Carnival of Personal Finance #215

This week the travelling circus of money pitched its tents at Good Financial Cents, where my post on when to take Social Security was an editor’s pick. socialmediavenndiagramSeeing my name at the top of a carnival always puts me into a good mood. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Squawkfox was also an editor’s pick with 6 Surefire Ways To Avoid a Mortgage Meltdown. It’s a solid post with tips that would have been considered painfully obvious ten or fifteen years ago, but are worth giving out now in the Great Aftermath. My one objection is to the idea that ordinary folks buying more house than they can afford is somehow different from "that whole subprime lending mortgage mess". Ordinary and well intentioned people spending more on a house than they could afford is exactly what got us into that mess.

Useful and important tips on spotting an investment bubble were contributed by Steadfast Finances. Not that I think this will help in the future. One of the remarkable things about investment bubbles is that in the late stages many, if not most, participants are perfectly aware it’s a bubble. They just think they can get out just before it bursts.

There was a post on diversification from The Personal Financier. He’s in favor of it, which is good, but he does a poor job of defending it from unrealistic expectations. Diversification reduces volatility. That’s it. It will not increase your long-run returns and in fact will tend to lower them. That diversified portfolios did poorly over the past year is not evidence that diversification "didn’t quite work, to say the least."

I am not one to judge the domestic arrangements of others, but I have always privately thought that married couples with separate finances were nuts. Now Bible Money Matters makes the case that separate finances are actually unholy. I wonder if we will see a law banning it on the ballot in California.

Best title of the week goes to Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck with Top Ten Ways to Save Money While Ruining Your Life.  Of course, it’s not on how to ruin your life cheaply so much as how to be so cheap that you ruin your life. But still, it’s a great title and fits with some of my thoughts on frugality. The list does not include saving money by trying to groom your dogs at home, but The Upside of Money had that one covered. "The dogs can always wear hats til their hair grows out."

And speaking of ruining your life on a budget, Realm of Prosperity explained How Twitter and Facebook Can Hurt Your Career. Actually, the post is a bit unfair. Twitter and Facebook are merely enabling technologies. A person who posts on the internet that they think their boss is an idiot and that they have snuck out of work early because there is so little to do was going to be fired eventually. Social networking just accelerates the process. And isn’t making office work go faster just what computers are for?

[Totally awesome Venn diagram used totally without permission from its owner, Click here and buy a t-shirt so I don't feel so guilty.]

No Comments

  • By Neil, July 28, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the venn diagram – there’s some registered trademarks in there that I’ll take any odds were also used without permission.

  • By Matt SF, July 28, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

    Thanks for the link. You’re correct, lots of investors (more like speculators) know it’s a bubble, but will employ technical analysis to justify their purchase. It can work, but fairly risky.

  • By Dave C., July 28, 2009 @ 3:10 pm


    Why do you feel that its nuts for a married couple to have separate finances?

  • By Rob Bennett, July 28, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    The graphic is very funny.

    My view is that just about everyone knew it was a bubble. That’s why it popped. Bull markets are the product of huge amounts of self-deception. The rub is that the self-deception at some point gets so scary that some of us start protecting ourselves by getting out. That causes the entire Ponzi scheme to unravel.

    The way to stop a bubble is never to let one form in the first place. The way to stop bubbles from forming in the first place is to educate investors about what the historical data says about how stocks perform once they get to insane prices. If this information were widely available, there would never be another bubble. Most people are willing to do the right thing when they see that it is in their own self-interest to do so.


  • By Michael B. Rubin, July 28, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

    Thanks for the link and the complimentary words. Your Social Security article was a great read (and you’ll see it linked from my other blog next week). Love the graphic above!

  • By Squawkfox, July 29, 2009 @ 12:30 am

    Thank you for the complimentary words.

  • By mwarden, July 29, 2009 @ 8:51 am

    Diversification tends to lower your returns? Does that assume that the alternative is picking winner stocks?

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, July 29, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    Dave C.: I think that if you’re not pooling your wealth and sharing an economic destiny then you are not married, just living together. Again, it’s a free country and I respect whatever domestic arrangements others want to make.

    mwarden: Given a set of possible investments, the expected return maximizing move would be to put all your money in the single investment with the highest expected return. Of course, that will also give you unacceptable volatility, so you diversify, which lowers your risk, but also your return, since you are now watering down that best returning investment.

  • By Josh Yeager, July 29, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    Rob, I think that bubbles are the result of greed as well as self-deception. Even if you convinced everyone that stocks are extra-risky during a bubble, there would still be people who are convinced that they can ride the bubble up and get out before it pops.

  • By Barbara Bryn, July 29, 2009 @ 6:57 pm

    Hey, thanks for the mention. I enjoyed your round-up!

  • By mwarden, July 29, 2009 @ 9:50 pm


    Your investing strategy of only investing in things that end up making you a ton of money sounds very smart.

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, July 30, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

    Sounding very smart is my core competence.

  • By kitty, July 31, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    The link about the bubble reminds me of an old story about a well known investor and a shoe shine boy in 1929.

    One other problem with bubbles is every bubble is sufficiently different from the previous one. OK, so internet bubble was obvious with huge P/Es on companies that have no earnings, and yes those of us who failed to get out just got too greedy. I remember “buying” cat food and toys from – still have fond memories about this company – using their “$20 off no minimum purchase” coupons. 2 years of almost-free pet food; “almost” accounting for delivery cost. I was wondering how they were making money – we all know the answer to this question. I guess people like me helped them go out of business, but why oh why didn’t they do what amazon did and set minimum purchase requirements? Their prices were still low even without these ridiculous coupons.

    But real estate bubble was more subtle in that even people who saw real estate bubble – I sure did – didn’t know about all the other stuff about CDOs, CDS, etc. Other stocks – tech, for example, didn’t seem overvalued in 2007. In fact tech were doing OK throughout first half of 2008 until everything started unravel. My employer stock, for example, had its 10 year high of $130 in the summer of 2008. Still, at least it is higher today than at the end of 2007 ($118 as of today vs $109). A couple of my friends did get out though – one in 2006, one in 2007, and one in spring of 2008. The last guy wasn’t even following the economy. He simply thought “I don’t like the way it is starting to smell”. But in general, the ripple effect to the economy wasn’t obvious at least for us non-experts, although obviously experts were fooled too.

    So while predicting real estate bubble was obvious – I told a friend who was looking to wait; I sold the condo I was renting out even if a bit too early – the effect on the economy and other stocks was less so.

    Buffet made some good comments at the time of the internet bubble about Cinderella and the ball and everyone hoping to get out in the last seconds before midnight forgetting that clocks in the ballroom have no hands. So true.

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