For all of 2020, I’m trying something different. Every month I’m setting a theme. As part of that theme, I’m also setting goals and habits to help it along the way. These themes aren’t limited to the month either – each theme is for the year but in addition to everything else added before it.
For January my theme was Focus, for February it was Finish, for March, Routine, for April Create and for May Work. I picked these themes based on what I felt was the most important at the time to help stay emotionally grounded, productive, and happy.
Side note: Check out the bottom of any of these “theme posts” to hear about how it went.
It’s tough to write anything right now. In the past week the country has been mourning the death of George Floyd – yet another black life taken by an increasingly brutal and unchecked police force.
I’ll make it clear where I stand on this issue:
- Black lives matter
- We need a fundamental criminal justice reform:
- That holds police accountable for illegal actions – bad actors, enablers, and everything in between.
- An end to the drug war that overwhelmingly harms blacks and minorities.
- That ends the inability to press charges against police.
- A nationwide database of police infractions to ensure they’re not just transferred to different districts.
- Common sense gun reform.
- Ending financial systems that disadvantage blacks and minorities (like unemployment benefits which were, and are, set up to prevent them from getting access).
- We need people to vote! On the local and federal level.
Change happens on many levels. How our local communities adapt and choose mayors, local judges and police commissioners. How our local house and senators are held accountable – both for actions in their state and their choices at the federal level. And of course what direction our president takes our country in.
That means protesting, getting rilled up, inspiring others, challenging our friends and family, and helping as many people as possible register and vote.
I’m upset, sad, terrified and shocked with where the country is – and where it could go. As much as I want to be optimistic, it needs to be checked with reality.
Things could get a lot worse if action isn’t taken. Could we see the military in the streets of every city? Yes. Could we see elections canceled or delayed? Yes. Could we see women’s right to choose taken away? Yes. Could we see non-violent protestors and those who disagree politically with the president be put in jail? Yes.
And that scares the hell out of me.
Here on Minafi I write mostly about the journey to financial independence through minimalism, mindfulness, and investing. Now more than ever during my lifetime, taking this journey has been limited to a smaller and smaller subset of the population.
At the same time, I’m optimistic that more people than ever want to take that journey. Part of my mission is to help as many people as possible have that opportunity. But I can’t do it alone. For that, I’ll need your help: make your voice heard.
As I said at the start – it’s hard to write anything right now. Writing about personal growth and my own financial journey seems insignificant.
You may feel similar about your life right now. I find this quote from Mr. Rogers helps put these feelings in context:
As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has- or ever will have- something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.Mr. Rogers
I’m going to try to channel Mr. Roger’s words this month. That means sharing what I’m doing in June. If June is anything like the last few months it’s only a matter of time before something new catches on fire. Until then I’m going to set a few things I want to try!
There’s plenty wrong in the world right now. I personally can’t spend every waking working towards change. I need some time to recharge – watching Reunited Apart, listening to Make Me Smart, getting out into nature, cooking tasty recipes, and petting my dog Lily (so much time petting my dog). These activities help me return refreshed and ready to help others.
My theme for May was Work. I spent hours every day (almost) working on the Minafi Investor Bootcamp. The draft of the last article was completed on May 31st – hitting my deadline! The total length of the Bootcamp? About 110,000 words – or 250 pages. There’s a lot of work left, but for now, I’m taking a little break.
I recently started reading The History of the Future by Blake J. Harris. I absolutely loved his previous book Console Wars about the battle between Sega and Nintendo in the 80s and 90s. History of the Future focuses on virtual reality through the rise of Oculus.
Both books are great, but one thing stood out from History: John Carmack’s post routine after finishing a major work push. Carmack, the iconic programmer behind Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake a many more titles, would take time off after a big release for research and development. He’d try new things, experiment, and see what came of it.
It was during this time he stumbled on Oculus – which is now his main focus.
I’m no John Carmack. I do love the idea of taking some time to explore something new! It’s these times that we can find new things we love, new places to make an impact, and new ways to help.
This idea was the spark for this months theme and I decided to run with it.
With COVID-19 still running rampant, we won’t be traveling this month. This past week has seen the largest rise in cases in Utah since the pandemic started. “Explore” won’t mean going to restaurants, shopping, even hanging out with friends.
Instead it’ll be exploration on my own, or into new ideas.
What Am I Hoping to Get Out of This?
There are times when we just need to take a break. Being able to take a break is itself a luxury. I know I want to be in tip-top shape to volunteer leading up to this election. One way to do that is to take some time now.
After a month of writing nearly every day, one hope is to get a break from that grind. I want to find some new interests to put my time into and dig deeper into a few areas that I already enjoy.
It also means more time towards some ways I can use my time to help others. More on that below.
How Will I Do This?
Explore new hikes. Last year I realized I love hiking. It feels great to put in a podcast or audiobook and enjoy nature for a few hours. I even created a long list of trails nearby and started checking them off.
I’m hoping to go on a new hike every week in June.
We’d also like to explore some new campsites – although I’m not sure Lily will want to join us. Here are a few shots from our camping trip last month. We spent two nights alone in the woods at Upper Narrows on my 38th birthday.
This was one of my favorite camping experiences. We ended up having the entire campground to ourselves! The closest humans were at least 2 miles away down a dirt road.
Explore new data. A little over a year ago I released an updated version of An Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence. I’ve explored some of the data in posts here on Minafi before:
- The Gender Pay Gap Told Through Data From the Finance Blogging Community
- Data Says the Millennial Early Retirement Age is 40 – Here’s How They Could Do It
There was one question I didn’t ask on the initial version that I instantly regretted – race. I have about a year of data now since I added that question. I want to dig into what this data says about the impact of race on the journey to financial independence.
If you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear your thoughts in reply to this recent Tweet.
Explore new investments. No, I’m not going to start trading options. What I do want to do is develop the Minafi Fund Directory to make it a useful resource for understanding which funds are good for FI and which aren’t.
One idea I’m in the process of implementing is an “FI Score” for all mutual funds and ETFs. Think of a RottenTomatoes score from 1-100 that characterizes how good that fund is for someone pursuing financial independence. A score that takes into account fees, taxes, diversification, how well it matches its index, it’s history and everything else.
Working on this has been a fun change of pace from writing articles. I love a good design challenge to organize information in a way that makes sense – and this one is a great chance to do that. It also offers a great excuse to hit a lot of external finance APIs to pull in more data. That’s the same system as how I show quotes like this one for $VTSAX within a post.
Explore new ways to help make a change. I’ll be honest: I often feel like I can’t do anything worthwhile to make a notable change. That’s the same mentality that stops people from voting (what’s 1 vote?), from giving money to great causes (how much can $1 help?), or from sometimes participating in conversations (everything I want to say has already been said).
This is a dangerous mindset. I’ve found the main reason for this belief is miseducation. I want to do better at exploring how much impact one person can have in all of these areas. Where can I best give my money? Where can I best volunteer? How can I best support black lives matter?
The CARES Act, passed in March of 2020 makes a change to how charitable donations are calculated. For 2020 you can now contribute up to $300 and claim a deduction – even if you’re not itemizing. If you weren’t already sold on donating, this is yet another reason to chip in to Black Lives Matter today.
We give, we volunteer, we write, we call out friends and family – but all of that often seems like doing the bare minimum. I’ll be researching ways to do more. If you have thoughts – please let me know in the comments.
Explore augmented reality. I wanted to include one exploration into something I know absolutely nothing about. I’ve only experienced AR a few at the Sundance Film Festival in their New Frontiers Pavillion.
Virtual reality devices, like the Oculus Rift, get most of the attention. They’re immersive and allow you to feel like you’re in your own world. Augmented reality is completely different. It’s overlaying a heads up display on top of an existing view. Imagine wearing glasses that have directions overlayed on the street.
VR is exciting, but AR could be truly amazing. AR/VR could be the next major medium. There have been phones, TV, computers, phones, and possibly VR/AR next? If Apple really does release AR Glasses in the near future that could open it up to a massive audience.
This sounds extremely exciting to me. At a time when so much is going wrong, it’s welcoming to feel that way about something. To prepare for that seemingly-inevitable outcome, I’m going to start learning Swift – the language of iOS apps. The way I see it is that if Apple phones, tablets, and watches use Swift, it’s likely their next devices will too.
I don’t plan to create the next big app, but it would be one more area that I could use to program for fun.
June is off to a rough start. I hope that things get better.
Have you made any plans for June? How are you responding to recent news and current events? Are you OK?
Update: How’d June Go?
Updated on July 2, 2020.
This months theme was broad: try new things. It was less about getting things done and more about getting exposure to new places, ideas and ways of thinking. The hope was that I’d find new projects that inspire me. I want to find more things to work on where I wake up and can’t wait to spend time with.
So, was I able to do that?
Explore new hikes. A+. I did end up going on 4 hikes this month – which was my goal. Ensign Peak (2 miles), Mill B North Trail (4 miles), Dog Lake (6.5 miles), and Stewart Falls (4 miles). I didn’t always want to leave the comfort of my bed, but there wasn’t a time when I ever regretted going. It’s like a workout – you always feel better after.
We’re slowly trying to hit all of the top trails in the state of Utah according to AllTrails. We’ve done 9 out of the top 10 so far – 14 out of the top 20. We’re planning a trip to Bryce Canyon and a few other places down south later this year (hopefully) to visit more places. (Do you have a favorite hike in the west? We’re always on the lookout for new places to see!).
Explore new investments. A-. Earlier this month I launched the first version of the Minafi Fund Directory! This aims to be a clear way to understand if a fund is good for financial independence or not.
It’s based on an opinionated approach: “good” funds are low fee, diversified index funds. The more niche a fund is worse it is for FI. That doesn’t make it a bad fund, but it does mean a new investor may want to skip over it. It’s the difference between having your first investment be in $VTSAX or in $VSGAX. Both can be good ones, but if you had to recommend one, you’d recommend $VTSAX 10 times out of 10.
I’m in the process of updating The Minafi Investor Bootcamp to also use the funds’ directory.
Explore new data. C. I intended to create a post highlighting some of the data I have on Minafi that shows the difficulties of reaching FI broken down by race. My hope was to create something similar to the gender pay gap or the millennial spending analysis.
I failed at this one in a big way. I still want to write about it, but the topic of the topic is going to change. Of the 10k people who have filled out the interactive guide, only 2k have specified race. Of that 2k, only 63 have identified as being black. 63! That alone says a lot: that only 0.3% of visitors are selected black, that Minafi isn’t reaching the audience I’m hoping it will reach and that I could do a lot more to get it there.
I did end up switching focuses and began an S&P Data exploration which has been fun so far. I look forward to completing and releasing that later on.
Explore new ways to help make a change. B. In a month where we saw protests in the streets unlike any time since the 60s, it’s felt like as an individual there is little I can do. That’s been one of my biggest limiting beliefs that I’m still trying to improve on. We donated to bail funds, donated to Black Lives Matter, retweeted, and commented on posts to help elevate voices and called out some friends on their stances (in this case their all lives matter bs). It still feels like there’s so much more we could do here.
One area that I’m interested in is helping people learn how to code locally. After creating courses that have been viewed by millions of people, it’s a big mindset shift to helping people go deep into a topic compared to helping a large amount of people with a shallow introduction. I’m looking around for some places here in Utah to volunteer and hopefully help some students get better at coding. I’ll see where that goes.
Explore augmented reality. C. It’s not an F, but it’s close. Some of this one was on the assumption Apple would give some nod to AR in their WWDC this year (world wide developer conference). Sadly they didn’t, which likely means no Apple AR until at least 2022.
My exploration into AR this past month has been at a very high level: watching YouTube videos about AR, watching Tutorials and starting to brainstorm ideas about AR apps while also investigating if those ideas are even possible.
Whenever I have an idea for something on the web I can instantly know if it’s possible or not. When it comes to AR I can’t do that. Part of this month was just understanding what can be done. It’s a different way of thinking.
My favorite AR video I saw was this one – which shows an awful future where AR is used to its logical end. I’m both in awe and fear of this future all at once.
This video is amazing on so many levels. Seriously watch it.