Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

ecuador map

If you’ve been reading the last few posts focused on my recent trip to Ecuador, you know one of my objectives was to take a look at property for sale both in Cuenca and in and around Bahia on the coast.  I like looking at property, it is an excellent way to get a feel for a place and we are seriously considering relocating in a couple of years.  All good reasons, and the fact that it gives me material for this post is just icing.

Back in February of this year I presented my way of running the numbers in the rent v. own analysis:  I like this approach better than others because it is simpler and it focuses on evaluating the choice you are actually making rather than some academic exercise designed to prove a point.

If you haven’t already, you might take a moment to give it a read as it lays out the thinking behind the analysis of a couple of Ecuadorian properties to follow.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait…

OK.  If I’ve learned anything from putting up that post it is that people have very strong emotions wrapped around their personal decision to rent or buy.  In it I was candid about my own inclinations.  I have a bias towards renting.  As soon as I can unload the house I own, I’ll happily go back to the carefree and blissful renter’s life.

But I’ve also owned at various times in my life, so I’m not unsympathetic to the appeals of having a place you can call your own.  While we were raising our daughter the school system, lifestyle and neighborhood we wanted were all most easily accessed by owning.  Now those days are past and my wandering spirit is getting antsy.   I’m not a putting down roots kinda guy so the flexibly of renting has an outsized appeal.  For others putting down roots is vitally important and so owning has, for them, its own outsized appeal.

Regardless of where your personal inclinations lie, I think it is vitally important to run the numbers.  At least if achieving wealth is important to you.  If you are going to own a house, or not, it behooves you to know what the financial implications are.

For instance, in my case, running the numbers tells me that owning my house costs a $5-8000 annual premium to renting the apartment I have my eye on.  That’s steep by any measure.  Given that the apartment is the far more appealing living arrangement to me, my path is clear.  But so far, the market has kept me trapped.  This, too, is an important lesson:  It is almost always far easier to buy than to sell.  Houses, cars, appliances….just about anything. Something to keep in mind when the buying siren’s song is calling.

While renting holds more appeal for me than owning, and my guess is that once this house is sold I’ll never buy again, never say never.  I am first and foremost a financial guy.  If running the numbers in some future situation points to a fiscal owning advantage, I may yet again pull the trigger.  Living in Ecuador may present just such a scenario.  For the purposes of the analysis below I’ve used the asking price for both sales and rental.  Negotiations would lower both, but we can assume in proportion.  Let’s take a look.

Property #1.  Cuenca Condo: 2-bedrooms, 2.5 baths.  Veranda.  ~1500 square feet.  $162,000 to buy/$800 per month to rent.

tomebamba river

Tomebamba River View

This is a beautiful property in a solid brick building about two years old.  Finishes are top quality and it comes furnished, also to a top quality level.  Needs nothing, as they say.  It is on the second floor and the veranda provides a lovely view across the street to the river and the park that runs along side it.  Using the formula from my February post:

— $5670 opportunity cost. This is the 3.5% dividend our 162k could be earning in VGSLX.  Opportunity cost is frequently overlooked and is often the largest cost of all.  If you really want to know what the numbers have to tell you, its inclusion is critical.  What it is and why I use VGSLX as my proxy are both explained the February post.

— $1252 in annual cash expenses comes from these:

  • Heat and AC costs: 0.  Buildings in Ecuador don’t have heat or AC.  Neither are needed.
  • $1128 HOA (home owner’s association) fees @ $94 per month.
  • $124 real estate taxes per year.  No, I didn’t omit any zeros.

–$6922 total annual cost of owning and operating the condo.

v. $9600 annual rent @ $800 per month =

— $2678 annual premium to rent.  Advantage:  Owning.


Property #2 is in one of those tall white buildings above

Property #2.  Bahia Condo: 3-bedrooms, 3 baths.  Veranda.  ~1600 square feet.  $145,000 to buy + $10,000 to renovate/$800 per month to rent.

This condo is on the 4th floor of a solid brick building about 16 years old but the finishes are poor quality and showing their age. It comes serviceably furnished, but I’d want to upgrade were I to live in it.  As a rental you could get by, but upgrades would bring more rent and the rental figure I use below assumes the upgrades.  It faces the Pacific Ocean and the view from the veranda is pretty spectacular.

— $5425 opportunity cost. This is the 3.5% dividend our 145k purchase price and 10k estimated renovation cost could be earning in VGSLX.

— $1825 in annual cash expenses comes from these:

  • Heat and AC costs: 0.  Buildings in Ecuador don’t have heat or AC.  Neither are needed.  Temperatures in Cuenca range from about 60-80F and on the coast from 70-90F.
  • $1200 HOA (home owner’s association) fees @ $100 per month.
  • $500 special assessment for painting the building.  As this is a 16-year-old building my guess is these ‘special’ assessments will become a regular thing.  In Ecuador HOAs tend not to build contingency funds from the monthly dues.  Special expenses are a handled with special assessments.
  • $125 real estate taxes per year.

–$6750 total annual cost of owning and operating the condo.

v. $9600 annual rent @ $800 per month =

— $2350 annual premium to rent.  Advantage:  Owning.

Two things immediately leap out to me:  The lack of HVAC costs and the super low real estate taxes.  Looking at the numbers we ran last time on my house v. renting, these alone go a long way toward tipping the rent v. own balance. My real estate taxes in NH are over $8000 annually and heating oil runs over $2500 a year.

So clearly the first thing you should do upon arrival in Ecuador is buy yourself a home, right?  Well, lots of gringos do exactly that, but your pal jlcollinsnh is going to suggest you carefully consider a few things first.

1.  The “gringo tax.”  Like many overseas retirement havens, the gringo tax in Ecuador is a very real, if unofficial, thing.  Now, if we are talking a $2 taxi ride and the driver is asking for 50 cents more than he’d charge a local, my advice is don’t sweat it.  Pay the man and feel good he has a bit more to bring home to his family.  If we are talking about a 150k house, I get a bit more hard-nosed.

2.  There is no MLS (Multiple Listing Service) in Ecuador.  You’ll get no listing sheet with the price clearly shown. The price is whatever the realtor or owner tells you it is and that number may be, in fact very likely is, different than what they told the last person or will tell the next.  In my short time looking I’ve had one realtor tell me an apartment cost 145k and another 90k for the same place.  With a couple of new American friends I looked at a rental for $750 per month.  It had been offered to friends of theirs two weeks earlier for $950.  One gringo owner told our realtor he was only interested in selling at “the gringo price, not the local price.”   Purchase price or rent, it is very difficult to determine the actual market value and very easy to overpay.  Of course, a mistake made renting is lots easier and cheaper to correct.

Cuenca apartment

Nicely furnished Cuenca Apartment.  $750 a month for us, $950 for the people who saw it before us.

3.  There is no set way or commission percent realtors get paid.  It depends on the deal they strike with their seller and/or buyer.  Maybe the seller pays the commission.  Maybe the buyer.  Maybe both.  In some cases the seller will set the price and the realtor’s commission is whatever more she can sell the place for.  If the seller wants 100k and you can find a gringo just off the boat to pay 170k, 70k is your commission.  By the way, don’t think for a moment dealing with gringo sellers and gringo real estate people will avoid these situations.

4.  You shouldn’t be buying property in any market you don’t first understand.  Because there is no MLS, any given realtor will only be aware of the few properties available to which they are personally connected.   No one person can or will show you everything available at a given time.  To really understand this market takes much more time and effort than here in the USA.

5.  Ecuador is a 3rd world country.  As such dramatic political changes can come swiftly.  If push ever comes to shove, no politician will favor the needs and interests of expat property owners.  As one expat told me, “While things are great now, we are only ever one election away from a presidential order expelling all foreigners.”  From what I can tell, in Ecuador that’s highly unlikely.  But I’ve known enough people over the years, my wife included, who have fled revolutions with only the clothes on their back that I don’t  take it lightly either.

6.  Even the most adamant proponents of homeownership concede to have a chance of making it work financially you need to live in the place at least five years.   Ecuador is no different.  Yet I heard several stories of gringos who arrived, bought and three months later were back in the USA having decided the reality didn’t match their dream.  And stuck trying to sell.

7.  This is, for all practical purposes, a cash market.  Mortgages are tough to come by for locals and near impossible for expats.  Rates, assuming you have excellent credit, start at 15%.  If you have the cash, you are in a strong position.  Most American expats are renters.  Some because of point #5 but many others because they are living on Social Security month-to-month.  Something you can quite comfortably do here, BTW.  The other buyers are wealthy Ecuadorianos who also have cash.  But remember, this is still a poor country and those folks are few.

8.  You should never buy property without a clear understanding of how and to whom you’ll be selling.  It is well to remember that as attractively priced as stuff looks here, when the time comes those expats and locals with the cash to buy from you may be few and scarce.  In Ecuador, as in the USA, cash buyers are rare.  The difference is, in Ecuador they are virtually the only buyers.

That all sounds pretty grim, but the truth is the place calls to me.  If in a few years we make the move, here’s my approach:

1.  I’ll put our best and most treasured stuff in local storage here in NH; sell and dump the rest.

2.  We’ll move to Ecuador, probably Cuenca to start, with a couple of suitcases and set up month-to-month housekeeping in an apartment/hotel like Apartmentos Otorongo where I stayed for part of this past trip.

3.  From this base I’ll focus on finding a furnished rental like Condo #1 above.  This I’d rent for a year.

4.  During that year I’ll look at lots more property, both to rent and to buy.  I’ll talk to lots of expats about what they own/rent and how they found it.  By the end of this time I should have a very clear idea of what true market values look like.

5.  I’d also travel extensively in Ecuador this first year.  It’s a spectacular place and I want to see it all.  At each step I’d be evaluating where in the country to settle.  Cuenca and/or the coast look like the right places now, but who knows?

6.  At the end of this year+, I’ll also have a much clearer idea as to whether Ecuador itself is just a couple of year fling or the place I use as my traveling base for the rest of my days.

7. Based largely on the answer to #6, I’d make the rent/buy decision.

8.  Assuming we decide to stay for the long-term, the last decision is whether to pay to have our stuff shipped or to buy new furnishings locally.  Since I have little emotional attachment to the stuff I own, and since beautiful local art can be found and absolutely gorgeous wood furniture custom made for less than shipping costs, that looks like the path I’d take.

Despite all my cautionary points above, I love what I’ve seen of Ecuador.  I wouldn’t be so seriously considering relocating there otherwise.  I think the country’s future is very bright and they are on a strongly positive path.  My biggest dilemma really is where to settle.  I’m a city guy and I love Cuenca.  It’s small enough to be comfortable and large enough to have the amenities that make cities a joy.  Plus it is wonderfully walkable.

san-clemente beach

On the other hand, there are several beach towns up and down the coast with a very appealing laid back vibe.  Beautiful sandy shores that seem to stretch forever dotted with little beach shack restaurants serving seafood and local beer.  Not a bad way to while away some time.  One coastal expat described his town as what Cabo San Lucas used to be twenty years ago before it got overrun with yachts and multi-million dollar homes.  He hopes it doesn’t happen to the Ecuadorian coast but if it does he figures he’ll just cash out and find the next unspoiled place.  Not bad figuring seems to me.  Hmmm…..

Maybe I’ll rent in Cuenca and buy a little beach shack on the coast….


That title question was posed by a blog reader and, since I obsessively track expenses anyway and my guess is if you’re a reader of jlcollinsnh you’d be curious, it suggested a fun and easy post topic.  Since I was actually there only 27 days, that’s $134.83 per day.  But you could do it a lot less expensively and below I’ll point out how.  Of course, you could spend much, much more too.  But you don’t need my help for that.

But before we get into the specifies, I want to share this cool story with you.

If you’ve seen the movie “Romancing the Stone” you might remember this scene:

Kathleen Turner (Joan Wilder) and Michael Douglas (Jack) find themselves in a small Columbian village and at the door of the local drug lord seeking transportation.  It’s looking grim as the drug lord sticks a huge pistol in their faces and his armed and sinister looking compadres are closing in.

Jack:  “OK, Joan Wilder, write us out of this one.”

Drug lord:  “Joan Wilder?  The Joan Wilder?!  I read your books!  I read all your books!!”

I’ve never personally met one of my blog readers.  Of course I know those friends and family who read it.  And I’ve had coffee with two other bloggers who read mine as I read theirs.  But I’d never met a person who’d independently found the blog and started reading it with no prior connection to me.

After a long day of bus rides and planes I landed at the Quito, Ecuador International Airport around 9 pm.  Since this ain’t my first rodeo and I knew I’d be dragging, I had arranged for someone from The Travellers Inn where I was staying to meet me.

The Travellers Inn

Sure enough there was a young man waiting for me as I emerged from Customs holding up a sign with my name on it.  Shamefully, especially since he didn’t stick a pistol in my face, I have forgotten his name.  But, as I said, I was dog tired at the time.

He put up graciously with my bad and broken Spanish on the walk to the car before switching to his own perfect English.

“I read your blog,” he said.  “I read all your posts!”

Airfares:  $1046

American Airlines flew me Boston – Miami – Quito and back for $812.

Lan Airlines flew me from Quito to Cuenca for $80.

Aero Gal from Cuenca back thru Quito and onto the coast at Manta, then Manta to Quito for the flight home, $154.

Lan and Aero Gal are both Ecuadorian airlines and are absolutely first rate.  The planes were new and, unlike American airline companies, they haven’t jammed every possible seat into the cabins.  I actually had comfortable leg room and was served a tasty empanada snack and drink (even though all of these in country flights were less than an hour) by flight attendants who were bright, friendly and gracious.  Not because it’s in their job description but just because they are bright, friendly and gracious people.  It was like what flying in the USA used to be like in the 1960s.

Hotels:  $1137.65

Not much you can do about the airfares we didn’t already do, but if you wanted to take this trip for less than I spent, cheaper hotels and hostals would be a place to start.  The hotels I stayed at were mid-range or better.  You could easily shave $5-600 off here.  Of course, you could also spend lots and lots more.

My night at the Travellers was $47 and included an excellent breakfast.  The room was clean, simple and in an old converted house.  Private bathroom and a good shower with plenty of hot water, which is not always the case in South America.

Cheryl’s farm house

The next several nights were spent with Cheryl at her farm.  By way of thanks for her hospitality, I took her and her boyfriend Rich out to eat a couple of times for a total cost of $27.50 (accounted for in the restaurant category) which made this the bargain of the trip.

Her EcuaTruck.

Been rolled once by the farmhand’s son and so now has serious character ground in.  Fortunately with no one in the bed.  It is the local custom to stop when you see someone on the side of the road and offer a ride.  They hop up and tap on the roof when they want to be left off.

Her place is about 2.5 hours out of Quito near the tiny town of Santa Elena, far up a very rough rock and dirt road. We had a great time and laid out plans for the Retreat.  I can report now that this will almost certainly happen. Date: September 7-14, 2013.  In addition to Cheryl and myself, two additional presenters will be on board.  Both are seriously interesting guys I look forward to hanging out with and I bet you will, too.  We’re still massaging the details and when the time comes I share them with you in a post right here.

I stayed here.  Join us for the Retreat and you will too.

As part of my relentless dedication to you, my readers, I then spent two nights at the El Encanto Resort.  We plan to hold the Retreat here and I wanted to be sure the rooms, service and food were up to par.  Work, work, work.  They were.  One example:  The resort is built into the side of a ridge and it is about a 45 minute hike down to the river and waterfall.  It is a bit steep and a somewhat tough climb back out.  When I made my way back to the top, Veronica the resort chef was waiting for me at the trail head with big smile and a glass of fresh lemonade.

Two nights and three meals a day: $124.

From there I made my way back to Quito and flew on down to Cuenca for a couple of weeks.  This was the longest stop of my trip and for good reason.  Check it out:


Photo by:  Dario Endara

Home in Cuenca for 16 days was Apartmentos Otorongo at a cost of $500.  I had a small apartment with a kitchen so I had a place to stock and prepare food for the rare occasions I felt like staying in.


My apartment was the door on the far left in the back of the photo, second floor.

There is a lesson here:  The longer you settle in to a place the less expensive per day the accommodations become. Otorongo is run by Xavier y Samara Montezuma, their family and staff.  Just wonderful people and within a day or two it felt like home.  Sara and Angelica took especially good care of me and they put up with my broken Spanish.  


The last five nights were spent on the coast in the town of Bahia.  Patricio Tamariz was my host at his Hotel Casa Grande, which is exactly like it sounds like:  A grand home converted into a hotel.  It is located near the tip of the peninsula shown in the photo above.  Easily the most luxurious place of my trip it was also the priciest at $466.65 or $93.33 per night.  But as is frequently the case, you get what you pay for.  This is a first class place.

Each morning began with a unique and tasty breakfast served poolside by the genuinely friendly, caring staff. Ecuadorians are remarkably hospitable.  I am impressed enough that it is high on my list as a destination for Retreat II.

Oh, and if you go try to spend some time over coffee with Patricio.  Fascinating guy who, among other things, served as the Executive Director, Ecuador Tourist Authority.  He’s traveled all over the world presenting the charms of his country.  He has endless great stories well told he’ll share in flawless Spanish or English, your choice.

Inside Casa Grande

Patricio also owns and operates Chiriji (Chee-Ree-Hay), an ecolodge/archeological site with bungalows on a pristine Pacific Coast beach.  I’ve not been to it, but I’ve met people who have.  Those conversations have convinced me I need to go.  These pictures, too:

Food and water:  $44.   

This covers the bottles of water bought during the trip and the groceries with which I stocked my Cuenca apartment. Milk, cereal, cheese, sausage, yogurt and such.  Also, stunningly good freshly baked croissants for a dime each.

Restaurants:  $479.

I took most of my meals in restaurants.  The most expensive meal was in a first class Cuenca restaurant with two other expats I’d met.  We all had filet mignon and downed a couple of bottles of pretty good wine.  Shared a dessert, too. My share was $30, fully $10 more than the next most expensive meal.

The least expensive meals were “platos del dia” in local Ecuadorian joints.  Juice, soup, meat (or chicken or fish), rice, vegetables and most often a dessert.  A banana or scoop of ice cream is typical.  $2.50.  If you focused on these places you could cut my restaurant tab by 2/3rds or better.

Tours:  $515.

As regular readers know, I am not a fan of tours.  But I took two on this journey and only one was a mistake.  The $500 one.

Visting Refugio Paz de las Aves was definitely not a mistake.  This bird reserve is run by Cheryl’s pal Angel Paz and his family.  His story and that of the reserve is seriously cool and well worth checking out by clicking the link.  For $15 you get to show up at dawn and hike down the trail to various viewing stations where you’ll get to see cool birds like these:

Cock of the Rock

Photo by Crijnfotin

I don’t know what this one is, but I saw it.

We also saw several others, including about a dozen different types of hummingbirds.  In addition to the birds, we sighted four French birders armed with cameras and three foot lens.  These, it seems, are also common in the Reserve.

Back at the house, a great breakfast is included.  We had strong coffee and Bolons, balls of mashed plantains with meat and cheese in the center.  Yum!  Since I was a friend of Cheryl’s it took more than a little effort to get the Paz family to accept my $15.

The remaining $500 was the price for a three day real estate tour I signed up for.  From the moment I found it I had serious misgivings.  It was offered in an e-newsletter on Ecuador I subscribe to.  This thing is filled with relentless self promotion and sales pitches by the author, normally a red flag.  When I emailed for more information, getting my questions answered was like pulling teeth.  Even then, the answers were frequently vague and unclear.  More red flags.

I stepped away from it for several weeks, but ultimately pulled the trigger.  Since I had only a few days on the coast and wanted to see some property while I was there, the concept perfectly fit my needs.  The email stating the hotel would be discounted to $65 per night sealed the deal.  Of course, that turned out not to be true.  I remain unsure if the promoter was simply clueless or just lied outright.

I landed at Manta airport figuring there was a maybe 50% chance that someone would be there to meet me and working on my plan “B”.  Over the next three days I heard even more bitter complaints from the other people on the tour.  None of us knew precisely what our $500 covered.  Some thought hotels.  Some thought meals.  Nope.  Not even, for instance and as it happened, the return trip to Manta airport after it was done.

For all these reasons, I’ll not be naming this tour operator here.

The irony is, the tour itself turned out great.  This is due to Xavier Gutierrez Salazar, the Bahia local who actually took us around.  Xavier is an extremely knowledgeable guy, especially concerning the ecology of Ecuador, his main passion.  In addition to running the occasional tour, he is a real estate broker, operates a shrimp farm, is an environmental activist and launched Green Global Solutions to promote environmentally friendly and sustainable projects.  Oh, and he is developing just such a beach house community on the shore a bit north of Bahia.

When I stepped out of the Manta airport, Xavier called my name.  I guess picking out a big ugly solo gringo isn’t that tough.  He was there with his cousin Jorge and his drop-dead gorgeous wife, and mother of his four beautiful little girls, Maria.

We had great fun together running up and down the coast all day and eating lunch at little beach side shacks with beer and seafood.  Each evening he took us to small, friendly, inexpensive and tasty local places for dinner.  He’s one of those guys who knows everybody, local and gringo alike.  Often we’d stop to meet and chat with them.  One night after dinner we approached a small house.  Music and singing could be heard a block away.  Knocking on the locked door, Xavier called out whatever needed to be called out.  Inside was a small group — Ecuadorians, Americans, a Nicaraguan and an Australian — singing, playing music, talking in English, Spanish and the odd mix of both.   We had dessert.  Someone brought out a bottle of the local liquor.  Clear as water and clearly with the kick of a mule.  Never has my Spanish been better.

My advice, should you go:  Skip the irritating $500 middlemen.  Contact Xavier directly:  Tell him I sent you.

Ground Transportation:  $255

The big expenses here were the $45 taxi each way for the 2.5 hour trip from Quito to the farm, $30 taxi from Bahia back to the Manta airport, $18 bus from New Hampshire to Logan Airport going out and $100 for a car to take me from Logan back home on my return.  I splurged on this last because I knew by the time I landed I would have been up for 36 hours and flying all night.  The balance was taxi fares around Cuenca which are mostly $2 a ride.  I also tried the city bus but that was only a quarter.

Odds and Ends:

Chocolate.  Ecuador produces what is likely the finest, purest chocolate in the world.  But it ain’t cheap.  The two bars I brought home cost $18.

ATM fees:  $4.50.  For one withdrawal. Yikes!  But cash is king in Ecuador.  Credit cards are only accepted in the more expensive places and then with a premium of 3-4% to cover what the cards charge the merchant.  Makes better sense than, as the USA merchants do, building the fee into the price and charging it whether you use a card or not.

By the way, Ecuador uses the US Dollar as their official currency.  If you’ve ever wondered what happened to all these coins…

Sacagawea Dollar

..they’re in wide and popular circulation in Ecuador and you’ll hardly ever see a dollar bill down there.  So unpopular are they in the USA, that last year when I tried to spend the leftovers I brought back the sales clerks didn’t know what they were.  Took some convincing that they really are US money.

Laundry:  $7.20.  Dropped off and picked up.  Done twice.

Book:  $10.  Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish by Margarita Madrigal.  This book came highly recommended by an expat I met in Cuenca and now I highly recommend it to you.  If you are interested in picking up Spanish.

Tips:  $20.  

Charity:  $100.  Cheryl has the habit of helping her frequently very poor neighbors.  Since there is no charitable organization pulling expense money off the top, every cent goes to helping.  Plus, these are people she knows and she can see the impact up close.  While I believe in more formal giving, I prefer this up close and personal approach when it presents itself.  BTW, we’ll also be giving at least 10% of any retreat profits in this fashion.

Want to do it for less?

Were I traveling as I did in my 20s, I’d go the hostel route and shave about $600 off the hotel bills.  The restaurant costs could easily be cut in half, saving $240 and with more use of buses ground transportation would drop by $130. Skipping the real estate tour, chocolate and book saves another $528.  Total saved $1498, cutting the trip cost to about $2138 and you’re still tipping and giving away some money to help others.

See you in December….

Posted: October 21, 2012 in Life

View of the Valley from the Retreat

As you gathered from the last post, I’m off to Ecuador until December.  When I get back you can look for posts on Deflation, Target Date Funds, Withdrawal Rates, running the rent v own numbers on some of the property I will have checked out in Ecuador and more on the possible Retreat/Gathering where, if you show up, we’ll get a chance to spend some time together.

Meanwhile if you just can’t wait, and you haven’t already, you can tune into my recent Interview and hear me now.

Should that not be enough, here’s some seriously cool stuff to help keep you amused until December:

One of the best things about our summer in South America was all the, mostly young, people we met on their own extended world journeys.  Wonderful adventures spanning months and sometimes years.  But not one single traveler had the United States on their itinerary.  Some, I think, are intimidated.  That’s too bad.  I’ve traveled across damn near every state and these Americans are for the most part a friendly, open and welcoming bunch.  But what really set me back were the people who said, “Well, there’s just not much to see in the USA.”  Now that left me stunned.  Not much to see???  Come along.  Let’s Fly over America together for a look.  It’s a little plane, so hang on!!

Pretty dramatic, eh?  And just between us, they left out some of the best parts!!

Here’s some Americans having “Call Me Maybe” music fun.  Wish I’d been there.

And here’s a guy sharing the love with his pet Cobra:

As it happens, I’m not afraid of snakes even if I’m not up for any Cobra kissing.  But this guy sets me back:

He’d be right at home with these folks:  This series of pictures will pucker ya right on up.  If not, they’re still cool to view.  Here’s one:

Let’s go around the world with a Brazilian beat.

Or we can run around the world with my pal Carlos.

Random Picture that Touched Me

 100 Abandoned Houses in Detroit

Think you’d like to own one?  Over 22,000 hit the auction block in October 2012.  Minimum bid:  $500.  Nope, no zeros missing.  Even then predictions are 10,000 will fail to sell.

These are not in Detroit, but still are haunting photos of houses in the process of returning to the wild.

Late November brings the Thanksgiving Holiday to the USA.  It is a bad time for turkeys all across the country.  But you can listen to one take a musical stand here:

Motivating French women to exercise:

Here are some blogs that have been keeping me entertained and informed:

 Outrageous Optimism

Can I Retire Yet?

The Mad Fientist

Street Smart Finance

Afford Anything

The Kechi One

Pie Town, USA – 1940

About 5 or 6 years ago, I was in Pie Town, New Mexico.  I had driven over from Phoenix, Arizona where I’d been attending a conference to visit my pal Wolfgang who had a ranch six miles out-of-town.  He flew in from Albuquerque putting his small plane down on the dirt strip he’d laid out on his land.  Since I had a couple of days alone at the place before he arrived, I drove over for lunch in the Pie Town Cafe one afternoon.  Pie Town is not much bigger today than in the photo above and a stranger in the local cafe still prompts curious stares.  Eventually the cheerful, inquisitive waitress pried out what brought me to town and who I was there to see.  Smiles all around and agreement my friend was their friend and a heck of a fellow to boot.  Click on the caption under the photo for more shots circa 1940.  Beginning about six down the shots are all Pie Town.

The Podcast: You can hear me now.

Posted: October 5, 2012 in Life, Money

A few weeks back a guy calling himself The Mad Fientist showed up in the comments section here on jlcollinsnh.  He started by linking back to my post.  As if the name alone wasn’t enough, that got me poking around, and enjoying, his site.

One of the cool things he does is podcast conversations with other financial bloggers, starting with one of my favorites, Mr. Money Mustache.  So when he invited me to be his second interview ever, well what could I say but:


I hope you have as much fun listening to it as I did doing it.  Here’s the link:

Oh, and when your done you might want to check out his site, if only to learn what a Mad Fientist is.  For now all I can tell you is I’ve got my Halloween costume all planned out.

This blog launched in the Spring of 2011.

Post #4 was  Why you need F-you money. Post #6 presented The Simple Path to Wealth to get you there and Post #9, What we own and why we own it, told you how we keep ours.  Almost everything else on the subject of money has been an elaboration of the tools and ideas introduced in these three.

One of the most gratifying aspects of writing is reading the comments and, on occasion, being able to answer a question or two.  Some of the best material is in the comments section.

The Simple Path, and indeed the blog itself, grew out of a letter I wrote to my then 19-year-old daughter.  She doesn’t share my fascination with finance and investing.  Most people don’t.  But in this modern world of ours, money is crucial.  I wanted her, and now you, to have simple but highly effective investing tools.  The ideas here are designed to provide a lifetime of successful investing with minimal effort and cost.  They are for those who have better things to do with their time.  The cool thing is, that when it comes to investing, the correct minimal effort actually produces better results than labor intensive strategies.

Of late I’ve been toying with the idea of a post that showed what rolling out and living with this approach might look like.  All I needed was to create a fictional young investor about to begin their journey.  That’s when reader KLR saved me the effort and provided the motivation by posting a comment/question here.

For the purposes of this post, I emailed KLR with some follow-up questions.  I’ve taken the liberty of adding his responses into his original note below, but all the words are his.

His note and my reply follow.


I stumbled onto your blog this week and have caught up with all your money posts. I would like to say that your guidance has probably saved me months of research and lots of frustration. Thank you for the great topics, but I am now trying to figure out my plan and my head is spinning.

I’m 26 and have recently graduated from college, and decided to get my financial life in order. Luckily, I was able to find a great job and have no debt. I am working on saving up my emergency fund (roughly 24% of my income is going into it) and now focusing my efforts on investments.

I was also lucky that my grandparents seeded an investment fund for all of the grandchildren when each was born. It has been managed by a financial advisor for years, and your posts have confirmed my thoughts that I can do better. It currently has around $35,000 in it in 12 different mutual funds.

I talked to my grandmother and she doesn’t remember the exact amount that started my account. Whenever a new grandchild was born, she would put a starting amount in equal to what was in the older children’s accounts. The earliest records I have is from 1994. At the start of that year, there was approx. $6700 in the account and a $1000 was added by my grandparents each year until the it hit around $25,000. In 1994, the funds were half stocks and half bonds (my grandfather grew up during the great depression and didn’t really trust full stocks).

Next June, I will be eligible to enter my employer’s 403(b) plan and also a pension plan. I am able to put 3% of my income into the 403(b) plan and they match with 2.5%. It looks like I will be able to enroll in Vanguard’s total stock market index fund. There is also an optional traditional IRA plan that I can contribute up to the maximum allowed by the IRS. It seems that after learning more about all of this, the 5.5% of my yearly salary into my 403(b) is nowhere the maximum allowed by the IRS, which is a little discouraging.

I make $70k per year before taxes. Right now I’m saving 24% of my pay. My goal is to keep it at 20% or more, but realize I might have to drop to 15% if other commitments arise. I haven’t really thought about when I want to retire. It would be great to retire early, but I have not officially set that goal yet. I just know it is important to get everything lined up to get ready for retirement and that is what I am trying to do now.

I don’t think I’m going to do the optional IRA account and instead do a Roth IRA on my own. What is your suggestion on getting rid of my financial manager and all the mutual funds and buying into VTSAX? I don’t fully understand the tax implications that are involved in that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but $5000 would go into the Roth and the rest into a traditional account. I think I know the answer, but do you think it is fine to have the investments in my 403(b), Roth IRA, and my regular account in VTSAX?

What is the best way to contribute to my funds? After I get my emergency fund built up and my money transferred to vanguard, I will have around $1000 per month. Do I put that in each month or wait to put in larger amounts. I have heard of dollar cost averaging, but haven’t looked into it too much. Thanks again for your advice and time.

Sorry for the long post, but any assistance would be greatly appreciated.



He also kindly added a link to his employer’s benefits page, but asked that his employer’s name remain confidential.  Looking at that page, what he refers to in his note as “an optional traditional IRA plan” is an SRP.

Welcome KLR….

….glad you found your way here and delighted to hear you’ve found some value.  Plus you’ve given me a great opportunity for another post!

You mentioned that you’ve read thru the money posts so we can go forward assuming that base of knowledge.  For those newer readers following along I’ll provide links to some relevant posts, as I did above.

But before we get started, some congratulations are in order.  No, not for you.

For your grandparents!!

They deserve big time major league kudos.  Please tell them I said so.

The fact that they have provided this seed capital for you and their other grandchildren tells me several things.  They have resources, and that means they are fiscally responsible and effective in their own lives.  They are generous.  And, considering your questions and plans, clearly they have passed it on to their descendants.  If you haven’t already, take them out to dinner and raise a toast in their honor.  Even if you have, do it again.

In managing this money it is no surprise they choose an investment advisor.  As you know, I don’t like investment advisors, but back in the day there weren’t many options and given the results you describe, they chose well.  Still, thanks to Jack Bogle and with Vanguard Index Funds you are ready to move on.

Looking at your situation we have a great base upon which to build:

1.   35k in capital to start.

2.   70k salary and you are saving 24% (17k annually) of that for your emergency fund.

3.   You want to target saving about 20% going forward, or 14K.  I’ll try to persuade you to increase that.

4.   You’ve landed a good job with an employer that provides some excellent retirement plan options.

5.   No debt.

6.  You’re not sure about retirement yet, no surprise at age 26, but you recognize the importance of F-You Money.  We’ll focus on getting you there.

7.  You want to know how to contribute to your investments going forward and about Dollar Cost Averaging.

Mmmm.  Looking at that list, you deserve some kudos too!

Let’s talk first about what investment to choose.  

Fortunately, with your employer’s benefits plan Vanguard is an option.  You are leaning toward Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index Fund and you are spot on. This is where we’ll put all of your investments.  You are in the Wealth Building phase of your life and this is the right tool for the job.

There are three options to owning this fund:  Admiral Shares, Investor Shares and as an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund). VTSAX is the Admiral version and provides the lowest cost, but has a 10k minimum.  Investor Shares, VTSMX,  holds the same stocks, but with slightly higher costs and a 3k minimum.  Use Admiral whenever you can and Investor if you need to as a start.  You can switch to Admiral when you clear the 10k hurtle.

This one fund will give you a portfolio that owns virtually every publicly traded company in the USA.  Since many of these have extensive international operations, you also have international market exposure.  With this one investment you’ll have broad diversification in the most powerful wealth building asset of all:  Stocks.  This allocation of 100% stocks is considered a very aggressive and that’s what we want for this phase.  But be warned, as you know from reading my series on stocks you can expect a wild and gut wrench ride.  But you’re going to stick to your plan, keep investing and tough it out.  You have decades ahead.

At some point you’ll start thinking about retirement.

Maybe when you’re 65 or maybe when you have F-you money around 35 or so.  Whenever the time comes, as you approach that phase you’ll want to consider diversifying into other asset classes.  This is where Mrs. jlcollinsnh and I are in our lives and I’ve written about what we own and why we own it.  But right now you are in the wealth building phase.  Stocks are where you want your money and VTSAX is how you want to own them.

Next let’s look at the various Investment Buckets you have available and discuss how to allocate your VTSAX investment.  Basically you have four and in each will be a separate account, all invested in VTSAX/VTSMX.  In order of desirability they are:

1.  403 (b).  Since you work for a university you have a 403 (b) and your employer had the wisdom to engage Vanguard as one of the plan providers.  (Readers working for companies have much the same but it is called a 401k.)  You’ll contribute 3% of your salary, which will be tax deferred, and your employer matches 2.5%.  That’s free money!  That makes this option #1.

Since your total for the first year will be about $3850 you’ll probably start with VTSMX, but check.  Because it is a 403 (b) plan, and by definition long-term investment money, Vanguard might waive the 10k minimum for VTSAX.

2.  Roth IRA.  You should put the maximum allowed into your Roth each year:  $5000.  While you get no immediate tax deduction with a Roth, when you retire all distributions are tax free.  That includes everything your Roth earns over the decades.  Very cool deal.  Everyone should have a Roth, especially when you are young and in a low tax bracket.  Rather than using part of your 35k stake, I suggested you fund your Roth with money from your earnings.  You’ll be doing this every year.

3.   SRP (Suplemental Retirement Program).  This is an additional program your employer offers and the IRS allows you to contribute up to $17,000 each year.  No company match, but you get a tax deferral on the contribution.  It is a very attractive benefit.

4.  Ordinary Bucket.  This is what I call regular investments made outside any tax advantaged bucket like the first three.  You’ll pay taxes on the dividends and capital gains distributions but, unlike tax advantaged accounts, your money is available anytime with no penalty.  This is where your 35k is now and when you move it to VTSAX that will still be the case.

When you sell the 12 funds you currently own, assuming they have appreciated in value, you will owe a capital gains tax.  Don’t lose sleep over this.  Cap gains taxes are low at the moment.

A bit later we’ll talk about how much goes into which bucket, but first

…let’s discuss a couple of things:

1.  Your savings rate is currently 24% as you are building your emergency fund, and you plan to reduce this to 20%.  Compared to the average American these percents are excellent.  Compared to where you want to be, you should consider doing more.  50% is my suggestion, but others more committed to having F-you money commonly reach for 70-80%.

You are already stepping out of the norm by being debt free, saving and investing.  You are employed, young and childless.  Never will you be in a stronger position to take it to the next level.  At the very least, avoid “lifestyle inflation” by pledging that any salary increases will go towards your investments.  Do this now and in the future your problem will be how to spend all the money your money earns for you.

2. Your emergency fund, if you are following standard investment advice, is likely too large.  Keeping a few grand around is fine, but if you are trying for six months of income (35k in your case) you are tying up money that should be working harder for you.

OK, with all that under our belt let’s run some numbers and look at specifics.

Option #1, 24% savings rate.

You start with the $35,000 from your grand parents.  Move that immediately into VTSAX.  Pay the cap gain tax, if any.  On average over time the market returns 10-11% annually.  At that rate your money doubles about every 7 years.  By the time you are 61 it will have doubled 5 times.  A quick back of the envelope calculation shows you’ll have around $1,120,000.  Without adding a single penny.  Wait till you’re 68 and it’s $2,240,000.  That’s the power of compounding.  Did I mention you should take your grandparents to dinner?

If you add to it as you go along, as you’re going to, and the results become even more powerful.

Already I can hear the naysayers howling:  From 2000-2008 the market wasn’t anywhere near a 10% return.  True enough.  But from 1982 until 2000 returns blew past 10% and averaged around 18% per year.  Since the Spring of 2009 the market has just about doubled.  The fact is, in any given year, it is exceedingly rare that the market will specifically return 10-11%.  But that’s not what we’re saying.  10-11% is the average we can expect over a 20, 30 or 40 year span.  Each individual year will vary wildly.  Which, as we’ve said before, is why you gotta be tough.

Moving on, if we use your current savings rate of 24% you’ll have $16,800 to invest each year.

Your 403 (b) gets 3% of your $70,000 salary.  $2100.  (The university will add 2.5%, $1700, but that’s in addition to your 24%/16.8k investment money.)  This will go into VTSMX and then to VTSAX when the balance goes over 10k.

Your Roth IRA gets $5000, also in VTSMX and moved to VTSAX once over 10k.

So between the 403 (b) and the Roth we’ve accounted for $7100, leaving $9700 to invest.  Because you have the 35K, I’d put this into VTSAX in the tax advantaged SRP (Supplemental Retirement Program).  For somebody without anything outside of tax advantaged accounts, I’d split it so some money is available without penalty in an “ordinary bucket” account.

Option #2, 50% savings rate.

Again you start with the $35,000 from your grandparents, but now from your salary we have another $35,000 each year to invest.

As before your VTSMX 403 (b) gets 3% of your $70,000 salary.  $2100.  This is the max you can contribute. (The university will add 2.5%, $1700, to that but that’s in addition to part of your 24%/16.8k investment money.)  This will go into VTSMX and then to VTSAX when the balance goes over 10K.

Your VTSMX Roth IRA also still gets the max at $5000.

So between the 403 (b) and the Roth we’ve again accounted for $7100, but now leaving $27,900 to invest.  With this we can take full advantage of all the options your employer offers and max out the tax advantaged SRP (Supplemental Retirement Program) with $17,000 into VTSAX.  That leaves $10,900.  We’ll add that to VTSAX in the Ordinary Bucket and build on $35,000 seed capital your grandparents so generously provided.

Psst.  He’s going for Option #2.

Finally, let’s talk about how these contributions will happen.

To begin we’ll take a look at Dollar Cost Averaging.  Simply speaking the idea behind DCA is that if you invest a given amount of money on a regular basis over time the effect will be to have bought shares at a lower average price.  This is because when prices are high your money will buy fewer shares than when prices are low.

For example, suppose we decide to invest $100 per month in XYZ Enterprises:

  • Month #1 with XYZ trading at $10 per share our $100 buys 10 Shares.
  • Month #2 with XYZ trading at $5 per share our $100 buys 20 Shares.
  • Month #1 with XYZ trading at $15 per share our $100 buys 6.67 Shares.
  • Month #1 with XYZ trading at $7.50 per share our $100 buys 13.33 Shares.

If my math is correct, we now own 50 shares of XYZ @ $8 per share on average.  Thus we have avoided paying $10 a share had we bought all at once.  Of course, some will argue that had we waited a month we could have picked up the shares at $5 each.  But this would have required our knowing they’d drop to that level (before bouncing up to $15) in our example.

There is much debate on the usefulness of DCA and for any readers who might care you can click on the link. Moreover, it only really applies if you have a lump sum to invest.  My preference, with a lump sum, is to invest all at once.  I can’t be sure prices will move down to my advantage and if I DCA the money waiting is sitting in cash (or some other asset class) effectively altering my plan.  I want my wealth building phase to be fully engaged with the most powerful asset class of all:  Stocks.  This is what I am suggesting for your lump sum of 35k.

Like most people, you’ll also be investing as you can over time.  Effectively DCAing.  You’ll be doing that with your 403 (b), SRP and Roth accounts, as well as any additional money you add to your Ordinary Bucket VTSAX initially filled with the 35k.

The beauty of your 403 (b) and SRP accounts is that once you set them up, the contributions will happen automatically.  The Roth and Ordinary Bucket VTSAX will require you to expend a bit more effort.  You’ll either have to add to them just like you pay your bills or you can set it up with Vanguard to have the money automatically transfer.  Automatic’s what I’d do.

There you have it.  Follow this….

…simple path…

…and before you know it you’ll have F-You money and working will be an option.  By the time you are your grandparents’ (did I mention you should take them to dinner?) age you will have provided seed money accounts for your own grand kids, continuing the cycle.  Around then you might also consider learning how to give like a billionaire.

Enjoy the journey and check in once in a while and let us know how it’s going.



Tales of Bolivia: Calle de las Brujas

Posted: September 11, 2012 in Life
Tags: ,


Sitting on my desk as I type is a small glass vial.  It is sealed with a metal cap and is filled with a clear liquid I presume to be water.  What appears to be a small gold chain runs around the bottom.   Filling the vial are tightly packed objects, perhaps bits of cloth, of various sizes and shapes and bright colors.  These in turn press several gold-colored objects up against the glass.

One is in the shape of a truck, one a horseshoe, another a hand.  There is a man & woman holding hands.  A key, a frog and maybe an angel.  Plus a couple I can’t make out.  Each looks very much like the sort of charms young girls collected on their charm bracelets in the America of the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up.  Maybe they still do.  I’ve lost track.

Anyway, what these are is something much more potent.  These are powerful talismans.  Each represents a different aspect of life and each is designed to bring good luck in their assigned area to their possessor.  The whole thing is one big, universal lucky charm.  I know this because the 8-year-old witch who sold it to me  (20 Bolivianos, about $2.87) told me so.  Not a bad deal.

None of the witches I met looked like this.

Now if you happen to be in the market for the services of a witch, and these days who isn’t, it helps to find yourself in La Paz, Bolivia.  In many parts of the world, over the past few centuries, witches have been driven out, driven into hiding or simply burned at the stake.  In other words, in short supply.  But in La Paz…..well there you can just mosey on down to the Calle de Las Brujas (Street of the Witches) and take your pick.

Calle de las Brujas

Lining this street for two or three blocks you’ll find stall after stall, each with its own witch or two, their goods spilling out onto the cobble stones.  Jar upon jar of potions, herbs, spices and charms for every occasion.  Oh, and dried llama fetuses.  Lots and lots of dried llama fetuses.  They come in all sizes.  Small enough to fit in your pocket right on up to about four feet tall.  I have no idea where such a range comes from.  They all appeared to my uneducated eye to be around the same stage of development.  Maybe different size llamas?

Llama fetuses, your choice.

From what I gather if you hang one in your home it will bring blessings and good luck.  Of course, then along with good luck you’ll have something pretty creepy hanging in your house.  Which is why I didn’t bring one home.  Well, that and not immediately figuring out how I might explain it to a curious customs agent.

But llama fetuses are only one of the many talismans available.  Unlucky in love?  Embarking on a journey? Looking for a job?  Seeking wealth? Feeling ill?  No sling nor arrow of misfortune or opportunity sent your way is without a remedy or assistance to be found here.  At a great Boliviano v dollar exchange rate to boot.

We’re also told there is…

…Black Magic…

…to be had, magic to curse and destroy your enemies, if you ask in the right witches in the right places.  We didn’t.

No, my little 8-year-old witch could not have been purer of heart or more charming.  Not to say she didn’t know her stuff.  Closely watched for accuracy and with pride by her grandmother, she took us thru their shop carefully explaining each item.  She even explained the good fortune each charm in the little glass vial I bought from her would bring. There must not have been one to improve my memory, however, as I can now only vaguely guess at their powers.

I do know that shortly thereafter I found and bought the baby alpaca wool sweater that was to save my life during the frigid nights on Salar de Uyuni.  No small feat when you’re my size and shopping in a land of petite people.

Later that evening we ventured up a dark and creaky flight of ancient wooden stairs.  The walls were lined with dusty old objects randomly hung seemingly hundreds of years before.  A narrow hallway led to a dim room set with tables and chairs as old as the building itself.  On the menu I found and ordered Lemon Trout.  Went back for it again the next night.  And the next.  It was truly magic.

My companions mocked me for buying the silly little glass bottle good luck charm.  But I was really buying the charms of the 8-year-old little witch who sold it to me.  Or so I told them and, as far as it goes, it’s true.  But clearly, the magic is already working.

This is what the real witches we met looked like.

Of course, neither the girl or the old lady pictured above is an actual witch.  As our little witch patiently explained to our photo-happy traveling companion, she could not allow her picture to be taken.   She knows that should her image be captured on film a little bit of her soul and a little bit of her power is taken as well.  Silly superstition?  Maybe.  But before you scoff too long and hard think for a moment on the sordid lives of our nation’s over exposed child pop stars.

I rest my case.  And hers.  No pictures were taken.

Home again

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Life

New Hampshire – Home

A couple of weeks ago we made it home from South America.

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  With apologies to Mr. Dickens.

While I’ve been meaning to resume posting here it always seems to take me a while to re-engage.  Writing is hard work for me.  Plus returning from a trip means wading thru phone messages, mail and emails (I don’t travel with a laptop or smart phone.  Don’t own either in fact.)

If you’ve posted a comment or asked a question on the blog while I was gone, take a look.  I’ve responded to all those now.  If you are just curious, on the left side of the blog, below the list of posts, you’ll find links to the recent comments.  BTW, some of the best stuff is in the comments.

I’ve also managed to catch up on some of my favorite blogs and have even taken time to comment on a couple of their recent posts:

Mr. MM  Like me, Mr. MM was also on vacation this summer.  Unlike me, he carted along his laptop (which as you all now know, I don’t own) and continued to post.  Making me look bad.  :)

Quite a few readers migrate over here from MMM and I’ve noticed jlcollinsnh has been the topic on a couple of the discussion forums there:

On this one, gestalt162 does a nice job of clarifying some of my points — so thank you sir.  Let me just add, while I would prefer to be a renter now, I am not saying one should never own a home. As a careful reading of my piece shows.  But run the numbers as I show you.  Most often, they will show owning is the more expensive option.  But not always and not in all places.  And that’s fine if that’s how you want to spend your money.  But do it with your eyes open.

Here’s some more mentions if you care:

ERE  Great site and, BTW, Jacob over there even tipped me my for my post:  stocks-part-vii-can-everyone-really-retire-a-millionaire?  Of course I have no idea how to collect this tip, but the acknowledgment from a blogger of his calibre is enough.

Lacking Ambition  Superbly written by a recent law school graduate, entrepreneur and real estate mogul.  Lacking ambition, indeed.

Street Smart Finance  Shilpan is a brilliant guy who’s actually walked the walk.  The rare times I disagree with him makes me sit back reassess what I think I know.

Renewable Wealth  In his blogroll, in which Sean is kind enough to include jlcollinsnh, he mentions we met over a disagreement on MMM.  I don’t recall that, but I have learned he’s a guy worth reading.

I do recall disagreeing with Dividend Mantra.  Still do.  Basically I don’t believe we can constantly pick winning individual stocks.  He does.  That doesn’t keep me from reading and learning from him and, if you’re going to try that path, you should to.  His approach is thoughtful, careful and though.  You’ll need all those to stand a chance.  But please, read this first:

101 centavos  Ranges wildly and never fails to capture my imagination.

Wine and Work combines travel and wine, two of my favorite things.  In this post, Tom tracks down and educates me on a little Peruvian wine we discovered a few weeks back in Arequipa.  I’ve never been famous on a wine blog before!  :)

As if all those weren’t enough distraction, my local library also had several requested books waiting upon my return.  Reading them has provided a further excuse to avoid writing.

Given my interests, I was really looking forward to this one.  Mostly a disappointment and I found myself skimming large parts.  Maybe I’m the wrong audience, but better and clearer info is available elsewhere.  Still, Ramit has done a great job of marketing himself and he’s sold a ton of books.  If I ever get mine done…

This is another that was recommended on one of the blogs I follow and no disappointment here.  I’m only sorry I can’t remember where to offer my thanks.  It is an engaging discussion of the usefulness of having a philosophy of life and why that of the Stoics is worth consideration.  Many would say it is a little late in life for me, but everyone should take a bit of time to think about how to live their life and why.  Seems I stumbled upon Stoicism along the way.  So this is filling in some blanks and assuring me that if indeed I’m crazy, so were some pretty smart Greeks and Romans.  Oh, and Stoicism isn’t what I thought it was.  Might not be what you think it is either.

Boris Johnson is the mayor of London, known for his quick wit in the British fashion, and, as it happens, a very entertaining writer.  Life of London is the city’s history told in chronological order with vignettes of the key people, places and things that made the place the city it is today; starting with Boudica.  No, I didn’t know who she was either.  But now I can tell you there were a lot of Romans at the time who came to wish they didn’t either.  As another Johnson (Samuel) once said:  “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”  Boris tells the story as to why.

Writing is tough work.  At least I find it so.  As such I am always intrigued when authors seem to go out of their way to make it tougher.  Like when a male author presents his novel in the first person voice of his female narrator.  This is the story of Karen Hollander, who at the pinnacle of a brilliant career steps away from consideration for a nomination to the Supreme Court.  That she would be one year older than I and she recounts growing up in Wilmette, the same Chicago suburb as did I, makes this one especially fun for me.   But it’s also a page-turning story that would hold my attention anyway.  Anderson has a great ear for the attitudes and beliefs across generations.  And genders.

So there are my excuses and some options to maybe keep you entertained.  Later.