Monday, May 18, 2020

April 2020 Net Worth Overview - Back Above $1M

What a difference a month makes! After having the worst month ever for our household net worth in March, April came roaring back for our largest single month gain ever. We still aren't back to our peak, but ended the month up over $55k with a total net worth just over $1M.


CASH

Our cash balance went up slightly in April. We got some money from the federal stimulus package and promptly spent it all and more on our bathroom remodel. We're bought the most expensive things for the remodel already, but still have a lot of work left to install all the tile and new fixtures. Although we requested a refund for our cruise that we were supposed to go on in April, we still hadn't received it by month end so eventually we'll also see our cash bump up for that. 

Normally we prefer to keep a cash balance of about 6 months expenses. Our cash balance of $31k is currently adequate for a 6-month emergency fund, but we are looking to boost this a bit higher given current economic uncertainties. Since we are a single income household and my company is going through a rough patch because of the COVID pandemic, I'd rather have a larger cushion until the dust settles. We're not cutting back on every day expenses, we just aren't buying big things outside of the bathroom remodel (which we have no choice on now since we tore it completely apart down to the studs).

INVESTMENTS

Even though our retirement accounts are where the bulk of our investments sit, this is the area that requires the least amount of effort to manage. We have everything on autopilot and don't try to make changes the could be seen as attempting to time the market. Including company match, I put 15% of my pay into my 401k. Even though times are uncertain and we're wanting to build cash, I'm not stopping these regular contribution. 

Not only do we want to keep building our nest egg, investing regularly in volatile times allows us to dollar-cost average, or buy in at different prices. For example, last month the market was down a lot and we bought in at low prices. This month, the market was up a lot and we bought at the higher prices. Over time this means that I am buying at more 'average' prices, and never buying large chunks at the top or the bottom since it is NOT possible to time the market. 

Likewise we are now adding to our taxable investment accounts each month and have also set up automatic monthly purchases. If I kept the money in cash and 'waited for the right time', I would possibly forget or find a reason to wait for 'a better time'. Setting it up automatically takes I never have to think about it. Our taxable investments are partially for bridging the gap between when I retire and age 59 1/2 and may also be used in a few years if we ever want to start a business and need some start-up capital. Normally I wouldn't invest money in the market that I need within 5 years, but we're ok with the risk since it's still unclear if or when we may ever use it.

OTHER ASSETS

Not a lot has changed with our other assets, but not a day goes by that I'm not reminded at how happy I am to not have a mortgage anymore. We've now gone more than 2 months without a mortgage and it's finally starting to sink in. I mentioned earlier that my company is going through a rough patch and I definitely know that many co-workers are stressing out about potential layoffs. I can't say that it doesn't worry me at all, but the difference in stress I feel now vs the last time I went through layoffs is night and day. 

I still don't know if/when we'll see layoffs, but each day I just keep my nose the grindstone and do my best. Having no debt of any kind whatsoever gives me great comfort knowing that we can weather whatever economic storm may be coming. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

April 2020 Reading Review

If you would have told me earlier this year year that I would spend an entire month working from home I would have thought you were crazy. And yet, I spent the entire month of April working from home.

My workload has leveled off, but we've also been doing a major bathroom renovation so I haven't filled up all of this new found time reading like I would have in the past. During the month of April, I completed 6 books, listed below with the best ones listed first.

#1 Becoming -  Michelle Obama

It's still early in the year, but I think this one is likely the best book I will read this year. I loved the way that this gave her view of events surrounding President Obama's life leading up to and during the presidency. It isn't really a book about Barack Obama, but it's hard not to have him be a central figure. It's actually unfortunate because Michelle Obama is such an impressive individual on her own and being married to a former President causes her to be in his shadow. This is a must read, regardless of your political beliefs.

#2 Grant - Ron Chernow

I love a good biography and the fact that this one was written by Ron Chernow was an automatic endorsement for me to add it to my shelf. This was a really long read but really had to be in order to fully capture so many interesting details. Whenever I think of Grant, I just think of Civil War General turned President and how that seems like a natural progression. I didn't really know much more than that. What I wasn't expecting to learn was how much he still had to fight to keep reconstruction efforts ongoing long after the fighting ended Civil War after the fighting was done.

Here's another interesting tidbit. Have you ever heard of the Alabama Claims? Basically the US sued the UK because Confederate ships were built in UK shipyards, helping extend the length of the Civil War. I thought I had read a lot about the Civil War, but had never really read about this. Likely because it happened years after the fighting had stopped. Grant played a critical role in these negotiations.

#3 All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis - Bethany McLean

I'll read just about anything written about the 2008-09 financial crisis and this one was very good as a standalone if you're looking for a good overview of how we got ourselves in that mess. This one focused more on the people, companies, and events that got markets to the point they were at in 2008-09, but didn't get into as much of the bailouts or response. I don't know that I necessarily got much new from it, but that's because I've already read dozens of other books on the same topic. It was very well written, and I regard the author highly and have more of her writing on my shelf. It's always interesting to see how different people connect the dots with the same events, so I'll keep reading books about the financial crisis until we start getting books about the COVID-19 crisis.

#4 Tom Clancy Code of Honor - Marc Cameron

Generally I don't like when authors allow someone else to use their name to write stories with their characters, but I've enjoyed Marc Cameron's Tom Clancy series enough that I try to read them all (I'm not a fan of the Tom Clancy Op Center, or Splinter Cell books as they feel more like I'm reading my way through a video game level). There are more than 25 Jack Ryan/John Clark books out there and while this one was good, I would recommend going back closer to the beginning (chronologically or by published date) to get to know the characters more if you haven't already.

#5 A Framework for Understanding Poverty - Ruby Payne

A while back I helped a friend out with a tank of gas and offered some financial coaching. The gift of gas was accepted, but the offer for coaching was not. It later came to my attention that another mutual friend had been helping this person with financial coaching and that several other friends have also been asked for money by this individual. We're still friends, and that's all good, but someone else recommended this book to me to help understand how people living in poverty think differently about money. What may seem like a completely irrational decision to me, may make more sense when looking at their circumstances differently. This is a quick read, so worth picking up if you're interested in learning more.

#6 A Short History of Drunkenness - Mark Forsyth

Like the title suggests, this was a quick and entertaining read, all about drunkenness. I've enjoyed reading more about Prohibition or other events, and this one was basically just about getting drunk and the different was in which various cultures and societies have done so over time. It won't take long to read, and you're bound to learn a bit of trivia that could be fun to share at the next happy hour.

I expect I may read a bit more in May, but 6 books in a month I feel pretty good about. I added a few more titles to my shelf this month, but am always on the lookout for good recommendations. If you have any, please send them my way. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A 401k Match is part of your compensation

Throughout our careers we have always saved a little from each paycheck towards retirement, mainly using our company sponsored 401(k) plans. Having studied Finance in college, I knew the importance of starting to save as soon as possible, but didn't really have much to save until I graduated and started working.

When choosing which type of account to use when investing for retirement, companies will often provide an incentive to do so by matching employee contributions to the company sponsored 401(k). We've been fortunate to have had employers with some very good matching programs and have always taken full advantage of the match.

While searching for jobs coming out of college, whether the company had a good 401(k) honestly wasn't that big of a factor for me in evaluating a job offer. I mainly just wanted to get a job, and frankly was just lucky that the job I got had a much better retirement savings plan that other companies that friends and family members work for.

The young me wouldn't have thought to ask for details about a 401(k) program before joining a company, but now I would never accept a job offer without knowing all the details about the company 401(k). At the end of the day, I know that I'll always contribute enough to get the match - so it's really part of my compensation. I don't know anyone who would accept a job not knowing the salary, and this is all part of that discussion.

Growing up my parents were either self-employed or worked for small businesses, so I wasn't as familiar with things like 401(k) matching programs. What I've learned as I've now worked for a few large companies is that finding a good match isn't as hard as I would have thought. Where it can be difficult though, is if you work for a small company as it is harder for them to offer costly perks

You can go to sites out like Brightscope to search for a company to get high-level stats on their 401(k) program, but it won't get you the specifics of the match. To give a sense for what we've seen throughout our careers, here are some details on plans we have participated in:

Company Employee Contribution Company Match Company Contribution
Job 1 5% 5% 0%
Job 2 6% 6% 10%
Job 3 7% 7% 10%
Job 4 5% 5% 5%
Job 5 5% 5% 2%

As you can see, we've been fortunate to always have a company match at least equal to what we put in. I've seen friends with as low as 25% match up to 4% (i.e. if he put in 4%, the company would put in 1%), and some with no matching whatsoever. We've never had a match less than dollar for dollar, and in all but one instance have had our company put money into our 401(k) even if we didn't put in anything.

Recently there have been companies making headlines for eliminating their 401k matching programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake, this is a pay cut. It may not feel like it right away, but it is. Hopefully these things come back quickly. If this does happen to you, go see what this does to your long-term retirement plan using something like the free tools on Personal Capital. At least half of our portfolio is directly attributable to 401(k) matching, so cutting this would have huge long-term consequences.

If you happen to find yourself looking for a new job, be sure to know the details of the 401(k) program and factor that into your total compensation when evaluating an offer.

Friday, April 10, 2020

March 2020 Net Worth Update - Millionaires no more

March was a doozy for our Net Worth, like it was for pretty much anyone else I know. It was also our first month of not having a mortgage payment though, and I was repeatedly surprised at how many times I found myself comforted during the market downturn because we had no mortgage. We ended the month with our net worth down nearly $67k, ending at $961,700

Having a >$1M Net Worth was nice, but just like our lives didn't change when our net worth went over $1M, nothing has changed now that it's back under $1M. Eventually the market will find a bottom, stabilize, and begin to recover. Meanwhile, we'll be dollar cost averaging into the market with each paycheck, so it's only a matter of time before we are back over $1M. 


Now with the house paid off, our next financial goal is to get our liquid net worth up to $1M. We've got a long way to go, but this new view for our household balance sheet breaks up our assets slightly differently to help me better see how we're tracking towards that goal. Here's a run-down of the different areas:

CASH

Our cash balance crept up this month since we didn't have a mortgage payment to make, and would have gone up more but we started a long awaited bathroom remodel and spent about $3k on some of the new materials. This total includes our checking and savings accounts, minus our credit card balance that we pay in full each month.

We should see our cash balance go up again in April as we're now expecting a refund for a cruise we paid for that we were going to go on in April, and like much of America we're holding off on large purchases (other than the bathroom remodel) until we have more information on the economic implications of COVID-19. I also have had my pay cut by a significant percentage for the foreseeable future, but will still be able to save money as we've been living on much less than the remainder of my income. 

PRE-TAX INVESTMENTS

This category includes all of our traditional IRA's and the pre-tax portion of our 401k's. Each year we convert funds from pre-tax to Roth, but not enough to actually bring down the balance of these accounts after earnings. These accounts are invested exclusively in broad based index funds.

While I have had a few years of my 401k contributions being pre-tax, over time we have done more Roth contributions than not. But because employer 401k contributions can't go in as Roth even when my own contributions are going in as Roth, we have ended up with more money in pre-tax accounts than after-tax accounts with the majority being the accumulation of years of generous employer matching contributions and the associated growth of those assets (with one short exception, every employer we've had has provided an employer match greater than 100% of our contribution).

ROTH INVESTMENTS

Our Roth Investments include each of our Roth IRA's and the Roth portion of my 401k. Typically I hold funds in our Roth accounts with higher long-term expected returns than the holdings in our pre-tax accounts to take advantage of the tax-free nature of the account. This means that in our Roth accounts we lean a little more towards international equities, hold absolutely zero bonds, and have done the occasional options trade or individual stock (I currently hold Amazon stock in my Roth IRA). 

My 401k contributions are currently going in as Roth, and new contributions are invested the same way for the Roth or Pre-tax funds. I don't quite max out my contributions, but with employer match will contribute over $20k/yr in total. Even though our cash flow would allow us to max out my 401k, I am choosing not to in order to build assets that are accessible before age 59 1/2. 

TAXABLE INVESTMENTS

The past several years we have been focused on paying off the house and only investing enough to get the company match in my 401k and haven't really invested outside of retirement accounts. We would like to be able to retire early so we'll need investments outside of our retirement accounts, which get penalized for withdrawals before age 59 1/2.

We have a long term investment account where we are investing in index funds, and another account designated as my trading account where I trade individual stocks. I'd like to be able to trade more actively, but my job doesn't allow me much time during the day to keep track of markets.

RESTRICTED STOCK

My job gives me restricted stock grants that I am including in our total net worth, but excluding from liquid net worth until they vest. Since I don't have plans to leave the company any time soon, I'm assuming that I'll be there long enough for the shares to vest. Upon vesting, my plan is to immediately sell since I don't believe in holding too much stock in the company I work for. I have seen far too many cases where people were heavily invested in their employer stock and it didn't end well. 

COLLEGE SAVINGS / 529s

We started these accounts a few years back but decided put a hold on contributions after only a year or two to focus on paying off the house quicker. To make up for lost time, we've now starting adding back to these accounts 3x what we were doing before. We received very minimal financial support from our parents in college and want to provide more for our kids than we got, but don't plan on fully funding their educations. We're still ~10 years away from needing to worry about this, so aren't too concerned about saving the amounts we're planning to provide. 

HOUSE / CARS

As I mentioned earlier, this month we started the demolition of our master bathroom and the associated remodel. We've basically gutted the bathroom down to the studs, but have decided to not do some of the bigger floor plan changes we originally envisioned that would have involved a lot more plumbing and framing changes. We're doing pretty much all the work ourselves and only have 1-2 days a week that we can actually dedicate to the project, so it may be a few months before everything is all put back together.

The value of our cars doesn't seem to change much anymore, since they are old enough to where they will mostly hold their value as long as we take care of them. I had to get a new battery for my car this month, but other than that we haven't been driving much and are lucky that our auto insurance company is giving us a 'shelter-in-place' rebate since so many fewer people have been on the roads recently and accidents are way down. 

So there you have it. Our net worth grow over $1M, we paid off our mortgage, and then saw our net worth drop back below $1M all in the span of just a few months. Paying off the house truly has given me such a different attitude in the midst of all of this uncertainty. Our investments lost more in March than the total value of all of our investments in 2008, and I haven't lost a wink of sleep over it. 



Sunday, April 5, 2020

March 2020 Reading Review

Like many of you, I've spent most of the month of March working from home. My workload is a bit heavier than normal as my company has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and I have been doing a lot of financial scenario analysis. Nevertheless, I still was able to finish 7 books in the month of March and wanted to document them here.

I have gotten to the point that if a book truly isn't good, I don't finish it. So the fact that I finished all 7 of these is a sort of recommendation for any of them. There are, however, some that were better than others and I've broken them out below.

My Best 3 Books of the Month:

Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street's Post-Crash Recruits - Kevin Roose.
If you know a young person considering a career on Wall Street, this is a good recommendation. When Michael Lewis originally wrote Liars Poker, he says he thought it would have been a rebuke of the industry and was later surprised to see that it actually caused many people to flock to it. This book shows another side of the coin that reflects the reasons I chose to avoid this particular career path, mainly mental health and work/life balance. 

Where are the Customers Yachts?: Or a Good Hard Look at Wall Street - Fred Schwed Jr
Written back in 1940 yet remarkably still applicable, this book takes shots at Wall Street banks, the ways they make money, and the relationships they have with their customers. I enjoyed it and it was a fairly quick read.

The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution - Gregory Zuckerman
This was a fascinating view into one of the most successful hedge funds that you've probably never heard of (their flagship Medallion fund had 30 year average annual return from 1988-2018 was a whopping 39% after fees!). One part that repeatedly stood out to me is how the personalities in the book differ so much from the stereotypical trader and align with engineers, coders, or mathematicians. If you're looking for a more 'Wall Street' book, check out 'The Greatest Trade Ever', by the same author.

Other books I also read in March:

The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters - Gregory Zuckerman.
I didn't realize until I was going through this that I had actually read two books from the same author in the same month. Coincidentally I also happened to be reading this book when oil prices plummeted to their lowest point in years. When I first saw the drop in oil prices, my mind immediately went back to an article I read that caused me to want to learn more about the players in fracking and having now read this book, it further reinforces my belief that we're likely to see a lot of bankruptcies in the fracking space.

How Full is Your Bucket - Tom Rath
This was a really quick read and gave me a few things to think about but wasn't exactly life changing. I tend to be a pretty upbeat person already, and this caused me to think about how my attitude influences others. This is especially important in the workplace right now during uncertain economic times, and I have to try especially hard to brighten anyone else's day since my entire team is working from home 100% and has been for the last few weeks.

We Were the Lucky Ones - Georgia Hunter
This book follows various peoples lives and stories throughout the horrors of WWII, all based on true stories. I've read many similar accounts, and each one causes me to be thankful to live in the time and place that I do and to do my part to not allow the mistakes of prior generations to repeat.

Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs - Buddy Levy
This one came recommended from a friend living in Latin America and dove into details of the Conquistadors I never knew about, but also hadn't ever thought about.

I welcome any recommendations you might have as I am plowing through my 'to-read' shelf and always need to be adding new titles.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

February 2020 Net Worth Update

February is usually our highest income month, and this year was our best yet. This year I used most of my annual bonus to make our final payment on our house! The market started to slump in the end of February, but we still managed to end the month with an increase in net worth of $9k to $1,028,625. 


CASH


Our cash balance is up to a much more comfortable level now, especially now that the house mortgage is paid off. Our fixed monthly expenses are down by quite a bit, so what was once a ~5 month emergency fund all of the sudden became a ~9 month emergency fund. As of the end of February, storm clouds appeared to be brewing for my job and the economy as a whole, so we're comfortable not deploying this cash right away. 


HOUSE / MORTGAGE


Did I mention that we paid off our house? I've gone through some rough economic times, including being a financial advisor throughout the 2008 crisis. I know that people who work for me may be worried about their jobs and the market, and I do what I can do provide advice and comfort. What I was not expecting was how calm I feel through the midst of uncertainty knowing that I not longer have a mortgage. I never realized how much stress it caused me to have a mortgage until I paid it off and it truly is a weight lifted off of my shoulders. 

INVESTMENTS


Even though we aren't ready to invest all of our excess cash, we have started to automatically invest monthly outside of our retirement accounts and started adding back into our 529 savings accounts. I'll be showing a different breakout of our accounts in future months, but until this point almost none of our investments have been outside of retirement accounts. 

There is a part of me that has wanted to be opportunistic and buy into a down market with large chunks, but we've decided to stick with our plan to automatically invest monthly and not allow emotions to cause us to deviate from that set schedule. The difference in days between investing when we think we see the right opportunity and our normally scheduled purchases won't make a difference in the long run, so I'm keeping this hands off. 

In February I also did a Roth Conversion, something we try to do at the beginning of each year. Sadly, the amount we converted is already down in value and we'll still be responsible to pay taxes on the value at the time of the conversion. Prior to 2018 it was possible to undo a conversion to avoid this exact situation, but that is no longer an option. I'm still happy with did the conversion, and will continue to do them as quickly as we can afford.

OTHER


Similar to January, I also read 10 more books in February. Here are some of the best ones:

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I don't read much fiction, but this one came recommended by Bill Gates, and I have always enjoyed his recommendations (I also wish I could read as fast as he does). The main character in this book is a very quirky professor of genetics whose methodical routines are ruined when Rosie enters his life. 

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America - by Beth Macy. The opioid crisis in our country continues to destroy thousands of lives and this book goes into the story of how Oxycontin spread so rapidly and then how addicts have gone from popping pills to injecting heroin. I've read a few books on this topic, I like the way this was one written, following the lives of multiple users and learning each of their own unique paths.

Monday, February 24, 2020

We Did It!

As of this month, we are officially MORTGAGE FREE! Our mortgage servicing company had this nice note posted the day after we wired them the final payoff but it still hasn't sunk in. 


I've been at the same company now for almost 7 years and have received progressively larger bonuses each year. Most of those years, we've taken pretty much the entire bonus and used it to pay down our mortgage. We're very fortunate to have a high income, but at the same time I also know co-workers who make as much or more than me who are nowhere near paying off their homes. 

When the direct deposit hit, I had all the information ready to get the wire transfer out and within about an hour of getting the deposit I had sent the wire to our mortgage company for the last and final payment. You could say I was a little excited. The next day, we celebrated by taking a long weekend family trip to one of our favorite spots just a few hours drive away. 

We have had a mortgage payment pretty much consistently for the past 13 years on three separate houses. We've become so accustomed to making monthly payments that it still doesn't seem real that we'll never have to make another mortgage payment. I'm really looking forward to the first paycheck I get in March that won't have to go straight towards the mortgage, maybe then it will seem real.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

January 2020 Net Worth Update

January was a fairly unremarkable month for the DIY$ household financials, but we did manage to have our net worth creep up by $2,811 to $1,019,162. Read on to see how things all shook out. 



CASH

The only somewhat concerning change in January was our cash balance dropping below $20k. I'm not super concerned since I'm getting a bonus in February that will fill it back up, and this is only because we had to make final payments towards a vacation we have planned for later in the year with the kids.

HOUSE / MORTGAGE

I love seeing our mortgage go down, and dropping below $20k is a fun milestone. I get paid twice a month and for several years now we have basically been using one paycheck to live on, and throwing the other paycheck entirely towards the mortgage. We are on track to have the mortgage fully paid off in February and I'm not sure what it will feel like to have an entire paycheck each month not be automatically spoken for. 

OTHER

In other news, I had to make a trip to India in January for work. It was my first time to that part of the world and I really enjoyed my time there. The long flights and time away from family weren't fun but did help me complete 10 books in the month of January, starting the year well ahead of my standard goal of 52 books per year. 

The best books I read last month were:

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. This is the story of Nike as told by the founder. It's a fascinating story, and one thing that really blew me away how many times the company teetered on the edge of insolvency despite massive annual sales growth. 

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. I've read every book Malcolm Gladwell has published and this one was a different topic from his other books but was still the same well crafted narrative style I enjoy. Among other things it talks about the snap judgments we make interpreting body language of strangers and how to identify internal unconscious bias, something we'd all do well to root out. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

2019 Year End Net Worth Update

2019 was a great year for the DIY$ household finances. We had our highest income year ever (thanks to a promotion and two pay raises), saw huge gains in our portfolio, and banked a lot of our income towards paying off our mortgage. We got soooo close to paying off the house, but still need a couple of more months to get it completely paid off. 

For the month of December, our net worth went down a bit, mainly because Zillow shows the value of our home down a lot. This happened a year or so ago and quickly went back up, and I'm using the their figure to stay consistent.  


Even with a $33k reduction in home value, we still ended the year at $1,016,351

The end of the year is also a good time to take a step back to see the progress we've made over a longer time frame. 

In 2019, our net worth grew by nearly $200k, our largest annual gain ever. This is more than I earned in 2019 so it's really nice to see the impact of our investment earnings added to our regular savings. 

A few observations:
  • I know we've been putting a lot of money towards paying off the house, but seeing that it was $65k in a single year was little surprising. We'll have it completely paid off soon, and it's crazy to think that we could increase our other investments/savings at that rate once the mortgage is done.
  • Once the house is paid off, I'll be viewing our net worth slightly differently. The plan is to look at our liquid assets separately from our other assets (house, cars, etc) as we focus on the next goal of reaching $1M in liquid assets.
  • Our cash balance is creeping lower and will get even lower before it jumps back up at bonus time. I would much rather be in a position where I am waiting for a bonus to replenish my cash than to need the bonus to pay off consumer debt. When I was a financial advisor, we were paid quarterly bonuses and some co-workers would consistently rack up credit card debt each quarter, relying on their bonus to dig out of the hole they dug.
  • 2020 is off to a good start for our finances, but not without uncertainty similar to any other year. Our spending habits are mostly the same, but we do have some celebratory spending planned shortly after paying off the house. 
  • Most of what I've put on this site has been 'money stuff', and not very much 'DIY'. This year we'll be starting a pretty major DIY project at our house and I plan to document more of that. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

2019 Reading Overview and Recommendations

Since I started tracking my annual reading in 2010, my annual goal has always been to complete 52 books per year. Somehow I blew right past that number and went all the way to 121 books completed in 2019.

People often ask where I find the time, and the simple answer is that I don't really watch TV. Each night after the kids go to sleep I spend about an hour reading and try to get through 100 pages per day. I also have a lengthy commute that I mostly use for listening to audiobooks and podcasts which make up about 1/3 of my total reading. Smartphones and social media have lead to more distractions but since I get most of my books from the library, the deadline of a due date forces me to pace myself and make sure I finish the books on time.

According to Goodreads.com, my reading added up to 41,470 pages with June being the busiest month (15 books read), and February and April tied for lowest (6 books each). Prior to 2019, the most books I had finished in a year was 76 back in 2013. I try to split my reading evenly between fiction and non-fiction but err on the side of non-fiction.

I try to read everything I can about the 2008 financial crisis and also really enjoy Corporate Biographies, Behavioral Finance, and Sociology/Demographics. For Fiction I enjoy Action, Legal thrillers, and the occasional Sci-Fi/Fantasy series and tend to avoid anything you might find in paperback at the grocery store.

My Ratings Methodology:

While I don't do full write-ups of each book I read, I do assign a rating (1-5 stars) to every one I finish. I tend to be very stingy with 5-star ratings, and only gave that distinction to 3 books all year. In general I use the Goodreads criteria for ratings, below with my distribution of ratings:

5 stars: 'It was amazing' (3)
4 stars: 'Really liked it' (38)
3 stars: 'Liked it' (43)
2 stars: 'It was ok' (31)
1 stars: 'Did not like it' (6)

Most books therefore, end up in the 3-star or 4-star category. I might still recommend a 4-star book, but not quite as vigorously as a 5-star.

For non-fiction, a 5-star book is one that causes me to think about something differently than I have before or causes me to change something I do or a way of thinking. 5-star fiction books must be reasonably believable but not predictable. As a rule I do not re-read books but I try to own everything I rate 5-stars, partly to support the author and partly to be able to lend to friends.

Here are the best books I read in 2019. I highly recommend you check them out. 

Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson - This has not been made into a movie that is currently in theaters. I'm sure the book is better, but am very glad that the message will get more attention since so many people don't read. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer whose primary goal is to overturn wrongful convictions.

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman - I had already seen this movie and loved it. Even though the book followed the movie pretty closely, I still felt like I was getting to know the character even better than the movie depiction allowed. I recommended this to my grandpa in his 80's and he called me belly laughing after reading a particularly humorous part, so maybe it's the inner old person in me that really like it.

Dare to Lead - Brene Brown - I have read a lot of leadership books over the years but this one seemed to be very relevant to where I am in my career right now but also felt like it shared more real examples of how to implement the principles it taught.


2020 is the year for me to finally catch up on my 'to-read' list. I am down to under 40 books left and have been particular about what gets added to it, but always need new material. If you have any great recommendations, please share!