Finding an apartment

I’ve had to go through the process of finding an apartment several times. It can be super annoying and downright frustrating. It’s easy to find something wrong with a place, but also easy to try and settle with what you’ve got. Hopefully this post will make life easier for those of you looking to transition from your current living situation.

Know you current situation

You need a general understanding of what your lease says. The most important aspects here are:

  1. When do I have to inform my landlord that I’m moving?
  2. When is my lease up?
  3. What is the penalty for leaving early?
  4. Can I assign or sublet my lease to someone else?

In most cases, landlords are more than happy to let you sublet your place, provided the person you find is generally reliable and has a stable income. Hey, your landlord trusted you. It can’t get much worse than that, right?

Assure that before you even start looking for new places, you know when and how you need to alert your landlord that you’re moving. You generally have to give 60-90 days notice. If you miss this, you can get yourself into a bit of a pickle.

If you do really need to move before your lease is up, you can sublet your place (allow someone to live under your responsibility and pay the rent.) Or you can assign the lease (the new tenant takes full responsibility for the lease.) You may have to pay fees associated with a background check and application fees for this new tenant.

Choosing a Neighborhood

We’re going to assume you know which city you’re looking for a place in. If you don’t, try seeking out gender ratio/median income/job availability/obesity indices/self-reported life satisfaction surveys etc… That’s another blog post.

When moving to a new town, you probably don’t know where the hip people are. You probably don’t know which neighborhoods to avoid and which have the best access to amenities. There are some excellent tools out there for this.

 

Walk Score gives you ratings of exact addresses and entire neighborhoods based on their access to public amenities like grocery stores, banks, and restaurants. It’s an essential resource if you don’t own a car. It’s usefulto know what you can expect to be able to walk to from your new place.

Judgmental Maps is a slightly tongue-in-cheek site dedicated to showing who really lives in a neighborhood. It’s sometimes crass, offensive, and at times downright racist, but there is something to be learned from your city’s map. It will give you insights into the types of people that live in a neighborhood beyond their income or propensity for crime. Most people like to know what their neighborhood “feels” like. These help do that. If you can’t find your town on the site, just Google it with “judgmental maps.” It’s quite likely that someone has wasted an afternoon building one for your town.

Trulia Maps is a pretty impressive compilation of map layers that lets you see the median house prices, average length of commute, % of college degree holders, etc… But the single best thing about this site is the Crime Heat Map. You can see exactly where crimes are being committed and avoid those areas, unless you’re a member of a local crime syndicate. Then you should probably live there.

I’m not making any particular judgments here about what you should or shouldn’t look for. The sites above will allow you to make a more informed decision based on the factors that you personally are looking for in your living area.

Now you know where you want to live. Let’s get you a place.

Automating the search

There a two tools I use exclusively to automate the housing search. Between them I am confident that I am constantly updated on the majority of housing options in a particular area.

Padmapper is designed to aggregate all local online housing listings onto a single map. It does a very good job. You can specify exactly the price and size you are looking for and see all your options in real-time on the map. The greatest feature of the site is their email alert. Set up an alert for your preferences and you’ll get email updates when a house or apartment matching your needs becomes available. No more worrying about missing opportunities.

One thing lacking in Padmapper is the lack of Craiglist postings. Because the site is so heavily used, especially for housing, I highly recommend you also add a Craigslist email alert to your mix. This will just about cover you for all the housing options that are becoming available in your area online.

Other resources to consider

  • Local university housing classifieds
  • Google searching and calling apartment complexes
    • Not every vacant unit will be listed online
    • One can automate this via UpWork and have pay someone else to do their calling or list-building.

I would recommend placing your top candidates onto a Google Sheet that lays out their pros and cons in a weighted fashion such that you turn what can often be an emotional or rash decision into a more calculated effort.

Finding the right apartment

I don’t even need to touch on this because a Redditor has already done so fantastically. Thanks to r/DeaconNuno for his epic post listing out what you need to look for in a good apartment. There are many things there you will definitely forget in the spur of the moment during an apartment walk-through if you don’t keep that list with you. Review his list and decide which of those factors is relevant to your search, This will make your hunting much more fruitful and risk-avoidant.

Here are a few often overlooked things to consider…

  1. Be sure to not if there are train tracks nearby. This can really be annoying and might not be obvious during your walkthrough. Just drive around, ask neighbors, or check Google Maps to find out.
  2. Check what internet providers that address has access to. It can mean slower internet, more expenses, or even caps to bandwidth.
  3. Call utility companies and ask what the average bill is for that address/apartment.

Make it a buyer’s market- 3 simple tips

 There are some general principles to keep in all purchase decisions that will increase your likelihood for success.

  1. Give yourself ample time to choose a place.
  2. Be able to walk away from a place if you don’t think you’re getting a good deal.
  3. Ask for a discount. Personal finance blogger Ramit Sethi says ask for a 70% discount. I don’t think that’s reasonable. But ask for a 25% discount. The worst they can tell you is “no.” Many great deals have been had by people asking for a discount in a friendly way.

A Guide to Saving for Retirement

The goal of this article is to help give you the tools to save money more responsibly and to give you more ability to do as you please through financial freedom. The first step is recognizing that you want to be financially secure and are willing to make some sacrifices now in order to protect and nurture your future. Are you?

If you think you’ll get rich playing the stock market or the real estate market or the Japanese trading card market (you know you’re still saving those old Pokemon cards for a reason.) Stop right now. Stop thinking you can beat the market. No one can accurately predict the market. No computer or fund manager is able to do it. It’s impossible. There are too many factors involved. It’s you versus the entire pool of individuals investing in the market. The system is rigged against you. Don’t believe me? Read Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. He accurately shows what smart investors have known for years: even the best trained professional traders can’t beat the market over long periods of time. The strategies heretofore utilize a strategy that has a proven track record, indexing. Indexing is investing your money in a large and balanced pool of companies. It works, because while some companies fail and others triumph, you can be sure that, on average, over long periods of time, companies want your money and are willing to provide you a premium for it. This premium ends up being ~7%/year on average over long periods (15+ years.) While each individual stock will rise and fall based on their product/service and market conditions, the index of the market will rise over long periods of time. In short: Stop thinking you can beat the market.

Money is valuable insofar as it can be spent. And spending takes time. For this reason, your money has value over time to others. This value is called the time value of money and is rewarded with interest. For this reason, you must start saving now. Your money saved today is worth a lot more than if it is saved 10 years from now. I could show some crazy graphs, but just trust me. You’re probably going to get very rich if you’re under 30 and start saving now. If you’re not ready just stop reading.

Below, I’ve gathered from  my favorite resources ways to start building your nest egg and saving money. For each individual, this will be a little bit different. This strategy will work for most people and it’s principles are universally applicable.

Here is the order of priority in which you should be treating your savings to optimize for stable growth.

Pay off your debts

Pay the high interest debts first, low interest next. Debt is both a psychological and financial burden. Get rid of it as soon as you can. By paying your debts off sooner rather than later, you will be preventing unneeded interest payments and placing yourself in a good spot to start saving soon. Your debt is an emergency. Treat it as such. Don’t let it spoil some well-earned fun. But do realize that many disposable expenses should be eliminated during this time.

Build an Emergency Fund

Save up 3 months of living expenses ($5,000-$8,000). You never really know what’s going to happen in life. But, if it sucks, chances are it’s also going to cost money. You want to be able to live in peace and prevent racking up debt by having some money saved up for emergencies. This should be in a place that is very easy to access and spend like a savings account. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get good interest. This is your piece of mind and just-in-case money. Never touch it unless you absolutely need to. And if you do, do so with as little guilt as possible because emergencies are the only acceptable reason to spend this money.

401(k)

If you have one available, use your employer’s 401k match. It’s free money and it’s pretty much guaranteed extra income. Invest in funds with the lowest expense ratios you can. You’re naturally going to be fairly limited by whatever funds are a part of your employer’s plan. This is a longterm investment, so try and split it up in 60% Domestic Index Fund (S&P 500), (40-yourage)% International Index Fund, and (Yourage)% Bond Index Fund. Or you can just use the Target Retirement Funds most companies offer. These will do just fine. Just put in enough to get your employer’s match. You won’t be able to touch this money, except for a few situations, until you’re 55.

Roth IRA

This has nice tax advantages and can be withdrawn at any time. Though you shouldn’t withdraw from it because the money is worth more in this tax-shielded account than anywhere else. Specifically, you should open a Retirement Target Date Fund based on when you think you’ll be retiring (Vanguard has some really good ones.) This is going to be maxed at $5,500/year. You should try and max this Roth IRA out. A Roth IRA is after-tax, so any money you put in, along with it’s earnings, is tax free upon withdraw. This is particularly nice, because in a non-IRA, you’d have to pay a capital gains tax on any more you earned.

Short Term Savings

Beyond our retirement, chances are you have some things in the middle future (3-10 years) that merit some savings. Even if you’re unsure of your future, (isn’t this everyone?) you should still have some savings for short-term spending. This is based on individual goals. It gets taxed for real this time. No shielding as you get with the 401k and Roth. But you generally have more options and less restrictions with this money. I’d recommend you buy up Target Retirement Date Funds for retiring 5 and 10 years from now. You can tweak this a bit based on your age. These funds are designed to be for older people who are ready to retire and need a stable growth fund that doesn’t fluctuate a whole lot (they do this by making these funds very bond heavy.) This money can be withdrawn any time, but it’s earnings will always be taxed.

If you have any money left over, place it back into maxing out your 401k (this can be done up to $18k/year.)

After that I’d start thinking about seeing an independent financial advisor to help you invest in retirement funds. But having more in target funds 25-40 from now would probably be a smart choice, depending on your work situation and expected spending.

Setting this all up and maintaining it won’t take more than a couple hours every few months (if that.) You won’t have to worry about day-to-day fluctuations. Do not be intimidated by the fancy sounding names, these retirement funds are super easy to setup. It takes less than 15 minutes for most of them.  I really like using Vanguard funds because they are cheap and easy to work with. But, I’ve heard good things about some other companies as well.

Books

The Millionaire Next Door

The BogleHead’s Guide to Investing

Black Swan- Nassim Taleb

I Will Teach you to be Rich- Ramit Sethi

Your Money or Your Life

Sites

mrmoneymustache

https://www.reddit.com/r/personalfinance/wiki/investing

nerdwallet

MINT

 

The best way to lose weight

Last summer I lost 40 lbs in 4 months. That was 25% of my overall weight. I felt vastly better. I was able to run much farthest. It was an overall incredible transformation. The beauty of it is that this was pretty simple. Not easy. But simple. I’ve spent countless hours reading books, scouring forums, and listening to podcasts for the most efficient way to get to one’s desired weight. I’m going to break it down for you.

Define your Goals

Before you begin a diet/fitness regimen, you need to know what you want. There are basically two answers to this question. You either want to look better or you want your body to operate better, or a combination of both. At first, it really won’t matter what your goal is because the two will not be mutually exclusive for a while. However, you still should understand what you want because it will motivate you.

If your goal is to look better, you want an ideal to shoot for. You want a concrete goal. Making your goal concrete and measurable will allow you to track your progress and be more likely to achieve it. You can’t reach a goal that you don’t set. You should aim for the stars. There is no harm in setting a really idealized goal. It’s always easier to adjust your goal later to be easier than to be harder. This being said, you’re still going to break down your goal into 1-2 week measurable segments. Which I’ll get to later.

Here are the measurements I suggest you shoot towards:

Men: 0.59 Waist/Chest Ratio, 7-10% Body fat

Women: 0.75 Waist/Hip Ratio, 16-19% Body fat

These are considered the golden standard by social psychologists and also closely correspond to optimal reproductive health in both sexes. In order to find you current ratios use a tape measure for your respective needs. Use the following places to take measurements.

Chest: around the widest portion (usually right over the pecs)

Waist: around the navel.

Hips: 1″ below where your pants naturally sit

To calculate your current body fat % use this online tool.

Wrist is measured where you’d wear a watch.

Don’t be alarmed. The vast majority of America is way beyond fat and this goal will seem absurd at first. You should never set your goals with the average person in mind. If you want obscenely awesome results you need obscenely awesome methods and goals.This may not be your desired look, but at least now you can tell how you compare to the generally most healthy body shape and work from there. Yes some of us will vary slightly in our physiology and bone structure, but for the most part these ratios will be a very good direction to start moving towards. You don’t have to worry about your physical limits when you’re just beginning. You shouldn’t be thinking about them.

What is missing from this equation? Body weight. Your weight is not all that important. It fluctuates a lot, and it’s not super indicative of your overall level of fitness or your aesthetic. No matter what your goals, they should be measured in things that visually & physically make a difference.  Do you need to gain or lose inches? If you’re like most Americans you probably need to lose. That’s what I’ll address.

SUM UP: Use the tool I linked to and see where you stand.

Setting a plan: Diet & Exercise

Diet is by far the most important part of losing weight. Fitness will help you maintain a good body composition (muscle:fat ratio). Because we want to lose weight that is fat, we should help protect our muscle by exercising it. If you neglect this like I did last summer, you’ll end up looking like a rail and not moving towards that golden ratio discussed above. I had a great body for running marathons, but I looked like more of a shrimp than I already do!

For diet, your body can handle 500 calories below whatever your maintenance level is. To figure out your maintenance calories, go here and honestly answer the questions.  The calculator will tell you under “Fat Loss” how many calories you can eat total per day without losing too much muscle. You should also try and follow their recommendations for protein/carbs/fat breakdown. The closer you follow this, the better your body will be at burning fat and not muscle. Also, you’ll likely feel more full. A good rule of thumb is to eat 1g of protein for every pound of your body weight. If you are obese, you can lower this a bit and just use your lean body weight.

In terms of exercise, I’d advise lifting as much weight as you can personally handle 3x/week for the duration of your diet and forever. Then mix as much cardio in there as you can handle. Don’t even think about worrying about getting bulky, ladies. At a 500 calorie deficit, you’ll have no chance of doing that. At this stage, any lifting of weights is only going to slow muscle loss. Don’t expect any gain. This is what bro’s into this kind of thing generally call a “cutting” stage.

Starting

The #1 rule of starting your diet is that you always start today. You don’t even get to think about dieting unless you start today. You don’t get to put it off. If this is something you’re serious about, it starts now. It’s more important than that leftover pizza you have in the fridge. It’s more important than that coupon you have for a free milkshake at Friendly’s. Unless someone is making you a meal, your diet starts right now. You know the #of calories you can eat. That is 80% of the battle. Just stick to that number religiously.

Keeping with the program

Nike did a study on program adherence that found 5 to be the magic number of workouts to create a lasting commitment. Once people had logged 5 workouts with their bands they were vastly more likely to stick with it. So, just as I said that you must start now, you also must stick to these first 5 days and workouts. It doesn’t really matter how you workout, though I think a nice combo of heavy lifting and cardio is your best bet. You must complete your first week with 100% adherence. No cheating. No whining. Pick a program that is manageable for you in the diet and exercise and stick to it.

Some tips I find really help keep you full under your caloric intake.

  1. Stop drinking all calories. Fruit juice and soda are great ways to intake huge amounts of sugar without very much filling effect.
  2. Eat vegetables and greens and eat them first in your meal. This will fill you up quicker.
  3. Don’t eat white potatoes or corn. Both are pretty weak nutrient-wise and mess around with your sugar levels, which won’t help you to lose fat. You really should also cut all white carbs like bread and rice. But this isn’t 100% necessary. Just know that eating these things will make it more difficult to lose fat and to stay full.
  4. Drink a lot of water. Make this easy. Keep a lot on hand that’s cold and delicious. You should design it so that it’s not a chore to be healthy.
  5. Do fasted cardio. In the morning your body is depleted of sugar, and you don’t have any digestion to slow you down. Cardio on an empty stomach, as long as it’s under an hour, is a great idea.
  6. Get enough protein. Like mentioned above, technically you need .86g/lb of body weight.
  7. If you do eat pre-packaged foods, eat the ones with the fewest ingredients.
  8. Data-hack your diet. Know the Glycemic Index and Fullness Factor of all your foods. You can find this at http://nutritiondata.self.com/. Eat low Glycemic and high Fullness Factor.
  9. Every ten pounds you lose, reset your caloric intake using the calculator based on your new stats. Don’t worry, you won’t be cutting down too much more.
  10. Track your calories and protein/fat/carbs

This is going to be hated on, but you need to track your calories. You need to do this. You’re going to be so tempted to cheat. You’re going to want to eyeball the amount of butter you put on your pasta. Don’t do it. You’re only cheating yourself. Find a diet tracking program. I love MyFitnessPal. Use this for every meal to track how many calories and how much of protein/fat/carbs you’re actually consuming. Just doing this will educate you on the contents of what you’re eating. This is an invaluable experience in nutritional education because it is eminently personal.

10. Track your progress

You need to see how you’re doing. But you should not look too often. It’s good to measure and log the progress you’re making weekly. Keep your results in an Excel spreadsheet. Measure anything you want to manage. This could include weight, waist, chest, hips, biceps, hips, neck, etc… Unfortunately there’s isn’t much you can do about height lol. Sorry, shawty.

11. Know what’s realistic

You can probably expect to safely lose about a pound a week using this regimen. This is a safe amount and should result in minimal muscle loss, especially if you’re lifting.

12. There are no cheat days.

You don’t need a cheat day. Cheat days are an admittance that you don’t like your diet and want out. You need to design your meals such that they are filling, enjoyable, and make you feel better than you ever have. What is OK, is a cheat meal when appropriate. If you’re out for dinner or at a party, go nuts. Eat what everybody else is eating if you want. You don’t have to be so rigid that you can’t expand your palate sometimes. The difference is that these cheat meals are intermittent rewards, not scheduled rigidly. Motivational psychology has shown that intermittent rewards have a much deeper impact of motivation than regularly scheduled ones. Would anyone play a dollar slot machine that pay out ten dollars on exactly every 20th pull? I hope you wouldn’t. Unless you knew it was on pull#20, of course.

Conclude your diet

When you reach you desired goal, go back to the start. Do you have a new goal. Are you perfectly happy where you are? The body doesn’t just stay the same, it requires maintenance. Hopefully at the end of your first true dieting session, you have developed a knowledge of good nutrition, steady exercise, and mental discipline.

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