Dean Clough

March 11, 2024

Portico Darwin: Filthy Lucre



4 Minute Read

Happy Monday, and how about some useful information to start your week?   A nice break from the font of narcissism typically showcased here 3 times a week?

Sorry, not so fast - this is still tangentially about my favorite subject.  Indeed, it is a follow-up to The World's Most Expensive Man is Dead post, but you still might find it interesting.

10 Seconds of Seriousness:  We just concluded our financial plan with the perfect Heather Liston, and I'd like to share what I learned.  Beyond the fact I like to spend too much money.

My apologies if you know all or most of what follows already.  I most certainly did not.
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And, oh, as usual:  I have zero connection to any person or service or company I advocate (or demean) in what follows.

Financial Planning
Heather charged us a $5,000 fee to perform her magic; it is among the best money we've ever spent.  The breadth and depth of her work left no stone unturned, and we have a model that we can adjust or tweak as things change going forward.  She has put us on a sustainable financial path that will go on forever.  

For the record:  I am not an advocate of a traditional financial planner - they are too expensive.  A lot of research has been done, and the 2% or so fees charged by most add up to real money over 30 or 40 years of investing.  

Instead, it's best to follow the advice of most experts, from Suze Orman on down:  Have 10% or more taken out of your salary or income, and put it in a low-fee index or target-year retirement fund, like from Vanguard.  You don't need to pay anyone anything for that, and over time, the results will at least be as good as an actively managed portfolio.  
Here's the usual disclaimer that every situation is different.  But the above is a tried-and-true way to build wealth, without the middleman.

Our biggest mistake?  Not seeking Heather's services earlier.  Like October 3, 2020, the day after we decided I was retired.  In fact, I think it would make sense to engage Heather or someone like her at every major life change.

The 4% Rule Is No Rule
I was operating under the assumption that drawing down 4% of one's retirement fund each year is a safe approach.  Heather said that's largely a myth and dependent upon a variety of factors.  In fact, in our case, she told us to knock off the Vanguard raids and tighten our belts.

And how best to do that?  Sadly, it is a budget.   

You Need A Budget
And a great budgeting tool is out there, and it's called exactly that:  YNAB

After Heather stopped gagging at our profligate ways, she asked us to do a better job of budgeting more wisely and tracking the spending we do.  She suggested YNAB and I've been very impressed so far.   While we've had a budget for years, it was of little value, as we never tracked our actual spend vs. what was budgeted.   That's not the case any longer.

In sum, my weekly Weissβier allocations remain intact, but my buys occur at BevMo, not Marina Super.  And they're being tracked.

10 More Seconds of Seriousness:  This exercise has revealed just how flat dumb a lot of our spending was.  We've made adjustments such that our money will outlive us, yet neither of us has noticed a reduction in the quality of our lives.

Charles Schwab Bank
Another thing Ms. Liston found ridiculous was my clinging to my business checking account from the Casa Integration days.  I had done that because it featured a legit line of credit of $5,000, which I felt was a smart security blanket.

Wrong.  Shittybank Citibank was assessing us a $15 service charge each month for the privilege.  "DUMB!" Heather exclaimed.  She told us to find a free checking account, and that we should find one that's not only free, but that pays interest, too.

We are getting all of that and a lot more at my former employer, Charles Schwab.  I especially like how I can link to external accounts, like Julie's 401k at Fidelity and my IRA at Vanguard, and have real-time visibility into our net worth.  And all with a free checking account and debit card.  They even mail you checks for free.

Get Used to Airport Bars
This will hurt, but we'll somehow get through it.  First, a story.  Shocker, I know.

In 2005, as Casa Integration was starting to take off, it dawned on me to not arrange terms with the wholesale suppliers of the electronics and speakers I was purchasing for installation in my clients' homes.  No, I got a Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.  In other words, a credit card that earned a mile in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier program for every dollar spent. 

Ho-hum, right?

Wrong.  Back in the day, miles were worth something, and I bought hundreds of thousands of dollars in electronics in a typical year.  The result was flying business class on all of our international vacations, starting in 2006, on our first visit to Italy.  On miles.

More?  The card soon provided access to American's Admiral's Club airport lounges, at least when flying on them or a partner airline.  Whereas in the early days we'd only have access when flying business or first class, now we could separate ourselves from the actual UNWASHED MASSES on most flights, domestic or international.

That's all over now.  When we first got this card, its annual fee for myself with Julie as an additional cardholder was something like $300.  Not cheap, but not crazy either, especially given the perks, and as such, I didn't pay any attention over the years to the annual fee.  Until Heather asked me to take a look a few weeks back.

This credit card now costs us $770 every year.   We are going to dump it in November, and do you know what? 

Each terminal at SFO is now gorgeous, with plenty of space to get away and enjoy some calm.  We'll live.

US Bank Cash+ Visa
So while our use of credit cards (for convenience and paid-off monthly) will not change, it's goodbye Shittybank Citibank and your grotesque fees, and hello US Bank.  Again, every situation is different, but wow, is this one the cat's pajamas for us.  Zero annual fee, and then a bunch of cash back, including 5% on our phone and power bills, 2% on groceries, and 1% on everything else.  Not bad; I could see what we get back each year buying an airline ticket or two somewhere.

What To Do With The Money
This is from a recent Scott Galloway podcast, where he interviewed Arthur Brooks, who was on the show to discuss his book The Pillars of Happiness.  Brooks confirmed Galloway's thesis that money can buy happiness, but there's a limit:  Billionaires aren't markedly happier than multi-millionaires.  But he emphasized that being poor results in much higher rates of unhappiness, which of course makes sense.  Not being able to put food on the table and/or care for your sick child is not happiness-inducing.

Brooks went on to offer a summary of the 5 things one can do with money.  Here they are, presented in the order he cited as the most happiness-inducing, to the least. 

1.  Buy Experiences - my personal favorite

2.  Buy Time - have other people/machines do things for you; he highlighted this is only #2 if one uses the time recaptured wisely, not for doom-scrolling

3.  Give It Away - donating to strangers or helping friends/family makes one more happier than not doing so

4.  Save it - financial security instinctively makes people happier

5.  Buy Stuff

Hmm.  Apparently less can be more.


Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


I've mostly been lukewarm about these guys.   Which explains this being just the second time they've hit the illusory airwaves of KLUF.  But they did just have a big piece in the NY Times about their upcoming album (of course, it's a return to form and they're happy to go back to the basics), and this old one certainly has its moments.

Here are The Black Crowes and their 1990 smash debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. 

I wish I had one to shake; after all, Heather did encourage me to earn more, in addition to spending less.

About Dean Clough