The Simple Path to Wealth ~ Get Rich Slowly

Yesterday, my pal Jim Collins dropped me a line. “The audio version of my book just came out,” he told me. “Audible is letting me give away some free copies. Do you think your readers would be interested?” I do think so! Plus, this is a perfect opportunity to migrate my review of The Simple Path to Wealth from Money Boss to Get Rich Slowly. At the end of this article, I’ll explain how you can get a copy of Jim’s audiobook, if you’re interested (and lucky).

Hanging with JLCollinsNHIn 2015 and 2016, Kim and I took a 15-month RV trip across the United States in an RV. It was awesome.

During late July 2015, we stopped for a few days on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. My friend Jim Collins had invited us to spend some time at Shamba, the waterfront vacation home that belongs to his sister-in-law. For several days, we sipped wine and walked in the surf with Collins and his wife. We also talked about work. (I had just begun formulating plans for Money Boss; Jim was writing a book.)

“What do you do?” Kim asked Collins on our first afternoon at Shamba.

“I retired early,” he explained. “I saved up and got out of the rat race. Now I write a blog about money. It started as notes I wanted to share with my daughter, but it’s become something bigger. I guess most people know me because of my series of articles on stock-market investing. Now I’m turning the blog into a book.”

“Ugh,” Kim said. “Investing frustrates me. J.D. has tried to explain his investment philosophy a couple of times since we started dating. He says it’s simple, but it still seems overwhelming.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Collins said. “You should read my articles. Maybe they’ll help.” Kim read his articles. They helped.

By the time we’d driven around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and made our way to Indiana’s Amish country, Collins’ blog had spurred Kim to action. As I sat in the RV outlining my early vision for Money Boss, Kim was opening Vanguard accounts and moving her retirement savings into index funds.

During four years together, I couldn’t persuade Kim to manage her own retirement savings. Collins convinced her in two weeks. His advice is that good.

Since that weekend in Wisconsin, Collins published the book he was working on. The Simple Path to Wealth presents the advice from his blog in a coherent, unified package. It’s an easy-to-understand primer on stock-market investing — and financial independence.

The Simple Path to Wealth

The Simple Path to WealthCollins advocates a self-directed approach to investing (and money management, in general). His philosophy is mostly Money Boss-ish:

  • Avoid debt.
  • Save half of your income.
  • Invest your savings in low-cost index funds.
  • Ignore the news — and your friends.

Like me, Collins believes the investment industry has a vested interest in making the process seem complex. Investment pros want you to believe that saving for retirement is complicated, and that you need help to be successful in the stock market. Plus, there’s the problem that many advisers profit from encouraging you to move your money around.

“Too many [investment advisers] have only their own interests at heart,” Collins writes. “By the time you know enough to pick a good one, you know enough to handle your finances yourself. It’s your money and no one will care for it better than you.” (Sound familiar?)

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Collins as a story-teller. The Simple Path to Wealth contains fun anecdotes from his own life, but it also incudes some colorful metaphors and parables.

Here, for instance, is how Collins illustrates the importance of frugality and thrift:

Two close boyhood friends grow up and go their separate ways. One becomes a humble monk, the other a rich and powerful minister to the king. Years later they meet. As they catch up, the portly minister (in his fine robes) takes pity on the thin and shabby monk. Seeking to help, he says: “You know, if you could learn to cater to the king you wouldn’t have to live on rice and beans.” To which the monk replies: “If you could learn to live on rice and beans you wouldn’t have to cater to the king.”

There are those that view frugality as sacrifice. They feel like they’re giving more than they get. Collins would argue that the opposite is true: A high saving rate grants you freedom. As counter-intuitive as it seems, learning to live on less allows you to get more out of life.

How the Stock Market is Like Beer

I also like how Collins compares the stock market to a mug of beer:

Imagine [somebody] has poured [a beer] for you, out of sight, and into a dark mug you can’t see through. You have no way of knowing how much is beer and how much is foam. That’s the stock market.

See, the stock market is really two related but very dfferent things:

  • It is the beer: The actual operating businesses of which we can own a part.
  • It is the foam: The traded pieces of paper that furiously rise and fall in price from moment-to-moment. This is the market of CNBC. This is the market of the daily stock market report. This is the market people are talking about when they liken Wall Street to Las Vegas. This is the market of the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly volatility that drives the average investor out the window and onto the ledge. This is the market that, if you are smart and want to build wealth over time, you will absolutely ignore.

When you look at the daily price of a given stock, it is very hard to know how much is foam. This is why a company can plummet in value one day, and soar the next. This is why CNBC routinely features experts, each impressively credentialed, confidently predicting where the market is going next — while consistently contradicting each other. It is all those traders competing to guess how much beer and how much foam is actually in the glass at any particular moment.

While this makes for great drama and television, for our purposes it is only the beer that matters. It is the beer that is the real operating money making underlying businesses, beneath all that foam and froth, that over time drives the market ever higher.

The more attention you pay to the stock market, the worse your investment performance is likely to be. (This isn’t opinion. It’s a well-documented phenomenon!)

Collins offers specific recommendations for self-directed investing, and carefully explains the rationale behind his conclusions. He also translates studies and stats into easy-to-understand English, which is no mean feat!

Although The Simple Path to Wealth is intended to offer wide-ranging advice about the journey to financial freedom, I think it’s best when Collins covers retirement investing. (He already knows that I disagree with his stance on debt reduction, for instance. He’s against Dave Ramsey’s version of the debt snowball; I’m for it.)

Do It Yourself

I think most Get Rich Slowly readers are comfortable with the idea that they’re responsible for their career, for their budget, for their home. But I receive a surprising amount of email from folks who are apprehensive about investing. People are willing to act as the family CFO when it comes to generating a personal profit — but they don’t know what to do with the money they begin to accumulate. Like Kim, they turn to “professionals”.

That’s too bad.

The truth is, you can (and should) learn to manage your own investments. I like this investment advice from Jim at Wallet Hacks:

A lot of new investors are timid. They don’t want to make mistakes. They believe they need to pay somebody to help them, that the stock market is complicated, or that they can pick winning stocks.

None of this is true.

Go to the library. Borrow some books on smart investing. Learn what stocks and bonds are and how the markets work. Teach yourself to invest in low-cost index funds. Ask questions. Be willing to make a few early mistakes. Take charge of your financial future!

I heartily recommend The Simple Path to Wealth. Whether you purchase the info in book form or consume it for free via his website, Collins can help you make the move from adviser-dependent to confident DIY investor.

Are you an Audible subscriber? Are you interested in a free copy of the audiobook version of The Simple Path to Wealth? Jim Collins has provided me with two (and only two) promo codes for Get Rich Slowly readers. If you’re interested (and use Audible), let me know in the comments. On Sunday, I’ll randomly select two of the interested commenters to get the book on audio!

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Visualizing how your net worth compares to others ~ Get Rich Slowly

As you all know, I’m fond of financial scorecards. While admitting their limitations, I like numbers and tools that allow you to compare your financial progress with other people.

I like credit scores, for instance, because they put a number on how you handle money — a number you can compare to Americans at large. And I like apps like Credit Sesame, which let you to monitor your credit score — much like a bathroom scale lets you monitor your weight.

Perhaps my favorite number is net worth, the total value of everything you own. Calculating net worth is easy. It’s what you own minus what you owe. That’s it. Simple, right? Simple but powerful.

Net worth tracks your financial health in the same way that weight measures your fitness. Neither number tells the whole story, but as a measure of change over time each is a handy tool.

Want to calculate your own net worth? I’ve created this free net worth spreadsheet in Google Docs for you to download or copy. It’s still branded with Money Boss, but I’ll change that soon.

Net worth is a great way to track your own financial progress as you age. But have you ever wished you could compare your net worth with the net worth of other Americans? I have. It’s possible, but it’s a complicated process that required digging through tables of government data.

Well, Zach at Four Pillar Freedom — who must have too much free time — recently took info from the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances and created a couple of tools that let you visualize the net worth of Americans by age. These tools aren’t sophisticated. They perform simple tasks, but they perform them well.

Here, for instance, is Zach’s tool for looking at net worth percentiles by age.

Net worth percentiles

My net worth of approximately $1.6 million puts me between the 95th and 96th percentile of Americans aged 45-49.

Zach also whipped up a quick chart to show the number of people who have positive net worths versus those with negative net worths. Plus he has a quick tool that compares the median net worth for each age group to the net worth of the top 1% in each population.

If you too are a money nerd who likes to compare yourself to others, then take a few minutes to explore Zach’s net worth visualizer!

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Is Content Still ‘King’ in Voice Search SEO?

voice search“Ok, Google, what’s the weather like outside?”

Google tells me the temperature and the forecast.

My friend: “Why don’t you just stick your head out the door?”

Me: “It’s easier this way, and besides, it’s winter and cold.”

You can speak faster than you can type on a phone keyboard unless you’re The Flash. And let’s admit it, most of us aren’t The Flash.

This is exactly what Google is hoping as they push their very useful voice search option. They’re hoping that people will decide it’s too much work to type or that really, I don’t want to be distracted from my driving.

Voice search really is convenient. It’s the next step in search technology. And nearly 20% of all mobile searches are voice search.

What, then, does this mean for SEO?

1. What Can Voice Search Do?

Voice search will serve a different purpose than traditional search. You won’t use voice search for every search you want to do.

Regular search still is superior for helping you search for what you don’t know you want to search for. Predictive search isn’t possible for voice search, at least not yet.

But there are other reasons why you might want to use voice search over regular search. There also things it has to be capable of that regular search doesn’t.

Ability to Hear Spelling

English is a confusing language. We use various meanings for the same word.

If you search for plains and get search results for planes, you can spell it out for Google. P-L-A-I-N-S.

Google Can Now Follow Up

We see it all the time in films that feature AI. You can ask it to bring something up and it continues to follow what you’re doing.

You want a model of an F-15 fighter jet, so you ask the AI to bring one up. Before you is a hologram of an F-15. You then ask the AI, “Can you make it bigger?”

The AI knows what “It” means by context.

Google can do this. Well, it can’t give you a hologram, but it can follow what you’re doing and remember your previous searches.

As an SEO, this is important to understand. You’ll want to optimize around subjects.

Ask yourself what other aspects of this topic might someone want to know about. Then create content and use keywords focused on filling in those gaps.

It Will Know Where You Are

You don’t have to reference your location when using voice search. Google will automatically take that into account.

If you ask, “What’s the soonest showing of Justice League?,” it won’t need to hear you say, “At the Grand Cinemas in Benton Harbor.” It will already know that’s your closest theater.

It Will Know What App You’re In

If you search for something relevant to the app you’re in, Google will know the context.

If you have a recipe app open and you say, “Show me a similar recipe,” Google will know what you’re looking for.

It Will Know What’s On Your Screen in General

If you have the Musselwhite Consulting website up and you ask Google, “Show me other services,” you will get other SEO services as search results.

So, it really doesn’t matter where you are on your phone or the internet, Google will know and respond. Almost kind of creepy, huh?

It will even know a little bit about you. You can already see this with various Chrome features, but Google will be a little bit more personal.

Google can know who you are when you ask it things like “Where’s my favorite bar again?” It will know that the “my” refers to you.

2. Long-Tail Keywords Are More Important Than Ever Now

People don’t just say, “Ok, Google, Movies New York City” when they are using voice search. They actually treat Google voice search like a person. They actually ask it questions.

Whether this is a natural occurrence or something we’ve been trained to do through countless films featuring AI assistants, it doesn’t really matter. This is how we interact with our new search companion.

And SEO now has to adapt to this type of search.

If you’re not using long-tail keywords already, you’re going to have to start soon. They way we use voice search means that short-tail keywords aren’t effective anymore.

You have to niche down those keywords to actually catch voice searches. You have to use phrases that put you closer to the point of purchasing.

But this will be beneficial to you the marketer.

It’s Good News

It’s much easier to rank for long-tail keywords. We call these keywords “low-hanging” fruit.

And don’t worry, if you search hard enough, you can find long-tail keywords with decent search volume.

Long-tail isn’t about the length of the keyword, but more about the specificity of the keyword.

People are going to be very specific if they use voice search. They have a question and want it answered.

To tailor your long tail search to voice-search, you’ll have to include mostly questions. Or you can find long-tail keywords that fit within specific questions someone might ask.

3. Mobile Search Gets a Boost

It’s already important to be mobile friendly. But it’s going to be imperative that you’re mobile friendly now that voice search is on the rise.

Google won’t put you in any voice-search rankings if you aren’t mobile friendly. That’s just silly.

People are obviously using their mobile device when using voice search. Your site will definitely have to be optimized for mobile use if you want to rank for voice search.

Voice Search is the Future

You can’t avoid voice search. It’s coming to a cell phone near you whether you like it or not.

Get your optimization efforts in gear. You’ll have to adapt or die. But isn’t that always the case in SEO?

If you’re looking for more content on search optimization, check out our other content on the topic.

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How to prepare for the next recession BEFORE it arrives ~ Get Rich Slowly

Yesterday I wrote about why it’s important to prepare for an uncertain future. It’s tough to predict where we’ll be (and who we’ll be) in five or ten years. It’s even tougher to predict what’s going to happen in the world around us. In order to cope with this uncertainty, it’s important to be adaptable — and to prepare for the worst (while expecting the best).

I was reminded of this advice again this morning as I read several articles in a row about the insane rise of Bitcoin and the current bull market in stocks, which is one of the longest in U.S. history.

Here’s a graph of the rise of the S&P 500:

S&P 500 price history

Here’s a graph of the value of Bitcoin:

Bitcoin price history

And, just for kicks, here’s a graph of the U.S. unemployment rate (in this graph, lower numbers are better):

U.S. Unemployment Rate

You can look at just about any economic indicator over the past decade and produce similar graphs. Despite what certain incessant whiners say, we’ve experienced a period of sustained wealth and prosperity. That’s awesome!

If you’ve spent all (or most) of your adult life in this economy, you might believe it’s always like this. You might believe the stock market always goes up, jobs are always easy to find, and every day is sunny.

But it doesn’t work like that.

Summer or Autumn?

My friend William Cowie likes to use a metaphor when describing the U.S. economy. He says our economic cycles are like the four seasons.

He writes:

The key insight which will help you benefit from any given economic cycle is understanding that every complete cycle, bottom to bottom, has four phases, which I liken to the four seasons of a year: The spring of the early recovery, the summer of growth (everyone’s favorite season), the fall season of harvest, and the winter of recession.

Here’s a graph he uses to visualize the four seasons of the economy:

The economic seasons

If we use past history as a guide — and again, we have nothing better to go on — where do you think we are in this cycle? We know we’re not in winter because things are too good. Are we in spring? Absolutely not. Are we still in summer? Maybe — but probably not. If we are, we’re in late summer. Odds are we’re in the autumn of the economic cycle, the time for “harvesting” our gains.

But here’s the thing: After the wild growth of summer, after the markets have shown sustained gains and unemployment is down, and prosperity is all around, that’s when most people start to feel safe. They breathe a sigh of relief. They let down their guard. They start to take risks they wouldn’t otherwise take. They pile on the already hot markets — buying high (then selling low in winter).

Not me. It’s at times like this that I get nervous.

Warren Buffett famously said: “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.” Based on my reading this morning, people have become greedy. And that makes me fearful.

Winter is Coming

Re-reading what I’ve written so far, I sound like Ned Stark from Game of Thrones. His family’s motto is “winter is coming”. Because they live in the far north of their fictional country, the Starks strive constantly to be prepared for the cold and the dark. I guess that’s what I’m advocating too.

Winter is Coming

I’m generally an optimistic guy, but my optimism is tempered with pragmatism. As my pal Jim Collins says, market crashes are to be expected. “What happened in 2008 was not something unheard,” he says. “It has happened before and it will happen again. And again.”

Here’s his advice:

Toughen up and learn to ignore the noise, stay the course and ride out the storm…To do this, you need to know these bad things are coming. They will happen. They will hurt. But like blizzards in winter they should never be a surprise. And, unless you panic they won’t matter.

If winter is coming, what can you do to prepare? Here are some actions I recommend:

  • Destroy your debt! The number-one thing you can do to prep for economic winter is to get out of debt. As hard as doing so might seem now, it’ll seem even more difficult during a recession — or a depression. Start a debt snowball. Do your best to grow it every month. It was a vast relief for me to not be in debt during the last economic downturn. It made everything easier to handle.
  • Bolster your emergency fund. If you’re in debt (or new to saving and investing), this step is especially important. The time to build your emergency fund is before you need it. Build it now, when times are flush. Don’t worry about finding the perfect bank account. Pick a savings account that’s easy for you to access, and start setting money aside. If you’re just starting out, aim to set aside $1000 (and make this your top priority before anything else). If you already have some saved, save more. Most experts recommend setting aside enough to cover three to six months of expenses. Think of it as insurance in case you lose your job — or worse.
  • Balance your budget. When things are humming along smoothly, it’s all too easy to succumb to lifestyle inflation. You have more, so you spend more. But during economic autumn, you ought to review everything you’re spending to make sure your budget is aligned with your values. Aim for big wins first. Do what you can to reduce how much you’re spending on housing and transportation before tackling smaller expenses.
  • Double-down at work. With unemployment relatively low, employers are eager to find quality employees. This might make it tempting to switch jobs. Think carefully before making the leap, however. If we do experience an economic downturn in the near future, new employees will be at greater risk for losing their positions. It might make more sense to double-down on your current job, making yourself even more valuable to your employer.
  • Make sure your asset allocation matches your risk tolerance. This step is crucial, especially for folks who are heavily invested in the stock market (like me). A decade ago, you might have decided that based on your risk profile, you ought have 60% of your retirement in stock and 40% in bonds. Well, if you haven’t made any adjustments lately, those numbers are likely to be way out of line. Economic autumn is the time to get these back to where they should be. (Unsure of your risk tolerance? Take the free Vanguard investor questionnaire to discover a suggested asset allocation.)

Basically, there are two keys to preparing for a recession: Beef up your cash reserves while reducing your ongoing expenses. All my specific recommendations support these two actions.

Based on this core concept, you can make appropriate adjustments for particular situation. You might, for instance, think twice before buying a home. It can be risky to buy a bigger home (and take on a bigger house payment) heading into an economic downturn. Your expenses go up just as your ability to pay takes on greater risk.

Now, I want to be clear: There’s no way to know for sure that we’re headed for dark days in the economy. Maybe things will stay rosy for another five or ten years. If so, awesome! If that’s the case, then having made preparations for a downturn won’t hurt you at all. (In fact, they’ll put you in a position to make more money during flush times.)

But history tells us that bad times always come — and they tend to follow predictable cycles. Nobody can know for sure when the next economic winter will arrive, but one thing is for sure: Winter is coming. And you want to be ready when it arrives.

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What Happened to the Internet Giants of the ’90s?

giants of the 90sI once thought of a prank so brilliant it was stupid. Blockbuster displayed massive bins of free AOL download CDs. Instead of forking someone’s yard, teepeeing their house or egging their car, why not AOL their yard?

I was never able to convince anyone to help me out with this prank, but man did I think I was brilliant.

Mention an AOL CD to anyone under 25 today and they’ll look at you as if you mentioned an eight-track tape. That along with dial-up, Yahoo, and any other internet term from the 90’s will earn you looks of incredulity and confusion.

Maybe I’m getting old. Or maybe technology moves ever faster. But the truth is, one company that’s here today could be bits lost in the etherspace tomorrow.

What happened to the internet giants of the 90’s? Let’s see where they are today.

1. Back in My Day, Sonny, America Online 56k Dial-Up Was the Only Internet We Had

My parents still have AOL accounts. They’ve not gotten a new e-mail since 1995. But AOL is no longer the king of the internet it used to be.

Although, apparently you can still get dial-up if you want some nostalgia, but it will cost you some pretty bad headaches. And don’t forget all those AOL download CDs. If you have some laying around, they might actually be worth something today.

Before AOL went a flat monthly $20 pricing model, you actually had to pay per minute or per hour of the time you spent accessing the world wide web. Young boys discovering porn in their parent’s basement got found out way easier when their parents got the AOL bill in the mail.

But access to the internet was worth the price in the early 90s and before AOL came along, it was extremely hard to connect to the web and surf it. Google definitely didn’t exist back then and nobody had indexed all those web pages yet.

AOL isn’t the same kind of internet giant it was in the 90’s but it does own a large piece of the pie. They own both The Huffington Post and Engadget, two content giants everyone knows about.

2. Compuserve: The Daddy of AOL

Compuserve was originally an in-house computer network support service. Hence the words Compu(ter) and Serve sown together. But they hit upon a gold mine when they figured out they could use the then baby internet and their servers to help people exchange large files electronically.

They were one of the first popular email services and in 95′ they were the largest online service provider.

But pressure mounted from new competitors on the market and they began to implode.

AOL was one such competitor and their market share increased to shark size while Compuserve stagnated. AOL decided to just gobble up Compuserve and Compuserve submitted in 1997.

But Compuserve continued to decline under AOL and within 12 years, Compuserve decided to close its doors. RIP Compuserve.

3. GeoCities or The Basement of the Internet

Ok, maybe in the mid-90’s Geocities wasn’t the basement of the internet. But when I found it in the late 90’s that’s where you could find all the things you couldn’t find elsewhere.

But that makes sense because GeoCities was essentially MySpace before MySpace was a thing. And the pattern for GeoCities is essentially the same as Compuserve.

A successful launch in the 90s, a buyout by Yahoo, a successful run, and an eventual crash in 2009.

But it made Yahoo a lot of cash during that time and a lot of people used it. But if you want to relive the glory days, just Geocities-ize any website. You’ll spend hours.

4. Netscape, The Grandaddy of Firefox

In 1994 nobody had heard of the words “internet browsers.” You accessed the internet through AOL or Compuserve and that was it.

When Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark created Mosaic Communications Corporation, there was no competition on the market. And their Mosaic Netscape release the next year entered the market unchallenged.

The company went public at $28 a share and jumped to $3 billion by the time the closing bell rang. It was an incredible success.

But Microsoft was waiting in the background to toss in their champion. Windows 95 was on the books and it featured its own browser Internet Explorer.

The two companies duked it out for a few years. Netscape moving to grab the enterprise market with Communicator. When this didn’t take off as planned, they released the source code for free in 1998.

You might recognize the name of the company that now develops free open-source software that anyone can tinker with: Mozilla.

And then Internet Explorer finally overcame Netscape. Netscape found a savior in AOL in late 98′ when they got bought for $4.2 billion dollars. But the euphoria didn’t last long. Within five years AOL would shut down Netscape and place it on the shelf of history forever.

5. How to Index the Web: AltaVista

I remember going to Barnes and Noble with my dad when I was six and watching him pick out an “internet address book.” He had just purchased a Macintosh computer and a subscription to AOL. There was no Google. Nobody had indexed the web yet.

And then came AltaVista and that changed everything. Sure, you could have paid some company to help you search the internet, but AltaVista was fast and it was free.

It was termed a Super-spider by the fledgling company and the term stuck. There were 30 million web pages in 95 and it was really difficult to find anything you wanted back then.

This is where the term “web-crawler” originated. It’s a creepy mental picture and they even called their host of crawlers a “brood of spiders” in 1995.

AltaVista changed hands several times and they eventually landed in the hands of Yahoo in 2003. They lasted another ten years fighting Google, but finally shutttered their servers in 2013.

The Glory Days

The early days of the internet were glorious. The tech bubble grew and lots of people made a lot of money. And thanks to those people, we’re still able to communicate today.

If you enjoyed this, check out our other articles on internet-y things here on Shoemoney.

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Does Your Social Media Tell a Story?

Most of marketing is storytelling. And whether your marketing is successful or not depends on how great of a story you can tell.

Marketer Seth Godin once said that marketing is “the art of telling a story that resonates with your audience and then spreads.”

We’ve been telling stories since we could speak or draw. Look at early man’s cave paintings or the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Stories are how we communicate.

One of the most liberal methods of communication on the internet is the social media profile. If you scroll through a Facebook or Twitter feed, what do you see?


Whether that story is personal or not, people are attempting to market something through their social media stories. If it’s a personal account, they’re marketing their persona. They want to be perceived a certain way.

If they’re a business, they’re marketing their services and products, but the motivation is the same. They want their products or brand perceived in a certain way.

Today we’re going to talk about how you can leverage your social media to tell a story.

Get Right Down to It

Sure, plan ahead. With a good roadmap for your social media strategy, you won’t run into analysis paralysis.

But if you don’t get started right away on re-vamping your social media posts, the procrastination monster will bite you in the butt.

Here are some practical ways to get started.

Get Some Photos Up

Ever since the invention of the photo, we’ve become less word-oriented. Humans process visual data better than any other kind. So it follows that the photograph is where you should start on social media.

Almost every social media account deals in photos. On Facebook, Instagram, and Google+ it’s easy to post whole albums.

Albums are an easy and lasting way to tell a story and market on social media. Your audience can move quickly from photo to photo like a slideshow. And they can see the story progress as they click.

Show people using your product. Show how your service is valuable.

Also, remember to crowdsource your images. If people are passionate about your product or service, they’re going to want to tell their own story.

If you’re having trouble crowdsourcing images, hold a contest for best photos of people using your product or service. Give away something simple and yet valuable to your customers.

Use SnapChat and Instagram Stories

SnapChat is the ultimate storytelling device. From office shenanigans to vacation fun, people use SnapChat as a quick window into their lives.

But brands can also use SnapChat to tell their own stories as well.

Talking about office shenanigans, Chubbies Shorts gives their customers a snapshot of what it’s like to work in their offices. And they often showcase their product while making people laugh.

Other brands feature doodle contests or upcoming sales. But the best thing to do on your SnapChat and Instagram stories is simply tell the story of your brand.

Remember, you’re attempting to resonate with your audience. You’re not using it as a sales pitch.

Produce Video

Instagram stories and SnapChat are both easy ways to produce quick videos. But those won’t last long or drive much traffic to your website or store.

A video, however, will have a lasting effect on both your leads and your web traffic.

Most people don’t think of YouTube as a social network. And it’s never going to be as social as Facebook or Twitter.

But YouTube is the largest video hosting site on the internet. And the profile and commenting features on YouTube do add a social layer to the service.

If you’re not posting videos on YouTube, you’re missing out on a major storytelling marketing opportunity.

And video production doesn’t have to be lengthy or complicated. Short videos on YouTube do just as well as long videos.

Live Stream

More people watch Twitch‘s live streaming service than HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu combined. And if you think of how many people you know who watch those other streaming services, it will blow you away.

Now Twitch is a streaming service known for video game streaming. But live streaming is now available elsewhere for other purposes.

Facebook and Twitter have both jumped into the live streaming game. And what better way to tell a story than during a live event?

People can watch your brand’s story unfold in real time.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to place a webcam in your office for 24/7 streaming. That might be a bit boring.

But Facebook and Twitter both notify their users when someone has “gone live.” And if a brand or company “goes live,” their followers will instantly know.

Live streaming is a great way to get your followers interacting with the story you’re telling. They can laugh or cry with you.

Use SMS Marketing to Tell a Story

It’s becoming increasingly common for brands to use sms marketing to reach customers. But most of the time, it’s used to alert customers about “upcoming deals.”

This tactic wears on your followers and they eventually start ignoring your texts.

But if you can tie your text messaging campaign into your social media storytelling campaign, you’ll have people checking their phones each time you send a text.

Announce that people can find out more about whatever compelling story you’ve begun to tell on SnapChat or even just through a Facebook video. Ask them for their phone number and get their consent to participate in a text campaign.

Moving your story from one medium to another will keep it fresh and interesting. You can string your audience along for quite some time by simply doing this.

Most Don’t Get It

Most brands use social media marketing wrong. And it’s the smart brands that understand marketing as storytelling who win the social media game.

Remember that you’re trying to resonate with your followers. You’re not trying to pitch a sale.

If you can remember those two basic ideas, you’ll be able to tell a compelling story and court your customers all the way to the sales page.

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How to prepare for an uncertain future ~ Get Rich Slowly

Our financial decisions are based on our expectations for the future.

We save for retirement because we expect we’ll live a long time in old age, a period where we expect to be relatively unproductive. We invest in stocks because we expect the market to provide outsized returns when compared to other asset classes. We set aside emergency savings because we expect that bad things will happen — if not tomorrow, then next week (or next year).

We base our expectations on past experience — both our own experience and the experiences of others.

We expect to live a long time in old age because statistically most of our contemporaries live a long time in old age. We expect the stock market to provide excellent returns because for the past 100 years, that’s what the stock market has done.We expect bad things to happen because bad things always happen.

Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with this method of planning. It works.

When we base our expectations for the future based on what’s happened in the past, we tend to get good results. We accumulate money for when we’re no longer able (or willing) to work. Our investments grow. We have a cash cushion for when the car breaks down or little Jimmy breaks his leg.

Beyond All Expectations

But what happens when the old patterns break? What happens when past data becomes meaningless? That’s the subject of an intersting article from Nick Maggiulli at Of Dollars and Data.

He tells the story of how the dodo went extinct. Evolving in an ecosystem without predators, these birds had no fear of humans. They had no expectation that another creature might hunt them down and eat them and end the species.

The Dodo

Maggiulli writes:

From the perspective of the dodo, the arrival of humans (or any other large predator) was outside the realm of its evolutionary grasp. Anything the dodo had approached previously had not tried to eat it. However, the arrival of humans broke the old pattern. It was beyond all expectations.

This idea is directly relevant to how investors use historical financial data to make decisions about the future. We assume that history is a great guide for what is to come, which is only sometimes true. We rely heavily on previous patterns…until they break. This is the classic black swan problem explained by Nassim Taleb, and highlights the difficulty with relying on financial history to make predictions.

“Just like the dodo,” Maggiuilli says, “investors are on their own island of financial history with no clue what will wash ashore from the seas of tomorrow.”

An Uncertain Future

I love Maggiulli’s short article on expectations because it does a great job illustrating a point I try to make now and again.

Life would be easy if we could see the future. We’d know how to invest, how much to save for retirement (because we’d know how long we’d live), and whether or not to marry the gal we just met on Tinder.

Because we can’t know the future, life is difficult. Decision-making is difficult. We make our best guess, but often we guess wrong. It’s tough to plan for your future when you don’t know what that future holds.

For one, the world around you is constantly changing. You may be sure of your current situation, but what will your life be like five years from now? Ten? Odds are you can’t come close to making an accurate guess. (In some cases, it’s tough to predict just one year out!)

For another, you change. As you grow and develop, your priorities and values grow and develop too. What made you happy in the past may not make you happy in the future.

Stumbling on Happiness

In 2006, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert published Stumbling on Happiness, a book about that explores this topic at length. In this presentation from the 2004 TED conference, Gilbert compresses his ideas into bite-sized pieces:

Gilbert says that because we can plan for the future, our preference is to structure our lives in such a way that we’re happy both now and later. The problem is: We don’t know what will make us happy in the future! In fact, Present You usually does a poor job of predicting what Future You will like.

Gilbert asks:

Which future would you prefer? One in which you win the lottery? Or one in which you become paraplegic? Which would make you happier? […] A year after losing their legs, and a year after winning the lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives.

The problem is impact bias, our tendency to overestimate the “hedonic impact” of future events. Put another way, the things that we think will make us happy usually don’t make us as happy as we think they will. Winning the lottery isn’t a panacea. Having an affair with your hot new co-worker won’t be as thrilling as you think. And losing a leg isn’t the end of the world.

Present You vs. Future You

How tough is it to predict your future path?

Here’s a simple test: Think about where you were five years ago — where you lived, who you spent time with, what you did. How does that compare with where you live today, who you spend time with, and what you do with your time? Chances are your life today is different than it used to be — possibly much different than you might have predicted.

Here are two examples from my own life:

  • When I was a junior in college, I expected to graduate, settle in a big city, get a job as a counselor or therapist, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. I had no inkling that five years later I’d own a house in my hometown, work at the family business (something I swore I’d never do!) in a job I hated, and have over $20,000 in consumer debt. No inkling. (Only the “get married” part of my expectations proved to be correct.)
  • Five years ago, I was newly divorced and had just begun dating. I lived in an apartment close to downtown Portland. I didn’t want to own a house. I was obsessed with travel. I went to the gym several times each week and was in the best shape of my life. I had “retired” from writing about money — and thought that I would never return to the subject. Today, things are different. Kim and I have been together for 5-1/2 years. We own a home in the country, and we have three cats and a dog. Since returning from our 15-month RV trip, I haven’t traveled much. My fitness is suffering because I’m not making the gym a priority. And, of course, I’m back to writing about money at Get Rich Slowly!

Sometimes your future life fails to live up to your expectations, and sometimes it exceeds them. But in nearly every instance, you cannot predict where life will take you. No wonder Present You often does such a poor job of setting things up for Future You.

Avoiding the Fate of the Dodo

When people get frustrated and panicked at unplanned events, it’s often because they’ve built their life around certain expectations. They expected their marriage to last “forever”. They expected their job to be secure. They expected home values to continue soaring. And so on.

So, what can you do? How can you be certain that you and your lifestyle won’t go the way of the dodo? Truthfully, you can’t. There is no certainty in life.

What you can do, however, is develop the skills needed to cope with this uncertainty.

  • Know your purpose. I know I’ve flogged this dead horse repeatedly over the past couple of years, but that’s because I believe it’s important. When you’re clear on your purpose in life, when you have a personal mission statement, then it’s easier to cope with unexpected events. When something bad happens, you’re able to respond more effectively because you know what it is you want out of life.
  • Be adaptable. If you’re too rigid in your thinking — in your expectations, habits, and attitudes — then it’s very difficult to compensate when something goes wrong. Develop resilience — financial and otherwise. Your ability and willingness to adapt is a barometer that measures both your ability to thrive and your capacity for happiness.
  • Worry more about what you do than what you get. Over the years, I’ve noticed that too many people fixate on desired results. They’re overly obsessed with an outcome — whether that’s getting out of debt, achieving financial independence, or getting a certain job — instead of focusing on the process. Here’s the thing: You cannot control outcomes. You can only control your effort. If you focus outcome instead of effort, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment.
  • Expect the best — but prepare for the worst. Although this entire article has been about the problem with expectations, I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t have them. But I want you to be deliberately conscious of these expectations, to know what they are and why you have them. Then, most important of all, after you’ve identified your expectations, take some time to figure out what you’ll do if these expectations are not met. What are your contingency plans? What will you do if the stock market crashes? If you lose your job? If your partner dies tomorrow?

Despite the problems inherent with basing your expectations for the future on past experience, there’s really nothing better to go on. When we make plans for the future, our best bet is to base those plans on what has happened in the past. No other method provides better results.

But it’s important that we recognize that the past is not a roadmap. It can’t tell you what lies ahead. All it can do is to help you see what other roads have been like, how other people have navigated through life.

Maybe that’s the key to avoiding the fate of the dodo: Instead of having a set of expectations for the future, have a set of plans. And be willing to revise those plans when things change. Because trust me: Things are going to change.

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How Amazon Uses Big Data to Generate Billions

Ever since George Orwell penned 1984, we’ve been overly concerned about what either governments or big companies know about us. But is it so odd for a company to know your preferences?

I mean, we absolutely love it when we walk into our favorite coffee shop and the barista says, “Your regular?”

When you shop anywhere, there is a record of what you bought. It’s just that when you enter an online store, the physical rules of time and space do not inhibit store owners.

In the physical world, it’s difficult to track when a customer picks up an item and examins it. But in the online world, it’s extremely easy to see where someone goes on your website.

So, what’s the difference between what your small town cafe does to make your visit personal and what Amazon does? Very little. The only difference is, you’re one in a million to Amazon.

So, how does Amazon make your visit to their site personal and use that to make money? Let’s take a quick look.

1. What Is Big Data, Really?

We hear it in the news media all the time. Ever since Snowden blew the lid on Prism, big data has been a scary term for most people.

When your government spends around $5 billion to spy on you and your fellow citizens, that doesn’t do much to make you feel good about the associated terms.

But what the government collected through Prism and what Amazon collects through its services are two different kinds of big data.

Two Different Kinds: Consented and Stolen

The government collected data without permission and “bugged” people’s phones and broke into encrypted emails. They didn’t own the services where they collected the data.

And their purpose was mainly to “catch terrorists.”

Amazon owns the services where it collects data. This data is not any more personal than what a store merchant could gather if they followed you around and wrote down what you picked up in their store.

Their main purpose is to understand marketing trends and put together a big picture.

Both groups collect sizeable amounts of data — hence “big data” — and they both need large resources to collect it.

What’s the biggest difference? Ownership.

By browsing a website owned by Amazon, you’re consenting to Amazon farming your shopping data. (Unless you use Tor and a VPN.)

There are no ethical barriers to this kind of data collection. It’s when that line of consent and ownership is crossed that people become wary and untrusting.

2. What Big Data Isn’t

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what Big Data is. And the myths behind the words are easy to dispell.

It’s Not Just a Bunch of Data

Yes, the name big data comes from the fact that companies collect a whole lot of data. But it’s not the amount of data that makes it valuable.

Really, if we judged a book by the number of words, the dictionary would be on the best seller’s list every month.

What makes both a book and a set of data valuable is the big picture they each create for the user. The meaning behind the data is what’s important about big data.

It’s More Than One Technology

When picturing big data, it’s easy to picture some supercomputer brain churning out reams of data. But even at the NSA, there is no FATE supercomputer directing everything.

Big Data is a collection of technologies and not just one technology. This means that how Amazon collects, analyses, and gleans meaning from data varies from situation to situation.

The government and Amazon could be using vastly different technologies to collect and analyze the data they use.

Big Data Isn’t a Fad

Until internet technology quits relying on numbers and calculations to operate, big data is going nowhere.

The great thing about big data technology is that it’s always evolving. And it evolves quite naturally.

And as long as billions of people access the internet every day, there will be a large volume of data to analyze.

3. How Does Amazon Use Big Data?

It’s no accident that Amazon is one of the most successful e-commerce websites out there. And big data analytics is one of the chief reasons they’ve done so well.

But what parts of Amazon actually use big data analytics?

Supply Chain Optimization

Amazon isn’t always using big data to analyze personal shopper data. They’re also attempting to streamline their fulfillment services.

Running logistics is an art and a science. Coordinating between suppliers, warehouses, your own e-commerce website, and ensuring fast delivery are all of equal importance in logistics.

It’s a massive operation and the only way to keep track of all the data is through analytics software.

Specifically, Amazon uses the data to determine things like the closest warehouse to the customer or vendor. They also use technologies like the graph theory to work out delivery schedules, routes, and product groupings.

Anticipatory Shipping

What if you could predict when a customer is going to buy something and already have it in processing before they buy it? This is the question Amazon asked and they used big data to figure out how to do it.

Essentially, Amazon knows what warehouse they should place items that you will most likely purchase. If you live in Alabama, they will place your next order of dog food at their Atlanta shipping center in advance of your order.

Ad Optimization and Product Recommendations

To maximize ad revenue, Amazon has to place ads in front of customers and those ads must interest the customer. Otherwise, nobody would click on an ad.

The only way to determine if an ad will be useful or interesting to a visitor is through their browsing data. Amazon does use the browsing data from their own websites, but they also buy data from other companies.

With this data, they can make predictions about what you will most likely buy or what sites you would most likely visit. Their machine learning algorithms then filter ads and products based on your preferences.

Price Optimization

Prices are constantly shifting on Amazon. In fact, an item’s price can change eight times during a 24 hour period.

Big data analytics helps Amazon determine when to drop prices to make more sales happen. They’ll track when the most people will be on during the day, how much of each product people will buy, and what kinds of products they will most likely buy after a purchase.

4. How Can I Use Big Data Too?

Big data isn’t just for the big boys. Small businesses can use big data too.

Improve Your Products

Surveys are an important part of product development. But what about product improvement?

You should always be working to improve your products and services. And the only way you will know how your product functions in the real world is by asking customers about it.

If you output lots of products, you have a ton of potential product information.

But without analytics software, you won’t be able to pull meaning out of your data. You need the software that collects the data and the software that analyses the data. Two different technologies.

Optimize Social Media

If you garner a large following on social media, how will you know what’s working and what’s not?

Sites like Facebook already offer a small amount of data on your users, but you will need more in order to optimize your campaign.

Media analytics like Synthesio exist solely to examine your posts and track things like reputation, competitor share, follows, likes, and other trends.

But big data can reveal more from social media than just how to optimize your accounts. You could identify customer satisfaction with your product or service. You could identify major problems consumers see in your product or service.

You could improve many aspects of your product or service with all of the data available through social media.

Real-Time Call Tracking

Not all big data technologies analyze past data. Some data needs to be analyzed instantly.

If you run a business that uses customer representatives, you will want to show real-time information to your rep. But without analysis software that does this for you, it’s impossible.

For example, call tracking software like Ringba will track even your marketing calls and give you immediate feedback. You can use this information to direct your calls and increase your chances of sealing a deal or solving a customer’s problem.

Why You Should Do Big Data

Amazon’s millions are a good example of how companies should use big data to their advantage. You can’t get ahead of the competition without using the tools you already have.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other articles on e-commerce here at!

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How we watch TV without cable (and how much it costs) ~ Get Rich Slowly

One of the main reasons Kim and I decided to move from our condo to this quiet country cottage was to save money. We were spending far too much living in the city.

Simply moving made a huge difference to our budget. But now that the dust has settled, it’s time for us to look at other aspects of our spending to see where we can save. As part of that, I’ve been reviewing our recurring expenses to see what I can cut. Yesterday, I canceled our subscription to The New York Times (savings: $5/week or $260/year). Today, I’m reviewing how much we spend on TV and movies.

Cutting the Cord

Apple TVIt seems hard to believe, but it was ten years ago that I first “cut the cord”. Since then, I’ve used the Apple TV device to access most of my video entertainment.

In March 2007, my then-wife and I canceled our expensive TV package and moved to just basic cable. Our monthly bill dropped from $65.82 to $11.30. We supplemented our viewing with Hulu (free at the time), Netflix, and by purchasing shows from the iTunes store.

I’ve been cable-free for a decade now. I haven’t missed cable even once. Some folks are amazed when they hear I don’t have cable. “How do you manage?” they ask. Yet I am amazed that more people haven’t made the leap to a cable-free lifestyle. It’s easy.

One of the biggest objections I hear is, “What about live sports?” People pay big bucks just so they can have ESPN. Honestly, there are plenty of ways to watch live sports without cable. Sling, for instance, offers a package with ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3. Plus, Kim and I have found that if we really want to watch a game, we’ll just head to a local sports bar where we can join the crowd over a burger and a beer.

In 2007, I calculated that Kris and I were spending $27.90 each month to watch television. If we added in our Netflix subscription, that total rose to $44.89. Not bad.

Reviewing our current expenses, however, I see that Kim and I currently spend $83 per month in subscription fees — plus whatever we spend to buy individual movies and TV shows on iTunes. Holy cats! How did that happen? We’ve experienced a bit of lifestyle inflation in the TV department.

Let’s review the different services we use — and how much we pay for them. Maybe there’s a way we can save some money.

iTunes (a la carte pricing)

By far, our biggest source of video entertainment is iTunes. I’m heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Since 12 October 2005, when video content became available on the iTunes store, I have purchased 611 movies (about one per week) and 107 TV shows. (It’s tough to determine exactly how many seasons or episodes that represents, though.)

With iTunes, you don’t pay a subscription fee. Instead, you purchase movies and TV shows “a la carte”. If you want something, you buy it and it’s your forever (at least in theory). Personally, I prefer this model, but I know I’m in the minority.

To avoid overspending, I have two rules for iTunes purchases.

  • First of all, I try not to buy anything unless I think I’ll rewatch it. That means I mostly use iTunes to buy movies or classic television shows that I’ve already watched many times. (I bought all three seasons of the original Star Trek, for instance. I watch those episodes over and over and over again. What can I say? I’m a nerd!)
  • Second, I rarely pay full price (which is between $15 and $20 for a movie, and up to $35 for a TV season). I’ll pay full price for something like the most recent season of Game of Thrones or maybe the latest Star Wars movie. Only if I love something am I going to pay top dollar. (Another exception: If I’ve waited years and never seen a price drop. Disney movies never go on sale, so I paid twenty bucks so that my nephew could watch Frozen whenever he’s here.)

In order to keep my iTunes costs down, I watch the weekly sales. Every Tuesday, Apple lists certain movies at a discount. This week, for instance, they have select “Spy Stories” on sale at “under $10”.

iTunes: Spy Stories

There are 32 of spy movies listed this week. Some weeks the sale only lists ten movies. It varies. If a film is under ten bucks and I want to watch it, I’ll consider purchasing it — but only if the price is less than twice the rental price.

For example, this week the 2011 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is on sale for $9.99. If the rental price were $4.99 or higher, I might buy it. But the rental price is $3.99, so I won’t consider it.

The best deals on iTunes come on weekends. Each Friday, Apple places one film on sale for $4.99, which is roughly the price of a rental. These films are often related to something timely. Right now, for example, they’re likely to place Christmas films on sale. Around Valentine’s Day, they’ll put a romance on sale for $4.99.

Here are two final tips, one of which is a bit morbid.

  • Whenever a big-name actor or director dies, Apple has a sale on their body of work. Strange (and maybe a bit sad) but true. If Steven Spielberg were to die next week, for instance, Apple would have a huge sale on all of his films. When Stanley Kubrick died, they offered some crazy bundle of all his movies for cheap. I bought it.
  • Lastly, I make use of the iTunes wish list. Whenever I find a movie I really really want that’s too expensive (over ten bucks, basically), I add it to the list. Every few weeks, I check the list for price drops.

Kim and I mainly use iTunes for movies. We do buy TV shows — we’re watching The Orville on iTunes right now — but that’s not as common. Why not? Because most of the time there’s no reason to keep TV shows in our permanent library. Are we ever going to rewatch The Voice? No. For this reason, we tend to use other apps for our television viewing.

iTunes: The Orville

Hot tip: If you liked Star Trek: The Next Generation, you may like The Orville. It deliberately mimics the ST:TNG vibe in tons of ways, both obvious and subtle. But it’s hilarious. (Here’s a short trailer for the show.) Even though it’s not an official Star Trek show in any way, I’d classify it as my third-favorite Star Trek series. (I haven’t seen the new official Star Trek series because I refuse to pay for the CBS streaming service. No way!)

Netflix ($11 per month)

Our second-largest source of video content is Netflix. Kim and I have a “two screens at a time” plan for $10.99 per month. (The price just went up by a buck last week.)

For a long time, I didn’t watch much Netflix. Honestly, I think their movie selection sucks. They have a decent TV lineup, but it lags behind Hulu (see below) and doesn’t include things like Game of Thrones or Big Bang Theory. I thought I was going to cancel Netflix until they started producing original content.


And that’s where Netflix has really begun to shine. The original shows on Netflix are, quite frankly, outstanding. Left to her own devices, Kim would watch almost exclusively Netflix. (She’s a huge fan of Chelsea Handler.) Right now, Netflix has so many great original series that I can’t even keep up with them.

I don’t get $10.99 worth of entertainment from Netflix each month but Kim does.

Hulu ($12 per month with no ads)

I’ve been using Hulu for almost ten years now.

The main virtue of Hulu is catching current programs. Kim and I watch The Voice on Hulu, for instance, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She uses it to watch This Is Us. Whenever Kim hears about a current show that sounds interesting, she checks Hulu first.

Hulu also has a decent selection of older shows, which is something that appeals to me. For some reason, I get great comfort from watching programs like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Adam 12. Over the course of 2017, Kim and I worked our way through all 180 episodes of Seinfeld.


The primary problem with Hulu is that its selection is even worse than Netflix. The movies are woefully outdated. (They used to own the streaming rights for The Criterion Collection, but not anymore.) Its library of classic TV shows is good but spotty.

Luckily, Hulu has begun creating its own original programming too, including the award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale, which I have not yet seen.

Amazon Prime Video (part of Amazon Prime)

If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, then Amazon Prime Video is included in the service.

Like Netflix and Hulu, it offers a variety of television shows and movies — plus original content, some of which has received excellent reviews. (Last year’s Manchester by the Sea was nominated for Best Picture!) Amazon Prime Video also offers paid add-on subscriptions to services like HBO and Showtime.

Amazon Prime Video

Honestly, Kim and I haven’t used Amazon Prime Video much. I watched season three of Survivor on Prime a couple of years ago because it was the only service that offered it, but that’s the only thing I can remember watching. Why don’t we use it? Because there’s no Apple TV app. Until today.

Seriously: The Amazon Prime Video app for Apple TV came out today, and I’m downloading it as I write this very sentence.

There. Amazon Prime Video has been installed on my Apple TV. This opens a whole new world of video programming for me and Kim to discover. I’ve been wanting to watch several of these shows, including The Last Tycoon, Mozart in the Jungle, and — especially — The Man in the High Castle.

Time will tell if Amazon Prime Video supplants any of our other services.

Sling ($45 per month)

For folks who crave real television channels but still want to cut the cord, Sling is a terrific option. With packages starting at $20 per month, you’re able to customize the service to access the channels you’re most interested in. And you can access those channels on almost any device. (I have Sling set up on all of our computers, all of our portable devices, and on the Apple TV.)

Sling offers two primary bundles: the orange bundle ($20/month) and the blue bundle ($25/month). While there’s some overlap between these two bundles, each offers some unique channels. The orange bundle, for instance, carries ESPN and the blue bundle does not. But the blue bundle has Fox Sports channels while the orange bundle does not. If you subscribe to both bundles, you get a $5 discount so that your monthly total is $40.

Sling TV

On top of this, you can totally customize your subscription by adding various “packages”, such as the Spanish TV package or the news package or the comedy package.

Since summer, we’ve subscribe to the combined orange and blue bundles plus the Hollywood package (which includes Turner Classic Movies). That’s a total of $45 per month.

How much Sling do we actually watch? Very little. We certainly do not need the orange bundle, which I subscribed to because I thought I’d watch ESPN. (Turns out that in much the same way that MTV rarely shows music videos, ESPN rarely shows actual sporting events. It’s all chat shows and endless repeats of SportsCenter.)

Kim and I both agree that we can axe Sling completely without missing anything.

HBO Now ($15 per month)

HBO Now is the online version of HBO. We’ve only been subscribed for about a year. We’ve paid maybe $180 into it — but we have not received $180 worth of value. In fact, we hardly ever watch it. So why do we have it? One reason: Game of Thrones.


Until the most recent season, Game of Thrones was delayed by an entire year before being released to iTunes. Impatient man that I am — and wanting to play by the rules (no BitTorrent) — I thought we should sign up for HBO Now when it became available on Apple TV.

“We can watch the other shows too,” I told Kim. She likes Girls and True Blood and Entourage. I also thought we’d take advantage of HBO’s movie library. But you know what? We didn’t do those things. We’ve maybe watched two things on HBO Now in twelve months. That’s a colossal waste of money. (Think of all the beer I could have bought with $180!)

Besides, if I’m seeing things right, it looks as if some HBO shows are included with Amazon Prime Video. Rock on!

The Bottom Line

Let’s put all of this together. As a summary, here’s what we’re paying for individual services:

  • iTunes: no subscription fee — pay per show
  • Netflix: $11 per month
  • Hulu: $12 per month
  • Amazon Prime Video: cost is built into our Amazon Prime subscription
  • Sling: $45 per month
  • HBO Now: $15 per month

We’re paying a total of $83 per month (or roughly $1000 per year) in subscription fees. Plus our Amazon Prime membership. Plus whatever it costs for individual purchases from iTunes.

That’s too much.

Fortunately, we can easily trim $60 per month by getting rid of Sling and HBO Now, two services we barely use. That’d save us $720 every year. I’m comfortable keeping Netflix and Hulu. We use both pretty often, so that $23 per month is acceptable.

So, there you have it. It’s perfectly possible to watch all the TV you want without cable. But if your goal is to save money by doing so, you have to be careful. If you’re not, you can end up paying as much (or more!) than you were before you cut the cord.

There’s nothing wrong with paying for TV — if you use what you’re paying for. But if you’re not getting value for your money (as in our case with Sling and HBO Now), then it’s in your best interest to cancel services and put that cash to work someplace else.

Based on this post, you might think I watch a lot of TV. I don’t. I watch maybe an episode while I eat dinner with Kim on the week nights, then maybe one movie each Saturday and Sunday. Kim watches tons more than I do.

But don’t get the idea that I think I’m more virtuous for watching less television. I still waste my time, but I’m much more likely to waste it playing videogames. (As some of you already know, my game of choice is Hearthstone. But I’m also a fan of the Nintendo Switch, especially retro games like Mario Brothers.)

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How one man took on the “phantom debt” industry ~ Get Rich Slowly

I’m an optimistic guy. I believe that most people are basically good. So far, life has proved me correct.

That said, I’m not naive. I know there are still plenty of scumbags out there — and that many of these scumbags prey on the unsuspecting in order to line their pockets with profit.

The Trouble with Phantom Debt

Recently, for instance, Kim has been receiving phone calls from a company purporting to be collecting a debt owed to the Internal Revenue Service. Kim knows she doesn’t owe the IRS anything. She’s always paid her taxes in full. This company is attempting to coerce her into paying on what is known as a phantom debt — a debt she does not owe.

You might think that nobody could fall for such a scam, but you’d be surprised. Millions of people do. So many, in fact, that this is a very profitable “industry” that cons victims out of at least $23 million per year. (And that’s just the IRS scams. Other zombie debt scams rake in even more.)

But not everyone is willing to ignore these calls (or to acquiesce, as the case may be). Earlier today, Bloomberg published a story by Zeke Faux that describes how one victim of a “phantom debt” scam fought back — with a vengeance.

Fighting Back

Andrew Therrien is a salesman from Rhode Island. In 2015, he began to receive threatening calls about a debt he did not owe. Worse, the debt collectors threatened to rape his wife. (WTF?)

For once, the scumbags messed with the wrong guy.

Over the next two years, Therrien spent hundreds of hours (and even flew across the country!) turning the tables on the debt collectors. From the story:

By day [Therrien] was still promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. But in his spare time, he was living out a revenge fantasy. He befriended loan sharks and blackmailed crooked collectors, getting them to divulge their suppliers, and then their suppliers above them. In method, Therrien was like a prosecutor flipping gangster underlings to get to lieutenants and then the boss. In spirit, he was a bit like Liam Neeson’s vigilante character in the movie Taken — using unflagging aggression to obtain scraps of information and reverse-engineer a criminal syndicate.

Therrien doggedly worked his way from low-end debt collectors to their bosses, then to their bosses, eventually confronting a billion-dollar businessman who might as well be called King of the Scumbags: a guy named Joel Tucker from Kansas City, Missouri.

Taking It to the Top

A year after he’d started his crusade, Therrien managed to get Tucker on the phone. He recorded the call.

“I’ll tell you why I care,” Therrien said calmly. “I’ll tell you why I care. I believe, and I’m just telling you what I believe, you sold my personal information 21 separate times. I’ve gotten close to 100 f—ing calls, and because I’ve gotten those 100 calls from scumbag collectors that you facilitated, I’m going to make sure that that kind of shit ends now.”

Tucker was incredulous: “You think this is my fault?”


“I know what happened. You f—ing stole money from people,” Therrien said. “I’m giving you the opportunity to come clean.”

“I don’t know who you are, Andrew,” Tucker said. “Who are you?”

“A person that you f—ed with too many times.”

As a fan of righteous anger (and good writing), I couldn’t stop reading this story. (If it were a book, I’d call it “un-put-downable”.)

It’s long — over 4000 words! — but well worth your time if you like tales of justice served. But it’s also enlightening. I had no idea that the “phantom debt” problem was so wide-spread…and that so many people fall for this sort of scam.

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