Retirement Investments

Thinking About Retirement

It is your rational intuition to have a job which provides a paycheck to support yourself, your family, and the economy. Some of that pay is dedicated to state taxes, federal taxes, social security, life insurance, healthcare plans, etc, and there is a chance some is invested toward retirement. Sometimes a company matches a percentage invested up to 3–6%, and usually we select that percentage to invest toward retirement without much thought. Eventually, we assume that we will retire, and our retirement will be supported.

The table above shows an example of an individual investing 5% (+5% employer match) of a $50K income over 40 years. A standard stock index return of 7% with a low annual investment fee of 0.10% would yield a retirement account totaling $1,008,000. Certain companies including Vanguard (my personal favorite) and TIAA (in rare situations) do offer plans with similar fees, but most retirement investment partners including Voya and Valic have fees with closer to a 2% minimum (read the fine print!). These 2% fees would have costed you about $388,000. Rather than a $1,008,000 retirement account, the value would be closer to $620,000.

Vanguard offers index investment options with fees in the area of 0.05 – 0.40%. Another investment company with similar options may also be a good choice. The most important take-home message:

Find all the investment fees associated with your current plan.

School systems are often heavily influenced to partner with companies like Valic and Voya. These companies often provide Vanguard or other index stock options with annual investment fees presented as something close to 0.35%. Within the official paperwork it is a bit harder to find the fact that all accounts are subject to an annual investment fee of  1.25%. This means that the low fee Vanguard option is great, but you are still paying 1.6% of investment fees. Rather than ending $388,000 dollars short of potential investment gains with the 2% fees, the best investment option within the overarching company would still cost you close to $350,000 with their 1.6% fees.

But investment advisors within these companies have reassured me…

You are in a safe location with plenty of growth potential.

Your investments are outperforming ‘insert other random comparisons here’.

Fees are this ‘insert a low number here’ which is better than ‘insert another random comparison here’.

Don’t forget to remain paranoid. Low fee index options are bad because at one random time the market dropped 50% in this 4 month period and it will probably crash again soon.

I have heard those arguments, and I learned a few things since then. High fee investment options usually contain several index investments anyway. They may not crash as hard as an index only fund when the market crashes, but they probably won’t profit as well as the index either. Over a period of 30–40 years, the ‘studious’ investment analysts may perform slightly better than the index, but the annual fee they require drops your investment gain potentials more than they are willing to admit. The flashy numbers and graphs selling their product rarely includes the annual investment fees when predicting potential investment gains. Is this costing you slightly less or significantly more than $388,000?

If you are unsure, here is a link to bankrate retirement calculators.

There are times when only one company is selected, and your investment options are limited. If your company’s chosen investment partner is funding vacations and dinners for your company’s finance department, you are probably funding vacations and dinners for your company’s finance department. That being said, a $620,000 retirement plan yield is better than a $0-dollar retirement plan. Social norms have prioritized ‘owning’ large houses (via mortgage), and nice vehicles (via loan) over long-term investing. When nothing is invested toward retirement, fee details become a moot issue.

A savings account investment plan would be slightly better than the previously mentioned 0-dollar retirement plan option. Investing $5000 (5% of 50K + 5% employee match) per year in savings account with a 0.25% return will result in a figure closer to $210,000. Considering the employee match isn’t going to happen, that number will actually be closer to $105,000. Succumbing to excessive annual investment fees would still leave you with more money than conservatively stockpiling your cash at a local bank ($620,000 is indeed greater than $105,000).

Take home point: Invest toward retirement. But if you see hundreds of advertisements promoting your investment company and/or your financial advisor is driving a luxury SUV, find somewhere else to invest.

Please leave a comment, and let the debate begin!

Cell Phone Upgrade

Consumer vs. Cell Phone Monopoly

I am a longtime family member of a Verizon family phone plan. In the past it was less expensive to be in a family plan rather than pay for individual plans, and free phone upgrades were included every two years. After discovering that phone upgrades were no longer included in the plan, I held on to my Motorola Droid Mini for 4 years before damaging my phone beyond repair. Verizon confirmed that they and all cell phone monopolies no longer offer discounts for phone upgrades/replacements. The local Verizon retailer implied this was OK because phones are bought on contract where low monthly payments are required for at least the first month. This retailer was convinced that $10 monthly payments do not add up to the cost of the new phone, $240, over a period of 24 months.

That extra zero is challenging sometimes, so I double checked the math on my old calculator since the calculator app from my Droid Mini was dysfunctional. Results: $10 x 24 months does indeed equal $240, and that seemed a bit high for the cheapest and lowest rated phone being offered.

Technology Considerations

It was also implied that I didn’t have many easy switch options since my SIM card from my old phone probably wouldn’t be compatible with anything. This blatant lie was followed by a statement implying that Verizon does provide SIM card replacements if necessary, for a small cost.

I left the store slightly irritated, but it was a great motivator for some interesting research. Fortunately, unlocked phones compatible with the Verizon network (CDMA card and matching 3 and 4 G network frequencies) can easily replace current phones on that network. Also, the SIM card from my Droid Mini was compatible with most new phone options I was searching.

The New Cell Phone Purchase

After an avid search for the best online deals, I purchased a MOTO E4 for $100, a bouncy protector case for $8, and a glass screen protector for $4. Upon arrival I immediately switched the SIM card from the old phone to the new phone and it was fully functional! The Verizon cloud app allowed me to easily transfer all pictures, music, text messages, and phone calls from my old phone to my new phone.

My contacts had not saved through the cloud app, so I was not able to transfer my contacts from my old phone to the new phone. In an attempt to resolve the issue, I installed the Verizon content transfer app on both phones, but it didn’t allow the phones to recognize each other when face to face. The new phone couldn’t recognize the old one because the screen was cracked. The Verizon store was close, and I figured they would be able to quickly transfer my contact list from my old phone to the new one. I also wanted to talk to them about updating my account to clarify the phone update.

The Opposite of Customer Support

Upon entering the store with my new phone, I talked to the same retailer who I had previously asked about new phone options. After asking for help transferring the contact list, she quickly said “we charge $19.99 for that.” She knew that I would not pay that much for a service. One might think such a service would be free for a Verizon customer of over 12 years. She wanted me to leave the store since I didn’t purchase the phone from that store, and even though I have paid Verizon wireless a total of $7,200 in the last 12 years, she felt that a ‘screw you’ implication was most appropriate. Rather than continuing the conversation, I decided that more research about the contact list data transfer, and a phone call to the Verizon support team might be a more efficient way to solve the problem.

The Verizon support team confirmed that the cracked screen wasn’t allowing both to sync. I pondered why face to face screen recognition for  data transfers are required. They recommended backing up my contact list through the google drive and then re-syncing it with my new phone. That may have worked, but I manually reentered my contact list using the numbers from recent phone calls and text messages. If Verizon didn’t own my current phone number, as well as the collective deal my family appreciates on the family plan, I might have switched carriers. Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t have solved anything since the competing monopolies have collectively agreed to overcharge for products and services.

Conclusion

I paid a total of $112 for a quality phone upgrade. A new phone, case, and screen protector would have been closer to $265 at the local Verizon store. Although the process was somewhat time-consuming, it was a valuable learning experience. I also enjoyed avoiding the $153 gratitude payment to my controlling and manipulative cell phone service provider.

Let me know if you have any comments to share!

The Child Sleep Conquest

The internet is flooded with child sleep recommendations, and after reading all of them I am still not sure I have the answer. However, I do know that there are two distinct teams: the co-sleep team and the cry it out (CIO) team.

Co-Sleep team vs. Cry It Out (CIO) team

Here is how the CIO team would describe the co-sleep team:

Co-sleeping with your infant is nothing short of attempted murder and child neglect. Sleeping in the same bed with your child will significantly raise the probability of SIDS. Your child will be deprived of any self-soothing ability if you constantly cater to their needs.

Here is how the co-sleep team would describe the CIO team:

Letting your infant CIO is nothing short of attempted murder and child neglect. Abandoning your child to cry relentlessly for hours will significantly raise the probability of SIDS and cause internal brain damage. Your child will be deprived of any relationship potentials if you subject them to neglect for more than half of their living time.

If you are feeling some tension, there is really nothing to worry about. Life isn’t that black and white.

Although both parties have categorized the other as inhumane, they agree that children do need quality sleep which requires the following:

  1. Safe sleep conditions
  2. A nighttime routine
  3. A dark room
  4. A room with predictable noise consistency (no sound or a sound machine)

They also agree that children will experience physical and psychological growth which will alter their sleep patterns. Thus far, that has been one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. Is our daughter crying because she is sick, teething, hungry, hurting, or something else? Maybe this is related to my question the norm type thinking, but it was pretty easy to find a variable to question as my daughter was crying relentlessly during the night.

Our Infant Sleep Experience

As we started the child raising journey we faced an immediate challenge of digestive system sensitivity. This made the first two months rather challenging. It wasn’t quite this extreme, but it seemed as if our daughter was always hungry but never wanted to eat. Therefore, laying her down in the tilted infant bed was rarely a pleasant experience. With the help of probiotics and the elimination of dairy and egg white proteins from breast milk, she was finally able to experience a more consistent sleep routine.

However, our daughter was rarely comfortable with the sleeping experience, and this was compounded when we moved her to her crib. To remedy the situation, we would help her to fall asleep, pick her up to soothe her if she woke up, and maintain night-time feedings for longer than what was recommended. We were doing the equivalent of co-sleeping in the uncomfortable standing position for too much of the night.

At the 6-month doctor appointment we were told that babies are fully capable of self-soothing, and it was time to let our daughter adapt. We tried the 15-minute interval Ferber method. For two nights she cried relentlessly for three straight hours before reaching a state of exhaustion. For the rest of the night she would wake every 1-3 hours followed by another 30-60 minutes of crying before falling asleep again. Each morning she woke up in a state of fear, sadness, and exhaustion. The fear I saw embedded within the eyes of my daughter during and after each night was a truly disheartening experience. After the second night we decided it was time for Co-Sleeping. The SIDS risk drops significantly after six months, our daughter was finally able to roll over, and we are both isolated sleepers. Even though the CIO group frowned upon our decision, we all needed sleep. Our goal was for her to be an independent sleeper, but after the two-night CIO attempt, we decided to join the co-sleeping team.

After three months of co-sleeping for at least the last half of the night, we were strongly encouraged by our doctor to attempt the Ferber method again. Children at nine months undoubtedly need to learn to self-soothe, and parents undoubtedly need to attain adequate sleep. Although the co-sleeping made things a bit easier, it is hard to get a good night sleep next to a baby, especially one who is very sensitive. After a three-hour period of intense crying enhanced by our ‘calming’ attempts at 15-minute intervals, we jumped ship again. The co-sleeping community welcomed us back with plenty of supportive blog posts and encouraging responses to our questions.

After another week of co-sleeping, we transitioned her to a floor mattress next to our bed. This resulted in more crying, so one of us ended up laying next to her for about half the night. Since the consistent night wakings disrupted everyone’s sleep, we moved the floor mattress back to her room. At least one of us would get a good night sleep while the other would sleep next to her on the floor.

Looking back, our thinking may not have been all that clear throughout this journey. In addition to our lack of sleep, the comments received from friends, family, coworkers, doctors, and psychologists lacked cohesion.

The Sleep Study

Because of our ‘child sleep’ related internet searches, we were the advertising targets of sleep teams around the country. We were planning to pay a group in Florida $400 for a sleep plan and a three-hour support phone call. This had us questioning reality since I often walk to the grocery rather than paying for the gas and mileage costs my car imposes. Fortunately, we stumbled upon a local research study for sleep training. We were quickly accepted into the study, and we were told the cameras would be installed on the crib within 3 days. One day before the team arrived we transitioned our daughter back to the crib.

She absolutely hated the transition, and on that night, she cried hysterically for at least four hours. After the first hour of hysterical crying, I literally climbed into the crib to console her. She was a bit shocked for about 5 minutes before she started screaming again. After another 30 minutes I finally picker her up out of the crib, rocked her to sleep, and then slept with her in the crib for about an hour. For the rest of the night I laid next to the crib, and she woke up crying every hour. Each time took about 15 minutes to console her back to sleep while she remained in the crib. Even though I was by her side for the entire night; it was almost like subjecting her to the CIO method.

The next morning, we decided that if it was that bad for another night, we were going to abandon the plan and fully join the co-sleeping team until our daughter could talk. Fortunately, both of her naps in the crib went better than anticipated. While we were still touching her in her crib, she cried lightly for only about 10 minutes until falling asleep.

For the sleep study, cameras would record baseline data for the first three nights before we were assigned to a group. The control group would allow us to keep doing the same thing, and after the study we would receive a sleep plan. The first intervention group would be given a bed time CIO plan, and we would follow the same night-time practices if she did awake during the night. The second intervention group would be given a bed time CIO plan and that would be followed throughout the night.

Even though our routine didn’t change as the baseline data was collected, the first night of the sleep study was a significant improvement. She cried lightly for about 30 minutes before falling asleep. We also consoled her back to sleep for three night wakings, and she consoled herself back to sleep within 2 minutes of a few other night wakings. Our daughter realized that she would be sleeping in the crib, and she was able to accept that fact. This is the foundation of a rational CIO plan, and we had made the first small step in implementing a working CIO plan.

The second night of the sleep study was even better. For the first time she was laid in her crib awake (but exhausted) and fell asleep without crying at all. She was able to console herself back to sleep during all but two night wakings, one of which was a ‘necessary’ feeding. On the third night she again fell asleep immediately, but she was up a few more times during the night. After her feeding at 3 a.m. she was awake until 5 a.m. There were hundreds of variables to ponder, but I chose not to worry about it since there was a 66% chance we would be put in an intervention group.

We were selected to be in second intervention group. We agreed on a bed time plan, and we would not re-enter the room to console her during the night. We also chose to not implement a dream feeding for that plan. In the past, she would certainly drink plenty milk if it was demanded, but then she would refuse milk in the morning. We were pretty sure our daughter would re-experience another full night of relentless crying, but we were lucky to be incorrect. Since we weren’t in the room her crying was closer to a calm whining rather than a plea of relentless hysteria. The following table shows the amount of time she cried or lightly whined before falling asleep for the first seven nights:

Sleep Table
Cry It Out (CIO) Time Per Night

She continued to have a few night wakings, but she put herself back to sleep each time. It was light crying because even with both doors open we only faintly heard a few of them.

Even though it still took her 42 minutes to put herself to sleep, by the third day of the sleep training we were 100% committed to the CIO team. By the third day of the sleep training we were both fully rested for the first time in 10 months. After the first three days of sleep training our daughter was finally sleeping for an adequate amount of time to be rested and content during the day. She was not aggressively screaming for help each time she rolled over in her crib, and she was not demanding immediate consolation following each sleep interval.

Her body was finally able to synchronize with a schedule. Rather than six ‘attempted’ feedings randomly dispersed over a 24-hour period, she is drinking 6-8 ounces of milk exactly four times per day. Rather than naps ranging from 20 minutes to over two hours, she is consistently taking two 45-75 minute naps per day.

At this point we are only one week into the sleep study. I planned on writing this article when it was completed, but there is no reason to wait. We might implement the CIO method for naps after the two-week study is complete, but that matters much less than I thought it might.

There are certain cases when co-sleeping might be the better option, but for our daughter the CIO method was what finally worked. We start her last feeding 4-5 hours after she wakes up from her second nap (around 6:40 pm). She still fights the bottle every once in a while, but she usually drinks 6-8 ounces of breast milk within 20 minutes. By 7:00 we change her diaper, give her a light coconut/lavender oil massage, put on her pjs, read two books (5-10 minutes), and then put her in her crib. She is content during the time we read the two books. However, she is slightly discontent when we dress her in pajamas, and she is also discontent for the last few seconds as she is placed in the crib. Maybe that will improve after a couple more weeks, but it doesn’t really matter. The night-time routine lasts 15 minutes, so she is in bed at 7:15. In the morning we planned to get her out of her crib by 6:00 if she was awake. That happened on the first night, but for the rest of the first week she slept until between 6:30 and 7:30. We all needed a more consistent schedule, and the consistent schedule is what finally allowed our daughter to sleep independently.

All situations are unique, and this is certainly not an article meant to apply to everyone. From 4-9 months our strategy evolved into a situation where our daughter became too dependent on us. It was a difficult cycle to break, but we realized our relationship had to be modified. She was not getting enough sleep, and it was not healthy for her development to be deprived of sleep. We were not getting enough consistent sleep, and it was not healthy for us as individuals or as parents.

Here is what I learned from the experience:
  • If your 6+ month child is not hungry in the morning, the child may not have needed a night feeding.
  • If your child is waking multiple times during the night, the child will eventually want to be fed.
  • If the child anticipates soothing during the night, soothing will be requested multiple times per night.
  • If the child understands that night soothing won’t be provided, eventually it won’t be requested.
  • If the parent is not in the same room, it is easier for the child to understand that night soothing won’t be provided.
  • The more acclimated to co-sleeping and/or night soothing the child becomes, the harder it is to break the cycle.
  • It is extremely difficult to break the extra night feeding and extra soothing cycles requested by the child when co-sleeping.

I am not advocating for CIO methods for children under six months old, and I am not advocating for CIO methods as the solve everything solution for all families. However, I am thankful for the CIO as well as the co-sleeping community advocates. I hope that advocates from both groups remain focused on family support rather than criticizing the other side. Looking back, I still don’t think she was ready for CIO at six months. Our situation might have been slightly (only slightly) easier if we would have transitioned her completely back to her crib for two full weeks, practiced a consistent bed time routine, and implemented dream feeding rather than demanded night-time feedings all before implementing a CIO routine at nine months.

People asked me how I felt about having a child, and I always said that I was 100% confident that she would be perfect. Raising a child is not quite as easy as I proclaimed it would be, and I was certainly lacking some sleep for a short period of time. However, I still stand by my original proclamation. She is perfect. It just took some time and strategy for her to become a perfect sleeper.

Please share any comments you may have!

Resistance Training Motivation for Women

I have spent some time gathering resources to motivate friends and family to start a resistance training routine. I value many different forms of exercise. However, resistance training provides added benefits which are not as easy to attain via alternative exercise plans. I have decided to integrate several external references, mostly by female authors, within my plea to encourage resistance training.

Fitness Magazine asked a great question: Why aren’t more women lifting weights? The answer to that question, as you may already know, is that many women are not motivated to start a resistance training routine out of fear of ‘bulking up’.

My egotistical macho manself would have guessed that women want to be dependent on men for anything that requires strength, and all men have built and maintained enough muscle mass to satisfy these needs. The men will be there to unscrew the pickle jar lid, hoist the 18ft Christmas tree onto the minivan, and rescue the injured child from the aggressive pitbull. Then again, men have to work all day so there are some flaws to that theory. Anyway, back to the science…

Men and women will not gain excessive amounts of muscle mass with a 3-4 hour per week resistance training routine. Without questionable hormone or steroid supplementation, it is simply not possible. Resistance training is not an immediate weight loss miracle either. In fact, it is possible that the scale may read heavier after starting a practice of resistance training. Muscle is more dense than fat, and a hydrated body is heavier than a dehydrated body. In addition, after years of cyclic dieting routines and inadequate caloric intake, the body becomes conditioned to store additional calories if they are provided (hence why dieting is rarely a good idea). If the number on the scales is your primary obsession, I am not willing to bet that resistance training will not offer immediate benefits.

Resistance training is not an immediate miracle, but with practice it will improve strength, bone density, and muscle tone. Plenty of popular 10 best reasons internet articles have also thrown the mental health and physical disease curing miracles of the resistance training routine. If you are curious as to the research behind these proclamations, here are a couple of studies covering the physical (fighting obesity, diabetes, and general inflammation) and mental health (fighting depression) benefits.

Once you are halfway convinced that weightlifting is right for you, there are plenty of easy starter references awaiting your attention. Since over thinking the over-bulking result is inevitable, the most readily available website workout options recommend spot toning and lightweight exercises for you to accomplish your materialistic and topical goals. They earn plenty of advertisement money since that is what people want to see. Since you won’t be seeing the promised results, you will revisit their site multiple times to make sure you are following the routine appropriately. You will also be more likely to buy their additional help books and advertised supplements. Please let me know if you would like me to kindly critique popular suggestions from a specific article!

Spot toning your biceps, stomach, and hips overlooks significant areas of muscle mass. Therefore, the metabolic and physical responses you had desired from your body will not be significant. On the other hand, more complex exercises incorporate more muscle mass. This requires more areas of your body to work, and your body becomes accustomed to working with itself. A beneficial exercise routine of complex exercises can be completed in as little as thirty minutes, while benefiting from spot training would require closer to an hour and thirty minutes for similar results.

If you are not comfortable with exercises, it is necessary to start with light weights. To avoid injury and wasted time your body must be comfortable with the motion before significant weight is involved. [Rather than suing me for personal injury, please consult knowledgeable references for appropriate introductory training] Once you are comfortable with the exercise, it is absolutely necessary to continue increasing the weight. If your body is comfortable performing the exercise with excessive repetitions, you are not lifting enough weight to attain your desired benefits. Your last repetition should cause your muscles to fail. Again, please to not pass out with a squat bar on your shoulder, but if you are simultaneously chatting with gym friends and completing weightlifting set, it is time to increase the weight!

Here is a quick list of my favorite complex exercises to use as a starting reference.

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Cleans
  4. Clean and Press
  5. Bent Over Row
  6. Lunges
  7. Pull-up/Lat pull down
  8. Push-up/Bench Press
  9. Shoulder Press
  10. Upright Row
  11. Shoulder, back, and chest fly

Bodybuilding.com is one of the best weightlifting references. The following article motivates resistance training and includes a weightlifting schedule. There are also images and a detailed explanation for each exercise.

Strongerbyscience.com wrote the best research summary I have seen to this day covering strength training for women.

Even though this reference is topical and sub par, Harvard is a name that everyone respects so I am including it.

Nothing more needs to be said. It is time to get to the gym!