IRA
  • Only play around in the stock market / bitcoin / kanyecoin with money you can afford to lose

For investing in low-cost index funds, I use Wealthfront – they automatically balance your accounts between various sectors of the economy, and end up buying low and selling high (see: Schoolhouse Rock). It’s minimal cost, and useful.

For playing around with stocks (useful to learn, and fun!) I use TradeKing. Also useful for divesting your 401k, IRA, etc.

To tie this all together I use Mint.com. It’s not the best with investments, but very useful to see where everything is and to try to motivate yourself to keep the ‘net worth’ graph going up and to the right. Also you can quickly catch & avoid bank fees.

Using your money for moral ends:

So having savings is a luxury few have, but I think you should really be using that for social good too. And if you believe in the Carbon Bubble, it might be profitable as well.

To divest your 401k, IRA, etc from carbon stocks, put some in Wealthfront-type index funds (or just in Wealthfront) and some in GreenCentury. These guys do shareholder activism to, for instance, get companies to sustainably source palm oil. Additionally they do not invest in fossil fuels, etc (including GMOs, which I actually don’t really believe in boycotting, but whatever). Their symbol is GCEQX – I would recommend using Tradeking, etc as investing directly with them is a huge pain. Essentially you can think of this as a mid-cost index fund that has good effects on the side.

If you like solar power, and are not scared away by really long-term investments, the Oakland-based company Mosaic does crowdsourced funding for solar installations. See my blog post about that for more info. One problem there is that they often don’t have things available to invest in… They’re branching into residential installs though, so we’ll see. Investing here is much riskier than the other options, I think.

Lastly, move your savings / checking money out of the stupid big banks and into a credit union. Big banks are out to screw you, credit unions are the best and are better for the community. It’s night and day, and you have no idea until you’ve actually banked with a credit union (In SF, SF Fire Credit Union is great) how much better it is.

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