What to do when your account balance is different than expected

Infinity pool

Balancing your household budget might be difficult to do, but it’s not complex. You just make sure that the money you have going out is the same amount that is coming in. (In this way, Charles Dickens’ Micawber was only half-right, though we agree in spirit.)

In this way, the money you have in your bank account at the beginning of the month should (if everything is done right) be the same at the end on the month. (I call this amount of money “float“.)

Now, as I’ve talked about before, certain activities might post in one month but happen in another month, so you can’t just open your account on the first of the month and see what your float is. Luckily, there’s a way to figure out your account balance even in this case.

But what happens when you do all this and there’s a discrepancy? What happens when you expect your balance to be more (or less) than what it turns out to be?

I mean, $25 dollars here and there are just rounding errors. But what if you’re a few hundred dollars off?

I encountered this situation recently with someone I was working with, and I have some thoughts.

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How I saved $600 in a year on my internet service

Parrot

Ever since broadband to the home became commonplace in the 2000’s, the internet bill is one that most households can’t live without. As more and more people “cut the cord” on their cable bill, home internet service is as important as it’s ever been.

While some lucky folks have direct fiber to the home via something like Google Fiber, the vast majority of us either have service through a traditional telephone service provider (such as Verizon), or a traditional cable television provider (such as Comcast).

This bill can be an expensive one. It’s hard to get actual figures for costs, because so many bills include bundled services (wireless, internet, TV, all together) but at least in my case, I pay $75 a month for 40Mbps speeds.

Well, at least I would if I were paying full price.

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The worrying connection between long-term care insurance and the Roth IRA

Cherry Blossom

I talked last time about long-term care insurance (LTCI), and how it can be a great tool to hedge against the incredible medical costs of things like nursing home care.

This is, of course, assuming that the insurers stay in business, which they don’t always do.

Perhaps this is a bit of a mental leap, but reading about the struggles in the LTCI market made me think about our Roth IRAs. In both cases, the products come down to one thing:

Trust.

But is that trust valid?

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Is long-term care insurance still a going concern?

Heavenly Bow of Stars

Medical costs are scary. Medical needs definitely count as emergencies, but the costs can be incredible. I always recommend a savings of at least six months of bills and expenses in your emergency fund (here’s what that means for you), but that can get eaten up in a pinch by medical costs, especially if you’re un- or under-insured.

And it’s not like we can reasonably expect to build up (say) a $250,000 emergency fund. That’s like taking out a mortgage just to survive.

So you can see why long-term care insurance feels like an attractive option.

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More about how not to get lost

In my last post, I started talking about how not to get lost. I believe everyone can both know where they are, as well as figure out where they need to go. All it takes is a little focused energy, patience, and the desire to actually do it.

But perhaps I was a little hasty. I know this is a big problem for many of you, and I want to hold myself accountable to be compassionate. Getting lost sucks, I know.

So let’s keep going. Here are some more tips:

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How not to get lost

People say I have a very good sense of direction. I guess so. I prefer to say that most people have an undeveloped (or rather, untapped) sense of direction.

Just like I believe that anyone can become good with math over time, I believe that anyone can become better with directions over time.

In both cases, people just need to work on it.

In the excellent book Maphead by Jeopardy champion and wunderkind Ken Jennings, he talks about helping his directionally-challenged wife to navigate via the National Mall in DC:

“We drill relentlessly. ‘Mindy, you’re standing at the Air and Space Museum facing the National Gallery! Point to Capitol Hill! Correct. Which way is the Lincoln Memorial? Correct!'”

Apparently, all it took was about an hour of concerted effort to make a big difference.

Maphead

This is a really good book.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Whoops, I didn’t tell you that we are doing the same thing? Sorry about that.

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Fear the timeshare

Bungalows

As I mentioned, I’m writing this from Las Vegas, the place where everyone goes in order to embody the experience of YOLO.

It’s a dizzying place, with everything designed to disorient you. And hey, since you can’t seem to find the exit door, look at this shiny slot machine! It’s only 5 cents to play! (But you can play 99 times at once to increase your chance at winning!)

In an endless quest to orient myself, I’ve repeatedly asked people with official looking nametags how to get somewhere. They may know, or they may not, but a disproportionate number of them finish their response with an automatic “so how long are you here in Vegas?

I don’t think they’re asking about either my well-being or my travel plans, so “uh, thanks, gotta go,” is my knee jerk response, the same way I avoid the people on the street corner who say “Hey man, can I ask you something? You look like you’re a person who cares about the environment…

My partner pointed out to me that the nametags we were seeing weren’t for the casino, but for a different company: a timeshare company.

If this doesn’t give you the fear, it should.

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The problem with YOLO

Old Arrow Sign

I’m in Vegas this week.

Everyone has a strong reaction to that phrase, and it’s quite revealing about them. Sometimes it’s, “Ugh, Vegas, what a hellhole“, but more often it’s “Awesome! What kind of craziness are you gonna get up to? Are you drinking yet? How much money have you lost on the slots?

Ahem. For reference, this is where I am right now:

Sunrise Coffee

We’re getting CRAAAAAAZZZZZYYYYY!!!

But I do love spectacle, so I enjoy going to Vegas. I could spend every evening wandering around some part of the city, from the surreality of the Strip to the more human-scaled downtown. (If there are are other areas in Vegas that are conducive to walking don’t hate us, please let me know.)

But by far the most interesting part of being in Vegas, for me, is the people watching. People from all walks of life come to Vegas, young and old, couples, families, single groups, locals, people from all over the world.

Last night, while wandering through a casino, I saw three middle aged men act like they were 19:

Dude, you want to play some Pai Gow?
Pai Gow!?
Pai Gow!!
<Rough bro hug>

Two feet to their right, I saw another middle aged man absentmindedly throw down a wad of $100 bills on a craps table. Not a small wad either.

If I can sum up people’s outward experience of Las Vegas, it would be one thing: the expression of YOLO.

Which is both refreshing and dangerous.

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Why people stop at wanting “more”

Blue gate

So I’ve talked about the problem with just saying that you “want more”. In most contexts, I hear it about money, but there are plenty of other areas where we use this wording. People want “more” time. People want “more” community. I ran the Shamrock Run again this past weekend, and the temptation to say that I wanted to “run farther” or “run faster” is pretty strong.

But a goal that is non-specific is also unachievable. No matter what you accomplish, it won’t be enough.

And not being enough, well, isn’t enough. Not for me at least.

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The problem with wanting “more”

Light blobs

“I wish I had more money.”

I hear this at discussion groups, coaching sessions, and even just conversations with friends. I can’t help but remember that commercial from my childhood for a trade school, with Sally Struthers as spokesperson: “Do you want to make more money? Of course, we all do.

But do we really?

Yes, I’m going to push back on the idea of “more money”. And not for some minimalist, live-simply-so-others-may-simply-live woo-woo inclination.

It’s because it’s a goal you can never achieve.

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