How Much Is Optionality Worth To You?

D Sharon Pruitt

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

When we first graduate, we have little-to-no options since we know nothing. We’re a cost center that does what we are told and likes it. We develop skills that provide us more options over time. We look for better opportunities or ask for raises with more skills. Sometimes we get complacent and just stick with a company for way too long like a bad boyfriend or girlfriend.

Eventually we stop being so parsimonious with our money because our financial nut grows to the point where we can afford luxuries otherwise foreign to us in the past. The luxuries I’m willing to pay up for now are convenience, time, and less stress. I used to be OK waiting at the DMV for 3-4 hours to register a used car. No more. I used to be fine waiting 45 minutes for a bus instead of taking a cab. But no more. Waiting in line for hours to get cheaper event tickets was no big thang. Now I am more than happy to pay a premium to get access to nice seats.

I think most of us who really care about our finances have a strong frugal side. Savings is in our DNA. We know that so long as we always spend less than we earn, we’ll eventually reach an amazing financial place. But due to the confluence of old age, awareness, and more money, we eventually change our spending habits.

Deciding On Leasing Or Purchasing A New Car: Saying Good-bye To Moose!

Ferrari Enzo

My new Ferrari Enzo

After 10 years, I’m sad to say that Moose is gone! He just had too many problems that cost too much to fix as a 14 year old Land Rover Discovery II. I hated to let him go because he was like my big boy. I still remember finding him with 87,000 miles at the orphanage (Craigslist) for $10,000 in early 2005. The owner got a sweet consulting gig in Amsterdam from Pricewaterhouse Coopers and she had to sell quickly. We agreed on the steal price of $8,000 and the fun journeys to Tahoe, Napa, and Carmel began.

I actually hate driving today. There are just too many cars in San Francisco and the Bay Area now that the economy has roared back. Traffic was very manageable just three years ago, but condos are sprouting up everywhere downtown next to main arteries, making driving very stressful. The worst is when delivery or garbage trucks double park during rush hour and traffic backs way up. Dear local politicians, please outlaw such activity.

There was a point where I almost thought about not buying a car at all, and just using UberX as it is so cheap and signing up for a ride-sharing program since prices have come down so much. But in the end, I still valued my freedom of being able to get in a car and drive anywhere whenever I wanted. 

Free Uber Rides! Changing Lives By Disrupting The Rules

Uber App Dashboard

Uber App Dashboard

For the past several years, I’ve seen Uber grow from a scrappy startup to an enormous success based right here in San Francisco. In the Fall of 2013, the company was “only” valued at $3.5 billion. A year later, the latest round of fund-raising puts the company’s value at $18 billion! Instead of driving for them, the best way to get rich would have been to work for Uber when it first started in March 2009.

Jabir, the “richest poorest person I know” actually became an Uber driver a couple years ago. He was unemployed for almost three years with a wife and daughter to support. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, he was always available to play tennis. We’d also drive all around the Bay Area to watch struggling professional players battle up the ATP points ladder for eight hours a day sometimes. As tennis junkies, we were in heaven!

Then one day Jabir stopped being available. No longer could he play pick-up tennis at Golden Gate Park at 2pm. No longer could he be my pal when everybody else had to work, so I had to find a new friend to pass the time after my morning writing was done. When I asked him what was up, he responded that he decided to drive for Uber.

For the next 12 months, I didn’t see Jabir at all. He drove ~10 hours a day for six days a week like a mad man. It was as if he was making up for lost time. When I asked him how much he was pulling in, he said well over $7,000 a month. Not bad coming from $0.

Uber allowed my friend and many other unemployed or underemployed people to find a way to earn some money and improve the inefficient taxi system in San Francisco. The disruption has been huge. I was even considering driving for them during my spare time, but Moose was too old as a 2000 Land Rover Discovery.

Starting in early 2014, Jabir began to come out and play again. When I asked him how were things going, he said that he was no longer driving for Uber, but driving a black SUV for a specific hotel instead. “Sam, I was getting too tired driving all those hours. Hotel driving is so much easier. Also, Uber kept cutting its prices so I was only making like $3,500 a month. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore.”

Jabir actually started outsourcing his car to his brother to drive for Uber so he could start collecting a percentage of his earnings and free up time for him to drive for the hotel. Smart man. There’s passive income opportunities everywhere!

What Is A Good Short-Term Investment? A $280,000 Windfall Needs A New Home

Searching for a new home. Canoe on the lakeGreetings fellow Financial Samurai. Bruce here. I recently dropped a note to Sam about a financial conundrum that I was working through as I appreciate the analytical approach on this blog. Sam suggested that I write it up and engage the Samurai community to help with the alternatives analysis.

Background

My wife and I are in our early 30s, are currently child-free, and live in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. About three years ago we sold the condo we had purchased as our first marital home and bought a suburban house northeast of Atlanta in an area with the best public schools in the city called Marietta.

The house was the cheapest house in the best school district and definitely on the low end of the neighborhood as well. We paid 167K and there were only one or two other homes less than 200K in the high school district at that time. As luck would have it, we just happened to be buying within 30 days of the market bottom in January 2012 for the suburban Atlanta area.

We invested a decent chunk of change (~50K) in renovating the finishes of the home to give in a semblance of the style we like from watching exorbitant hours of “Property Brothers” and other similar shows on HGTV.

After living in this area for the last two and half years, my wife came to me with a proposal that we look into moving further south from the suburbs of Marietta closer to the urban center of Atlanta. She laid out the logic including the following:

  • She works closer to downtown Atlanta and her commute would go from 45 mins to an hour each way to around 20 minutes each way
  • The neighborhood/area we currently live in is dominated by families and children with very few single couples. This affects making friendships and means we will always be driving somewhere else if we are going out with our fellow child-free friends. Basically, why don’t we live in the city of Atlanta and enjoy the more active community while we have the opportunity? We can always move back to the suburbs if and when we do have a kid and they don’t start into public schools until they are six or so years old anyway.
  • The restaurants and bars in the suburbs are typically chain restaurants and sports bars. All the music venues, hip restaurants and bars are in Atlanta

I heard my wife’s impassioned appeal and decided to get on board with her plan to move to the City of Atlanta. I think the part that excites me the most is the opportunity to live in a walkable community. Everything in the suburbs involves getting in a car, but the area we are moving to allows for a ten minute walk to one of the most popular bar and restaurant districts in the city.

When we purchased our suburban house, we had pictured being there for the long haul (probably ten years or so), but with the renovations adding value and the market appreciation we felt confident with the numbers and changing our plans to move in-town.

However, we both agreed that because we have never lived in-town before, we would rent for the first year as opposed to buying a home in the city. The houses in the area we are going to be renting are almost twice as expensive as the suburbs we currently live in, and we want to make sure we are buying in the right area where we will want to settle in for at least 4-5 years so that we don’t repeat the same mistake of moving to an area that doesn’t end up being our cup of tea. By renting a home in the city, I think we will be able to figure out what makes the most sense to buy when we are ready after our 12 month lease is up.

Pay Down Debt Or Invest? Implement FS-DAIR

Financial Freedom In AmericaThe decision to pay off debt or invest is a personal one that depends on a lot of factors: risk tolerance, your number of income streams, liquidity needs, family expenses, job security, investing acumen, retirement age, inflation forecasts, and bullishness about your future in general. I’ve had hundreds of people ask me this question over the years, and I’ve also struggled to figure out a good guideline for myself.  As a result, I’ve been racking my brain to figure out a viable solution that can be used by many.

The solution I’ve come up with is called, “Financial Samurai’s DAIR” or “FS DAIR” for short. The idea is to come up with something easy to remember, challenging, logical, and effective, much like the 1/10th rule for car buying to help folks maximize their wealth. Even though plenty of people have objected to my 1/10th rule for being too restrictive, I strongly believe the rule has helped people minimize financial regret and boost the incredible feeling of progress and financial security.

Since we are all CFOs of our finances, we need to figure out the most efficient use of capital. My goal is to make personal finance simple so ACTION can be taken. All talk and no action leads to nothing. I’d like to “DAIR” you to follow my debt pay down rule to achieve financial freedom sooner, rather than later.