Generation Wealth Documentary: What Are You Chasing? (Free on Amazon Prime)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

If you have Amazon Prime, I noticed that the documentary film Generation Wealth is now included as of February 1st, 2019. Here’s a short blurb and the trailer:

Lauren Greenfield examines materialism, celebrity culture, and social status and reflects on the desire to be wealthy at any cost. This visual history of the growing obsession with wealth uses first-person interviews in Los Angeles, Moscow, Dubai, China and around the world to bear witness to the global boom-and-bust economy, and to document its complicated consequences.

I haven’t finished it, but my biggest takeaway is that you shouldn’t be obsessed with certain things because even if you get what you think you want, you still won’t be happy or content!

  • If all you care about is money, you’ll never have enough money. The millionaire wants more. The billionaire also wants more. Someone else will always have a nicer house and a bigger yacht.
  • If all you care about is your looks, you’ll never be pretty enough. Your body can never be too skinny, your lips can never be too full. If someone gave you a $1 million of plastic surgery, you would probably end up just as unhappy as today.
  • If all you care about is social status, you will be striving forever. Why spend your life trying to impress people who don’t matter? The celebrities you want to be like? They aren’t all that happy either.

Obviously I think money is important, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But money is a tool, not the goal. Can you use your energy in a useful and meaningful manner? Can you cover the basics – safe housing, clean food, and quality healthcare? Do you have loved ones with whom to share your time? None of the answers to these questions require a brand name. None require looking up to anyone on Facebook or Instagram. I try to remind myself of this regularly, whenever I feel the urge to “upgrade” something.

Watching this film made me feel exhausted more than anything else. These people are wasting so much of their life energy chasing something they’ll never reach.

Learning to Cook at Home: A Valuable Investment

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Cooking at home can save a lot of money as opposed to eating out all the time. We all know that, right? If not, here’s a big green chart to drill it in, taken from How Much Money Do You Save by Cooking at Home? by Wellio:

Here’s what that means on a monthly basis:

Being a good home cook should be viewed as a valuable skill – one that takes an investment of time and effort, but can pay dividends forever. You may not eat at a restaurant or do meal prep every day, but I know that some of you dual-income high-earners are dropping around $1,500 a month on food. That’s closing in on $20,000 a year. Your grandparents probably spent a fraction of that. Converting even a couple of those meals a week can multiply into real money. (Not to mention that home-cooked meals have helped with my weight loss and health goals. Eating out a lot seems to always correlate with weight gain for me.)

The problem is that if you haven’t developed the skill, it’s just too painful. You work hard and are exhausted at the end of the day, why tackle another difficult project? For me, if I have to make an extra stop at the grocery store, I’d rather just stop at the korean BBQ place and buy it ready-to-eat.

If you are just starting out, you can’t expect to be able to whip up a nutritious and tasty meal with the ingredients in your pantry in 30 minutes. You need to set yourself up for success. You need to divide and conquer. On the weekend, you should pick out one or two “easy” recipes that look appetizing to you and buy all of the ingredients that you need. Don’t wait to “pick it up on the way home”. Buy it on the weekend, and carve out 30 minutes of prep time on two weekdays. Remind yourself that it takes time to prepare a meal prep kit too, or even drive somewhere to get take-out. (Okay, Uber Eats and Grubhub are pretty darn convenient. But those delivery fees and tips add up fast!)

This is summarized in my Cooking at Home Flowchart:


Once you have some “go-to” weekday meals, you can schedule them and rotate as desired. Once you get a lot of recipes into memory, then you can start to improvise. I’m sorry, but newbies can’t go straight into thinking of recipes as Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Maybe if you were the culinary equivalent of Beethoven. I’ve made hundreds of sheet-pan dinners (I like Melissa Clark recipes) and one-pot meals and I still get stuck if I don’t have things thought out ahead of time. If you learn to prep, then that one weekend grocery stop can equal 5 weeknight meals.

Wellio is a food prep company that offers to help you out with recipes and shopping lists. I haven’t used them, but I like that they are trying to attack the pain points in home cooking. I’ve mentioned them previously in Which Meals Offers The Most Nutrition Per Dollar?

The Permanent Gift Guide 2018 – Buy Stuff That Lasts Forever

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I’m reading through all these gift guides and so much of it seems just trendy and disposable. Do any of the authors actually own all the stuff they list? How many of these gifts will end up forgotten by this time next year? I decided to create an alternative “Permanent” Gift Guide, consisting of things that (1) I actually own, (2) I’d buy again if I lost it (it sparks joy), and (3) I expect to last for a very long time (or at least comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee).

Moka Pot Coffee Maker – $30
A lot of people love espresso, just like the Italians. But traditionally Italians only drink espressos in cafes. They don’t have huge, fancy espresso machines at home; they have Moka pots! (Okay, they now like Nespresso pods.) But something like 90% of Italian homes have a Moka pot. Read this Atlas Obscura article for details. I also learned why Cuban households also love Moka pots. Comes in different sizes. Bialetti is the original but there are other Moka pots that are cheaper and with good reviews.

LEGO Classic Medium Creative Brick Box 10696 – $28
When cleaning out my parents house, what were the toys that still worked and my own kids could pick up and start playing with instantly? Legos and Hot Wheels. As a kid, I never ever followed any of the directions that came with a Lego kit, so I am partial to these big assortment Lego mixes. Lego wants their bricks to be biodegradable, which is nice but at least their stuff lasts forever and can be used forever!


All-Clad Stainless Steel Fry or Saute Pan – $100
I first heard about this brand when they kept winning comparisons by America’s Test Kitchen. However, they are quite expensive. Now, you don’t need All-Clad everything, but do I think a large stainless steel fry pan or saute pan from All-Clad is an important kitchen addition that will pretty much last you forever. (Skip the non-stick All-Clad and go with T-Fal for best non-stick value.) Resurrect occasionally with Bar Keepers Friend.

Patagonia Houdini Jacket – Men’s and Women’s – $100
This ultra-lightweight jacket (3.6 oz) packs into it’s own chest pocket (so there’s no extra bag to lose). This means you can throw it anywhere, from your cargo shorts pocket to your purse to your travel carry-on. It’s good for wind and light rain (not fully waterproof though) and just those times when you’re a bit chilly. It’s relatively expensive but the quality is high and it has traveled with me everywhere for several years.


Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet – $15
With over 10,000 reviews (!) and a 4.5 out of 5 star average rating, these heavy-duty beasts are trendy again. Great for searing and pan-frying, oven-safe, no worrying about scratches or dings. They will outlive you for sure. Got a rusty one? They are easy to resurrect; here’s a quick video on how to season your cast iron. Here’s a slightly-more expensive version with a silicone handle.

Darn Tough Full Cushion Wool Socks – Men’s and Women’s – $25
You wouldn’t think socks would come with an unconditional lifetime warranty, but they do from Darn Tough. If you wear a a hole in them a decade later, they will still replace them for free. Made in Vermont and comes in different thicknesses for use in both the heat and cold. High-quality wool keeps your feet dry and doesn’t stink. These are pricey, but I am slowly collecting them as part of my minimalist wardrobe.


Zeroll Original Ice Cream Scoop – $16
If you walk into an ice cream shop, this is probably the brand that they use. Once you try it, you will wonder why all the other ice cream scoops in the world are so bad in comparison. It has conductive fluid that makes it easier to get through rock-hard ice cream. It creates the perfect ball shape for placing on cones. The 3-ounce size makes medium-sized ball, but other sizes are available. Why not own the best ice cream scoop in the world for under $20?

Osprey Packs Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack – $160
After doing a lot of research on travel/hiking backpacks, I decided to plunk down a lot of money on an Osprey Pack. They have an All Mighty Guarantee that will repair any damage for any reason free of charge, no matter when you bought it. So far, I have not been disappointed. Quality materials and construction. (My previous pack was from REI, but they discontinued their lifetime repair/replacement guarantee in 2013.)


Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven – $300
I cook multiple times a week with our Staub and Le Creuset enameled cast-iron dutch ovens. Cast iron isn’t a lot of maintenance, but you do have to keep it dry after each use to prevent rusting (and seasoning it again takes time). With enameling, you can just wash and leave it wet. The dutch oven shape also makes it perfect for braises, stews, and soups. (They also look nicer at dinner parties.) They do run $200-$300 but spread out over years of use it’s not that bad. I love ours, but honestly I don’t know how much better they are than this Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven which regularly runs under $60.

Hot Wheels 20 Car Gift Pack – $20
I gave my old Hot Wheels to my daughters, but will be giving some new Hot Wheels to my nephews. I will admit that some of my old ones seem much more heavy with more metal content than the new ones, but none of the new ones have broken yet either.


Wusthof Classic Knifes – $350
I remember wondering if Wusthof and Henckels were worth the price as I zapped them onto our wedding registry. Then someone actually bought us a set of Wusthof Classic knives and we proceeded to use them nearly every day for over a decade. They have been professionally sharpened a couple of times (less often than recommended), but they still work perfectly with no chips or rust spots. I bought a $40 Asian cleaver from a shop in Chinatown a couple years ago, and it only lasted a few months before large rust spots appeared. My mom told me I didn’t treat it right. Probably. I told her I’d rather spend $80 on a knife and have it last decades even after not treating it right. So I bought this one.

Let me know if you have suggestions (preferably due to personal experience).

Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts: Last-Minute FSA Eligible Ideas

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Here’s my annual reminder to get back all the money you put into your Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts (HC FSA) before the end of the year. The maximum salary deduction limits were $2,650 (2018) and $2,700 (2019).

Quick ideas. If you didn’t exhaust your funds with insurance copays or deductibles, here are eligible items that you can still buy over-the-counter without a prescription. Just order things online and then submit the receipt. Amazon even has a special FSA-eligible page with an “under $25” and “little-known eligible item” section.

Certain over-the-counter (OTC) items such as cough medicines, pain relievers, acid controllers, and diaper rash ointment require a prescription for reimbursement. (No, I don’t understand why sunscreen and lens solution don’t require a prescription but cough medicine and ibuprofen does. Why would I buy it if I didn’t need it? Shrug.)

When getting a receipt, make sure it clearly includes the following:

  • Date of service or purchase
  • Name or description of the item
  • Amount of purchase

Deadline extensions. Starting in 2013, employers have had the option of adding one of the following:

  • Some plans allow a grace period until March 15th of the following year as opposed to a December 31st deadline to use your 2017 funds, but it may only apply to claims and not late purchases. Check with your employer.
  • Some plans allow participants to carry over up to $500 in unused FSA funds into next year. Check with your employer.

Big, exhaustive lists.

Finally, only your FSA administrator can provide you with the exact guidelines for reimbursement according to your plan. I learned this the hard way when our FSA administrator switched one year from in-house to Conexis (now since acquired by WageWorks). Wow, Conexis was a pain. I had to submit some claims three times before finally getting approved. If you count the time wasted, I probably lost money by participating in the FSA at all. The other employees in the company must have also complained so much that the very next year, FSA reimbursement was again managed in-house.

If you have an HSA, look for a “limited-purpose FSA” option that is restricted to dental and vision care services. These have the same max annual salary deduction.

Dependent Care FSA: Save on Daycare, Preschool, Summer Camps, After-School, and Elder Care

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

One of the newer work perks that we took advantage of this year was the Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA). This is separate from the Health Care Flexible Spending Account (HCFSA) and the Health Savings Account (HSA). However, they do work in a similar way in that you can pay for eligible expenses with pre-tax money and thus save money by being exempt from income taxes on that amount. For example, we were able to pay for $5,000 in preschool expenses using your DCFSA in 2018. At a a 30% marginal total tax rate (see below), that was a $1,500 savings.

Eligible expenses for children (under age 13)
The overall idea is to cover childcare while you are working:

  • Nannies, Au pairs, and babysitters
  • Daycare and Nurseries
  • Preschool
  • Before and After School Care Programs. (Non employer-sponsored.)
  • Summer Day Camps

Eligible expenses for adults
The overall idea is to cover care for an adult dependent (spouse, relative) who is physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves and lives in your home for more than half the year:

  • Adult or Senior day care center
  • In-home custodial caregiver (Non-medical, like eating and bathing assistance)
  • Transportation to/from eligible care (by your care provider)

You should keep detailed supporting documentation and itemized receipts for your HR department and potentially the IRS.

Maximum contribution amounts
The annual contribution limits for 2018 and 2019 are below. (They are not adjusted automatically for inflation.) Note that you can’t exceed your earned income.

  • $5,000 per year if you are married and file a joint tax return or if you file as single or head of household. (If MFJ, one person can get $5,000 when the other does not participate at all.)
  • $2,500 per year if you are married and file a separate tax return. (If MFS, both of you can get $2,500 individually.)

Similar to the Healthcare FSA, these funds must be claimed during the year deducted ( any grace period) or you will lose the funds. “Use it or lose it”.

Total tax benefit
When you are able to pay with pre-tax money, you are avoiding taxes on:

  • Federal income tax
  • State income tax
  • FICA (Social Security tax)
  • Medicare tax

For 2018, the Social Security tax rate is 6.2% on the first $128,400 wages paid. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45% on the first $200,000 and 2.35% above $200,000. For us in the 22% federal marginal tax rate, that’s a total of 22 + 6.2 + 1.45 = 29.65%. So we’re nearly at a 30% savings even ignoring state income taxes. A 30% total tax savings on $5,000 in childcare expenses is $1,500. This is definitely worth enrolling and submitting a few receipts, even if our claim submission system is a bit slow and clunky.

This is also separate from the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. You are not allowed to “double-dip” and claim the same specific expense for both this DCFSA and the tax credit. But if you have enough total expenses, you can get both.

Bottom line. If you pay for childcare or care for a disabled adult dependent, you should check if your employer now offers a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA). The times to check are when you get a new job, have a new child, change marital status, your spouse loses benefits, or during Open Enrollment. If you pay for full-time care, it is quite likely you can max this out and save some serious money. Just be sure to file those claims on time!

The Best Baby Gear Guide: This Stuff Survived 3 Kids in 6 Years

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Some close friends of ours are having their first baby at the same time that our third (and last!) kid is turning 2. That means we’ll be passing along a bunch of stuff and also recommendations. Sometimes I read these buying guides and wonder if the author actually tried it past a 5-minute trial run. We got a lot of items that sounded cool but ended up collecting dust. Other stuff we didn’t think would be useful but quickly became daily essentials through 3 babies over 6 years.

I am not a UL-listed lab and nobody sends me free stuff. These are the real things that we bought or got from our own baby registry that I would buy them again if I had to do it all over again. (I’ve even thrown in some Amazon screenshots which show our actual purchase dates.)

If you create an Amazon Baby Registry, they will offer you an extended 90-day return period as well as a 15% Completion Discount on eligible items for Prime members (Otherwise 10%). It’s a one-time coupon worth up to $300 (15% of $2,000) and valid up to 60 days after your expected arrival date, so use it wisely.

Out & About

Carriers – Beco Gemini Baby Carrier

We picked this carrier out after trying on several different types. We liked that it was convertible with snaps to accommodate both front and back facing positions. If this thing could talk, it would say “I’ve seen some stuff, man…” Poop, vomit, food, the floor of our minivan, and probably a hundred washing machine cycles. It has survived it all with a thick, beefy construction.

Strollers – ZOE XL1 (Single) and XL2 (Double) Lightweight Strollers

We’ve gone through a lot of strollers. New strollers, hand-me-down strollers, consignment store strollers. Once we started traveling with two kids, we did a ton of research trying to find something light yet useful. My pet peeve is “lightweight” single strollers that weigh 20+ pounds! The XL1 weighs 11 pounds. The XL2 is a double stroller that still weighs only 17 pounds. Not only that, but it retains important features that you won’t find on a barebones umbrella stroller – quick-fold, extended shade canopies, 135 degree recline, lower basket, and snack/cup holders. Add some saddle side bags and a handlebar organizer and you’ve got tons of on-demand storage.

If you click on the Amazon link, you can buy direct from ZOE as a third-party seller. The shipping breakdown is expensive, but it works out the about the same price as buying direct from their website. You might also find some open box returned items on their website.

Playards – Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard

The “Pack N Play” has reached the status of Kleenex and Band-Aid where the brand names are used instead of the official term. Once you figure these things out, they are both sturdy and able to be setup/taken down in seconds. They just work, and can be found in hotels everywhere. If you add a custom-sized mattress, you could realistically use this as a permanent crib replacement (or at the grandparents house, etc). We just bought the most basic best-selling version, but there are tons of add-ons.

Car Seats – Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

The Chicco Keyfit 30 has housed all three children in comfort and safety. It has been rated #1 by Consumer Reports for who knows how many years. It’s lightweight, ergonomic, durable, and the cover washes easily. It’s been in airplanes, taxis, Ubers, rental cars. Our “Kee-koh” has finally earned a retirement full of leisure, while we have handed down the convenient car seat bases to someone else. We definitely maxed out the value on this one.

Travel Systems – Chicco KeyFit Caddy Frame Stroller

We don’t like all-in-one “travel systems”. They tend to be too bulky and heavy, I’ve seen some weigh over 40 pounds! Why push around parts that you’ll only need a year later? If your child is still small enough for the car seat, buy a bare frame and use that as your stroller. It’s lighter and you can still make easy transitions between car and stroller (especially if napping). When your child is older, just buy an independent lightweight stroller (see above).


Cribs – Delta Children Emery 4-in-1 Convertible Baby Crib

We bought this crib because it has no moving parts (safe) and it had pictures of it being used as both a toddler bed and eventually a headboard. However, we keep having kids so it’s always been just a crib. It is simple, sturdy, and has lasted through all three kids (and is being slept in as I type this).

Gliders – Dutailier Sleigh Glider and Ottoman Combo

We didn’t buy a Dutalier for the first baby because we thought it was too expensive. However, those all-nighters with a colicky baby means you’re spending a lot of hours sitting on something. If that something makes both you more comfortable and the baby more likely to go back to bed, well… take my money!! When we found out we were having a second child, one of the first things we bought was this glider. We did not regret it. The good news is that it is high quality and still glides quietly and smoothly after 4 years of constant use. The bad news is that they are still pricey. *Cough* Put it on the baby registry and hope someone really likes you *Cough*

Mattresses – Colgate Classica III Crib Mattress

We picked this mattress because it had dual firmness and did not have any funny plastics or smells (supposedly certified by so and so, etc). Infants are supposed to have very firm mattresses for safety, and then you can switch it over to the softer side when they are older. It is of quality construction and well-sealed so that you can wipe off… whatever needs to be wiped off when the time comes.

Here is our favorite mattress sheet. No fancy design but it is super-soft cotton even after lots of washes.


Bath Tubs – PRIMO EuroBath

It’s simple, durable, and made of thick plastic. Would probably last for 100 babies. I didn’t want anything cloth or stretchy. You can just wash or even bleach this thing as needed. I hung it up to dry each night over the tub (use 3M bathtub hook or two).


Diaper Bags – We got multiple diaper bags as gifts, but we never used them. Too heavy. We just used whatever bag felt right, often a smaller purse/messenger bag thing for her and a backpack for me. Once they are old enough, I use a reusable grocery bag. Mainly you need to remember snacks and the…

Changing Mats – Skip Hop Baby Pronto Portable Changing Station

Diapers, butt cream, wipes, poop bags. Check. Mat for really gross places. Check. Okay, I usually leave the mat at home now (it zips off). Have I mentioned I don’t like carrying extra weight?

Diapers – I know I should use cloth diapers, but we got a million diapers as gifts with the first kid and… that was that. We were so overwhelmed with everything else that the idea of dealing with cloth diapers was too much. Sorry. Although for some reason, kid #3 goes through about 1/3rd of the diapers that kid #1 did…

We like Huggies. and Pampers. and Luvs. I only look at the cost per diaper. If you wait for a sale + Amazon Family 20% off, you can get close to or at 10 cents a diaper.

Diaper Pails – We received and have used a Diaper Genie for all three kids, and it has worked for the most part, although I’m always appalled at how much the refills cost. I’ve tried the generics and also just using a trash bag, but somehow the smell gets out. Our main attempt at economizing is that we only put #2s in the diaper genie and the #1s go in the normal trash. This is more so we don’t have to keep emptying the darn thing than the cost. Otherwise we just buy the name brand refills.

Bottles – We used Medela bottles, primarily because we got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. They worked fine and were of good quality in my opinion. The bottles lasted for multiple kids.

Bottle Sterilizers – We don’t use any bottle sterilizer gadgets. We just follow the CDC directions and use warm soap and water, clean hands, and the dishwasher.

Breast Pumps – We got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. It kept working despite some pretty heavy usage. The battery life does start to go after a year or so.

Feeding Pillows – Mrs. MMB was not a fan of the Boppy. It moved around too much and was uncomfortable. She much preferred the questionably-named My Brest Friend, which is ergonomically better and has a strap for security. We even bought the inflatable travel version which also worked well. The cover is easy to remove, wash, and put back on.

One Last Random Thing – Little Martin’s Baby Nail Trimmer

I know, you’re worried about what the baby is going to eat, how it’s going to sleep, and keeping it safe in the car. But one of the more stressful things for me was trimming the nails. If you don’t trim, their little claws can scratch their own face and even eyes. But using a traditional nail clipper is tough on a tiny wriggly hand, and I have drawn blood before. One of my favorite purchases was this little Dremel-like nail trimmer. No more blood, no more fighting, and I can still use it on my older kids.

Frugal Trends: Keep Your iPhone For 3-4 Years + Switch to Cheaper Plan

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

If you’ve been holding onto that iPhone for longer than you thought you would, you are not alone. According to this WSJ article, the average consumer now waits 2.9 years to upgrade their iPhone (2.8 years for all smartphones).

Horace Dediu runs the numbers independently in Determining The Average Apple Device Lifespan and finds it to have risen to just over 4 years:

These two statistics can both be true as one phone can have multiple owners. The initial owner keeps it for about 3 years and then upgrades to a new phone. Someone else can buy the used phone and get another year or more out of it. Some phones will last longer, while others break prematurely.

Smartphones and data plans add up to thousands of dollars per year. As we see above, the first way to lower your expense is to keep your phone for longer. I think people are noticing that the newer iPhones are certainly better, but by a smaller amount each generation. I’m not as familiar how well this works with cheaper Android phones as you can pick up new Android phone for $200. However, the latest iOS 12 is supposed to speed up old phones, and works all the way back to the iPhone 5S.

The next step is for people to realize that they can bring that “still-good-enough” phone over to a cheaper plan. The WSJ article mentions that carrier turnover is actually lower now than before those big upfront subsidies. People are keeping their old phone but also their old plan – not the same thing! Last year, we saved over a $1,000 with the “secret” Sprint Free Unlimited $0 per month plan after switching from Verizon. Here was our monthly bill for two unlimited lines:

Side note: I’m pretty sure that Sprint is trying hard to boost its numbers before the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is complete. Take advantage of their desperation while it lasts! I don’t think you’ll see this deal after the merger is closed.

Here are more options:

Libby App: Improved Access to Public Library eBook and Audiobooks

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Public libraries have offered eBooks for a while, but I stopped using the service because it was too much work. There weren’t that many popular titles available, and finding them was tedious with a waitlist of unknown length. When you did finally get the book, I couldn’t read it on my Kindle and would have to use a clunky third-party Overdrive app. These small hurdles meant that I often wouldn’t finish the book before the due date, upon which the book was unceremoniously yanked back into the cloud.

Happily, I recently discovered the Libby app by Overdrive, which has improved the overall experience dramatically. (Thanks Tom.) You can sign into multiple libraries*. The app is well designed and makes it easier to find titles, and an estimate of the waitlist time is included. Your eBook can be automatically checked out when your turn is up. In addition, there is:

  • Built-in eBook reader that is much improved.
  • Built-in Audiobook player.
  • If allowed, it will send the book to your Kindle device.

Basically, everything can be done within one single app.

This may just be my local library, but the selection also seems to have improved. It’s not perfect as the books seem to come in clusters so it’s hard to read them all in time (I wish there was a defer option to be next in line), but I like that I can at “try” many books for a few chapters and return it earlier if I don’t like it. If I do like it and want a permanent copy (I still prefer to buy physical books), I can buy it on Amazon or the local bookstore.

Bottom line. If you want to try an easier way to borrow free eBooks from your local library, check out the new Libby app.

(* If you join multiple libraries you can expand your access to different ebook/audiobook titles. There are some listed that offer non-residents a library card via mail/online and only charge a nominal fee.)

Consumer Report Car Brand Reliability Rankings 2018

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Consumer Reports shared some results from their 2018 Car Reliability Survey in the public articles Who Makes the Most Reliable Cars?, 10 Most Reliable Cars and, 12 Models Lose CR Recommendation Over Car Reliability Issues.

Here’s a partial snapshot of the brand breakdown, which includes the relative change from last year. Highlights:

  • Most reliable: Lexus and Toyota. Again.
  • Most spots improved: Mazda and Acura.
  • Biggest ranking drop: Honda, Chrysler, Volvo, and Tesla.

A partial excerpt with the top rankings are below:

Despite providing these brand rankings, Consumer Reports recommends that you shop by vehicle and not just by brand. Some brands like Toyota and Lexus are reliable across the brand, but others like Honda and Kia have a wide range of rankings by model. In addition, new model redesigns often results in variable reliability. Of course, you’ll need full print or digital access to get those numbers.

My thoughts. In terms of trends, I was disappointed to see Honda slip a bit again in the reliability rankings all the way down to 15th. We’ve said goodbye to our trusty Honda Fit, but I don’t know if we’ll go back to Honda. I bought a Toyota not just due to lower total ownership cost (frugal living), but mostly about avoiding headaches and hassle (simple living).

In terms of methodology, I see a lot of mentions about infotainment issues. Honestly, I now have a car with a big LCD screen, and I never use it. I just stream music, podcasts, and audiobooks from my phone via Bluetooth. Any issue that keeps me from driving the car itself should count 50 times more than a slow or frozen screen.

The Quest of the Simple Life: Escaping The Work Grind in 1907 vs. 2018

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The Quest of the Simple Life by William J. Dawson was published over 100 years ago; it’s so old that the copyright has expired, making the book public domain (and thus available as a free Kindle download). Yet, other than the old-fashioned writing style that required regular dictionary usage, much of the contents are perfectly applicable today! Here are some excerpts to help prove my point, and at the end I compare 1907 vs. 2018. (Any bolded parts are my doing.)

On the feeling that your family time is lacking:

Let us take the life of the average business man by way of example. Such a man will rise early, sleep late, and eat the bread of carefulness, if he means to succeed. His children scarcely know him; they are asleep when he goes off in the morning, and asleep when he returns at night; he is to them the strange man who sits at the head of the table once a week and carves the Sunday joint. It is well for them if they have a mother who possesses gifts of government, sympathy, and patient comprehension, for it is clear that they have no father. He gets a living, and perhaps in time an ample living; but does he live?

On the true cost of “Keeping up appearances”:

Money may be bought at too dear a rate. The average citizen, if he did but know it, is always buying money too dear. He earns, let us say, four hundred pounds a year; but the larger proportion of this sum goes in what is called ‘keeping up appearances.’ He must live in a house at a certain rental; by the time that his rates and taxes are paid he finds one-eighth of his income at least has gone to provide a shelter for his head. A cottage, at ten pounds a year, would have served him better, and would have been equally commodious. He must needs send his children to some private ‘academy’ for education, getting only bad education and high charges for his pains; a village board-school at twopence a week would have offered undeniable advantages. He must wear the black coat and top-hat sacred to the clerking tribe; a tweed suit and cap are more comfortable, and half the price. At all points he is the slave of convention, and he pays a price for his convention out of all proportion to its value. At a moderate estimate half the daily expenditure of London is a sacrifice to the convention or imposture of respectability.

On the cost of commuting and eating out:

In all but very fine weather I must needs use some means of public conveyance every day; there was a daily lunch to be provided; and when work kept me late at the office there was tea as well. One can lunch comfortably on a shilling or eighteenpence a day; and I knew places where I could have lunched for much less, but they were in parts of the town which I could not reach in the brief time at my disposal. Moreover, one must needs be the slave of etiquette even though he be a clerk, and if all the staff of an office frequent a certain restaurant, one must perforce fall into line with them under penalty of social ostracism. Thus, whether I liked it or not, for five days in the week I had to spend eighteenpence a day for lunch, and fourpence for teas; and if we add those small gratuities which the poorest men take it as a point of honour to observe, here was an annual expenditure of 25 pounds.

Various quotes about those who feel this certain type of “discontent”:

I saw that it was the artificial needs of life that made me a slave; the real needs of life were few. […]

The debate went on for years, and it was ended only when I applied to it one fixed and reasoned principle. That principle was that my first business as a rational creature was not to get a living but to live; and that I was a fool to sacrifice the power of living in securing the means of life. […]

My chief occupation through these years was to keep my discontent alive. Satisfaction is the death of progress, and I knew well that if I once acquiesced entirely in the conditions of my life, my fate was sealed. […]

To the man who detests the nature of his employment as I detested mine, I would say at once, either conquer your detestation or change your work. Work that is not genuinely loved cannot possibly be done well. […]

On looking back having lived his new simpler life successfully for four years:

After four years’ experiment in Quest of the Simple Life I am in a position to state certain conclusions, which are sufficiently authoritative with me to suggest that they may have some weight with my readers. These conclusions I will briefly recapitulate. The chief discovery which I have made is that man may lead a perfectly honourable, sufficing, and even joyous existence upon a very small income. Money plays a part in human existence much less important than we suppose. The best boon that money can bestow upon us is independence. How much money do we need to secure independence? That must depend on the nature of our wants.

Honestly, after finishing the book I was suspicious that it was written as some sort of strange parody, as some of the themes were so similar to what folks face today. But William James Dawson appears legit and wrote several other books during the same period. Here’s a comparison between Dawson in 1907 vs. a hypothetical person in 2018:

1907: The author worked full-time as a clerk in London, but finds himself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. He worked long hours, didn’t enjoy his desk job, and felt his health suffering in the sooty city air. He calculated that much of his expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. He dreamed of a simple rural life. He found a small cottage in the countryside with very low rent. He fished, hunted, and farmed much of his food and paid for the rest with his earnings as a freelance writer for a local newspaper.

2018: A young woman works full-time in a large urban metro, but finds herself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. She worked long hours, didn’t enjoy her desk job, and felt her health suffering due to sitting in front of a computer all day. She calculates that much of her expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. She dreamed of a simpler life. A small (tiny?) house or RV on a cheap piece of land. She gained income from her investments, including a rental property (Airbnb?) and stock dividends. The rest was covered with freelance work through Upwork or Elance.

Bottom line. In some ways, life hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Some folks will become unsatisfied enough with the commonly chosen path and take the risk of making huge changes. A simpler life with lower costs but more time with friends and family. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have the money for full “financial independence” yet, but perhaps a job more aligned with your true values where you aren’t solely maximizing income.

Kids & Materialism: What Thing Were You Obsessed With in 7th Grade?

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In the Atlantic article Why Kids Want Things, Dr. Marsha Richins is interviewed about her research on materialism and children. She explores why kids tend to place the most importance on owning and having things during middle school:

I think of seventh grade as being the worst age of a person’s life. It’s really a fraught time, and there’s all this insecurity that kids have about, “Who am I? Do people like me? What kind of person am I?” So, how do we navigate that? Well, our appearance is one of the things we navigate with. So, what does a kid see when they see another kid? They see the expression on their face, they see the body language, the posture, and the clothes they’re wearing. And so a kid who’s not very self-confident in navigating this is going to maybe feel a little more self-confident if they’re wearing the right kind of clothes rather than the wrong kind of clothes. Here we’re learning, right off the bat, that having things can help us define who we are.

Looking back, middle school was indeed the first time that I really started to want certain clothes. My most vivid memory might be somewhat localized and dated, but the trendy thing to wear in my middle school was a Browning Down Jacket:

This $100 jacket basically signaled that you were rich and cool (and cozily warm). Like SUVs or North Face, it also suggests you do rugged activities on the weekends. I never got one as they were too expensive, but I do remember one of my friends successfully begging his parents to buy him one and then him becoming a “cool kid”. My parents did eventually get me (one) Bart Simpson t-Shirt. Nike Air shoes were another item that did not fit in my parent’s budget until I found a pair on clearance in late high school.

My wife says that her 7th grade obsession was Z. Cavaricci pants. (She never got a pair either. Coincidence?)

Until we had this conversation, she had never heard of Browning jackets and that critical buck logo with antlers. I had never heard of Z. Cavaracci pants and the little label on the zipper. It seems like other places had NFL Starter jackets as the hottest item.

As a parent, I’ll have to brace myself against this materialistic tide when the time comes. Is it me, or do the trendy things seem to be more expensive now (iPhones! Apple Watch! Hydroflask that you lose within a week!). I’ll have to try and be a good role model in the meantime:

But one of the most consistent findings is the association between the person’s current level of materialism and how they perceived their parents using things when they were growing up. […] The helpful thing for parents here—and also the harmful—is yes, peers are really important, but our kids are watching us. Our kids are learning from us. A lot of what kids take to be normal comes from what they see us doing. Kids are going to learn what their relationship with products should be by looking at our relationship with products.

See also: We Are All Accumulating Mountains of Things

What thing do you remember coveting in 7th grade?

Lesser-Known Cheap Unlimited Cell Phone Plans Data on Every Network (2 GB from $15/Month, 5 GB from $20/Month)

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phones7Updated October 2018. Cell phone bills are getting cheaper than ever. Have you checked prices recently? All of the major networks sell wholesale minutes to MVNOs (Mobile Network Virtual Operators), which they in turn sell at a significant discount to individuals. If you choose to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), every MVNO will have a form where you can check compatibility via identification number (IMEI or MEID).

This list includes unlimited talk and text plans with at least 2 GB and 5 GB of 4G LTE data. The average data user used 3 GB of data per month in 2017. If you don’t need data, here are the lesser-known cheapest talk and text only cell plans. Many of these advertise “unlimited data”, which means they throttle speeds down the 128 kbps (2G) after your LTE allotment runs out. After looking through what must have been over 100 MVNOs, here are the cheapest options by network below (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint).

T-Mobile NetworkT-Mobile Network Color: Hot Pink

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. Mint Mobile has an unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB LTE data plan from $15 per month. Their intro offer is 3 months at $15 per month. After that, you’ll have to buy 12 months of airtime upfront to get the $15 per month price. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. They offer a 7-Day Money Back Guarantee (starts upon SIM activation) so you can test them out before making any commitment.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Mint Mobile also has a $20 a month plan with unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB of LTE data. Their intro offer is 3 months at $20 per month. After that, you’ll have to buy 12 months of airtime upfront to get the $20 per month price. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. They offer a 7-Day Money Back Guarantee (starts upon SIM activation) so you can test them out before making any commitment.

Note: I recently switched to Mint Mobile in my own phone. Please see my Mint Mobile SIM Activation and Number Port Transfer Review for tips based on my experiences.

Sprint NetworkSprint Network Color: Yellow

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. Tello Mobile has an unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB data plan for $19 a month. You don’t need to buy a year upfront. You need to choose a custom plan to find this option. Their 1 GB plan is only $14 per month. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Red Pocket Mobile via eBay offers unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB data for $20 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($240 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. You can choose the Sprint network when you sign up.

Sprint “Secret” Offer: If you switch in from AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile, Sprint itself is offering one year of unlimited talk, text, and unlimited data for $0/month + some taxes for a year via this unadvertised Sprint Free Year offer. (You can’t be an existing Sprint customer.) You’ll need to bring over own phone, port-in a phone number, and undergo a credit check.

AT&T NetworkAT&T Network Color: Blue

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. The cheapest price across all plans with 2GB of data is actually the same as the one below with 5 GB of data.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Red Pocket Mobile via eBay offers unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB data for $20 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($240 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. You can choose the AT&T network when you sign up.

Verizon NetworkVerizon Network Color: Red

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. Red Pocket Mobile via Amazon offers unlimited talk, text, and 3 GB data for $21.25 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($260 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. You can choose the Verizon network when you sign up.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Total Wireless has an unlimited talk and text plan with 5 GB data for $33.20 per month with auto-refill (every 30 days). $35 per 30 days without auto-refill.

If you don’t need data, here are the lesser-known cheapest talk and text only cell plans.