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ByCurtis Watts

2020 Business and Life Review

Welcome to my 2020 Business and Life Review!

Usually, I separate my travel and business annual review content into two separate blog posts, but this year I’ve decided to combine it into one.

2020 was a different kind of year, and I’m sure nearly everyone would agree with that statement.

It was a tough year for a lot of people, and I completely understand.

I feel very grateful for the life that I get to live, but it was a hard year for me as well. I lost two important family members in my life, my grandma as well as my dog who was my best friend for almost 14 years.

 

Family

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include this section in this life update, as I’m also talking about travel and business, and honestly, it just seems odd to have it all in one.

I went back and forth so many times, and I’m still unsure of it.

But, it just doesn’t seem right to me to not include it, as this is all a part of my life.

Good and bad things happen, and will happen throughout a person’s lifetime.

I do feel guilty writing about the passings of two of my favorites, and at the same time also writing about business and travel. Anyways…

Me and my grandma around 4 years ago.

My grandma passed away in the summer of 2020. She passed away at the age of 97.

I spent a lot of time growing up with my grandma, as she watched us everyday after school when we were kids and lived in Chicago.

She lived in the building just behind us, so I saw her all the time.

She didn’t speak much English (and I don’t speak Korean), although she took daily/weekly English classes even in her old age so that she could at least make hand gestures and talk to us as best as she could.

I remember as a kid, she would make me plain ramen (with no seasoning!) and I was always so confused as to why she would throw the seasoning packet away and make it taste bland. But I couldn’t tell her easily because I didn’t know how to tell her in Korean. After months of eating noodles in plain water, I figured out how to tell her. She thought it was weird that I liked watery noodles but she made it because she thought I liked it, haha. That is a story that always makes me laugh.

She was also a world traveler, and went to so many amazing places.

Also the kindest woman ever, and she was so great to us. I will forever miss her.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

This picture was taken about one week before she passed away.

My favorite girl passed away – Sailor. My best friend, the sweetest sweetie pie, the best adventure buddy, passed away in December of 2020.

We adopted Sailor when she was just two months old. I had just turned 18 about a week earlier, and just graduated from high school. Wes and I were moving in together (we were crazy kids), and decided to adopt a puppy that a friend was trying to find a home for.

Shortly after, I found out that my dad had brain and lung cancer, and that he did not have much time left. Sailor was there through all of the tears and sadness (I leaned heavily on her), and always brought me joy.

She has climbed some of the tallest mountains in the U.S., sailed to many islands, and been to some of the most scenic spots around.

It was very sudden, and before she could get to a vet (the vet was actually on her way to the boat). The vet thinks it may have been a fast moving cancer, as she didn’t show signs of it when she was just at the vet shortly before.

I’m still processing what this means as she was such a huge and beautiful part of my life for the past almost 14 years.

I am heartbroken and miss her so much. I was dreading this time for awhile, as I knew she was getting older, and it’s been much harder than I could have ever imagined.

Now, I’m not really sure how to transition to the next section, but below I will be switching to my travel and business review for 2020.

Like it was for nearly everyone – 2020 was a weird year, full of highs and lows.

 

Hanging out during lockdown on the boat in Puerto Rico.

Travel in 2020

2020 started with us in the Exumas in the Bahamas. We have spent a decent amount of time in the Bahamas the past couple of years on our boat, and it’s an amazing place to be, especially on a boat!

We then sailed to the Dominican Republic in February and spent around a month. We saw whales, went up the only cable car in the Caribbean (and it goes up around 2,500 feet!), rented a car and drove around the country, and more.

Then, we sailed to Puerto Rico in March. Shortly after we arrived, the lockdown started, and it was very strict. It has loosened since, but the first several months they had some of the strictest rules in the world. You could only grocery shop on certain days according to your license plate, you weren’t allowed to go outside (not even to let your dog use the bathroom), and more.

We had planned on hopping down the island chain and spending hurricane season in Grenada, but everything changed.

We stayed in Puerto Rico for around 3 months, pondering our next move.

Since we live on a boat, we had to figure something out, as hurricane season was approaching and we are not allowed to stay in the “Hurricane Box” during hurricane season because of our boat insurance policy.

So, we had two options, sail to Grenada or sail to the U.S. The sail to Grenada would have been about 3 days.

We decided to sail to the U.S. as we weren’t sure what the state of the world would be like, especially after being in such a strict lockdown for 3 months in Puerto Rico. Plus, we wanted to be outside of the Hurricane Box, and if you’re going north then that means heading all the way back to the U.S. Also, we had a lot of boat work that we needed to get done, so going to Annapolis seemed like an easy choice.

It was a 1,300 nautical mile sail and took us 9 days. It was our longest passage, and it was just me, Wes, and our two dogs. Our highest speed was 14.5 knots, and we hit 12 and 13 quite often. We caught fish, saw a submarine, dealt with Tropical Storm Bertha, and more. Our dogs did amazingly well on the passage, and it was a wonderful time.

We spent several months in Annapolis, Maryland for hurricane season and got a ton of work done on SV Paradise, including a major electrical refit. We can now run everything off of our lithium batteries and our solar, including running the watermaker, our washer/dryer, water heater, and more. Since I know I’ll be asked, the company we used for our electrical refit was Marine Electric Systems in Annapolis, and I highly recommend them.

Hurricane season ended in November, and then we’re required by insurance to head south to avoid winter weather on our boat. We did some offshore hops and we’re now in sunny Florida!

We’re not sure what we’ll be doing in 2021, but decisions have to be made eventually because hurricane season comes every year. We have a few ideas but I won’t be sharing anything just yet – you’ll just have to wait and see! 🙂

Fortunately, we’re fairly off-grid and self-sufficient on SV Paradise, so we can safely live on our boat, even in a time like this.

Note: If you want to follow my travels and life more, please follow me on Instagram. 

 

2020 Business Year In Review

2020 was definitely a weird year for businesses.

Many businesses failed, while many others thrived. Working from home and/or starting your own small business is now at an all-time high as well.

I am very grateful for the business that I get to run, and I am excited to grow it well into the future.

While I no longer disclose exact income numbers due to privacy reasons (and so that I, as well as others, don’t feel the need to “keep up” with others), income was at a good level in 2020.

Here’s what my income has looked like in the past:

  • In 2013, my business income totaled $116,519. This was the year that I quit my job to blog full-time.
  • In 2014, it totaled $163,929. This was my first full year of being self-employed with no day job.
  • In 2015, I made $320,888. I think this was the year where I fired all of my freelance clients and started just working on my blog. This helped me to grow my income significantly because I was FOCUSED!
  • In 2016, I made $979,321. This is the year where I created my first product (Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing).
  • In 2017, I earned $1,536,732.
  • In 2018, I earned over $1,500,000 (I stopped disclosing exact numbers in 2018).

It’s crazy to think that I have now been blogging for over nine years. What started as a fun little blog with no goals (I was even anonymous!), has turned into a great business for me.

If you want to start a blog of your own, I have a free How To Start a Blog Course.

2020 was a weird year, as we all know.

Even though I had a ton more free time due to lockdowns, I didn’t get as much work done as I had hoped. My mind was all over the place a lot of the time, which led to me wasting a lot of time.

But, I have heard that was normal for a lot of people for 2020. So, if you experienced the same – do not feel bad about yourself!

I didn’t take part in many interviews, didn’t release any new projects, and I was barely on social media. I really don’t know what I spent so much of my time on, to be honest.

Luckily, around 2019, I slowed down significantly when it came to working, and it helped tremendously. I wasn’t feeling burned out or anything with Making Sense of Cents. But, I knew that I needed to be more mindful of how I use my time online. I no longer want to be hooked to my laptop and phone for both personal and business social media browsing/blogging.

And, after several years of blogging full-time and spending 100+ hour weeks on my blog, it’s been nice to relax and focus on other areas of my life.

I will be completely honest – income did not grow in 2020 over 2019 – but it was still a great amount.

Thankfully, all of the hard work that I’ve put in over the past several years has paid off.

In case you are new to this blog, the main areas I earn a living from include:

  • Affiliate Marketing – This is the largest chunk of my income.
  • Sponsored Partnerships
  • Courses – Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Course and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts
  • Display Advertising – I use Adthrive. Another great option is Mediavine.

Three articles that I recommend reading:

  • How I Successfully Built A $1,000,000+ Blog
  • How I’ve Made Over $1,000,000 From My First Course Without a Big Launch
  • 10+ Of The Best Free Blogging Resources

Thank you to all of my readers for being here with me on this journey! I’m so glad that I can share everything with you.

 

Anchored in Puerto Rico.

Affiliate marketing results in 2020.

Affiliate income was at a great level this past year.

Not much changed from the previous year, and everything is fairly passive when it comes to affiliate marketing income on Making Sense of Cents.

I am hoping to start ranking for more blog posts through SEO, which will hopefully increase my affiliate income further and grow my audience on Making Sense of Cents.

The areas that I am working on to improve my affiliate income include:

  • Planning out 2021 for affiliate offers. I’m not really much of a big planner, so this is something I’m always working on. This will help to keep me organized and better prepared.
  • Learning about SEO and applying techniques to my blog. This past guest post has made me super interested in taking SEO seriously – The exact template that helped my site earn $95,000 in affiliate income last year.
  • Continuing to improve and build a high-quality funnel. I want to have a high-quality funnel where I continue to give valuable information to my readers, and keep them happy for the times when I may not have the greatest wifi.
  • Continuing to grow the reach of Making Sense of Cents. Traffic has been a little stuck lately, and I want to change that! I want to see what I can do to grow the traffic, as that will help me to reach new readers.
  • Analyzing popular blog posts to see how they can be improved for the future.
  • Seeking out new affiliate products to promote, and seeing what else my audience is interested in.

If you want to learn more about affiliate marketing, I recommend getting the free guide 10 Easy Tips To Increase Your Affiliate Income. With this time-saving cheat sheet, you’ll learn how to make affiliate income from your blog. These tips will help you to rapidly improve your results and increase your blogging income in no time.

 

Sponsored partnership results in 2020.

Sponsored partnerships were great in the first few months of 2020. But, when the world’s events hit in March, things slowed down drastically. This is because companies were waiting to see how everything would play out.

But, in the summer of 2020, it all picked up like crazy.

I had so many offers in my email inbox that I actually had to turn good offers down.

I believe that 2021 will be a great year for sponsored partnerships, and I already have many lined up for the year.

Plus, the first few months of each year are usually the best for me, as that’s when advertisers tend to be looking for a lot of bloggers.

You can learn more about sponsored partnerships in my free guide 8 Easy Tips To Make Money From Sponsored Posts On Your Blog.

 

Hiking in Puerto Rico (before the lockdown).

Goals for 2021.

I’m hoping that 2021 will be the year of growth for both myself and Making Sense of Cents.

After taking much of 2019 off, and a lot of 2020, I’m ready to get back to it for 2021.

My goals for 2021:

  1. Grow Making Sense of Cents. I’d like to grow in terms of readers and income, and there are two main things that I plan on doing in order to help with that (see #2 and #3 below)
  2. Get featured in the media more. I’m currently taking a course on this subject and I’ll be sharing more information on it soon! In the meantime, you can sign up for the freebie –  2021 Publicity Calendar – This contains 179 story ideas, dates, and hooks to help you create endless media attention and buzz! If you want to get featured in magazines and popular websites, this is something that you will definitely want to sign up for.
  3. See growth from SEO. I took an SEO course that I really enjoyed, and ever since then I have been soaking up all of the SEO knowledge that I can. I am hoping that 2021 is the year of explosive growth from SEO for Making Sense of Cents. The free course I recommend taking is The SEO Starter Pack (FREE Video Training).
  4. Get at least three months ahead on Making Sense of Cents posts. I’m currently around 3 months ahead in content, and I’d like to continue the streak that I am on.
  5. Be more present. My main goal in 2021 (just like with previous years) is to be more present.
  6. Read 5 books. I have only read one book lately that wasn’t work or sailing/boat-educational related. I would like to get back to reading books that have nothing to do with trying to learn something, haha.
  7. Start learning a new language. I know I won’t be fluent, but I’d love to learn a new language. I took 3-4 years of French in high school, and that’s the one I’m trying to learn right now through Duolingo. It’s a good language to learn when sailing about the world, so wish me luck!
  8. Learn how to dive. We would possibly like to add scuba equipment to our sailboat so that we can explore the water further as we sail about the world. So, that means I actually have to learn how to do it. This is definitely a huge goal of mine for this year!

I hope you enjoyed this 2020 year in review blog post. It’s always interesting putting these types of blog posts together so that I can reflect on the previous year.

And, it’s nice to take a look at it once this next coming year is over as well.

How was 2020 for you? What questions do you have for me? Share in the comments below!

The post 2020 Business and Life Review appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

ByCurtis Watts

Why It’s the Year of the Side Hustle

Side hustles have always been a good way to earn more money and better your finances. With so many people in debt while wages have fallen flat, they’ve become especially popular over the past decade. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen them shoot ahead in popularity even further. 

According to a recent survey by credit-building platform, Self, just over half of Americans plan to start a side hustle as a direct result of the pandemic. The numbers get really interesting when you break them down by age, too. The majority of Millennials (around 70%) plan to start a side hustle, while only a few — around 20% — of Boomers have the same idea. 

Coronavirus and Unemployment: Changing How People Earn Money

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you already know the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on the economy. Still, it’s worth taking a second look at the numbers. By May 2020, after everything shut down, the number of unemployed people in the U.S. shot up even higher than figures during the Great Depression. It ranged higher than 14 million unemployed people, compared to the Great Depression’s peak of 8.8 million unemployed. The unemployment rate at its peak in 2020 was 16%. 

Today the economy is reopening and the unemployment rate has gone back down, but still stands twice as high as normal — 8% — as of August 2020. Even if you are lucky enough to be back at work today, chances are good that you’re still not earning as much as you were before. Your hours might’ve been reduced, you might’ve missed out on pay raises, or you might’ve suffered a pay cut. 

If you’re still unemployed, the picture isn’t any better. The extra $600 weekly unemployment assistance dropped off at the end of July, leaving many people with normal piddly paycheck amounts. 

Finally, even if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s been totally unaffected by all of this, at least you’ve seen the devastation that can happen and maybe you’re spurred on to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. No matter which segment you fall into, everyone’s seeing how important diversifying your income with a side hustle is right now. 

12 Most Popular Side Gigs of the Year

Whether you call them “side hustles” or not, people have been finding creative ways to earn a little extra on the side ever since economies have existed. But today, with COVID, some side hustles are more popular than others. Here are some of the most popular side gig options this year:

1. Deliver Groceries and Food

With so many people trying to keep their distance, one hot job that’s been booming is food delivery workers — specifically, through apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, Instacart, Shipt, and more. All you need is a car and a smartphone. And while your chances of being exposed to COVID are greater than if you’d found an online gig (please, avoid this one if you’re high-risk!), contact-free delivery options are making it a bit safer. 

2. Transcribe Audio Files

If you’re looking for a good way to boost your typing speed and listen to (potentially) interesting conversations, give transcription a try. You can find partner websites that’ll send you audio files or advertise your services in writer’s groups. All you have to do is type out the audio accurately and send your transcription back to the partner. 

The startup cost on this side gig is low — all you need is a computer and internet, which you might already have if you’re reading this. Beyond that, a small investment in a foot pedal — a hands-free way to start and stop audio — keeps your hands on the keyboard so that you type faster and earn more money in the process. 

3. Tutor a Student

The education system is a mess right now. Many kids are stuck at home and are falling behind in their studies. Parents are at their wit’s end, and looking for ways to help their children grow and stay entertained. That’s where you come in. There are many opportunities to tutor students online, and if you and the other party is comfortable, you can even meet up in person for socially-distanced learning.

4. Pet-Sitting and Dog-Walking

Even though normal travel isn’t really a thing right now, there still are more people than ever travelling locally. Many people can only stay in their home so long without going stir-crazy, after all. A lot of pet sitters are finding that business is booming right now, and you can get in on the action, too. 

Apps like Rover and Wag! make it easy to get started. Even if you can’t watch someone’s pup for them, you can still offer your services as a dog walker and get out of the house while still distancing yourself from other people. 

5. Freelance Writing or Starting a Blog

Do you have an interesting story? Would you like to write about other people who do? If so, now’s a great time to start your own blog or freelance writing side hustle. Blogging takes a lot of work and time before it really pays off, although if it does, you can earn a lot of money. Freelance writing might be more lucrative right off the bat, and you can even leverage your new blog as a way to showcase your writing to earn work with paid clients. 

6. Become a Virtual Assistant

With so many people working entirely online these days, an entire new industry of workers have cropped up: virtual assistants. As a virtual assistant, your job may be as varied as the people who hire you. You might find sources for interviews, keep track of tasks in a database, answer reader emails, make graphics, write blog posts, and more. And since it’s entirely virtual, your potential client list is global. 

7. Take Surveys

This side hustle might not replace your day job, but if you have a few extra minutes while you’re watching TV, baking, or spending endless hours listening in on Zoom meetings, you can earn a bit more cash. There are a lot of places to earn money with surveys, so be sure to try your hand at more than one. 

8. Web and App Development

Techy skills are in demand right now, especially with so many people working online. If you know a bit of code — or want to learn — now’s a great time to get started with this side hustle. You can find work through Fiverr and Upwork, or advertise independently elsewhere. If you know how to develop apps, see if you can come up with any ideas to make quarantine life easier for everyone — that would be a hit for sure. 

9. SEO Developer

The only option most local businesses have to reach potential customers these days is online. But the mom-and-pop pizza shop down the road probably isn’t up to snuff when it comes to advertising on Google and social media. These skills are especially in demand right now, and there are many courses you can take to learn more and start this side hustle immediately. 

10. Write eBooks

Are you good at coming up with stories? If you’ve got some time on your hands and you don’t have any pressing money concerns, writing ebooks can be a great way to set up a passive income strategy that’ll keep paying you throughout the future. Just like with blogging, it can be a risky strategy since it may not pay off immediately. But if you have a passion for words, a creative imagination, and an entrepreneurial spirit, this could be a great side hustle for you.

11. Social Media Strategist

Companies often aren’t SEO experts, and they aren’t social media experts either. But if you were raised alongside Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and love mastering the newest social media channels, this could be a great side hustle for you. You’ll need to learn how to work with brands and companies to represent them online so that they sell more products — and in turn, can pay you the big bucks. 

12. Do Odd Jobs

We’ve covered some of the websites you can use to earn money during the pandemic right now, but it bears repeating here. Websites like TaskRabbit, Fiverr, and Upwork have many more opportunities than what we’ve listed here. 

For example, you could help with mowing lawns, helping someone move to a new house, delivering things from stores, designing printable PDFs, teaching someone how to play guitar, and more. The opportunities are endless, and it’s free to browse and see what small odd jobs are available in your area. 

The Bottom Line

The year 2020 will probably go down in most people’s books as one of the worst on record. It’s important to acknowledge the bad that’s happening, but it’s also important to look forward, too. Even in the midst of all of this craziness, there is an opportunity for growth and a way to better your finances. No one can pinpoint when a pandemic will happen, but you can plan your financial response to big events like this. 

The post Why It’s the Year of the Side Hustle appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

ByCurtis Watts

Indoor Wellness: How to Recreate the Ultimate Interior Design Trend of 2020

Within the past few years, we’ve seen a growing interest in everything wellness. With a more mindful approach on how we approach our day-to-day lives, the emphasis is now placed on maintaining our mental and emotional health, as we are actively working to ensure that all aspects of our lives remain balanced — our homes included.

This is why the real estate wellness market soared in 2017 to one billion dollars. But what about us regular homeowners, who weren’t lucky enough to buy homes designed in such a fashion? Well, this is where interior design comes in to lend a helping hand.

There are a number of ways you can incorporate wellness design into your home. Let’s go over a few easy ways to get started.

Bringing nature into your home

There is no denying that being around nature – or even just natural materials – can be incredibly soothing. Due to this, bringing the outdoors in is something that many interior designers who follow this trend will try to do, and it’s also the easiest way for you to get started.

Start by incorporating plants and greenery in various spaces in your home. For instance, you can set up hanging plants so there are leaves and flowers dripping from the ceiling, you can encourage climbers to grow across your walls, and accentuate your decor by adding plants in creative pots.

If this seems like too much maintenance, then opt for furniture and furnishings in natural materials instead.

cozy-interiors-plant-and-wicker

Stick to wood and natural fibers as much as possible. Since you will need to add metals to the scheme as well, it is best to opt for more antique-looking pieces.

Selecting calming color palettes

You probably know that the psychology behind the way our mind interprets color plays a big role in interior design. And even if you haven’t yet read it somewhere, you instinctively know that certain shades can impact your mood and frame of mind.

It comes as no surprise to learn that many of the color trends for 2020 are based on this. For instance, there is a fair amount of focus on the color blue – which is known for its calming properties.

So, feel free to invest in navy or peacock blues. In case you prefer something a little brighter, then pinks, yellows, and orange are also great warm tones to consider. These shades too are associated with kindness, warmth, and enthusiasm respectively.

Let the light shine in

Natural light in your home is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it can help to brighten up your mood considerably. At the same time, being continuously exposed to light helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, helping you to sleep and wake at appropriate times. 

This is why it is important to ensure that your home is flooded with plenty of light. Windows and skylights naturally play a significant role. However, there is a lot you can do with your interior design to increase how light travels throughout the house. 

For instance, you can position mirrors opposite your windows so that the light bounces off to other parts of a room, or use light and bright window treatments to brighten the space.

You should also try to keep the walls and flooring in a lighter color so that the light is reflected rather than absorbed. Oh, and glossy paint, especially on the ceiling, can go a long way too.

Focus on ergonomics

Naturally, wellness in interior design isn’t just about how your house looks. It also has a great deal to do with how your home environment feels. Thus, the design must include elements of comfort throughout the space. 

For instance, if you live in a warmer part of the country, it is only natural that you will need to set up many cooling units throughout the house. Some of these will need to be standalone devices. Now, rather than eschewing these products completely, find a way to incorporate them into the existing design. 

Let’s imagine that you have embraced a more natural theme for your interiors. Then, perhaps you can design wooden slats to cover the sides and top of the unit so that it isn’t as noticeable. If you decide to opt for this route, make sure that no important outlet is covered up. There should be plenty of airflow in and out of the space as well. 

Or, you could use nature-inspired stickers to help the unit blend in. At the very least, set up some plants around it so that it doesn’t stand out too much. 

As you can see, there are so many different ways to incorporate the wellness theme into your home. So, if you are looking forward to a happier and more balanced year ahead, then these are the tactics you should consider.

Keep reading

6 Smart Home Devices to Keep Your Pets Safe, Well Fed and Entertained While You’re Away
Planning a Redesign? Here are the Most Popular Interior Design Styles You Get to Choose From
Here’s Why a Womb Chair is the Perfect Addition to Your InteriorsHow to Successfully Integrate Smart Home Tech into Your Own Home

The post Indoor Wellness: How to Recreate the Ultimate Interior Design Trend of 2020 appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

Source: fancypantshomes.com

ByCurtis Watts

How I Invest

One of the most common questions I receive from readers like you—especially since Grow (Acorns + CNBC) published my story last week—asks me how I invest.

All this theoretical investing information is fine, Jesse. But can you please just tell me what you do with your money.

That’s what I’ll do today. Here’s a complete breakdown of how I invest, how the numbers line up, and why I make the choices I make.

Disclaimer

Of course, please take my advice with a grain of salt. Why?

My strategy is based upon my financial situation. It is not intended to be prescriptive of your financial situation.

I’ve hesitated writing this before because it feels one step removed from “How I Vote” and “How I Pray.” It’s personal. I don’t want to lead you down a path that’s wrong for you. And I don’t want to “show off” my own choices.

I’m an engineer and a writer, not a Wall Street professional. And even if I was a Wall Street pro, I hope my prior articles on stock picking and luck vs. skill in the stock market have convinced you that they aren’t as skilled as you might think.

All I can promise you today is transparency. I’ll be clear with you. I’ll answer any follow-up questions you have. And then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information.

Mitte Mystery Clearing For Dual Address Shop - Eatler

Are we clear? Let’s get to the good stuff.

How I Invest, and In What Accounts…?

In this section, I’ll detail how much I save for investing. Then the next two sections will describe why I use the investing accounts I use (e.g. 401(k), Roth IRA) and which investment choices I make (e.g. stocks, bonds).

Stock Market Forecasters See Modest Gains at Best This Fall | Barron's

How much I save, and in what accounts:

  • 401(k)—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $19,500 on employee-deferred contributions in 2020 (for my age group). I aim to hit the full $19,500 limit.
  • 401(k) matching—My employer will match 100% of my 401(k) contributions until they’ve contributed 6% of my total salary. For the sake of round numbers, that equates to about $6,000.
  • Roth IRA—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $6,000 on Roth IRA contributions (for my earnings range) in 2020. I am aiming to hit the full $6,000 limit.
  • Health Savings Account—The U.S. government gives tremendous tax benefits for saving in Health Savings Accounts. And if you don’t use that money for medical reasons, you can use it like an investment account later in life. I aim to hit the full $3,500 limit in 2020.
  • Taxable brokerage account—After I achieved my emergency fund goal (about 6 months’ of living expenses saved in a high-yield savings account), I started putting some extra money towards my taxable brokerage account. My goal is to set aside about $500 per month in that brokerage account.

That’s $41,000 of investing per year. But a lot of that money is actually “free.” I’ll explain that below.

Why Those Accounts?

The 401(k) Account

First, let’s talk about why and how I invest using a 401(k) account. There are three huge reasons.

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First, I pay less tax—and so can you. Based on federal tax brackets and state tax brackets, my marginal tax rate is about 30%. For each additional dollar I earn, about 30 cents go directly to various government bodies. But by contributing to my 401(k), I get to save those dollars before taxes are removed. So I save about 30% of $19,500 = $5,850 off my tax bill.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that 401(k) contributions are taken out prior to OASDI (a.k.a. social security) taxes. That claim was incorrect. 401(k) contributions occur only after OASDI taxes are assessed.

Many thanks to regular reader Nick for catching that error.

Second, the 401(k) contributions are removed before I ever see them. I’m never tempted to spend that money because I never see it in my bank account. This simple psychological trick makes saving easy to adhere to.

Third, I get 401(k) matching. This is free money from my employer. As I mentioned above, this equates to about $6,000 of free money for me.

Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

Why do I also use a Roth IRA?

Unlike a 401(k), a Roth IRA is funded using post-tax dollars. I’ve already paid my 30% plus OASDI taxes, and then I put money into my Roth. But the Roth money grows tax-free.

Let’s fast-forward 30 years to when I want to access those Roth IRA savings and profits. I won’t pay any income tax (~30%) on any dividends. I won’t pay capital gains tax (~15%) if I sell the investments at a profit.

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I’m hoping my 30-year investment might grow by 8x (that’s based on historical market returns). That would grow this year’s $6000 contribution up to $48000—or about $42000 in profit. And what’s ~15% of $42000? About $6,300 in future tax savings.

Health Savings Account (H.S.A.)

The H.S.A. account has tax-breaks on the front (36.7%, for me) and on the back (15%, for me). I’m netting about $1300 up-front via an H.S.A, and $4,200 in the future (similar logic to the Roth IRA).

Taxable Brokerage Account

And finally, there’s the brokerage account, or taxable account. This is a “normal” investing account (mine is with Fidelity). There are no tax incentives, no matching funds from my employer. I pay normal taxes up front, and I’ll pay taxes on all the profits way out in the future. But I’d rather have money grow and be taxed than not grow at all.

Summary of How I Invest—Money Invested = Money Saved

In summary, I use 401(k) plus employer matching, Roth IRA, and H.S.A. accounts to save:

  • About $7,100 in tax dollars today
  • About $6,000 of free money today
  • And about $10,500 in future tax dollars, using reasonable investment growth assumptions

Don’t forget, I still get to access the investing principal of $41,000 and whatever returns those investments produce! That’s on top of the roughly $25,000 of savings mentioned above.

I choose to invest a lot today because I know it saves me money both today and tomorrow. That’s a high-level thought-process behind how I invest.

How I Invest: Which Investment Choices Do I Make?

We’ve now discussed 401(k) accounts, Roth IRAs, H.S.A. accounts, and taxable brokerage accounts. These accounts differ in their tax rules and withdrawal rules.

But within any of these accounts, one usually has different choices of investment assets. Typical assets include:

  • Stocks, like shares of Apple or General Electric.
  • Bonds, which are where someone else borrows your money and you earn interest on their debt. Common bonds give you access to Federal debt, state or municipality debt, or corporate debt.
  • Real estate, typically via real estate investment trusts (REITs)
  • Commodities, like gold, beef, oil or orange juice
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Here are the asset choices that I have access to in my various accounts:

  • 401(k)—my employer works with Fidelity to provide me with about 20 different mutual funds and index funds to invest in.
  • Roth IRA—this account is something that I set up. I can invest in just about anything I want to. Individual stocks, index funds, pork belly futures etc.
  • H.S.A.—this is through my employer, too. As such, I have limited options. But thankfully I have low-cost index fund options.
  • Taxable brokerage account—I set this account up. As such, I can invest in just about any asset I want to.

My Choice—Diversity2

How I invest and my personal choices involve two layers of diversification. A diverse investing portfolio aims to decrease risk while maintaining long-term investing profits.

The first level of diversification is that I utilize index funds. Regular readers will be intimately familiar with my feelings for index funds (here 28 unique articles where I’ve mentioned them).

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By nature, an index fund reduces the investor’s exposure to “too many eggs in one basket.” For example, my S&P 500 index fund invests in all S&P 500 companies, whether they have been performing well or not. One stellar or terrible company won’t have a drastic impact on my portfolio.

But, investing only in an S&P 500 index fund still carries risk. Namely, it’s the risk that that S&P 500 is full of “large” companies’ stocks—and history has proven that “large” companies tend to rise and fall together. They’re correlated to one another. That’s not diverse!

Lazy Portfolio

To battle this anti-diversity, how I invest is to choose a few different index funds. Specifically, my investments are split between:

  • Large U.S. stock index fund—about 40% of my portfolio
  • Mid and small U.S. stock index fund—about 20% of my portfolio
  • Bond index fund—about 20%
  • International stocks fund—about 20%

This is my “lazy portfolio.” I spread my money around four different asset class index funds, and let the economy take care of the rest.

Each year will likely see some asset classes doing great. Others doing poorly. Overall, the goal is to create a steady net increase.

Updating My Favorite Performance Chart For 2019
An asset class “quilt” chart from 2010-2019, showing how various asset classes perform each year.

Twice a year, I “re-balance” my portfolio. I adjust my assets’ percentages back to 40/20/20/20. This negates the potential for one “egg” in my basket growing too large. Re-balancing also acts as a natural mechanism to “sell high” and “buy low,” since I sell some of my “hottest” asset classes in order to purchase some of the “coldest” asset classes.

Any Other Investments?

In June 2019, I wrote a quick piece with some thoughts on cryptocurrency. As I stated then, I hold about $1000 worth of cryptocurrency, as a holdover from some—ahem—experimentation in 2016. I don’t include this in my long-term investing plans.

I am paying off a mortgage on my house. But I don’t consider my house to be an investment. I didn’t buy it to make money and won’t sell it in order to retire.

On the side, I own about $2000 worth of collectible cards. I am not planning my retirement around this. I do not include it in my portfolio. In my opinion, it’s like owning a classic car, old coins, or stamps. It’s fun. I like it. And if I can sell them in the future for profit, that’s just gravy on top.

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Enter full nerd mode!

Summary of How I Invest

Let’s summarize some of the numbers from above.

Each year, I aim to save and invest about $41,000. But of that $41K, about $15K is completely free—that’s due to tax benefits and employer matching. And using reasonable investment growth, I think these investments can save me $15,000 per year in future tax dollars.

Plus, I eventually get access to the $41K itself and any investment profits that accrue.

I take that money and invest in index funds, via the following allocations:

  • 40% into a large-cap U.S. stock index fund
  • 20% into a medium- and small-cap U.S. stock index fund
  • 20% into an international stock index fund
  • And 20% into a bond index fund

The goal is to achieve long-term growth while spreading my eggs across a few different baskets.

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And that’s it! That’s how I invest. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or drop me an email.

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

Source: bestinterest.blog

ByCurtis Watts

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